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If you were going to move to another country where you couldn’t speak the language that well, what is the one non-obvious but absolutely essential thing you need to know?

 

For me it was having my hair cut and dyed for the first time. It was a comic-tragedy with that rare happy-ending with me, the husband, and the hair dresser trying to figure out what I wanted and how to say it in French. The end result was perfect and I love my new hair-dresser, but it was a nerve wracking hour hoping she wasn’t going to dye my hair that horrible shade of purple-red so loved by the old women here.

These are the types of things no one thinks about. You move to another country and say to yourself “I can buy bread and order wine, what more do I need?” Then you come down with a skin rash and have to open a savings account and jolt up in bed one night at 3am thinking “I don’t know the word for savings account in <insert language here>.”

I’m talking about past experiences of course, but as I prepare one of my own students for a future move to England, I am wracking my brain trying to think of things she NEEDS to know or there will be somewhat tragic consequences.

The word for laundry detergent vs the word for fabric softener. Yeah, for a month our clothes were super soft, but no cleaner until the husband looked at the bottle and saw the mistake I’d made on my last purchase

It will be summer soon. All of Europe and some of the US will be descending on Provence. If I could give you some advice before you depart for your vacation, I’d probably scare you away. But today, I’d like to warn you, or at least give you a preview of the trains.

 

Once, I have no doubt that traveling by train was a pleasant experience, possibly easy and comfortable, and in reality, it’s not actually a bad experience today. But romantic? Not so much. The glamor is gone.

Trains are few and far between, and that’s when SNCF is NOT on strike which happens about once a month. The trains themselves are cold, dirty and covered in graffiti inside and out. They do their jobs well enough, and I have no complaints, but be careful of wet marker if you lean against a wall.

The above is one of the few trains I saw on my sojourn Monday and the only one not covered in graffiti – through there is a little on the top you can see.

There’s the train stations themselves. In the small towns of Provence on route between Toulon and Marseille the stations are quaint, abandoned, quiet. When it’s warm out, it’s a pleasant place to eat lunch while you wait for your train.

Looks cute huh?

Until you realize you have a two hour wait because SNCF is on strike and the trains are all delayed and there’s not a toilet for miles.

Some people go in the bushes. I do the potty-dance.

Now, I don’t want to discourage people from taking the local trains (Don’t get it confused with the TGV). The view is often enjoyable and when the trains are on time they are a relaxing way to travel. But I suggest traveling with a cat in your bag to be safe. Go to the bathroom before you leave and drink water sparingly. And that weird old fridge smell on the train is just the air conditioning, I promise.

I spent a long long time trying to decide where we should eat on our last night in Nice. At first, I wanted Italian, then I wanted traditional French, then I wanted Indian, then I wanted Italian again. There was a brief moment of looking at Japanese restaurants, then back to Italian. Everyone else was of no help. No one wanted to make a decision.

Originally, I had planned for an Italian place that the husband had told me he had liked when he lived in Nice. Except that was 10 years ago and the current reviews – the most current being in 2011 – were very, very mixed. I got nervous and started looking for other places to eat.

At first, I was going to ask them to choose between Italian and whatever else I could find but in the end I just decided for them. Everyone met in the lobby at 7:30 and I asked my mom and sister “Have you ever eaten Lebanese?”

“Not really,” they said.

“Well, that’s what we’re having.”

And off we went to Ya Habibi.

Though the restaurant was only 500 meters from our hotel, I forgot to bring the address and consequently it took us more than 500 meters to find. No matter, we got there. Dinner was decided in moments – a Grand Mezze for four. The perfect treat for two who don’t know Lebanese and for the other two who just love a good mezze.

5 cold entrées and 6 warm entrées with fresh pita bread. It’s as simple as that.

Mezze is pretty standard. Hummus is par for the course along with taboule, babaganoush and grilled caviar d’aubergine. But our favorite of the night was the mehamara – a roasted red pepper spread with garlic, onion and grenadine. Sweet and spicy perfectly blended. We could have eaten that all night.

The six warm entrées were also pretty standard. Samboussi, falafel, roukak, moussaka, arayess lahme, and kebbé with grilled mushrooms.

The samboussi and roukak are fried dumplings the first of meat, the second of cheese. Crunchy and soft, no need for any dipping sauce – they were well seasoned.

 

I really loved the arayess lahme. A pita stuffed with meat and spices. It must have had some mild cream or cheese in it, because it had a creamy texture and was so delightful.

 

The moussaka was missing the meat. This was stated in the menu. But it was not missing flavor. We sat around the table trying to figure out how they cooked the eggplant. The flavor was perfect with soft flesh and a crunchy skin. I thought they steamed it. The husband is convinced roasting went on. Who knows?

 

We drank a wonderful Lebanese red wine, that was mostly syrah and cabernet grapes. It had a fruity aroma but a bitter, acidic taste and the two combined to create a complex enjoyable flavor that made me want to buy a bottle to take home.

 

Though dinner was simple, it was perfect. Good portion sizes, we were not left wanting. Every dish with a wonderful blend of spices. I have nothing but good things to say about my choice of Ya Hababi for our last dinner in Nice. A lovely treat for the pallet when you’re craving something a little different.

By now, my mom and sister have returned to Boston. We’re all going on a diet, but with happy memories full of good food and time spent together. It’s never enough but it will have to do until the husband and I can get ourselves to the States.

I make the same stupid joke every time I visit this city. Nice is nice. I can’t help it.

More than being nice, Nice is a wonderful city. All white and bright colors, bustling people, twisty streets and deadly drivers. Everything you might think of when you think of continental western Europe in general. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

Carnival is in full swing here. The husband and I had no idea when we made plans to visit with my family. If we had, we probably would have planned for that – but as it is, we got a glimpse of the end of the nightly parade.

In Nice, like much of costal Provence, the local flavor is all about the seafood. However, I’m terrified of ordering seafood at restaurants because of my allergy and my sister wasn’t in the mood for it. Nonetheless, we found ourselves at Restaurant les Pecheurs to at least SEE the seafood if not eat it.

 

The inside of the restaurant is set up to lightly remind you of the sea and the fishing boats that sail it. But it’s understated. There is a small fish tank in one wall, two portholes, slatted wood ceilings, blue walls. There’s no tacky netting hanging from anywhere nor any ugly mounted fish – fake or otherwise – you’re just reminded this is a fish restaurant.

I ordered a creameaux de courge, or winter squash cream cooked with girolles mushrooms and set with one croquant de foie gras and volaille. This was a subtle dish. Very soft in texture and flavor and consequently, very comforting.

The husband was the only one of our party to have a fish based meal. His entrée was scallops on a bed of lentils with a spicy carrot ice cream on the side. I have a husband who loves to help me with my restaurant reviews and he described these scallops as very tender and soft but full of flavor being cooking in port as they were. The lentils were well spiced and the dish was complimented perfectly by the carrot ice cream.

For my main course, I ordered a duo de volaille – which is just two cuts of poultry – cooked with seasonal vegetables tandoori style. Served with coconut rice and a little cappucino de courgette (zucchini).

This again was a subtle and soft dish. For me, it lacked a bit of flavor. I enjoyed it – the vegetables were well cooked being both crunchy and soft, the poultry tender, but the tandoori lacked spice. Not that I wanted something to burn my face off like I would at an Indian restaurant, but the dish lacked oomf and instead was a bit too creamy and soft for me. The rice on the other hand was incredibly flavorful, the coconut very present and really an excellent side to dip into the tandoori sauce.

The husband had prawns served with the same coconut rice as well as the courgette cappucino and a crumble of sweet potato. His assessment of the two sides were that they were a bit strange for the main part of the plat, but for all that, pretty tasty. I agree about the cappucino.

His prawns were light and well seasoned but after the first course, which had been a wow moment for him, that it too was lacking in just a touch of flavor. Satisfying, but missing an extra zest.

The sister made up for our lack of restraint by ordering only a main course (and dessert) and had risotto cooked in a creamy chorizo sauce served with wild mushrooms and margret de canard. She felt that she couldn’t taste the chorizo, she could smell it, which added a mouthwatering pre-taste element. The duck was well-cooked, tender and tasty and the risotto with a perfect creaminess.

A moment to appreciate the plating. Everything was wonderfully presented, a bit on the modern side but again, like the decor, not overblown. The service was much the same, with a friendly, welcoming staff and a waitress trained to explain every aspect of the dish.

We also saw –courtesy of the other patrons in the restaurant – that if you order a fancy fish – such as sole – for two, they bring the raw, pre-cooked, whole fish to your table to present it to you, in order that you can approve of it’s freshness and quality.

For dessert, I chose a French classic : an apple tart, cooked upside down and flipped over when plated served with vanilla ice cream and a dab of caramel sauce. This was wonderful, again warm and soft, but what I loved was that it wasn’t too sweet. The plate let the sweet and tartness of the apples do most of the work and the pastry crust underneath was almost savory, it was such a nice buttery contrast to the fruit.

The husband and sister, who both have a thing for litchi, chose the same dessert. Charlotte de litchi served with a verine of litchi and red fruit. As I couldn’t resist tasting a bit of the litchi cream, I can safely say that this was a well done dessert. The lady fingers that make up the bones of the charlotte were very sweet, the cream light and full of the fruit. You knew you were eating litchi. The verine was served in a fruit vinegar sauce, which was acidic but contrasted well with the sweetness of the fresh fruit and the sweetness of the cake.

At times, we did find les Pecheurs lacking in a bit of flavor, but this is a gem of a restaurant in a city that boasts about it’s cuisine while at the same time catering to tourists. Let’s face it, in a tourist town, you’re never quite sure of what you’re going to get. Here we found ourselves satisfied. The prices are correct and the portions are good, even for the seafood which can often be quite expensive,  we had nothing to complain about. My menu – for instance – was 29 Euros.

All in all, though it’s slightly out of the way- about a 30 minute walk from the Promenade des Anglais and Vieux Nice, it was worth it. And there’s something for everyone – even for those people who like to go to seafood restaurants to order everything but fish.

It’s Valentine’s Day! That means lots of red and pink and a little bit of purple to add that extra touch of pain to the eyes.

Let’s face it. St. Valentine’s Day is not the most aesthetic of holidays. Pink, red, AND purple? Unnecessary.

It is interesting to note that there are several Saint Valentine’s, most of whom were martyrs for the Catholic faith. The one who’s considered the original – who supposedly died on February 14th – well we know nothing about him except his name and the day he was torn to bits by lions or whatever.

It wasn’t until the tradition of courtly love appeared on the scene of the late middle ages, originating in southwestern France, that people began to associate St. Valentine with romance; for reasons completely unknown to me. I do however know a little bit about the troubadours of medieval France. They’re music is and was entirely enchanting. At least for medieval buffs like me. Here’s a taste:

I’m doing my medieval music professor proud.

Somehow, these lovely songs and the idea of striving for unattainable perfection in love got lost in perfume, candlelight dinners, and Hallmark. And being groped by greasy men. This could be a past-time for me here in France, if I wasn’t already married. Thank god for the husband.

But, all is forgiven. All is forgiven because of the chocolate.

And the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted is from la Chocolaterie de Puyricard.

Named after the tiny village where it is made, these beauties are hand-crafted, artisan chocolates. Puyricard (pronounced pu-ree-car) is located just northwest of Aix-en-Provence, one of my favorite cities in Provence. The factory, if you can call it that, is a tiny organization, made up 40 people, many of them family where chocolate is tradition and life.

They are recognizable in France by their elegant yellow facades, which despite being bright yellow with brown lettering, really are – as I said – elegant. Inside is an atmosphere dedicated to the beauty of the chocolate. Lavenders, browns, yellows, colors that accents the dark and milk chocolates (Puyricard very rarely works with white) that are placed like works of art around the shop.

And I happen to pass by one everyday on my way to work.

The women inside are smartly dressed and know every flavor in the store. They know the essences, the subtleties, the liquors. They will give you a taste if you can’t make up your mind and need a bit of persuasion. And they wrap everything into a beautiful package that always matches the season.

Even if it is Valentine’s themed – I can’t hate this.

Their most famous, and one of my favorites is their palet d’or and palet d’argent. Two truffles of dark chocolate with a ganache of dark chocolate and Tahitian vanilla bean inside. On the outside, hand placed are small leaves of silver and gold. For show, of course, but there is something beautiful and so inviting about the glint of the metal on the silky chocolate surface.

This year, I have a new love, that I sampled in their store. A dark chocolate square truffle with a simple, unadorned smooth outer shell. Inside is dark chocolate ganache peppered literally with black pepper and a hint of mint. It is a very understated taste, discernible only if you take the time to taste it slowly and let the flavors melt on your tongue. But if you do – every millimeter of this tiny square is worth it.

Puyricard isn’t cheap. A box of 250 grams – about 20-25 chocolates is 21Euros. Keep in mind however that these are hand-made chocolates, I’ve seen it with my own eyes – you can visit the factory. They use only the finest ingredients, the purest cacao, and there are NO PRESERVATIVES. So if you happen to be in the United States and decide to splurge and order some, they will Fed-Ex your chocolates to you in order that they arrive as fresh as possible.

Or you can come to Provence and visit the factory yourself. This is the only photo I have of my visit. I don’t know why I only have half the building. It’s a pretty half.

Another beauty to their truffle collection is their lichee ganache. Dark chocolate outside, milk chocolate interior infused with a strong lichee liquor. Graceful and so smooth, a perfect fruity taste mixed with the most delicate of milk chocolates. I was impressed as I wasn’t sure how lichee would go with the taste of chocolate, but I had to try their new flavor.

A truly amazing chocolaterie, the three others that are on the same street as the Puyricard in Toulon, simply can’t hold a candle to the perfect caress of this soft, flavorful chocolate as it melts on the tongue.

Next time you want to treat yourself, check out their website. Even if you don’t order anything, their chocolates are a feast for the eyes alone.

In the northeast corner of the Var there’s a tiny little town hidden in the mountains called Trigance. At the top of a hill is a 12th century château with ten large bedrooms, a very big terrace that looks over the valley and village, and ends with a wonderful restaurant inside a 13th century armory.

The husband and I went to Château de Trigance last year and enjoyed the peace the quiet and the food so much we wanted to go back this year for our anniversary. Though, our anniversary was one month ago – I just happened to be in the United States at the time.

Pistou says that I always have an excuse…

 

We arrived Saturday at noon. But where in the world can you check into a hotel, even one in a château before 2pm? So we had to enter the village.

Take in the sights.

Then find a quiet place for lunch.

Prosecco in a field.

Prosecco and ravioli dauphinois (three cheese) with zucchini, chicken, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and parmesaen cheese. Yum.

It’s a rough life.

We went for a walk in the mountains and found wild raspberries.

And sheep.

 

Before you go to dinner you have to try the hypocras. It’s a sweet white wine, thick and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and other such happy things that pique the taste buds into mouthwatering happiness. But drink it slow because it’s about 15% proof and is easy to drink.

We had our drinks in the salon. They brought us olives and little toasts of salmon, anchovies, and chorizo.

Chateau de Trigance has a lovely wine list. We chose our favorite Chateauneuf du Pape, a 2007, which was a pretty good year and has a nice fruity taste but in order to get the full flavor, it definitely needs to be decanted for a good 30 minutes before drinking.

 

My entrée was a wild mushroom soup served with dried magret de canard, which was a little like duck ham. It was delightful. The duck very tasty and the soup thick and hearty.

 

For the main plate I had pigeon. No seriously. It’s not the bird you see walking the city sidewalks, flying kamikaze like into your face when they’re startled. But it’s a cousin. It’s a difficult taste to describe and one that is acquired. I like to say that it has a dirty, wild taste but that again seems to bring to mind the disease ridden feathered-rat outside my window. But nonetheless it’s a deeper, darker taste than chicken and similar to duck. Anyway it was served with a scallion tart and soaked in a caramelized red-wine sauce.

 

Greg had deer, which I tried a piece of. An interesting meat, people once told me deer tasted sweet, but this wasn’t sweet. It had a very wild taste, but not my thing.

 

Ok, so last year the whole reason for us going to Château de Trigance was because it’s one of the few restaurants we’ve found that still serves a cheese cart.

 

It’s quite a cheese cart. Serving classics like Camembert, brie de meaux, époisse, tomme de montagne but also has local cheese made from goat and sheep. Pick any thing you like. They cut you off a nice slice and let you enjoy with the last of your red. I tactfully avoided the waitress in my photo.

 

Cheese should finish a meal. It can finish a meal. But it didn’t finish this meal.

 Dessert was chestnut cream blended with Bailey’s and vanilla ice cream with chantilly on top. Simple and very tasty.

 

And then we needed tea, because we couldn’t get up yet to waddle back to our room.

 

Breakfast in bed, the next day:

 

A lovely view as we took our last look on the castle.

 

But don’t stop there! On your windy way back down the mountain, stop off here and buy some fresh cheese and then say hi to the goats, sheep and cows that gave the milk to make it.

After a weekend full of food, there’s only one thing, Holly-cum-food-critic can do: go home and go to sleep.

The women of my family have this disease. Actually I’m not sure if it’s a disease. Experts say addiction is a disease, but is it really? Who knows. Anyway, I’m talking about ice cream. We are all addicted to ice cream. This dates back at least to my grandmother who, I’m told, can polish off a half gallon of ice cream in under an hour.

I, personally am addicted to the sundae. Whipped cream, toppings, peanut butter mixed with something minty and a cherry. Heaven.

So there was one place I had to go when I was in Plymouth and if you go to the south shore of Massachusetts you have to go there too.

Peaceful Meadows.

They make homemade ice cream. If you go to their location in Whitman you can meet the cows that give the cream while enjoying a cone of your favorite flavor. No joke. This place has been around for years and I have fond memories of poking cows with one hand and holding an ice cream cone with another.

My favorite flavor, and indeed the only one I ever get there now is peppermint patty. Isn’t it beautiful?

That was the mom’s cup of ice cream. I got mine covered in peanut butter sauce.

Don’t laugh or make a face. It’s the most amazing thing ever. Peppermint and peanut butter. Yum.

That was the evening.

In the morning we had breakfast at a place with a giant metal chicken out front.

 

Percy’s Place is another small chain on the south shore that boasts the biggest breakfast menu in New England. Maybe the world. It’s pretty much all they serve. I think they even have grits if you want grits.

True to quaint New England restaurants it’s filled with kitsch paraphernalia and Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses-esque paintings on the walls.

The breakfasts are gigantic, you won’t need to eat lunch or even dinner, and are fantastic.

I had the farmers breakfast. Two scrambled eggs with chives on a bed of cottage cheese. Corn bread, Boston baked beans, and a turkey sausage. Served with coffee in a Percy’s coffee mug. I brought home a mug for the husband who also has happy, big bellied memories of eating at Percy’s. He was pleased and has been drinking his coffee out of it every morning so far.

Everything is slightly greasy at Percy’s. Not in a bad way. In a home cooked, fill you up and ship you out so you can spend the rest of your morning and most of your afternoon running around on the farm. Corn bread is sweet, moist, crumbly. The baked beans are savory and hearty, the eggs are never runny. The coffee is a little weak, but refills are free. And they serve it in the glass pots with orange and green lids that you see at diners and truck stops all over the country.

If you like eggs benedict, by the way, they do that and about 9 variations of it. All fabulous.

Obviously my vacation centered around more than just food. I went shopping. I saw my friends. I didn’t answer any frantic emails from work. I met a psychic who told my future. And of course I spent time with my wonderful sister and mother.

And ice cream. I ate a lot of ice cream.

What can I tell you about Boston?

I grew up outside the city. I went to graduate school there. I’ve spent countless hours wandering the known streets like Newbury, Mass Ave, Boyleston, Huntington. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit at New England Conservatory, despite never having been an official student. North End, Southie, Back Bay, Chinatown, Cambridge. You name it, I’ve been there.

And STILL I got lost. Blame the buses as I’d always taken the subway.


But at least I got to sit in TeaLuxe in Harvard Square on a rainy Wednesday and enjoy some organic tea while musing over my recent spree at Origins.

Thursday, I left the city with the sister and headed to Salem. We went to the Witch museum.

We saw a statue dedicated to Samantha from Bewitched.

We took advantage of the Psychic Fair and had psychic readings. The psychic told me I needed to write. In fact she said “Go home right now and start writing.” Talk about pressure.

We had sandwiches at Coven.

While there are many great things about French food, there are many things I missed about American cuisine and the artisanal sandwich was high on the list. You just can’t find creative sandwiches in France and as soon as I saw Coven listed as one of the best places in Salem, MA, we had to go.

Though the name “Coven” might make you think about witches and cauldrons and pentacles or pentagrams, the restaurant/café is more of a kitsch-niche than anything else. It was filled with old games – such as battleship –

This was an epic battle to the death. I won, but only by the skin of my teeth.

And showed movies like Labrynth on flat screen TVs. David Bowie in tights is always a fascinating watch when you’re eating a sandwich called “Fraggle Rock.”

All the sandwiches had names that took me back.

But they were fabulous. The sister and I shared as sisters do.

The sandwiches were excellent. Incredibly filling, on crunchy, chewie baguettes. The fraggle rock – the chicken salad one was a bit on the mayonaise-y side, but not enough to make me complain. The valley girl sandwich (with the sweet potato) was a wonderful change. The cheddar a surprising compliment to the cumin dressing. With high tables, low couches the casual atmosphere of Coven suits any mood.

We also split a cookie dough brownie, but I was less impressed, though their pastries are supposed to be famous. I found it rather tasteless and too rich at the same time. As if it was composed of a lot of unflavored sugar. Their sandwiches are definitely a better find. And the coffee was good too.

Salem, despite being marketed to the witch-obsessed is also a quaint town. Pretty and quiet and fun to poke in all the shops and with fairly friendly people. It’s also home to the Peabody-Essex museum where the sister’s friend works but we did not go.

You can also attend the local school of witchcraft and wizardry. If I didn’t already have three degrees and three wonderful student loans to pay, I’d be there.

Strangely, today as I was typing this entry, I received some possible good news about a short story submitted months ago and I completely forgot about. That psychic might have been onto something.

Coming soon: Mexican, family dinners, ice cream joints and more.

Andernos to Toulon is a seven hour drive. As I can’t drive a standard transmission to save my life, the husband did, not most, but all of the driving. I slept in the passenger seat. We stopped off at Nîmes for a break. Why someone thought putting the front piece of an ancient Roman theater at a rest stop is and will always be beyond me. But there it was.

The last leg of the trip took me to Aix-en-Provence for dinner Monday evening. Aix is one of my favorite cities in France, because it’s a university town and I will always be a university student at heart. It’s not by the sea, but on the edge of the Luberon mountains with lovely streets, good shopping and most of all a wide variety of restaurants.

After finding that the restaurant we originally wanted to go to was closed, we settled for L’Antioche, a Lebanese restaurant that we had been to last year and enjoyed.

Dinner was simple. Any Lebanese restaurant should do a good mezze and this one is no exception. Hummus, smoked caviar d’aubergine with sesame, crème fraiche with scallions, fried cheese things with spices, pita bread, taboulé, hand rolled grape leaves with meat and rice, a pita sliced open and baked with lamb and spices, rolled beef “samosas” and falafel. I love Lebanese food because there’s not a crustacean to be found.

I wanted to take a close up photo of the man rolling the grape leaves but I was too embarrassed to ask.

It’s simple, it’s delicious and even though it’s kind of meant as an appetizer, as we learned the first time around – a mezze for two is definitely not an appetizer. Antioche, though not a fancy establishment, nor a big one. Most of the restaurant spills out onto the street.

It is excellent food for a good price. The waitstaff is very friendly and tried not to look when they saw me taking photos of everything, including the low-lit dining room and each plate individually.

That is until I got annoyed with having to stand up and just made a sample plate to photograph.

My favorite was the taboulé, which is fresh and light and full of yummy green things and onion and tomato that my body craved after my spitted pork. The second favorite is the caviar d’aubergine which is, as I said smoked so that it has a wonderful wooded flavor that is captured and absorbed into the taste of the eggplant adding deeper flavor to the complex vegetable.

For dessert? Well, if you’ve never had Arabian pastries you really should. But I couldn’t resist the husband’s offer of more ice cream and so we set off to find a place.

On Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, we found heaven. Organic, homemade ice cream. What could be better? (Salted caramel on top.)

I had coconut and pana cotta-caramel. The husband had banana and speculoos.

The night and my vacation was over by 9pm when we got into the car and drove the 45 minutes back to our apartment. There we were greeted by a very angry and distressed cat. It’s fresh vegetable soups for the rest of the week for me while I digest all the food from this past weekend.

This weekend I went to Andernos on the western coast of France, where I got to see the other side of the Atlantic ocean. That may not seem like a big deal, but it was to me, after spending my entire childhood in New England.

No road trip would be complete without enough food to feed six people. Even though there were only two of us.

The rest stops, like the rest of France, have vineyards behind them.

Ironically, the region of Bordeaux and especially the quaint towns of the coast look very much like the French-version of New England. Or the New England version of France. I can’t decide which.

Andernos is located in a part of the west coast known as Le Basin d’Arcachon. Because of the enclosed bay, when the tide goes out of the basin, it really goes out. Boats are left resting lopsided in the sand for the water to come back in.

We found a coffee shop that served real, good coffee, and blueberry muffins. It was clearly based on an American café, but as I often miss my coffee shop hang outs, it was a welcome sight. After my run in the morning, the husband and I spent time reading and writing there.

There was a zoo not far away, where the husband and I visited to get a look at the lions. He said as we were getting into the car “Get a photo for Pistou, so he can see what a real lion is like.” I did.

One also roared for us, which was very impressive. If you’ve never heard a lion roar up close, it is as thunderous as the descriptions say. I’d have run if there wasn’t a cage separating us.

We also sampled the local pastry. Cannelé. Don’t get this confused with canoli as I do every 15 seconds. A firm pastry, consisting of cream, egg, flour, sugar and surprisingly, rum. When cooked properly – which is hard to find outside the Bordeaux region – they are moist and spongy, almost like a flan. I’d had them in a pastry shop in Toulon over a year ago and was disappointed. I am now, after having fresh made ones, a convert. There’s something satisfying about the bounce to the cooked dough and the pure, but not over powering sweetness.

The whole purpose of this trip was a wedding. Which involved lots of food, lots of wine and lots more food and wine.

Here I am at the vin d’honor, an aperitif that took place after the ceremony. Oysters (which are famous in the western border of France and which I can’t eat) and little petits-fours were served, but the wine and champagne were the main attraction. And the bride and groom of course.

This is my second glass of wine. A pinot-something that was old enough to have an aroma and taste of a white port. Fabulous. As a side note: I have to thank my wonderful student AB who lent me the dress.

After another glass of champagne we made our way to the reception, where dinner was awaiting us:

 

Pig roasted on a spit. No wait, not one pig – three pigs.

 

Here is my reaction captured on film. It is a cross between “What the —?” and “Oh my god, I get to try pig roasted over a spit.” I kind of wanted to change into my medieval garb, but then remembered I didn’t bring it with me.

Pig roasted over a spit, cooked by two men in berets.

This required another glass of champagne.

Here is what my pig on a spit looked like when it was served. Pretty harmless until I saw the heads sitting in the cold storage the next day. (Photo not included) In the end it was very moist, very flavorful, very tender, almost as if it had been soaked in milk before hand. (not a kosher evening). The men in berets knew what they were doing, despite sipping red wine throughout the preparation.

We tried to make the next day more moderate, but on our first night in Andernos, the husband’s family had found an amazing ice cream place by the port. So we had an ice cream dinner – which is not at all moderate. My flavors were peanut and straticella which is a simple cream flavor with chocolate bits inside. Topped with whipped cream and salted caramel. I don’t know who invented salted caramel, but they deserve a medal.

No beach-front vacation ends without a beautiful sunset. So here’s your portion. Notice the tide is back.

So.

Let me tell you about La Table du Vingeron and Domaine de Terrebrune.

That is, if I can figure out where to begin.

 

Long have I wanted to write about this restaurant. And the wine of Terrebrune. Oh lord, the wine. I had been there twice before, and each time I was too involved in my food, in the ambiance, in the wine to take photos and pay any attention to what I should be thinking about, be remembering for this blog.

Today I promised myself, and Christophe de Bretygny, the maître D and owner, that I would take photos and write about this restaurant. But I don’t know where to begin. Seriously. Because the restaurant is completely summed up in one word:

AMAZING.

I’ve sung the praises of this restaurant to everyone I meet. And today I’m going to sing it to you, the best that I can.

 

Imagine that you’re driving down a windy one way road in the hills of Sanary-sur-mer. You’re a ways away from the beach, a ways away from the traffic and the bustle of the pink concrete houses, surrounded by nothing but vineyard. You follow some weathered signs that read “Domaine de Terrebrune” and find yourself pulling up to a secluded vineyard and in the middle is a small mas, or Provencal stone house.

You park and walk to the entrance.

 

There you are greeted by the maître D (see him on facebook). Who has a smile on his face and if you have been there more than once and caused a bit of a mess more than once, remembers you.

My mess? Well, it was literal. Never use a white tablecloth when I’m eating at your house. Just don’t.

You’re seated and an aperitif is served. The cocktail de maison is champagne, crème cassis and peach liquor. Fruity, refreshing with a good zest, and it will knock you over so drink it SLOWLY.

A mis en bouche is served. Fromage blanc with a hint of ham, olive oil and tomatoes. Light but mouthwatering.

Entrées are next. Homemade foie gras with rosemary jelly, a fresh brioche, and sesame sauce. The foie gras is the best I’ve ever had. Fondant (melty), lightly cooked, well seasoned. The rosemary jelly sounds a little strange but it has an excellent texture and taste. The brioche is warm with a tender crust on the outside and a thick, soft, warm inside. It is so tasty with the foie gras that you never want it to end.

The husband has a tomato, cheese pie with green salad on top and a scoop of lovely olive oil and basil ice cream. The crust was flaky and buttered, the tomatoes seasoned with basil and a salty, soft cheese.

Then the main course. Turkey stuffed with summer herbs and forest mushrooms in a sauce of cream and forest mushrooms. These wild mushrooms are spectacular. Soft and full of incredible forest flavor. The turkey is boneless, tender and also flavorful. I’m not sure of all the herbs that there are as I chew slowly, savoring each bite, but I catch hints of rosemary and I swear there’s sage.

The French have excellent adjectives when it comes to describing food and I can describe this dish in one word – onctueuse. Maybe that’s not the word people would put to turkey and mushrooms, but that is what it says to me.

Let’s stop a moment and discuss the wine. La Table du Vingeron, being set in the Domaine de Terrebrune, obviously serves Terrebrune. We had a 2003. Acidic with berry and wood, a heavy smell and a slightly lighter taste that sat in my mouth mixing with the meal.

And let’s take a moment to discuss the service. The servers are all wonderful people. Friendly, smiling, professional and they thought it was fantastic that I was taking photos, drunk and taking photos while drunk.

After lunch, before dessert. You’re digesting, you’re enjoying your last drops of wine. You’ve lost track of the time. Out comes the pre-dessert. Little cakes – but the wine is gone! What will you drink. Of course, it being Sunday at a fabulous restaurant with fabulous service there must be champagne! And there was.

Here are your choice of desserts:

 

The last is fresh raspberries with vervaine ice cream, a funky cookie and wait – what is that red liquid? Cold red pepper soup. You’re hearing me right. An amazing contrast is created when red peppers mix with a sweet, tart (is there such a thing?) berry. It’s refreshing, interesting and a taste that you want to keep trying because it seems more and more fascinating each time.

Ok. So I’m showing you photographs of what other people at my table were served. I didn’t try them, but I can assure you by the smiles and happy moans, and the husband’s assurances, all the other plates were fantastic.

But wait! It doesn’t end there. Coffee must be served in dainty cups alongside chocolates, which the maître D knew I’d love.

 

And I did. I loved the whole thing. La Table du Vingeron is truly a gem. In service, ambiance, in wine and in food, it is my favorite restaurant of all time and to be perfectly honest, I know that this blog entry did not do the restaurant justice.

I guess that means I’ll have to go back to re-taste their fabulous food and try it all over again!