I’m reading Большой свет [High society, Le grand monde], an 1840 novella by Vladimir Sollogub, yet another fine writer who doesn’t deserve the obscurity into which he has fallen, and I was detained by a couple of items in this passage (Russian below the cut): he says he would like to write about grand passions and thwarted villains…

But alas! I must choose the personages of my story not from an invented world, not from among imaginary people, but among you, my friends, whom I meet every day, today in the Mikhailovsky Theater, tomorrow on the railroad, and always on the Nevsky Prospect.
You, fine young people, my friends, you are good companions, but you are not knights of ancient sensitivity, you are not heroes of today’s novels. You dine at Дюмё, you call for Taglioni, you dance with the dowry of young women or with the importance of young coquettes.

(I’m not at all sure about “the importance of young coquettes” and I wonder if значение ‘meaning, importance’ had some particular sense in the early nineteenth century that I’m not aware of.)
The first thing that struck me was the railroad: the formal opening of the Tsarskoe Selo Railway was October 30, 1837, so this must be one of the earliest references in Russian literature, and it’s interesting to see it mentioned so offhandedly. But what drove me to post was the name of the restaurant. You will note that I’ve left it in Russian; this is because it’s the name of a French restaurant, but it’s not clear what the French name is. This edition of Sollogub renders it Дюмё [Dyumyo], with a ё [yo], but that’s pretty clearly an error—it should be Дюме [Dyume]. This suggests Dumais, and indeed the French Wikipedia article on d’Anthès, the foppish French officer who killed Pushkin in a duel and became the great villain of Russian literary history, says “d’Anthès fut présenté en 1834 au poète par des relations communes, au Dumais, célèbre restaurant français de saint Pétersbourg, dirigé (1820-1840) par un ancien soldat de Napoléon.” All very well, but there’s no citation, and I am unable to find any other mention of it under that name. Google Books tells me that Madame Pouchkine, a 2008 book by Laurence Catinot-Crost, spells it Dumé (“restaurant français, célèbre, sis rue Malaïa Morskaïa à Saint-Pétersbourg”), but I can’t find any support for that either. If it’s so célèbre, why can’t I pin down its name?

The original:

Но увы! я должен выбирать лица своего рассказа не из вымышленного мира, не из небывалых людей, а среди вас, друзья мои, с которыми я вижусь и встречаюсь каждый день, нынче в Михайловском театре, завтра на железной дороге, а на Невском проспекте всегда.
Вы, добрые молодые люди, друзья мои, вы хорошие товарищи, но вы не рыцари древней чувствительности, вы не герои нынешних романов. Вы обедаете у Дюмё, вы вызываете Тальони, вы танцуете с приданым молодых девушек или с значением молодых кокеток.


  1. Could Дюмё represent a name like Dumeu? Not that I know of a famous St. Petersburg restaurant by that name either, but sometimes the ё represents a schwa-like vowel, cf. Гёте.

  2. But every other reference I can find in Russian calls it either Дюме or Дюмэ, so I’m pretty sure ё is wrong. Before I discovered that, I was checking Dumieux, which yielded no results.

  3. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    The original restaurant was Andrieux, as Pyotr Vyazemsky reports in his notebooks (here, p. 169) while already dining at his successor on 3 June 1830. By the end of the month, on the 29, he reports dining at Дюме. That is, in fact, the same restaurant. Here is a long quotation from a journal from 1833.
    Searching for the Russian names Андриё and Дюме together yields the entire history of the restaurant, from 1820 up to the unrelated and far from aristocratic restaurant that occupies the same address today, seemingly oblivious to its literary history.
    However, a reliable French spelling of Дюме seems nowhere to be found. I don’t want to make too much of Vyazemsky’s spelling preferences, but could it be that Дюме was originally a Russian name and that only Andrieux was a Frenchman?

  4. I can’t read the Russian texts that Giacomo cites. Just wanted to say that this discussion of Дюме made me think of du mieux. m-l, can that sorta suggest “of a superior kind”, “for the better sort” ?

  5. Hat, I now see that you had “checked Dumieux”. My idea is that it is not intended to be a real name, but a sarky one contrived by Sollogub from du mieux

  6. Or contrived by somebody.

  7. From Giacomo’s link to Vyazemsky’s journal, GooT renders поддерживается со славою Г-м Дюме as unterstützt mit Herrlichkeit Mr. Dumais m. (whatever that may mean, the to-English version is “supported with glory Mr. Dumais m .”).
    GooT must be drawing on corpus statistics here. I can’t imagine how else it got the idea to use the French lexeme “Dumais” to translate Дюме, instead of a phonetic transcription.

  8. I guess these young fellows danced not with the ladies but with what the ladies personified … the money of the rich brides, the self-esteem of the young coquettes?
    Taglioni is described as the pioneer of short skirts in St Petersburg (as in, only 4 inches below the knee!), that’s pretty exciting.

  9. I found something on Дюме here –
    But there he’s called Дюме without ё.

  10. I wonder what was on the menu of a fine French restaurant in St Petersburg in the 19th century. On suspects it would be nothing like what might be found in posh French restaurants today.

  11. Well, depends which posh French restaurants you go to. Of course it would be nothing like anything influenced by nouvelle cuisine, but traditional French cuisine was pretty conservative, and I’ll bet a lot of the sauces and preparations would look familiar to a habitué of La Tour d’Argent.

  12. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @ Bathrobe:
    On this page there are a few menus of fine French restaurants in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century.
    They certainly seem old-fashioned, but aside from the obsolete sequence (hors d’oeuvre, potage, relevé, entrée, rôt, entremets) the individual dishes wouldn’t look out of place in a restaurant today, I think.
    I’d even venture to say that if you interpret the unspecified hors d’oeuvre in a suitably modern way; you pick a single soup; a single main dish from among the relevés, entrées and roasts; declare the vegetable entremet its side and the sweet entremet your dessert; then you get a reasonable prix fixe menu for a traditional French restaurant today.

  13. “Traditional French restaurant”, now that’s a fine piece of syntactic ambiguity. It would mean [[traditional] French restaurant] in America, and [[traditional French] restaurant] in France. These are two quite different things, as even I, a non-“foodie”, know from watching arte’s Cuisine des terroirs (regional cooking).
    I suspect things haven’t changed much in America as to what one expects and gets from a “French restaurant” there – pricey la-di-da cuissine de mes deux, whether nouvelle or haute. Of course similar disapproval must be directed at “American restaurants” in Germany where, say, fatback with okra is unknown.
    Isn’t it the case that “traditional” usually means “regional” or “ethnic” when applied to food prepared outside a restaurant ?

  14. It would mean [[traditional] French restaurant] in America, and [[traditional French] restaurant] in France.
    What makes you say that? I am an American and I interpret it the latter way.
    pricey la-di-da cuissine de mes deux
    I have no idea what the last part of this is supposed to mean, but if you are not a foodie, I’m surprised you feel qualified to pronounce on the quality of the food served at such places.

  15. I’m surprised you feel qualified to pronounce on the quality of the food served at such places.
    I was not at all pronoucing on the quality of food, but on the varieties of it that can be known. In my books at any rate, “la-di-da” is a kind, not a degree of something.
    You’ve made a good sociolinguistic point, though: “French restaurant” in America conjures up “quality”, whereas “regional cooking” is associated with “variety”.

  16. “cuissine de mes deux”
    A dish made with thighs? Whose?

  17. A dish made with thighs? Whose?

    (vulg.) De mes deux (testicules), s’emploie avec un nom par insulte, mépris, dérision. Un flic de mes deux.

  18. What makes you say that?
    Here‘s a WiPe passage about traditional-French cooking and traditional-outside-of-France French-restaurant cooking. These are different traditions:

    La cuisine traditionnelle française est généralement perçue en dehors de la France à travers sa grande cuisine servie dans des restaurants aux prix élevés. Cette cuisine très raffinée a, la plupart du temps, reçu l’influence des cuisines régionales de Lyon et de celle du sud-ouest de la France. Cependant, les Français ne mangent pas ou ne préparent pas cette cuisine dans leur vie de tous les jours. Généralement les personnes âgées tendent à consommer des plats de leur région ou de celle où elles ont vécu, tandis que les plus jeunes sont enclins à manger des spécialités des autres régions ou encore des spécialités étrangères revisitées

    There is a similar state of affairs in many countries, I don’t doubt (des spécialités étrangères revisitées). What “American restaurants” in Germany serve up does not reflect the actual variety of American cooking, but only an idea of what “typically American” is. What “German restaurants” in America serve up does not reflect the actual variety of German cooking etc.
    All along I have been talking about variety, not quality. These are matters of fact, not of “value judgement”. This comment is non-controversial (although the claim that it is so may stir up controversy).

  19. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @ Stu Clayton
    In France, there is a national cuisine and then there are regional cuisines.
    French cuisine, which we could also call traditional French cuisine or classical French cuisine, “is a professional cuisine par excellence” (Davidson 2006). It was developed since the 17th century by chefs in Paris, and eventually by the same chefs in the kitchens of wealthy foreigners too.
    Like our host languagehat, I’m not sure what you mean exactly other than disapproval when you write of “pricey la-di-da cuisine de mes deux.” My best guess is that you disapprove of expensive and pretentious and stuffy restaurant cookery. If so, I suspect your disapproval would extend to traditional French restaurants in France, perhaps especially those of the past.
    To cite again the Oxford Dictionary of Food: “Never claiming to feed the masses or provide food to those of modest means, French chefs have long cultivated an artistic detachment from those they served and have traditionally claimed that their cuisine was only for those with sophisticated palates and discerning taste. … In a word, French cuisine was the exact opposite of its rivals that promoted a more democratic approach to cookery and, perhaps because of its very aloofness, became surrounded by a certain mystique.”
    In a sense, the Nouvelle Cuisine of the 1970s belonged to this tradition, just as the nouvelle cuisine of the 1730s had. The top French chefs today have surely moved on again. “French cooking is a monument in a permanent state of renovation.”
    However, it seems reasonable to call traditional French restaurant cooking the style of classical cuisine practiced in pricey French restaurants all over the world for a couple of centuries, 1770-1970 or thereabouts. The cuisine of Brillat-Savarin, Carême, Escoffier, Pellaprat. Still the cuisine of a pricey, fusty, traditional (possibly la-di-da de tes deux) Parisian restaurant like La Tour d’Argent.
    At least as a personal impression, I’d say you also find a less fancy informal version of this same traditional national cuisine at downmarket “traditional French” restaurants in France, such as the small Parisian chain Chez Clément. I could see the same dishes on their menu and in the Saint Petersburg menus from a century ago—though the dish may well look quite different once served in the two establishments.
    I’m also skeptical of the claim that what the French eat is so unrelated to traditional French restaurant cuisine. Sure, there are local traditions and foreign imports. But there’s also le Ginette, i.e., Ginette Mathiot’s (1932) Je sais cuisiner, whose over six million copies sold are a clear indication of its role in teaching a few generations of Frenchmen (or more likely, Frenchwomen) a national cookery.
    This is not to deny the wonderful variety of French regional cuisines that you refer to more approvingly. But those are not traditional restaurant cooking in France: “the cooking of provincial France did not truly acquire gastronomic status until a relatively recent date. … The [19th] century’s most famous food writer, Brillat-Savarin, has literally nothing at all to say about regional cuisines in his Physiologie du goût. According to Davidson (2006), the recognition that “each region has its own full-fledged ‘gastronomy'” is no more than half a century old.
    Moreover, such a recognition naturally implies that today in France you can go to a French restaurant or to an Alsatian restaurant, a Breton restaurant, a Gascon restaurant, a Lyonnais restaurant, a Provençal restaurant. I don’t have data to back this up, but I’ll admit as a personal prejudice that a “regional French” restaurant putting all the distinct regional cuisines under the same roof sounds more likely to be found in the United States than in France.

  20. Still the cuisine of a pricey, fusty, traditional (possibly la-di-da de tes deux) Parisian restaurant like La Tour d’Argent.
    Which Michelin hasn’t liked for many years. In 1982, it shockingly took all Lasserre’s three stars away in one hit. I interviewed M. Lasserre (and dined there for the only time, unfortunately), and he was contemptuous of Michelin, saying they had only done it because they wanted space (they severely limit the number of three stars) to put in a nouvelle cuisine establishment. He pointed out that he was still booked solid for six months in advance.
    A blog called Food Snob, probably French though in English, says:
    “In 2001, Jean-Louis Nomicas replaced Michel Roth as Lasserre’s head chef… Here he was a breath of fresh air. He decided to preserve the classics that had made the restaurant its name, whilst simultaneously rejuvenating them. To do this, he called upon his southern roots, regard for the seasons and creativity. He has also spoken of his guiding philosophy, defining three key principles: keep it simple; respect tradition; and refresh tradition. ‘The magic of the kitchen is the continuous creativity. You always create and you have to re-invent yourself twice a day. You work with products that are alive, that come from the earth… You try to be creative. That’s my passion,’ he has said. ”
    Of its current head chef, Christophe Moret, Lasserre’s site says: “Inspired by his classical training, his superb technical skills allow for inventive combinations which achieve a subtle balance between traditional and modern cuisine.
    “Christophe wants to embrace the essence of the Lasserre tradition and add his own contemporary touch by choosing unique accompaniments or by producing lighter sauces for a health-conscious clientele.”
    Back in M. Lasserre’s days, it was fiercely (and wonderfully) traditional …

  21. What I’ve got from this discussion is that:
    1. ‘Traditional’ (classical) French cuisine is not for the hoi polloi, which is obviously why it’s called haute cuisine.
    2. ‘Regional’ French cuisine is peasant food and it’s only become acceptable in the relatively recent past.
    3. The St Petersburg restaurant with the mysterious name featured ‘traditional’ (classical) cuisine and was probably reasonably close to what you can get in upclass French restaurants today.
    4. The definition of ‘French cuisine’ is still ‘traditional cuisine’, but it’s more complicated that it used to be because (1) there has more recently been heavy influence from nouvelle cuisine (2) there has been a trend to reappraise ‘regional cuisine’ and (3) it’s possible that some overseas establishments may just be trading on the reputation of French food.
    Does m-l have aught to say?

  22. Bathrobe, I don’t have much to say because a) I have not lived in France for a long time and b) my family was never one for haute cuisine, although one grandmother (from Southern France) and one great-grandmother (from Paris) were excellent cooks. It was also extremely rare for us to go to restaurants, and if we did, it was never a high-priced “restaurant gastronomique”.
    I agree that French restaurants do not advertise “cuisine régionale” unless they practice the local traditions of the region where they are actually located. This phrase (meant to attract tourists) would not refer to a menu including dishes from different regions (which would be unlikely to satisfy people from those regions who would know what their own dishes should taste like). In Paris there are many restaurants run by people from specific regions, who advertise dishes typical of their “terroirs”, for instance, spécialités bordelaises ‘Bordeaux area specialties’, just as cooks from Asia might advertise spécialités viêtnamiennes or the like.
    I cringe here when I (occasionally) read things such as a descripbion of a dish made with a cream sauce as “so evocative of Provence”, written by people who have obviously never set foot there or even read much about it: Provence is an agriculturally poor area, its cows if any give very little milk, so the local cuisine is based on olive oil not milk products such as cream and butter. Adding “herbes de Provence” (oregano etc) to a cream sauce would not be enough to make any dish Provençal, any more than adding curry powder to a typical French beef stew would make the dish Indian.

  23. Bathrobe: I think that French regional cuisine isn’t necessarily peasant food: it can also be provincial-city home cooking.
    Marie-Lucie: “All Gaul is divided into three parts: the part that cooks with lard and goose fat, the part that cooks with olive oil, and the part that cooks with butter.” —David Chessler

  24. The wording may be Chessler’s, but the idea is old; the first chapter of Waverley Root’s magisterial The Food of France is titled “Butter, Lard, and Oil.” (What a wonderful writer he was; the first paragraph contains the sentence “The Gauls seemed determined to shock the taste buds by mingling such ingredients as resin, mint, pepper, and honey in a single pungent sauce—which was natural considering some of the dishes then on the menu: heron and dormouse.”)

  25. Unfortunately, Giacomo’s link to the menus of fine French restaurants in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century doesn’t work for me. I would have been very interested, as I love going to pricey la-di-da French restaurants.

  26. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    @ bruessel
    Sorry, it seems I mangled my code because now the link doesn’t work for me either. Here it is again.

  27. The wording may be Chessler’s, but the idea is old

    “Truth cannot be too often repeated.” —Laurence Smith, alias Lorenzo Smythe, alias John Joseph Bonforte.

  28. John Cowan says

    And indeed I have now quoted Chessler three times. There may perhaps be a fourth, but this does not change the truth of my general assertion.

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