Posted tagged ‘French restaurants’

Sweet Resto, Sweet Town

February 9, 2015

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If you visit this region, you’re going to visit the Pont du Gard. No ifs, ands, or buts, because it’s totally amazing and you have to see it to believe it. And virtually across the road is the lovely, albeit rather deserted, town of Castillon du Gard. In this town there are several restaurants whose prices will make you faint, but there’s also

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Les Jarres, which Maryse and I happened into almost by accident, and where we promptly fell in love. With the restaurant, that is. If you go, get the plat du jour, which will be something prepared à la plancha. In our case, it was tender strips of pork, served on a wooden board with salad, an earthy purée of mushrooms, a ramekin of creamed leeks, and potatoes for her, sautéed fennel for me. It was copious, and every bite was delicious. All this for 16 Euros, which won’t even get you an appetizer at the famous restaurant practically next door. The house wine, however, was pretty bad, and I advise you to get a real bottle of something better; they’ll cork it later so that you can take anything that remains with you.

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After lunch you can stroll through a town where the graffitti might be written in Provençale, or maybe it’s in Occitan, we didn’t know. And if you do, please speak up!

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It’s a charming little place that invites lingering,

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either near the town’s mascot,

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or on this beautiful little bench. Just remember: plat du jour, a real bottle of wine. You’ll love it there, I promise.

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Such A Pretty Life

December 11, 2014

IMG_8895 I’ve been neglecting to show you where I am, mostly because most of where I’ve been is in the classroom eight hours a day. And while that’s fascinating to me, I know that it’s bound to be somewhat less so for you. It’s hard to explain why I want to spend all day working on my French grammar, so you’ll have to trust me when I suggest that we all have our quirky desires, and this is one of mine. And then, cracking my brain cells over the proper placement of prepositions in such a beautiful place, well, that’s pretty primo. IMG_8822 When I wake up in the morning and step out on my balcony, it looks like this, when it’s not raining. We’ve actually had more rainy days than I would have imagined possible, but we’re in a sunny spell now, and we all love it. IMG_8730 This is what I come home to, when a glass or two of wine after class goes perfectly with the view. I have to say that it’s great to be back where $8 gets you a really nice bottle of everyday wine. IMG_8893 And in between, I’m here at school. IMG_8898 We take our breaks morning and afternoon in a gorgeous garden, IMG_8902 and this is our dining room, where we’re extremely well-fed by Chef Nathalie, IMG_8903 amidst the cheerful holiday decorations. IMG_8809 We’re just 10 minutes from Nice by bus, but I’ve only been there once so far, because I’m pretty beat by the end of the day, and spent the first of our three weekends here at home in my bathrobe with an unbelievable cold. IMG_8859 Luckily, though, we went on a wonderful school excursion to Saint-Paul de Vence, a town famous for its art and artists. IMG_8861 It’s a lovely little place, touristy, but in a bearable way, IMG_8863 since the shops and galleries have a lot of high quality stuff. IMG_8864 For once I wished I’d had time to shop, even though normally I’m not much of a shopper. We had a wonderful lunch there at Le Caruso, and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, I heartily recommend it. IMG_8885 We also went to Tourettes-sur-Loup, an almost unbearably picturesque, if rather deserted, little town. IMG_8870 IMG_8872 IMG_8874 IMG_8875 IMG_8876 IMG_8879 I’ve also seen some great French art that I want to share with you, but that will have to wait until next time. I’ve got to do my homework and get some sleep before class in the morning. It’s a lot like being a kid again, in the best possible way.

The Pleasures Of Lyon

November 1, 2013

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We went up to Lyon, our favorite city in France, perhaps because it’s the one we know the best, to see our friends Lucy and Loïc (whose lovely nude this is), and to do what we always do in Lyon: eat fabulously, shop, and walk around admiring the city. In the past we’ve always come for Shel’s visits at the cancer center, but this time the trip was just, as the French say “pour le fun.” That’s right, there’s actually no word for fun in French, so they’ve adopted the English word. The French have a lot of fun, but there’s no one word that carries the same meaning, which I find peculiar.

IMG_8258When we arrived at the Avignon train station we discovered a fun new toy – a station where three people can sit and pedal. At first I thought it was part of some national exercise campaign, but actually it’s even cleverer than that: it’s a place to plug in your phone and recharge its batteries by pedaling. Now there’s an idea that we ought to import.

IMG_8274Lucy introduced us to a charming café on the Croix Rousse hill called Le Canut et les Gones, where I had one of the best soups of my life, a velouté of trompettes de la mort and pied de mouton mushrooms with a chantilly of foie gras drifting on top of the soup.  After lunch we went to Lucy’s teaching kitchen Plum Lyon where she and I spent several hours cooking up a complicated and interesting supper of oeufs en meurette and little ballotines of rabbit and veal stuffed with more of the same excellent mushrooms that had been in my lunchtime soup.

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We spent the next day wandering around the area of the lovely Place des Terreaux

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with its stunning Fontaine Bartholdi, which, according to the All-Knowing Wikipedia, depicts France as a woman seated in a chariot controlling the four great rivers of France, represented by wildly uncontrolled, nostril-dilated, and truly ferocious-looking horses.

But to tell the truth, we were in that neighborhood for the shopping, since Lyon is one of the few places in France where I can easily get shoes and clothes in my size. A new pair of boots, a dress, and a vest later, I was as happy as I’ve been in ages, and we were off to Vieux Lyon for lunch.

IMG_8302Vieux Lyon is a pretty area of steep cobbled streets

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and picturesque old buildings, but this time we were there for the food. Because really, when you’re in Lyon, you have to eat as much as possible because you can eat better there, for less strain on your credit card, that anywhere else in France, so far as I can tell.

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We love the cozy little Restaurant du Soleil, where Shel always has their giant quenelle, a specialty of Lyon, and not like anything I’ve ever had elsewhere. This time I had their tripes à la Lyonnaise, which was un vrai délice, something astonishingly delicious, and quite different from other tripe dishes I’ve eaten in France. When I quizzed our charming server he explained that it was made with bonnet de boeuf, a round part that’s one of a cow’s three stomachs, called the reticulum in English, as opposed to the usual tripe in France which is made from pig.

He gave me a hasty description of the recipe and so I made a flying run through the Halles Paul Bocuse, in search of a bonnet de boeuf that I could grab quickly before we missed our train. I succeeded in finding one, as well as some beautiful cheeses from La Mère Richard, all of which I stuffed into the overhead compartment of the train. I did notice some delicate sniffing and curious glances cast in my direction, and so I had to explain that no, it was not any part of my personal stomach that was producing those slightly indelicate aromas, but my purchases from Les Halles, which made our fellow passengers nod and smile indulgently.

So now the bonnet is reposing in my freezer, and on Sunday I’ll be making my best attempt at tripes à la Lyonnaise. I’ll keep you posted, if only to show you the bonnet in its original state, since cow reticulum isn’t a common ingredient, however lovely, however Lyonnais.

Colmar Highlights

December 6, 2011

On our last night in Colmar I stood on the little bridge outside our apartment and thought “I could get used to seeing this every day.”  Actually, I kind of wanted to live forever in our adorable little home in La Maison Bleue, which is a wonderful place to stay if you’re ever in Colmar.

We’d sit in the cozy kitchen and Shel would eat the little bread people called mannala, and the swans would get any leftover crumbs. Kind of a Hansel and Gretel dream, and very comforting.

We’d go out shopping for gingerbread

or pretty dishes and textiles, which are two really strong points of shopping in Alsace,

and we found plenty of Christmas gifts all within easy strolling distance of home. We also tried a few restaurants, and if you get a chance to have the jambonneau with choucroute at La Taverne, or the venison stew called civet de biche et cerf at Winstub Brenner, jump at it.

What we didn’t expect at all was that we’d have a chance to be on French television, but there, right outside the museum, they were about to film an hour-long introduction to Colmar with a live audience, and even though it was a toss-up (go to the museum, become a star on French TV, go to the museum…nah!” we happily settled ourselves onto the risers and indeed, when the show aired the next day, there we were, looking right at home.

However, it was just a short visit, and once we had bought as much cheese (that fabulously smelly Munster), wine (those ultra-delicious Alsatian whites), clothing (aforementioned hat and jacket) and gifts (now that would be telling) as we could reasonably carry back with us on the train, we had to head back down the south, laden like Santa but minus the reindeer, tired, and happy. Christmas markets will do that to you, all of that, if you let them.

No Chef Is An Island

November 9, 2011

Sometimes the thing you most look forward to turns out to be the biggest disappointment. As I explained here, our ultimate destination on this trip was the Ile d’Oléron, and the restaurant called Le Grand Large, which is housed in a hotel of the same name.

It’s a very beautiful hotel, and we were given a lovely room

with a view out across the restaurant to the Atlantic.

An enticing path led from the hotel down to the beautiful beach,

and we didn’t hesitate to get right in the mood.

The sand was soft and golden,

and despite an amount of litter that was shocking to our Pacific Northwest sensibilities

the place was breathtakingly lovely. I remember now that I said to Shel “I’m so happy!”

Reluctantly we tore ourselves away from the beach to go in and dress up for dinner. We’d seen the gorgeous food on TV, the chef had said he’d cook in accordance with my dietary restrictions, and I was vibrating with anticipation. An hour later I was vibrating with fury, and I still haven’t entirely recovered.

I’d sent the chef, David Boyer, an excruciatingly detailed list of what I can and cannot eat, what any American restaurant would recognize as a strict low carb diet. They’d said he’d be glad accommodate me. So why was the amuse bouche based on carrots, after I’d said no carrots? Why was my first course a tartare of fish and green apples, after I’d said no fruit? And why was my main course fish on a bed of quinoa, after I’d said no starch? In an hour-long argument with the hotel manager, because the chef himself could not be bothered to apologize, I learned that a) he had apparently forgotten, and b) he was very tired, both physically and mentally, as it was the end of the season and they’d be closing in just six days, and c) they had a document that said diabetics can eat all those things, so my list of what I do and do not eat was not relevant. It was the most infuriating thing I’ve experienced since I became diabetic, and there was nothing to be done about it. We’d traveled 900 kilometres to eat at that restaurant because they’d said they would be glad to have me, and they’d totally blown it off.

In America I’m pretty sure that the chef would have come to the table, said something along the lines of “I am so terribly sorry, there was some miscommunication, let me make it up to you by giving you a fabulous dinner tomorrow” and although I would have been disappointed, he would have made it right. In this case, not only did none of that happen, but they still charged me 50 Euros for the dinner (about $70) and suggested that we eat in some other restaurant the following night.

So no, I do not suggest that you trek to the Ile d’Oléron to worship at the shrine of a chef that can’t be bothered. Instead, if you find yourself there, eat at Le Saint Pierre, as we did the second night, where you can really enjoy yourself, be treated like an honored guest, and eat whatever you like.

Or go to almost any good seafood place and eat mouclade, the local preparation of mussels in a cream sauce with just a touch of curry. It’s utterly delicious.

If you go, as we did, back to the continent from the island, you can go to Marennes, famous for its oysters and its low tides. Boats there  are made specially to be beached, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sight

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What we did in Marennes, and I definitely recommend that you do too if you get the chance, was to visit La Cité de l’Huitre, Oyster City. It’s kind of an oyster theme park, but the very best kind, full of opportunities to learn all about the life cycle of the oyster, and the history and techniques of local oyster cultivation.

We were able to have a guided visit with Yann, an ostreiculteur whose grandfather and father were also oyster farmers. Once again there were tons of kids on the visit, and Yann did a great job of getting them involved in his demonstrations. The French are really big on taking their kids to learn about all kinds of artisanal activities and food production, and we’re always struck by how seriously the kids take it, and how generally well-behaved they are. The visit ended cleverly, with a lesson on how to safely open oysters, and a tasting.  The catch?  Each adult got an oyster knife and two oysters; if you could open them you got to eat them. Luckily, Shel could open them but wouldn’t eat an oyster if his life depended on it, so I got to eat them all. Kind of like the visit to Cognac where he did the driving and I did the drinking. Not that I’m complaining!

That night we crossed back over the 3 kilometre long bridge to the Ile d’Oléron for a bittersweet end to our stay. I don’t think I’ve ever been so psyched about doing something, only to have it end so badly. We did manage to have an excellent time in spite of it all, but it was tough. Next time you’re in France, try to go somewhere where they’ll care about you. That would be almost anywhere but Le Grand Large.

La Part Des Anges

November 5, 2011

The Angels’ Share, La Part Des Anges, that’s what they call those elusive vapors that are constantly escaping from the production of cognac, and which feed a black mold that covers all buildings where cognac is aging. It’s a dead giveaway to deliciousness, even if it does make the town of Cognac look rather drab.

There’s really nothing in Cognac except, you guessed it, cognac, and cognac houses, which are everywhere you look. We were there on a Saturday when most were closed, including the larger producers like Rémy Martin and Hennessy, so we went on a guided tour of the Baron Otard facility.

The visitable part of Otard is housed in the chateau where King François Ier, or Francis I, was born in 1494. It’s a lovely old place,

and remained his home until he died in 1547. He was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci

who designed this vaulted chamber for him, with ogives in the form of a Y instead of the more common X shape. The guide told us this, as I can’t claim to know one ogive from another. Baron Otard bought the chateau in 1795, expressly for the purpose of making cognac there, and is credited with having saved the property from destruction during the French Revolution.

English prisoners were also stockpiled there during the French and Indian War for Canada, and they left their marks behind, rather neatly.

While visiting Otard we learned all sorts of useful and arcane little tidbits,

like the fact that because the cellars are infested with tiny wood-eating bugs, the oak barrels are rimmed with bands of the lighter chestnut wood, which work like sacrificial anodes, the bugs evidently preferring them to the oak itself.

Spiders are also encouraged to inhabit the cellars, because their main diet is those wood-eating bugs. It’s a whole ecosystem down there.

The visit ended with a tasting, although since it was before lunch I didn’t indulge much. Actually I spent a lot of time watching parents lifting their really small children up to sniff the different glasses, but they all moved faster than my camera as the parents were anxious to get their own noses in there. French kids do seem to be really interested in cognac, however.

The shop is at the very end of the visit, but the stuff is really high end, starting at around 145 Euros a bottle. We didn’t get to taste from this 3200 Euro bottle, but I’m guessing it’s pretty special.

To clear our heads of those insidious vapors we walked around a bit in search of lunch. This is the prettiest building we saw, much of Cognac being rather uninspired. However, we did find a very nice restaurant, La Table d’Olivier, and since Cognac is reputed to be a culinary wasteland, it’s worth going there if you find yourself in town and in need of sustenance.

Then, for a complete change of pace, we drove to the little hamlet of Chaniers to visit the very small production facility of Clos de Nancrevant. A pocket-sized family-run business, Monsieur and Madame Quéré-Jelineau are the current generation of producers, making cognac, Pineau des Charentes, and Charentais wine. When we arrived Madame mentioned that her husband was “in the cuve” which I first took to be a translation error on my part, since normally spirits are in the cuve, not people.

But in the cuve he was, and he popped out faster that I could snap a good picture of him. I think the vapors were slowing down my shutter finger that day, or anyway that’s my excuse. Distillation was to start the next day and he was scrubbing out the cuve in preparation.

They have a beautiful alembic for their distillation, and Madame explained to us that Charentais craftsmen are in demand all over the world for their expertise in both alembic and barrel making.

Somehow kids and cognac just seem to go together.

Our visit was bisected by the arrival of a customer wanting her plastic jugs filled up with wine. It seems a shame to me to put wine in plastic, but many people in France do buy wine this way, as it’s a lot cheaper than the bottled stuff.

Clos de Nancrevant also bottles sparkling rosé and white grape juice, which made Shel very happy, since as far as he’s concerned, the angels can have all of his share of cognac. Which means, as you might imagine, more for me, and that I’m lucky enough to always have a designated driver, just in case I don’t really leave the angels their fair share.

Lovely Limoges

October 28, 2011

Let me say right upfront that there’s a lot of Limoges that’s not lovely, but I’m not going to show you that, because there’s so much that’s really breathtaking. We arrived all crumpled and weary, after six hours on the milk train, a train where sometimes we were riding forwards and sometimes backwards as it chugged its way in and out of small mountain towns we’d never heard of.

Coming in to one of the most beautiful train stations ever took a lot of the sting out of the fact that I’d had my legs entwined for five hours with those of the very tall young woman sitting opposite me. We had to ask each other’s permission to move more than an inch or two, and our feet and knees had quite an intimate relationship by the time I pried myself out of the train and stumbled into the damp and slightly rainy air of Limoges.

It was an easy walk from the train station to the charming little Hotel de Paris , and from there to the wonderful restaurant Le Boeuf à la Mode. If you get to Limoges, stay there, and dine on the famous Limousin beef, which tastes just like beef is supposed to taste, only better. The hotel owner and the restaurant staff were all welcoming and delightful

and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the ceiling from my super comfortable bed, which shows you either how exhausted I was, or how good the wine that accompanied that beef was, or maybe a bit of both.

Of course you can’t go to Limoges without looking at porcelain, so we went to the Royal Limoges factory, hoping to see it in action. It being Friday, and this being France, as the  factory shop keeper and museum curator explained to me, the factory wasn’t working, and we’d have to content ourselves with a visit to the old, preserved parts of the enormous kiln and its associated displays. This turned out to be pretty interesting

and we were reminded that porcelain isn’t all about pretty patterns and colors

but that many utilitarian objects were, and still are, made of porcelain. We thought about buying some of the beautiful dishes, but realized that we’d need a new house and new furniture to go with them, so we left without making a big commitment to changing our lifestyle.

Outside the factory this cute display of cheery street art presaged a slight clearing of the weather, for which we were grateful, having decided at the last minute against bringing our umbrellas on this trip.

Limoges has on old part of town that’s perched on a hill

and surrounds a stupendous cathedral, which is itself surrounded

by a splendid botanical garden, full of plants I’d never seen before.

I have to admit that I fell wholeheartedly in love with this tree, one of the few specimens in the garden not to have a name tag, so my love is destined to remain anonymous, alas.

Inside the cathedral, which was begun at the start of the 13th century

everything is impossibly beautiful.

And speaking of impossible beauty, Shel took this picture, and since nearly all my pictures of stained glass look burned out, I’m still trying to figure out how he did it. He doesn’t want to tell, so he says he “just pointed the camera at it.” Yep, I believe that.

Next we went to what is undoubtedly one of the most unique and heart breaking places in France, but that’s another story, one that I’ll tell you soon, when I’m a little more recovered from the emotion of it.