I do not like to call the following jottings of our French trip a blog. I find the internet spawned name, blog, too close to blob, and as most of our experiences focus on eating and drinking, I would prefer another term. However, I bow to popular usage in this case for the sake of clarity. This blog's writing style will include some narrative but also will use stream of consciousness and often not in a linear way. So, I will begin in the middle of things and move back and forth, but each entry will be dated and placed. Enjoy.
I begin in medias res—in the middle of things. These days I have been eating well since a day in Paris and then in the south of France, designing, typesetting, and editing A History of The Woodstock Academy. I find it the best possible of places to do this kind of work under a foreign moon and away from any local, familiar context or possible disturbance. Being overseas gets me out of myself so I can go into the subject in my imagination—no selfies here.
Lozère is just north of the Cèvennes on this map of the region. Anduze is just southeast of Alès.
Brasserie les Templiers
This simple, small town brasserie and café, in the center of the charming 17th century Cévenol town of Anduze, is located next to a medieval tower, which was part of a fortified knight Templar complex—hence the name of this restaurant—the Templar brasserie. The picturesque site could not be better on this sunny spring day in the south of France. We are seated in a sun dappled veranda next to the Garonne river (one of three in France with the same name) beneath two towering ancient white stone cliffs which is cut in two from years of the river wearing it down. The name of the town, Anduze means “cut in two—en deux.”
The last time I ate here in 2009, the food was mediocre at best and the service terrible. In 2010 the place was sold and under renovations for a year. I have not eaten here since. But this time, due to the owner coming out and talking to us as we were looking at the menu, which caught our eye because of the frog legs, we decided to give it a try now again with new owners.
Well, we didn’t have frog. Instead we had foie gras paté and country paté from Lozère (Lozère is just north of us in the mountains, part of the massif central, and known for its ancient regional country cuisine). For the main course M-P had sausage from Lozère with onion confit and a vegetable tart. I had their gardianne de taureau, which is a kind of beef stew with onions, black olives, red wine, and carrots. It is usually made from a recently killed bull in the ring—bull fighting season has begun in the south. The patés were fine, locally made, sturdy affairs. M-P’s sausage was good, but her onion confit, an unearthly bright red, made us suspect it was commercially produced, although the owner said it wasn’t. My beef was okay only because the sauce had been thickened with a roux and not reduced as we do in the bistrot and lacked herbs de provence. Also the beef seemed to have been frozen at some time in its journey to my plate or in becoming a dish. The texture wasn’t quite right. We washed this all down with a pitcher of local rosé, which was fine but I found a bit too acidic (I think a function of my ageing where I can only tolerate good Bordeaux).
All and all, not bad and inexpensive ($65 for two including wine and coffee and tip). I would like to go back for a lunch, order the frog legs and a better bottle of wine (a Pic Saint Loup rosé?—not as young and acidic), which the frog should be able to stand up to and not croak. Maybe Friday lunch.
High-topping by the French artist of Crégols, Quercy, Charlotte Ince
10 July 2016
At the legendary Les Deux Magots in Paris
28 June 2016, Cadillac / Beguey, Entre-deux-mers, Bordeaux, France
My grandfather, Ralph Freeman, in his Cadillac, 1915, Southbridge, Massachusetts
When most Americans here the word "Cadillac", it invokes the luxury brand of General Motors; my grandfather Ralph Freeman owned one in the first years of the last century (photo above). However, what many Americans do not know is that Cadillac actually is a town in the Bordeaux region of France with an original medieval wall around it, and it has quite an unique history; most of the famous walled cities or towns in France, like Carcassone and Avignon, were reconstructed for tourists. Cadillac also produces a good sweet wine, being right next to Sauterne, which is rarely if ever found in the US; cousins of Marie-Paule's own a house and vineyard there producing some good wine, which is never seen outside of France.
Yet my interest in Cadillac was not historical on a pleasant late June evening. I was there to eat at the boutique hotel, Chateau de la Tour. They have a 1st class restaurant, which I discovered in 2006 while visiting Marie-Paule's sister and mother in the nearby medieval entre-deux-mer town of Targon. This trip to the restaurant did not let me down. We all had the menu, which for 31 euros included 4 courses. The standout dish of the four was something I never had before which was grilled sturgeon from the nearby Garonne river. It was simply done and cooked to perfection, with just lemon juice and fresh ground pepper and a little salt.
The co-star of the meal, though, was the white Sainte Marie entre-deux-mers wine. It is produced right in Targon and can be had in Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Its most recent vintages (mostly sauvignon blanc blended with semillon) are highly prized and seem to be the rage in the Bordeaux area, especially their lightly oak aged wines from 2013. And as an experiment, I had a half bottle of a local red Bordeaux, Chateau Roudier 2010, which was unfortunately a little past its prime for me, although it could be I just no longer have a taste for wines with age; half bottles given their size, age faster than 750mil bottles. So, roughly, a six year half bottle will have aged like a 10 or 12 year old full bottle.
Although this restaurant does not seem to be on many gourmet screens, if ever in the Bordeaux region, it is a great place to eat especially in its outside porch or in its small park.
12 July Pomfret, Connecticut
Great to be back! Today, prepping for opening on Wednesday and readying a few new recipes learned in France: i.e. a saffron vegetable soup from Quercy, a honey sauce for the stuffed quail, and pork confit, plus in the near future poached monkfish in a saffron sauce; the latter from the best meal I have ever had in my life. Well, off to the markets and the Bistrot.
10 July Blvd. St. Germain Last night in Paris in La Rhumerie
Bathed in orange? Well, I guess it was the rhum drinks.
8 July 7th arrondisement, Paris
La Ferronnerie, 18 rue de la chaise
Lunch with Françoise (aged 91) and Dominque Dupuy (aged 85) near their apartment and offices right next to Science Po (one of the top universities in France) and the offices of Karl Lagerfeld. Françoise and Dominque are professional dancers, starting their careers in the 40s, who introduced modern dance into France (and brought over Merc Cunningham to aid this), and both have received all kinds of cultural awards with Françoise receiving France’s highest civilian award, Le Legion d’Honneur. M-P has been friends with them for more than 30 years, and I first met up with Dominique’s work in movement in 84 in the south of France.
Before going to lunch, we were given a tour of their 19th empire century style apartments with 20 foot high ceilings, art everywhere and books covering every furniture surface and bookshelves from floor to ceiling all holding I estimate about 4000 books. Then downstairs they had two other immense rooms with more archives and books and this does not include the thousands of books and documents Françoise and Dominque gave to the French National Library.
La Ferronnerie is just around the corner from their flat, and I had been there once many years ago on a cold winter day. We had a nice carafe Côtes du Rhône and the special of the day; medium rare roast lamb with white French beans—perfect. Of course there was delicious baguette French bread for the sauce of the lamb and beans. Afterwards I had a poire while everyone had small French coffees.
Overall, this restaurant is a genuine hidden gem; a throwback to another time and age of Paris. I doubt you will even run into a guest lecturer or American student from Science Po if you can find your way there in this part of deep Paris.
7 July 2016
Off to the "grande table" French restaurant, Louis XIII, in the 6th arrondisement in Paris to see how it has held up over the years and to celebrate my anniversary on entering West Point. Also to see what new editions the owner has made to his collection in the basement of the restaurant of antique chastity belts (both male and female)!
I have gone to Louis XIII several times over the last 30 years. While always good, and the first time it had two Guide Michelin stars, lunch on 7 July was the best. It was so good, I now have to say it was the best meal I have ever had, and I have had some great ones from northern Sweden to Zimbabwe (the best until now was with a 1947 Cheval Blanc at The Castle in Leicester, Mass. in 1982 hosted by the legendary Paul Provost of Yankee Spirits fame). And the value of the meal was not to be overlooked. We ordered that day's menu for 60 euros, and in the end, we were served not just the six stated courses, but eight if you include the amuse bouches.
The first course was a light, cheese puff. Next came a cold carrot soup. I usually do not like cold soups, even in the winter, but here with its ginger spicing, I make an exception. Then came a wild sea bass quenelle in a light cream sauce--the best quenelle I have ever had. Next course was my favorite--poached and then seared monkfish in a saffron cream sauce. At this point the champagne was gone and the delicious white wine from the Herault, too, and so here we had the Gigondas with a filet from Normandy sautéed with small wild mushrooms in a bordelaise sauce. Next cheese and then a light cheese cake and then French cream puffs, coffee, and I had an eau de vie.
Three of us (a friend who is a regular at the Bistrot along with Marie-Paule) had this meal (everyone at the table had to order it to have it). With it, we had three bottles of wine, and I finished with an Etter poire. No one felt the least stuffed or tipsy. Everything in the food and the courses were perfectly balanced. The wines were great value, and one would have to pay the same price or more for each bottle in a wine store in the US (a 2010 Hortus white from Languedoc, a vintage 2006 Guy Charlemagne pink champagne, and a 2010 Gigondas). This is a restaurant you should not pass up even if you only have one place you can go while in Paris, and especially if you feel you cannot afford it; it cost about $150 per person including tax and tip. As the French writer Colette famously said: "Many times in my life I have gone without a necessity, but never without a luxury."
This is how I feel after visiting artist friends and my French in-laws over the last 3 weeks.
Above is a NASA photo of France at night with all its lights given to us by a Bistrot customer two days before we left for France. The black lines point out different places where we will be during out time in France.
30 June Targon, Entre-deux-mers, Bordeaux: Email to my cousin Judy Freeman Clark
We are on a French vacation--one month--which is a combination of visiting M-P's family, doing food research, and meeting up with friends both in Europe and from the States; my first time off in 3.5 years. No funerals, but we did go to M-P's parents' graves in Bordeaux and her nephew's (who died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 95). I am blogging on the Bistrot website and have to get much of the postings up by tomorrow. Right now we are staying at M-P's sister's in entre-deux-mers which is a part of the Bordeaux region famous for its white wines and is not between two seas but is a peninsula formed by two rivers (the Dordogne and Garonne). Go figure. On Sunday we go to Paris, meet friends, then go for a couple of days to Orleans where M-P was raised and she still has an aunt. Last night I had dinner with a couple of M-P's cousins (one a local mayor, another a successful international steel expert). I cooked: scampi I learned to make in Italy 40 years ago and a Pierre Franey recipe for fresh poached cod fillets with a lemon crème fraiche sauce; dessert was simple fresh strawberries macerated in red wine, lemon, and a little brown sugar. And of course the wines are not to be had or usually found in the States.
Love to have you over when we are back in Pomfret; sounds strange to say this as I really always considered I live in Woodstock even if I lived in other places.
Sunday 12 June--Leaving
Wake up early glorious day sun on the back porch
in Pomfret’s rolling landscape and memory
Strikes in France (air and rail--
by Commie unions to stop economic reforms)
I don’t want to go don’t want to travel staycation
M-P checks to see if the flight is cancelled
Damn ours isn’t but the later one we didn’t choose is
Early at Logan to Vino Volo
Except for a boutique California merlot
Expensive and the food
and wine (cheap South Americans jacked up)
has gone down with its success
I dream of the days in the years I flew from
Boston to Zurich having martini flights
Before flight with fresh New England oysters and clams
We joke about the food to be
on Air France
I say bet we get curry something
and chicken or a choice of some limp pasta
Yup curried orzo and chicken in sauce
But stay away from the pasta
Always stay away from the pasta
But Air France serves real champagne
from a full bottle as much as you like
then a little Rhone and cognac and coffee
And two movies
Paris airport a zoo and 3 hours to clear
Packed trains into the city
Thank heaven for perfume and its use
in France football Euro-cup crowds
We get to Gare de Lyon
and planned time for lunch
until train down to Burgundy
But where? Le Train Bleu
a should-be monument?
Lunch prix 105 euros at
The Blue Train and as I remember it
the food the last time was mediocre,
and to spend that just to eat in a monument of France?
even if it is the Paris place where
the femme Nikita went Bataclan psycho on businessmen
(25 years ago, a film for the jihadi feminists, then)
So to the Européen
6 ocean pearls--great, deep, salty oysters,
baked Scottish salmon in a light tomato sauce
(never had this combo before;
M-P says the tomato makes it provençal),
all reasonably priced and very good
and then onto TGV and Burgundy
Monday 13 June (evening Burgundy)
With M-P’s niece and family
married into a Burgundy cattle family
her husband an expert on rare cattle
with 3 children (2 boys one girl)
on the cusp of teenagerdom
They opened a Diverti Parc (Fun Park)
The theme: cattle and nature and games
all very active and fun and informative
with eating in charcoal grilling yourts
for families and families to be
Today I went to lunch at what used to be one of my favorite restaurants in France and in the world; Le Riche in Alés. What I didn’t know was that since I was last there (2012), it had changed owners. The previous chef / owner was from Normandy, and he served up some of the best meals I have ever had in my life. One of them was in July 2006; a main dish of venison sweetbreads sautéed with foie gras with a slightly chilled local red wine. Today I wasn’t so lucky.
The wait staff was new, young, and dumb. This led to a disaster. I received an important phone call I had to return during my first course, a vegetable terrine. The waiter incorrectly described it as an egg-kind of dish. While talking on the phone, I took more time than the waiter expected. Unfortunately the waiter had told the cook to cook my next course, duck breast, while I was talking. but held it in the warmer until I was done with my phone call and first course. Needless-to-say the duck breast came out well done when I ordered it medium rare. M-P’s haddock was also over done, and it could be seen that the sauce had been in the warmer too long too. Not wanting to make a fuss and realizing my phone call took too long--I was talking to a friend in the throes of a divorce—(but my fault for talking too much), I didn’t want to complain. However, the waiter pressed me, so I pointed out that the duck was well done and not medium rare, which he should have seen before he served it. This led to copious apologies, and then after cheese and dessert, the chef / owner came out and gave us a coffee and a glass of wine as an apology. He also then opened up about how difficult it is to run a restaurant today in France, mirroring what we heard two days ago at La Grange and what we have been observing given the economic climate in France under the Socialists.