Monday, July 27, 2009

La Frahhhnce: Part Deux

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No knitting content today but plenty o' food pr0n!

Why we went to France: Daughter #1 had just finished her study program in Dijon through her college. We "had" to pick her up ;-). Since Tom and I hadn't been to Europe for a couple of decades, we decided to treat ourselves to something very special: a walking tour of the prehistoric cave art of southwest France.This is how special the trip was: Tom actually bought a jacket to wear in restaurants. It's Burberry (ah-hem! and thank you to Palo Alto Nordstrom's for their men's sale a couple of weeks ago).

Our itinerary: Chicago to Dublin to Paris via Aer Lingus. Great fares, nice airline but, wow, Dublin Airport is wacky. Train to southwest France where we met up with the walking tour.

The walking tour: Everything great about France is abundant in the southwest of France. On top of the hills and down in the patchwork of sunflower fields and walnut groves are castles and villages. This is France's food heaven, the home of foie gras, truffles, lots of wines. Humans have lived here for millenia and the caves peppering the hillsides contain cave paintings by early humans.

The brochure of the walking tour used words like "amble" and "easy" and "compact walks". Ha! One day we walked 9.8 miles, most of it uphill (omg) and that wasn't exceptionnal. The guide was super knowledgeable but also super driven. It wasn't what I had pictured, although there were great surprises, too. For example, we met the truffle master Monsieur Édouard, who taught our daughter how to hunt truffles with his golden labrador retriever, as blogged about here last week. The tour lasted six days. The food and hotels were truly fabulous.

Best meal of my life: Before we met up with the tour, we spent one night at Castel Novel, a château that used to belong to the writer Colette. If you know the movie "Gigi", you know her work. So, we're on the grey stone terrace as the sun is setting. An exhuberant riot of flowers is in full bloom over the castle walls and in the garden below. In the distance, sheep and cattle graze and swallows flit in and out of the castle's turrets. Photobucket

The waiter comes out with the mixture of cassis and champagne called kir royal and a surprise gift of assorted hors d'oeuvres: smoked salmon balls, eggplant wontons, foie gras foam in a tiny glass with a tiny spoon, and homemade potato chips.

Then comes the appetizer we ordered: a large prawn in a pool of green avocado purée and red pepper purée, followed by a foie gras tasting done three ways: with tomato jelly, in tiny cubes, and with truffle. We tried it; we ate it; we didn't love it, which leaves all the more foie gras for those of you who do love it.

For the main dish, Tom and I had lamb, which was served with a tiny lamb brain (I ignored that as much as I could), quinoia, and the tiniest baby carrots. Our daughter had a fish called St. Pierre, a tiny artichoke, and handmade macaroni with shaved truffle.

Now for the cheese course. You can choose as many of the local cheeses as you want. I told the waiter to choose mine, since I didn't know them. He carved off six different cheeses, some hard, some soft, cow, sheep, goat. Mmmm.And for the most important part of the meal, dessert: first came a plating of three strawberry desserts for each of us: strawberry with homemade marshmallow, homemade pistachio ice cream with a burnt sugar sail and a strawberry and a homemade graham cracker with the best whipped cream you ever tasted and strawberries.

Then another surprise! The waiter brought a tray of tiny strawberry milkshake shots with vanilla foam, chocolate truffles, Turkish delight, and tiny raspberry and ginger tarts.

So we're sitting there in the afterglow of this perfect meal, when splat! something landed on the lapel of Tom's new Burberry jacket. Yes, the swallows had given him a gift.Which the waiter hurried over to dab off. Who doesn't love a laugh with a perfect meal?

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