Friday, August 24, 2007

Becoming French, French Manners

The atoms in my body are now French. Another NPR story of the day I listened to on the way to France talked about how in the space of one year, 95% of the atoms in your body are new. In other words, you are literally not the person you were a year ago. I can tell you I am not the person I was three hours ago!

A friend suggested that I keep a food log while on this trip. I am already so behind. And here I am, jet-lagged, food-logged and wine-saturated, trying to recall the meal that I just ate. We enjoyed this three-hour extravaganza of gastronomic delight having just arrived at the hotel, after a four hour flight to Houston, a three and a half hour delay (unplanned, due to hurricane weather) and a nine hour flight to Paris, followed by an hour shuttle ride to the train station, and then an hour TGV train trip to Tours, followed by a taxi ride. I slept a little on the flight, which is why I am not a total wreck right now. My travel expert friend Lynley gave me an invaluable tip a few years ago: Tylenol PM.

We are the only Americans (that we can tell, and usually you can tell) in our hotel, and in the hotel restaurant tonight. Everyone kept speaking to us as if we understood French perfectly, so I don’t think we stood out that much.

Our meal at Jean Bardet Hotel Belmont in reverse:
Comes with a post-dessert, also known as second dessert, of a marshmallow square, a strawberry fruit gelee, and a caramel.
A wonderful mixture of rice pudding, a strong citrus gelee, passion fruit seeds, and cardamom. Sounds bizarre, however it was fantastic. I usually only like chocolate dessert but I loved this. Served with cookies that looked remarkably like breasts. Hey, we’re in France.
A tiny portion of ginger crème brulee, a petite mocha sandwich cookie, a tiny sugar cookie, and a lace cookie. For each of us.
Main course
Pink, or rare, pigeon, boned and served over a mysterious pastry-like medallion that reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing. Served with three apricot halves. A really wonderful flavor combination.
Fish Course
A local fish also served rare, with a coconut crème fume sauce, accented with julienned slices of Granny Smith apples and lime. As the waiter it was exotic. This was my husband’s favorite, even though he claims to not like coconut. Whatever!
A dramatic presentation of a crab ravioli, topped with finely julienned vegetables and a mysterious black disc that melted when hot broth was poured over.
First Appetizer, or Fois Gras Course
Fois gras. Served with toast and salt and pepper. I love fois gras, I don’t care if it is not the most politically correct food item on the menu. It was decadent. I estimate that the piece I ate had about 10,000 calories, all fat. Whatever.
Pre-Appetizer, or Happy Mouth
An amuse-bouche of a tiny slice of terrine made with shrimp topped with a tomato sauce.
So good, partially because we hadn’t eaten all day, partially because we were sitting in a garden in France, and partially because they really were good.
All of the above accompanied by some excellent Vouvray, made very locally, that complemented the menu wonderfully. My husband had a glass of 1959 Vouvray that was dry and rich and honey-scented, what a treat. He was excited to drink something older than he was. I had a glass of local sparkling wine.

We left wondering why we saw not one person paying a bill of any kind. Yes we are staying here, but how strange that we don’t sign anything . . . I think they didn’t want to ruin anyone’s evening by telling him or her how much they just spent on such an extravagant meal. The service was wonderful and friendly.

By the way, we did see one French child in the restaurant; a boy, about nine or ten, who was NOT being taught those excellent French manners. He was dressed in soccer shoes, t-shirt, and shorts. Not exactly appropriate. He was playing some sort of hand held video game and proclaiming loudly to his parents how his game was going as they ate. Not exactly appropriate either. I don’t like seeing this at any restaurant, no matter where I am. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see it in France, with a French family, at a fine French restaurant. We Americans don’t own all the bad manners after all!


chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

I thought French were the ones famous for bad manners.
They had 'em when I was there.

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