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DATELINE: Albertville

February 20, 1992|MIKE KUPPER

You've been in the French Alps for a couple of weeks now and it's fine. The scenery is breathtaking, the Olympic competition is interesting and the food ranges from good to superb. But something is missing. Home cooking.

So, you keep your eyes peeled for a hamburger joint.

But there are no golden arches here, at least not in this part of France.

Then one day, while walking near the speedskating rink, you notice a little hut sharing corner space with a restaurant advertising traditional French cuisine. The stand offers cheese sandwiches, ham sandwiches and, glory be, hot dogs! Now, a hot dog is not a hamburger but, under the circumstances, close enough. Besides, the idea of a French hot dog is intriguing. Can the French culinary wizards improve this noble dish?

So you step up to the window and order that most traditional of American meals--hot dog, fries and a beer.

The woman behind the counter drops the fry basket into the hot oil, then proceeds with the hot dog. First the bun. It isn't really a bun, but instead half a loaf of French bread. She slits it part way and slathers on brown mustard. Then, with tongs, she reaches into a vast pot of hot water, pulls out a longish wiener and lays it gently in the bread. Then she does it again, partly overlapping the first sausage with the second.

Granted, these dogs are steeped, not grilled, but the product at presentation makes a Dodger Dog look positively puny.

The proof, though, is in the tasting.

The bread is delicious, delightfully crusty on the outside, soft but still chewy in the middle. The mustard is piquant, verging on hot. Magnifique!

And the sausage? The sausage. Well, frankly, these dogs are not so hot. Not bad tasting but hardly memorable. And they don't snap when you bite into them. But never mind. You've had worse hot dogs in the States.

And the fries are excellent, long and skinny, golden and crispy, not the least bit greasy-tasting. But then, you expect great fries here. They are, after all, French fries.

The beer, compared to some of the great European brews found here, is pedestrian, an Alsatian brand with no color and tasting much like no-character American brands. But that's OK, too. This was to be an American meal.

Actually, it was great. Only one real problem. No onions.

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