Posts tagged French cuisine
Posts tagged French cuisine
Have a glass of Pastis, watch a Marcel Pagnol movie or look at Paul Cezanne’s paintings and get yourself into the mood. Today is all about Marseilles and real Bouillabaisse. We had a discussion over dinner, but I am still convinced there is no other city in the world that argues more about its specialty than Marseilles. Sure, New Yorkers think those crappy pizzas that are synonymous with their city are good and are vocal about it. Chicagoans are fervent of their beautiful deep dish pizzas. But the level of enthusiasm pales in comparison to that of Bouillabaisse. Family members cease to be family members, neighbors’ houses razed while they are on vacation and gardens gnomes gone swimming with the fish Godfather style. Marseilles even has a charter that tells you rather than guides you as to which fish may swim into the Bouillabaisse and which cannot.
Live Conger Eels at the Old Port of Marseilles
We started the day early with croissant and pain au chocolat from a Boulangerie in Cheval Blanc then braced ourselves for an exhilarating ride thru Marseilles morning traffic. A few times I was obligated to play chicken with a Gauloise smoking truck driver as we fought for lane domination. If you ever lacking colorful adjectives for that play you are writing just take a ride thru rush hour. We finally docked the Renault near the Vieux Port and took to the streets by foot. The first stop was a store that specializes in all things Provencale.
I am always nervous when Lisa goes in here. It is much like when I slip into a bookstore and come out 16 cookbooks fatter trying to pretend like nothing happened. Lisa bought several gifts for family and friends back home.
For the next few hours we wondered thru the streets of Old Marseilles dodging dog turds, photographing cool looking doorways and drinking Pastis. One has to work up an appetite for Bouillabaisse.
Marseilles is the second largest city in France and the largest port in Europe. The earliest human evidence, dating back 30,000 years, have been found in the underwater caves near Cosquer and depict two Frenchmen fighting over what are the correct bouillabaisse fish. Marseilles was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia. It transferred to Roman control, was conquered by the Moors and now us. The streets are so narrow and small that you are amazed your car fits let alone the one racing towards you at a cool 137 kilometers per hour.
After a delicious pastis in old Marseilles we returned to our cars and drove to l’Epuisette for an epic lunch. L’Epuisette is somewhere you should go to at least ten times before you die. The bouillabaisse needs to be ordered 24 hours earlier.
I present our epic meal at l’Epuisette in pictures
as words will fail to adequately describe it.
Auguste, my cousin Catherine and Roland’s amazing child,
gave Beaumont Sophie le Giraffe
Amuse Bouche number one: three mousses
Bouillabaisse, Asparagus and Mushroom
Amuse Bouche number Two
Scallop larded with Bacon in a Cream Sauce
Aioli, Gruyere and Rouille
With Garlic Crouton for the first course
Bouillabaise: an Act in two courses
Bouillabaisse is ALWAYS served in two courses. First the broth the whole fish were cooked in is served with croutons smeared with rouille and covered in gruyere.
The broth is wonderful and perfumed with pastis, saffron and garlic.
After first and possibly second helpings of broth are served the whole fish are presented as to show ‘Mais Oui, we know the correct fish’
The congel eels, chapon, grendin, rascasse and st. pierre are lined up fileted on your plate waiting a few ladle fulls of broth to be spooned over
Note the correct silver utensils for eating fish. Every piece of silverware is correctly sized and fitted for proper surgery on the course in front of you.
I would have licked my plate but people were watching. Bouillabaisse is a religion. After decades of street battles and disappeared garden gnomes the Chefs of Marseilles created the Bouillabaisse Charter of 1980 to codify the ingredients and still the guns of war. 11 restaurants signed on and the war rages.
The Best Cheese I have ever Eaten, bar none
The cheeses were served with an unbelievable fig bread
Followed by desserts
Valrhona Chocolate Tart; Mango served like a poached egg;
a futuristic tarte tatin and Mango and Yuzu Cannelonis
Following desserts was trio of mignardises
Lemon Tart, Raspberry Macaroons & Chocolate Bombes
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
The French have the good sense NOT to serve coffee till you are finished with your sweets. I never understood why someone would want to hide the flavors of an apple tart with the overpowering flavors of coffee. If you think about it, it simply makes no sense. A good meal is to be lingered over and enjoyed. No rushed and hurried experience that promotes indigestion. Servers won’t even bring your bill till you ask for it. I have gotten into so many arguments over the years about the French relationship to eating versus the American. Maybe like an infant, we are just a young nation and haven’t learned proper conduct at the table.
Outsanding View from the Dining Room
Ocean waves crashed below creating an unparalleled experience
A short post today as not much happened and I am tired. Sometime you just need to take a vacation from your vacation. I reached saturation yet again, this time caused by too much sightseeing. The thought of having to drive somewhere for anything seemed crazy although we did manage one short car ride into the center of Cavaillon for a quick pastis, rotisserie chicken, and bread to consume with our five hour standing rib roast. It takes patience finding decent bread in Cavaillon.
Cavaillon is a rough and tumble town in the middle an agricultural area known for spectacular melons. Our daily forays for pastis have centered on going to a particular sketchy bar with off track betting. It kind of adds to the mystique of pastis drinking, even making it slightly dangerous.
On the way back to the maison we bought bread at a distant Boulangerie, rotisserie chickens and at the Inter Marche, the French equivalent to Safeway, we bought sea scallops with roe sacks attached. Walter and Dan also scrounged up a premier cru Margaux, excellent Sauternes, a few lobes of foie gras and a piece of pate for good measure. None of us seem up the task of moderation in our wine and food purchases.
The seafood counter at the French version of Safeway
After a quick lunch of a huge green salad, spit roast chicken, wild cherry tart and espresso Dan and Stephanie took off for Avignon with Andre while the rest of us lounged around the house. I seasoned the meat and started the five hour slow roasting process.
Lisa, Beau and I played in the warm sun with an occasional blast from the Mistral to remind you Spring hasn’t sprung all the way just yet. The Mistral is the famous wind that blows through Provence. It has been attributed with various healing capabilities as it is said to blow the pollution away from the big cities in Provence.
With the beef slowly roasting at 200 degree for five hours I started on making ratatouille and potatoes Gratin. We opted out of eating our daily foie gras ration.
Bone tired from near Cavaillon, Bon Soir
Pastis has become part of the daily ritual. Tous les jours before dinner we have a beautiful glass of Berget Blanc mixed at a ratio of 1:5 with water and a bit of Orgeat Syrup. Never before in my 48 years on planet Earth have I enjoyed Pastis so much. I must attribute my crazy cousin Andre with this. His joie de livre is contagious.
Much like adjusting the focus on your camera every trip to France has clarified my heritage and who I am just a bit more. I think I finally understand why I am what I am and am slightly confused why it was revealed now so late in my life.
Everyone on planet Earth desires the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Very few of us are lucid enough to understand, like in the great book the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, that our treasure can be found right in our own backyard though we may have to take an adventure just to find that what we desired was always in front of us. In life, the road Lisa, Beaumont and I walk will definitely cross thru Provence. It is in my soul and it is my destiny.
Today we went to iles de la Sorgue in Vaucluse, an insanely beautiful little town built on a series of small rivers, or fingers of the river. We walked thru a large outdoor market featuring pottery, clothes, honey, almonds, Brebis cheeses, music and antiques before stopping for the menu du jour at a riverside restaurant. In a lot of ways it reminded me of l’Auberge de Sedona and inspired me to capture the essence here and bring it with my A game. Sometime when you work in the restaurant business you get jaded by the experience you give people. You see the beauty that first attracted you everyday and get blinded by it. The food is no longer special because it is always the same, day after day. But in that is the beauty. In repeating something with the same intensity and passion over and over and giving of yourself to someone you don’t know. Giuseppe Cipriani once said “Imagine a world made up only of objects, a world of idle tools, a restaurant of nothing but tables and chairs, a large empty theater or a deserted plaza in summer. They cry out for the service of man, the service
to give them life. We call on man to display his splendid capabilities. And We observe with undivided attention, because the little nuances in the quality of his service give a flawless measure of his mind, they tell us frankly what his soul is worth, Because, To serve is first to love.” That encapsulates a truth many restaurant workers have forgotten – to serve is first to love. Sometimes we just need to step back and remember why we love someone, something than express it with what god has given us.
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
― Paulo Coelho,
We dined on Croustillade de Chevre et Figues, Tartar de Tomato et Concombres avec Gambas, Lieu Jaune with Penne au Pistou et sa Petits Legumes and fresh macerated strawberries with cream and walnut fig tart. We downed a white and red local Provencal wine and just enjoyed watching life float downstream past us.
They served us a puree of Tomatoes and Basil to start
Tartar of Tomatoes and Cucumbers with Gambas
Lieu Jaune is a fish with a similar flakiness to cod. Here it was served on Penne pasta mixed with pistou (Provencal Pesto) and garden vegetables.
Beau adored watching ducks chase morsels of bread thrown to them
“There is only one thing that makes
a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
― Paulo Coelho,
I should really get out of this Pastis haze and back the entire story up to begin from the beginning. We started the day returning to Avignon to buy meat, fish, vegetables and more at the Les Halles market. French shopping is just so absolutely different than ours. The market place features several different food vendors plying their wares. There were fish mongers, butchers, fromageries, boulangeries, pastisseries, green grocers and even spice sellers.
I bought a plethora of fish for dinner tonight and a huge hunk of meat that quickly became the talk of the market place. Everyone crowded around to see what the crazy Americans were buying. The standing rib roast is cooking at 200 degrees for five hours as we speak, er ah, type. The smell makes me dream.
All sorts of shellfish for sale with this amazing vendor
Mounds of spices are found at the spice stall
“What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.”
― Paulo Coelho
We returned home to find Dan, Stephanie and Simone waiting for us at the rental. We popped a nice magnum of Dehu Grande Reserve champagne and ate Ardeche salami, Figatelli salami, Olive Salami, Serrano ham Dan brought from Spain, Bayonne ham and little Crevettes Gris in a mayonnaise I whipped up.
We continued with a simple salad of Beef Heart Tomatoes layered with pungent basil and creamy Burrata drizzled with an extra virgin olive oil. The burrata was made in Italy and driven down. If you ever need to taste what summer should be like just bite into this. We drank a Pinot Meunier still red wine from Rene Geoffrey that went surprisingly well with the salad. I was happy about that because everyone thought I was nuts to suggest the combination.
For a main course I made an extra simple risotto with fava beans, purple artichokes, thumbnail sized calamari, chorizo, basil and tomatoes topped with langoustines, sea scallops with the roe attached, clams, white asparagus and a crispy piece of skate wing. We drank a magnum of an absolutely vibrant Meursault from 1998. It had an amazing straw hay hue and angels sang with every sip.
Our daily cheese tray was replenished with yet another Epoisses I never had seen before. The cheese tray now included two Epoisses, Saint Maure, a local aged goat cheese, Langres, Ami du Chablis, Beaumont de Savoie, Tomme de Savoie and a few other cheeses we forgot the names. We cracked a magnum of 1989 Volnay Clos des Chenes. The 1989 Volnay left me speechless. As you probably guessed I am a Francophile. There is not one single producer in America that can touch a wine like this… not one. Our wines are so one dimensional compared to this it is crazy. We make fruit bombs with high alcohol. The 1989 had no sediment whatsoever and sang and sang and sang it’s little heart out. And these are not even the good producers of Burgundy.
The night descended into darkness as the Marc came out. I vaguely remember cooking foie gras a while later with Dan saying he wanted to have his portion swimming in the pool. France has been challenged to a drinking duel on Wednesday for our family get together… Viva la bon vie!
Every town has its own bakery! GOD BLESS!
We left the Chateau de Varenne reluctantly. I seriously love this place and the owners who run in. We stopped in the centre ville for espressos, croissant and a handful of other pastries that we had picked up in the village bakery. For the French, baking and pastries are usually two different disciplines. For those keeping track, I am expanding equally and all over. My clothes no longer fit and now I just roll in a sheet and pretend I am a Roman. Everyday has become a toga party!
While eating croissant there was a smell lingering in the air from the market of spit roasted chicken and other meats. Damn that’s intoxicating! A guy at the
village produce market wheeled up his rotisserie and is spit roasting everything over potatoes. I am still drooling thinking of the scent burned into my memory.
We drove to a little flea market just outside Avignon watched over by a beautiful castle. The flea market was incredible! Lisa and I wanted to buy every little piece of French junk and haul it home. Plates, silverware, kitchen towel holders, medieval bondage gear… you name it. Something for everyone. French flea markets are surreal. The food at French flea markets is surreal.
We listened to excellent Gypsy guitar music while heating dozens of oysters, white anchovies and shrimp with a bottle of Picpoul. The beautiful sun shone down on us and the gods smiled. I think I just figured out my retirement plan.
I bought a few Tiffany silver spoons for combat duty at l’Auberge de Sedona, a cookbook written by various French grandmothers and some cool espresso
spoons. Satiated we hopped back in the overloaded Peugeot and continued onward forward to Avignon, the home of the 13th century popes.
Avignon is a magical place. Often referred to as the “City of Popes” because of the presence of popes and antipopes from 1309 to 1423 during the Catholic schism, it is currently the largest city and capital of the département of Vaucluse. This is one of the few French cities to have preserved its ramparts, its historic centre, the palace of the popes, Rocher des Doms, and the bridge of Avignon. It was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
We walked around Avignon and indulged ourselves fully in the vibrant tourist trade. Lisa, Beaumont and Kathy went for a ride on a Merry-go-round. Beaumont had such a huge smile on his little face spinning around and around in the bright colors and lights. Afterwards he wanted to ride more and more and more! We would put him down and back he would run.
We stopped at a bookstore where I dropped an arm and leg on the latest French cookbooks. Lisa bought some beautiful tablecloths, napkins and a gorgeous watercolor of Avignon. It is easy to spend in France. Themes that will reoccur demain et demain.
We finally stopped for gallons of water, ice cream, chocolate cake and café. The French pour such small glasses of water it is pitiful. Being dehydrated for several days requires me to fill up like a camel when I can. The French consider drinking water only for invalids and small children. The waiter must have been impressed with the quantity of water little Beau was consuming as we guzzled down the carafes.
On the way home we stopped at the equivalent of a Safeway and bought truffle sauce, a 10 Euro whole lobe of Foie Gras, pigeons, duck fat, beautiful white asparagus, ratte potatoes, Jambon de Bayonne and other delicacies. Walter, ever the angel even bought an espresso machine because I lamented about not having one at the rental. Hangover mornings require serious coffee!
It felt amazing to be in the kitchen cooking again. I prepared a simple dinner of sautéed white asparagus with a poached egg in an asparagus hollandaise. Simple flavors, simple textures. The main course was Savoy cabbage with pancetta topped with a slab of foie gras and pigeon breast in a truffle sauce.
Lisa made a huge green salad followed by too many great and strong cheeses.
We drank a baby 1999 Volnay from a small producer that really doesn’t even count in the grand scheme of Burgundy producers yet this 1999 Volnay was
singing and super youthful. There is something, a quality you cannot reproduce when it comes to experiences. To be drinking a great wine that has never moved is mind altering. Wines, especially Burgundies, are very delicate and fragile creatures. The vibration of the cargo ship, trucks and people carrying alter it’s DNA changing it forever. The 1999 Volnay absolutely sang with the raw milk Epoisses, the best ever of the trip!
Viva la France! I am in stinky cheese Heaven… bon soir
Today was a bit of a reunion day for us. Our good friends Walter and Kathy Kinney arrived just in time for dinner from California after not sleeping for 10,000 hours on their herculean trip from Sacramento. My cousin Andre rejoined us after one day in Grenoble having his Harley serviced. Beau now has to play against a four man zone defense in bars, restaurants and cultural sights.
The day started wonderfully with café au lait at the Chateau and croissant and pain au chocolat in nearby Orange. We decided to take it easy, do a little sightseeing and maybe, just maybe eat some food. We started by visiting the famous ancient Roman theatre that has withstood the ravages of time. It is the best preserved Roman theater in all of Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Orange was a Roman colony called Arausio, founded in 40 B.C. by veterans of Caesar’s Second Gallic regiment. It developed rapidly during the reign of Emperor Augustus and it was at this time the Roman Theater of Orange was built. Although highly prized by the Romans, this theatre suffered the same fate
asthe Roman Empire and it was closedby imperial command in 391 A.D. Bythistime Christianity had become the de facto state religion andthe Churchopposed all pagan spectacles.The Roman Theaterof Orange was abandonedcompletely when the Empire fellin the 4th century A.D. It was sacked andpillaged bythe Barbarians andwas usedas a defensive postin the Middle Ages. Duringthe 16th century wars of religion it was used as a place of refuge andrapidly filled upwith dwellings.
It was only in the 19th centurythatthe Roman Theater of Orange slowlyrecoveredits originalsplendor, thanks to the restoration worksbegun in 1825 atthe behest ofthe authorProsper Mérimée, whothen held the position of directorof “Monuments Historiques”.
Up and down steep stone stairs we wandered. The center ofthe stairs hadbeen so wornover1,000’sof years of useand it was amazingtothink how manypeople hadclimbed the exact stairsfromRoman times to now. They still haveplays during evening hours and even operas and rock concerts.
We played hide and seek and peek-a-boo in the old stone corridors. Beau gave a few screeches that went unnoticed which frustrated him and delighted us. He did throw one good temper tantrum when we wouldn’t let him climb down the steep stairs. Both Lisa and I got vertigo just looking down them.
Being a bit of a history buff it fascinates me to no end to think of how long Europe has been civilized in comparison to the USA. My uncle Philippe once visited the USA and I showed him early American history from New Orleans up
thru parts of Southern Illinois that had been settled first by French in the early 1600’s then the Spanish and finally the Americans. He was completely unimpressed as his house in Marseilles was far older. I suppose we have Indian mounds like Cahokia and ancient cliff dwellings like those found all over the southwest that date back a reasonable amount of time. But then Europeans also have what us Modern folks like to call ‘prehistoric sites’ too.
We wandered around the old streets of Orange looking in windows, searching for cookbooks and trying our best to keep Beau amused. After eight days of constantly being on point our nerves were wearing thin. Every parent who has ever travelled will understand exactly how we felt. One day we will look back and laugh but right now our hair just greys more. Half of France can testify that my son Beau has an amazing set of pipes. The other half just hasn’t met us yet.
We finally became very hungry and decided on having crepes at a nearby restaurant. We happily walked into a near empty restaurant, sat and ordered some crepes and a modest half bottle of wine. Quickly the restaurant filled and little Beau got it in his head that maybe he was the proverbial Fat Lady and he was gonna give a star performance to his new audience. Beau pulled every trick out of his bag including projectile vomiting on his maman while she ate her ham and potato crepe. Poor Lisa looked as though she wanted to throw in the towel and admit defeat. Her next thought being maybe it wasn’t too late for an abortion. Sensing Beau’s short life might end abruptly I downed my wine, inhaled my crepe and grabbed Beau and ran outside to have a father and son moment. I stepped back in long enough to see steam pour out of her ears and her head spin three times. I told her relax, eat your crepe and come outside with deux café and a nutella crepe. I nervously kept glancing at the second floor bathroom window in case she tried to flee. Ten minutes later she joined me followed by the waitress with our dessert crepe and coffee.
Having a child is a lot like working in the restaurant business. It is love and hate relationship. Anyone who claims to just like it is lying. Outside I tried a new tact with Beau. Instead of caving in to what he wants just to shut him up on vacation I decided to refuse his whims and make him sit still on my lap. I was determined to win the mind battle over my 15 month old son. Soon I was back to feeding him nutella or whatever else was close at hand to by minutes of silence. Beau 10, Francois 0.
We retreated to the safety of our car and headed back towards the Chateau for a much deserved nap. Beaumont passed out in the car as we pulled into the gates of the hotel. If we could just carry him all the way in and lay him down in bed maybe, just maybe, we might get a few minutes of hard earned rest. No, Beau woke up and the day got longer.
By six o’clock we decided to head into Chateauneuf du Pape and wander a bit before dinner at Maisonetta. Just as we reached our car Walter and Kathy pulled in and we help carry their bags to their room. As soon as we got back to our car again my cousin Andre pulled up on his Harley.
We now rearranged the cases of wine stuffed in every free space of our car to fit all five adults and one cranky child. Off to Maisonetta we drove. Andre convinced us to have a pastis cocktail at a small seedy bar before that should you dare to light a Gauloise cigarette at the same time you may actually spontaneously burst into flames. Happily up the hill we walked.
Maisonetta does not look good on the outside, in fact a bit scary. Its menu is half Italian and half French. We sat down at the table with a Jacques Brel album on a small easel. None of us could figure out why. It was only when the
waitress brought everyone an album that we realized it is the menu. The menu offerings are limited by American standards but all was well prepared and quite honestly many choices to choose from if you like your food.
We started with beef carpaccio, tomato tartar with mozzarella cream, a charcuterie platter with duck prosciutto sausages and more, and sautéed foie gras on a bed of leeks. All were super delicious and enjoyable. We drank bottle number one which was a Chateauneuf du Pape 2007, followed by a 2008 then a 2009. We were happy people.
Kathy is amazing with Beaumont that he even open mouth kissed her several times. I am not entirely convinced by boy’s intentions were noble, in fact one time he winked at me. The five man defense worked like a charm and after a while little Beaumont was confused which way was up and which was down. Lisa and I even got to eat food at the same exact time. Happy Feet!
By the time the main courses arrived we were happy as can be. Lisa and Walter ordered a Magret of Duck with Honey and Lavender; Kathy a grille Loup de Mer with olive oil drizzled over; I had tagliatelli carbonara and Andre had the most amazing Reblochon Gratinee served with boiled potatoes. Holy Crap was that good. Take one whole reblochon cheese, season it, put in gratin dish and bake. Andre, ever being the devil, order a trou normande of Poire Willem, French for pear flavored fire water. I guess we ordered so much that the Chef came out and poured us all a free glass.
We ended to night happily full, buzzed & safe back at the Chateau… Bon Soir!
Tomorrow we journey further into Provence.
We arrived back in Epernay with the same foreboding feeling my friend and Vietnam vet buddy Jim Groeger must have felt when returning to the scene of a horrendous battle a few days later only to retake the same hill again. I imagined the streets littered with empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses. Thank god the ghosts of bottles drank were gone and the streets clear. Whew!
Looking at road signs in a wine region is a bit like reading a great wine list. Every direction offers great possibilities. Which way to turn, towards Bollinger or Rene Geoffrey? Today we headed to one of the best small producers in the region at the behest of my friend Peter Zitz who works for America’s foremost distributor, Michael Skurnik.
Rene Geoffrey is one of the superstars in this neck of the woods, and one of the few who does no malo fermentation and actually makes rose champagne the way rose champagne ought to be made. Trivia tidbit, only two percent of rose Champagne is made saignée. In short, saignée is one of the methods of making rosé wines, along with blending white and red wine. It is simply macerating (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor) the wine with the skins for a short period of time. 98% of rose Champagne is made by adding red wine.
He started making Champagne closer to his vineyards with part of the production occurring at his, his father’s and his grandmother’s houses. Life was chaotic and confusing and spread out. Luckily he found a building an old cooperative had operated that he modified with an ingenious gravity fed winemaking system and moved his production there. The size of the building allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses are located.
The grapes are pressed and the juice passes through a series of pipes that go down one level, deeper into the caves. Using gravity rather than pumps is gentler on the wine and therefore preferred. Everyday each and every bottle is given either an 1/8 or 1/4 turn. Every one of his 10,000 bottles he makes each year. Some of this is mechanically done and some by hand.
Scenes from the barrel rooms in the lower caves.
Amazingly Beaumont slept thru the whole tour, all three levels
After the tour we tasted three different Champagnes and a rustic still wine he makes using solely Pinot Meunier grapes. We were excited because we had never tried one. Look at the crazy stairs between levels of his cave.
Beau woke up to taste wine with us.
After the tasting and a prix fixe lunch at a non-descript brasserie we headed back to the Chateau with high hopes of napping. Eating and drinking takes its toll on your body. Please, no tears for our excesses. Upon arrival, Beaumont decided he would torture us by carting him around the property for a survey of the fountains and moat. That boy is single minded…
The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI (obviously before he and his head became separated during the revolution). Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages. Parts were added throughout the centuries and parts faded into memories. Beaumont is related to the Louis line through my father’s side of the family.
Dinner brought us back to the city of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we drink and eat on. We arrived promptly on time for our 7:30 reservation at Caves du Champagne for a bit of local cuisine and more Champagne. The tiny storefront restaurant was packed and the guests looked decidedly unhappy to see a 15 month old boy enter. Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down with a rare performance that hurls this tiny gourmand into the annals of terror with his ear splitting screaming and chucking of water glasses. Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently. As a parent you quickly realize who has had children and who hasn’t. Other parents look at you with sympathy, kindness and understanding. Non parents shoot visual death daggers at you. We ate three delicious courses and drank Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”. Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras with Ratafina Gelee, a local sweet aperitif while I inhaled six oysters gratinee. I ate them so quickly I didn’t notice they scorched my throat till later. For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful Magret of Duckling with Green Grapes and I sautéed Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms. Beaumont paused his tantrum long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads. As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to recoup. Both courses were very very good and complimented the champagne well. I must admit the small amount of sweetbreads Beaumont let me eat really brought out the apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve. Slight reprieve before Beaumont’s act two began. Somewhere during dessert Lisa fled under the table and tossed Beau at me. Everything was hunky dory till he grabbed a small water glass and doused me with holy water as if to exorcise the demons from within. This actually brought the Chef owner out who clearly was not a parent. With Lisa now trying to speak French and pretend neither Beau nor me was related I fled the dining and escaped to the technological world of our über modern Peugeot. In retrospect I think the dining room was too small and crowded and offered too much stimulation for Beau. One day we will return, though I probably will wear a fake set of glasses with a plastic nose… For those keeping score I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…
bon soir and bon nuits and tomorrow brings Burgundy in all her splendor!
Chef Francois de Melogue is the new Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona. He is currently on a 3 week learning sabbatical, picking up ideas for the new menu at L’Auberge. Here, we share his culinary adventures and dispatches from the road as he eats and drinks his way across the French countryside.
We woke up and had a delicious breakfast of two Pierre Herme desserts followed by café and a Madrange Ham and Cheese omelet cooked to perfection at a brasserie next to the hotel. We packed our bags differently today trying to be smarter and do so in a manner that would keep us from lugging the two excessively heavy ‘mother ship’ bags into the actual Chateau. If we could manage packing the two smaller bags with two days’ worth of clothes than life would be gouda!
Driving out of Paris today was a blessing as it was Easter. The roads were relatively empty and our GPS seemed to work well despite horrid butchering of French street names. Side note: anyone else ever notice Garmins can pronounce Spanish words like a true Mexican but rarely English and almost never French?
We arrived in the Champagne region two hours before we were able to check into our hotel. What to do, what to do… Yes, drive to Epernay and drink copious quantities of bubbly at C. Comme, a great Champagne bar offering unknown Champagnes at fantastic prices. Each of us decided on the six glass sampler (yes, one full bottle each… hey when in Rome…).
We drank six different styles of Champagne from six small producers I had never heard of. Each bottle retailed for no more than 20-30 dollars. We started with three single grape sparklers (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). Each were very different and both Lisa and I (and little Beau) enjoyed the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier versions best. We decided on plates of Pork Rillete with Morels and Reims Ham served with sweet pickles and crusty bread. I decided I would add tiny little pots of rillete to the charcuterie platter at l’Auberge de Sedona when I get home. Rilletes are essentially super slow cooked pork, shredded and mixed with more fat than I would ever admit to and in this case morel mushrooms. They are very inexpensive to make and very delicious to devour. The fourth bubbly was a blend of the three different grapes and the final two were two different styles of rose, one with red wine from Champagne added and the other left to macerate with the skins long enough to extract a salmon pink hue. Beaumont was running around with a little 12 month old Italian hottie. He is such a little flirt! We left the shop feeling extremely tranquil and with a double magnum, magnum and single bottle for our week in Provence.
We walked around the picturesque town of Epernay and marveled at the gorgeous flowers while Beau did his best to destroy them.
By now it was time to go to the Chateau d’Etoges and check in. Thank God Avis gave us an extremely advanced rent a car, in fact so advanced that stupid us had to ask how to start the damned thing. Bluetooth. Press the starter button on the dash board. The speedometer rises up out of the dashboard and is projected on a little display reminiscent of a fighter jet. Thankfully it has both forward and rear sensors that tell you how close you are to crashing into something. We did get a 200 page owners (onerous?) manual in French should we find the time to translate it detailing how to operate this state of art Peugeot.
As we were driving down some mispronounced road I spotted an amazing Castle and told Lisa I had to stop and photograph it. It turned out to be our castle! Holy Crap - I sure hope Lisa read their web site correctly and got the rate right. We could be in deep trouble if somehow we missed a zero. Though I imagine even in French debtor’s prison the food must be good.
The grounds have several fountains, parks and places for small children to play. Beau especially liked the slide and the HUGE geese that swim around the moat. I guess he still is fascinated with the fountains and if during this trip he doesn’t manage to fall in at least one and perhaps a moat we will be lucky.
After a short nap sleeping off lunch’s excesses we headed down for our 7:15 dinner reservation. The restaurant is in the recently restored l’Orangerie at the Chateau. We started with a glass of Gonet Rose and an amuse bouche of Poached Salmon and Leeks with a Champagne sauce. YUMMY! Very simple, few flavors. The leeks were just perfectly cooked with a barely perceptible crunch while the salmon was super moist and the sauce just added a small lusciousness to the bite. An amuse is designed to stimulate your palate for what will come… to whet the appetite! Mine was soaking by this point!
We began with a bottle of Jean Yves Carlini 1er Cru Champagne to go with our Ris de Veau (veal sweetbreads cooked meunier on a bed of diced Parisian mushrooms and grilled white asparagus from Nantes. The plate was sauced with a mushroom sauce and a drizzle of demi glace. Lisa had a Consomme of Langoustines with emerald green raviolis, baby turnips and zucchini.
Beaumont adored my sweetbreads and mushrooms to no end. I think he groaned like Papa when the plate was finished. My boy is a gourmand!
For the main courses we switched to a red wine from Bordeaux, La Chapelle de Lafon Rochet 2004. We still had enough Champagne for Lisa’s Cod dish. I had the Beef Oxtails in a Mustard Sauce. The oxtails were slow braised, deboned and shaped into cylinders and cooled then sliced, breaded and fried. A little sauce dressed the plate with potatoes and sno peas. On all main courses they put a small ramekin with extra sauce for those that LOVE sauce. Nice touch!
Lisa’s cod was sautéed and served atop a Chorizo Risotto with small calamari and peas surrounding the plate. Very simple. Totally relying on freshness and quality ingredients. Excellent dishes.
My tongue was still hard when the back waiter asked if we wanted cheese. Good God was she kidding? Who does not love cheese and why are they allowed to breathe air? To have cheese in a real restaurant is something to behold. And no country does cheese better than the French. There is a famous quote from Charles de Gaulle that says something like ‘How do you govern a country with 246 cheeses’. Our waiter pushed a heavy trolley laden with cheeses of various states and milks to our table. The winners were a brie cheese cured in calvados that tasted like just picked apples, my all time favorite Epoisse and a Cantal from the mountains.
Next came a little bite of a chocolate and caramel mousse to whet the appetite for dessert. Lisa’s Chocolate Tart was decorated with edible gold and the best, crispy chocolate cookies and white chocolate sorbet. I opted for macerated pineapples topped with a crème and a thin wafer of puff pastry served with pineapple sorbet. Two espressos and off to slumberland!
Bon Soir from Champagne!
Chef Francois de Melogue is the new Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona. He is currently on a 3 week learning sabbatical in the French countryside, picking up ideas for the new menu at L’Auberge.