Jen, Julia and I spent a few days exploring France – from the French Riviera (blog post HERE) to Côtes du Rhône (first blog post HERE). I knew that the dining experience would be different than what we’ve grown accustomed to while living in Italy, but I think I underestimated just how different it would be.
I’ll point out a couple of the noticeable differences. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I have made many references to pranzo, or lunch. While the literal definition is simply, lunch – it should be modified to be more along the lines of, large meal in which copious amounts of pasta are finished with meats and salads and where the act of gathering is as important as the meal. Wine and grappa are a must. Since lunch is usually the “big deal”, that means we partake in a very light dinner. Whereas in France, dinner was the star meal of the day. Although, many of our days in France we also had a big lunch, and so our stomachs questioned our brains when we sat down to a second coursed-out meal at dinner time.
Furthermore, the food itself is different in two distinct ways. It also happens to be similar in two ways. The differences – the types of food and the preparation. The food served in France is not the same as the food in Italy. Cassoulet as opposed to pasta. Duck and pigeon as opposed to veal and pork. Foie gras as opposed to cured meats. Further, the preparation is different. Italians cook with fewer ingredients and prefer simple, fresh cooking – a style I would classify as rusitco. The French have a more refined style of cooking whereupon layers of flavor are built with many different ingredients and multiple sauces are used to style and accompany the dish. The presentation itself is much more polished, even at the most simple of places. The similarities – they both use the freshest of ingredients, usually sourced locally at markets and they are both delicious in their own unique way.
There are subtle differences in even the small things. The bread and the cheese are different. The wine is different. The pastry is different. However, one thing remained consistent as we crossed the border into France and then back again. We still remained within the cradle of food’s most wholesome birthplace – and the food in France was wonderful.
It is for this reason that I decided to feature a blog post dedicated to some of the meals we enjoyed while we were in France. I’ve done a few “food posts” about dining experiences in Italy – so now it’s time to widen the circle. Please excuse some of the photos – iPhone’s were used at times. I only feel comfortable brandishing my large Canon camera in certain situations.
In Beaulieu-Sur-Mer, we found La Pignatelle, a charming restaurant that presents dishes in the Provençale style. We had lost the benefit of our cell phone’s internet (in a different country – roaming charges apply) and so we couldn’t “google” where to eat. We did it the old fashioned way – walking around, reading menu’s and assessing by looks. We lucked out, and had a wonderful meal. Jen ordered only an entrée, while I opted for the 3-course tasting menu with the understanding that I would be sharing some of my dessert! The owner, Christophe was a saint and patiently explained each dish’s ingredients and preparation. My favorite was when he got to the dessert we ultimately selected and his description was (read this to yourself in a French accent), “oohh… that one is too hard. Trust me – it is delicious, just order it”.
La Pignatelle – turned out that it has received 4.5 / 5 on Trip Advisor – worthy of the rating
Tartare de Saumon frais et pomme Granny-Smith (Fresh salmon tartare with Granny-Smith).
The pairing with the Granny-Smith was divine, even though I was skeptical
Cuisse de poularde au pot, riz basmati (chicken leg cooked in a pot with basmati rice)
I substituted the basmati rice for pommes de terre rôties (roasted potatoes)
Aïoli Provençal (cabillaud) et son court-bouillon de légumes frais
(Cod prepared Provencal-style with vegetables cooked in the fish broth)
Jen’s Aïoli – more mayonnaise than we’re accustomed to
Paris Brest – the dish he couldn’t describe, but well worth eating!
The next day, we met our friends Michel and Shirley at their home in Sablet. They easily slipped into the role of Guide de tous Cuisine Française (Guide of all French Cuisine) by taking us to some wonderful restaurants. On our first day in Côtes du Rhône, we enjoyed a casual outdoor lunch at Le Jardin.
Le Jardin (The Garden)
The garden in the back – simply a beautiful setting for lunch
Julia used the time waiting for lunch to create her best Chagall
Jen ordered a croque-monsieur with salade fraîche (fresh salad)
I had seared duck breast over a bed of pasta
Julia couldn’t kick the pasta habit so quickly so we indulged her – Michel helps her eat
Dessert for Julia – “brownie” with hot chocolate and ice cream
Fraises à la crème fouettée (strawberries with whipped cream)
Coffee-flavored ice cream with a warm chocolate drizzle
Julia was all kisses after lunch
That night, we meet their friends, Bruno and Sylvie Bordeaux, the owners of the local Cafe des Sports, just a moments walk from Michel and Shirley’s home. I never use last names in my blog, but their surname is simply too fantastic and too perfect not to use – Bordeaux! Michel and Shirley became fast friends with Bruno and Sylvie in recent years, and they graciously took us toCôteaux et Fourchettes (translated to Hills and Ranges) in a nearby town, Cairanne. This was one of the more memorable meals, because of my entrée selection as well as the fact that it seemed to hit most of the formal French dining traditions in a modern setting and style. You’ll see below that I ordered the pigeon… a first for me! And boy, was it delicious. While I waited 32 years to try pigeon, Julia has now eaten it before she turned 2 years old. Not only did she love pigeon, but she also couldn’t get enough of Jen’s foie gras (we drew the line at the tartare… I think she should at least be 3 years old before consuming raw beef). I think she would have done just as well in France as she is in Italy.
Out front of Bruno and Sylvie’s restaurant and bar
Amuse-bouche (“mouth amuser” typical in French restaurants)
Jen started with the foie gras – the best either of us have ever had
I started with a steak tartare – which you could tell was an obviously high-grade filet
Wonderful bread accompanied the table
The wine Michel selected was wonderful, from Gigondas – a nearby village
Jen had a seared filet over a wild bed of rice
I had the 1/2 pigeon over sautéed red cabbage with red pepper and saffron clafoutis
Bruno and I each opted for the extra cheese course, which was simply amazing
Chocolate mousse in tuple with grillot sorbet
The next day was marked by a visit to Les Abeilles, one of Michel and Shirley’s local favorites (website). The lunch was in the middle of a day spent wine tasting (blog post coming soon) and so our moods matched the delicious flavor of the food.
As delicious as these cheeses are, I would think sticking your nose in their would be equivalent to water board torture
Check out the cork holder – I’ve tried without success to imitate
I ordered the Huîtres fraîches ou gratine (escargot – snails)
Jen had Petits gris de Provence en ravioles au bouillon d’épinards
I had the Pièce d’agneau rôtie et légumes (piece of roast lamb and vegetables)
Jen enjoyed the Bœuf braisée aux oignons (braised beef with onions)
My three cheese choices – some of the most amazing cheeses I’ve ever had
Our final day was spent visiting the markets of Carpentras, and our lunch was spent on the balcony of Chez Serge. The refreshing selection of soup and fish marked the perfect meal to fit our moods.
Loved the daily menu board posted out front
The roof terrace
Getting ready for our meal – I loved the classic cafe menu board used to display the daily menu table side
Shirley doing her best Julia impression. Wait, is it the other way around?!
Michel and I started with a fantastic gaspacho de tomate with shaved parmesan and home made crouttons
Jen started with a croustillant de chèvre (crispy purse of goat cheese)
Michel and I repeated again – escalope de saumon sauce epinard (steak of salmon with spinach sauce)
Entremet ananas (a pineapple dessert)
Fromage blanc ā la fraise (white cheese with strawberries) – quiet delicious
I hope you enjoyed this brief tour of part of our French dining experience. We hope to repeat again sometime in the future. Of course, not until we loose all the calories we consumed the first time around… I’m thinking that will be sometime in 2014.