The Fourth of July came and went in a puff of firework smoke, but another important independence day celebration is still on the horizon. This Sunday, July 14, is Bastille Day, also known as La Fête Nationale—France's national holiday. In 1790, the French commemorated the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 with the Fête de la Fédération. The festivities have continued every year to commemorate the storming of the fortress-prison, an institution that often imprisoned people for arbitrary acts that displeased the royal monarchy (thus making the event a symbol of the French Revolution and the uprising of the modern nation). In France, official ceremonies are held throughout the country on Bastille Day, including the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
In America, July 14 is just another dog day of summer. But you can celebrate Bastille Day, too, with some cultural cuisine at one of the Hudson Valley's authentic French restaurants. We wanted to preview some of the Bastille Day specials planned in the area this year, but the plats du jour are prepared with such fresh ingredients that our featured restauranteurs don't even know what they'll be yet. Regardless, here are our top five picks for French dining in the Hudson Valley on Bastille Day. Bon appetit!
1. Le Canard Enchaine
At Kingston's classic Parisian bistro, owner Jean-Jacques Carquillat prowls the floor like a jovial French bear throwing a never-ending dinner party. Carquillat constantly greets the faithful, making sure the plates come out of the kitchen in perfect form (when he’s not cooking; Carquillat is also the executive chef), pouring wine, working the room, and introducing diners across tables. While some French restaurants tend toward austerity in food, service, and décor, (a rigor that can lead to rigor mortis), Le Canard is a decidedly unfussy place, casual in its manners but not its food. You can order a salad as an entrée and not be looked at askance, as if you were a cheapskate squatting on prime real estate. Stop in for one of Le Canard's trustworthy French classics, like duck confit, snails in garlic butter, or croque monsieur.
2. Brasserie 292
In France, the brasserie is the upscale, effortlessly suave cousin of the bistro, complete with white linens and bow-tied servers. Poughkeepsie's Brasserie 292 delivers such relaxed elegance. Try a traditional appetizer like soup a l'ognion or warm camembert wrapped in phyllo (made with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company cheese—a welcomed Hudson Valley touch!), and move on to one of their classic entrées, like their niçoise salad with seared rare tuna, bibb lettuce, fingerling potatoes, haricot verts, heirloom tomato, asparagus, boiled egg, niçoise olives, and vinaigrette, or their mussels and fries with tasso ham, leeks, and cream.
3. Le Petit Bistro
Whether an appetizer off their bistro menu, like pâté maison or escargot, or a plat du jour from their specials menu, the intimate eatery in Rhinebeck offers a diverse range of Francophile favorites. Opened by husband-and-wife duo John Paul and Yvonne Crozier 25 years ago as a simple store front bistro, Le Petit Bistro holds true to European traditions of market-to-table dining, in-house butchering, local produce, and fresh seafood.
4. Cafe Les Baux
Specializing in Southeast French countryside cuisine, Chef Herve Bochard opened his authentic bistro in Millbrook with his wife in 1986 after leaving France. The menu consists of a diverse array of salads, sandwiches, classics, and main courses. Try traditional dishes like croque monsieur, escargot, salade nicoise au thon frais (fresh tuna), or fig and goat cheese salad, and look out for their fresh rotating fish special every week.
5. Brasserie Le Bouchon
Cold Spring's traditional brasserie prides itself on its large, hefty servings of traditional French favorites, like foie gras with a cranberry shallot relish; boudin noir, or black blood sausage, with caramelized apples and savory mashed potatoes; and Parisian-style escargot loaded with parsley, garlic, and butter. Other menu favorites include five different types of mussels ranging from curry to traditional marinière, crispy canard confit, and their cassoulet, a traditional white bean and pork stew.