La Madeleine is a French-themed restaurant, currently open in nine major American cities. Die-hard foodies, especially those of the French cuisine persuasion, have soundly panned the popular restaurant as a counterfeit. Does it truly deserve the criticism?
La Madeleine is a chain restaurant. That alone takes away the charm of an authentic French bistro, tucked away in an alley off a cobblestone boulevard. What it lacks in personal quirk, it more than makes up for with a clean, warm atmosphere. The décor is that of an intimate lodge, complete with polished wood floors and open fireplace. The table placement is ideal for people watching, yet the spacing gives diners enough privacy for conversation and relaxation.
The language and content of the menu is the heart of the debate among detractors. The menu has a mix of French – at times incorrect - sprinkled throughout a mainly American English menu. This infuriates most former French majors, but charms the majority of the public. Even the highest regarded French restaurants in America have English translations right along with the French menu items. Let’s face it… La Madeleine is located in the United States, so let the menu be English. A few French-language faux pas never hurt the exquisite cuisine. Great food is great food, period.
Finally, let’s address the issue that should be the top concern of every dining experience – the food. The food at La Madeleine is solidly good. Not all of the dishes are authentically French, and the café selections come off as more Starbucks than Payard. The majority of the menu items are French and reasonably delicious, though; enough to warrant a return visit.
The Potentially Fatal Flaw:
La Madeleine’s main flaw is not in the choice or quality of cuisine, nor in its execution of menu style, but in how it chose to market itself. Expecting a café – bakery – bistro, as it is billed, patrons visit the eatery and are disappointed to find a buffet line. La Madeleine should be classed as a buvette, and a rather good one at that. It’s so reminiscent of a ski lodge in France, you’ll be surprised that tartiflette isn’t on the menu. Don’t go if you expect a high-class experience, where the wait staff caters to your every desire. Do go if you want good, French-themed food in a warm, clean, and cozy atmosphere.