Is Medium Rare a French restaurant? It’s hard to tell.
The menu is certainly encouraging in that respect, with a French translation of each element and no mistakes spotted by this keen-eyed linguist. (The menu, by the way, is a short one: you go to Medium Rare for steak-frites. There is no other option. For just under $20 (plus tax and tip), you get bread, salad, and steak and chips, complete with “secret sauce”.) The wine list, pleasingly, includes many French options, each with a key adjective to help you decide if you want to give it a try. We went for the “easy” Malbec, which did in fact go down nicely, and paired very well with steak. I’d forgotten my passport, but they thankfully didn’t ID us – I’m in my mid 30s, and the friends I was out with are also well over 21 – so that helped, because to be denied a glass of wine or two with my meal would not have been very French, or have made me at all happy.
The bathroom is pretty French too: I’m not such a fan of the unisex thing, but what I am a fan of is the French audio-learning phrase book that was being played through speakers in the ceiling. And these weren’t just any French phrases. These were a course in flirting. Que vous avez de beaux yeux! What beautiful eyes you have!
The bread was delicious, and warm, and the butter was unsalted (again, very French, and therefore preferred by me). I was a little sad that they didn’t replenish the bread – I could easily have eaten more of it. The salad, brought as an hors d’oeuvre, was very simple, home-made style – mostly lettuce, with a hint of tomato, and a dressing that tasted as if it could have been made by my (French) mother if she were branching out from her usual (delicious) one. A small mouthful of Europe, right here on the East Coast of America.
After not much of a wait (this being, after all, America), the next course was brought. The frites were hot and slim and definitely worthy of a French restaurant. I thought, in fact, that they were worthy of Belgium (incomparable home of the frite) but decided I must be imagining it – until I saw on the restaurant’s Twitter profile that they double-fry them, which is exactly what the Belgians do. The steak was not the best I’ve ever had in my life: medium rare rather than rare, without the yummy hint of crispiness on the outside that you get from grilling in a super hot pan, and lukewarm at best. (It was pre-cut into pieces, which probably didn’t help with keeping it warm.) But well, you get what you pay for, and it was still steak.
And that’s when the meal went from being French to being full-on American. After a decent sized main course, the waiter returned with a second helping for us all. The steak was slightly warmer this time – or maybe I was just used to its low temperature – but the chips were just as thin, crispy, and hot, and I thankfully still had some wine left. Can you beat the red-wine-and-steak combination? I think not.
By the time dessert came, we had both feet firmly planted on this side of the pond. The desserts were not even slightly European – even the chocolate they used was American – and they prioritised quantity over gourmet quality. Still, our Sundae (shared between three!) went down well.
And with the bathroom language lesson, the pleasant wine, and the delicious frites and bread, there was just enough Frenchness to make me smile and give me the warm fuzzy feeling I associate with home.