Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Week-end in the Country: Bordeaux

I had the good fortune to be asked to go to a friend's house just outside St. Emilion this past week-end.  One might not need to think I need to "getaway" from anything right now, but the city moves at a much different pace than the back roads and villages in the country.  So, after a few days of poking around St. Emilion, Bordeaux, and all places in between, I feel refreshed and ready once again for bustling Paris.

My friend Doni's place is right on the Dordogne and after one glimpse, I saw many of my favorite French books come to life, and pictured this place as a lovely and likely setting in which to write one of these stories on the fabulous, yet frustrating, life in the country.

Our first night, after the 3+ hour train ride from Paris, we went into "town," which is really just a few small shops each selling a very specific item as is the case in most of France.  We grabbed flowers from the flower shop, bread from the boulangerie, cheese from the fromagerie, and even got milk and eggs from another small shop where the owner asked how many eggs we wanted and then dropped them in a small bag for us.  That began our riverside picnic and drink before we walked into Doni's immediate village center, which consists of a church, a small school and one restaurant. 

Luckily the restaurant is quite good so we were treated to some home cooking by a husband and wife team who run the place, and the post office next door by day.  They have an open grill in the restaurant where they cook all of their meat.  My steak was twice the size of my head with double the amount of blue cheese on top.  It made for good sleeping, not to mention, that the house was a tad bit cold because of a delay in getting the fuel for the heat.  Luckily there were some electric heaters for the bedrooms and we built a fire every morning in the kitchen so it really was country living.

Delicious frog legs
Warm fish casserole, beets and spiced spinach

Steak with blue cheese
Chef, owner, grill master

The next day I took a run through the small villages, looking into each of the farms to see what they were growing (mostly grapes) and giving the vineyard dogs something to bark about.  We then went for a more in-depth wine tour at Chateau Belles Graves in Lalande de Pomerol.  The 3rd generation owner took us around his fields and showed us his cement vats, which you don't see everyday in modern wine making.  The property also has a 4 bedroom hotel, making for a nice, all encompassing stay. 

We tasted some wine, bought some wine, and then went off and meandered through the country on our way to St. Emilion.  There are beautiful sites around every corner, and not necessarily on any tourist map, but half the fun is getting lost and going where the day takes you like a random Brocante in a small town.

We then spent the afternoon walking around the "big city" of St. Emilion, ironically where Doni and I first met 3 years ago during a writing conference. 

We were treated to a beautiful sunset which made all of the stone shine even brighter and more colorful.

We then treated ourselves to a little vodka at an appropriately named L'Absolu cafe.  This was the first vodka based bar I had seen in France, so naturally we had to stop for a glass (or maybe two), and they also gave us a fairly elaborate charcuterie platter for free. 

Dinner was another great meal.  I went all fish with a sashimi dourade to start and then a scallop risotto, served with the maison's name wine.  Delicious.

Sunday we drove into Bordeaux and started our day wandering through the modern art museum.  They had a pretty spooky exhibition on secret societies that included an extremely lifelike man playing dead on the floor.  The visit is almost worth it alone for their lovely rooftop and cafe.

We stopped for lunch at one of the great markets along the water.  The sun was out and so were all the French.  There were people everywhere eating, drinking and getting their supplies for the week.  We had some fabulous oysters, shrimp and of course a bit of wine. 

After a final wander through Bordeaux, we took the last train back to Paris, tired, yet refreshed from a fun week-end.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some California Sunshine

I got two great gifts from LA this week.  One, blue skies and quasi-warm temperatures came to Paris.  Two, my good friend Cheryl came for a visit.

Cheryl used to live in London and has been to Paris several times, which means we didn’t have to do the Paris 101 tour.  Instead, we got to wander the streets for hours, and of course eat and drink all of Paris’ goods.  There was cheese shopping, wine tasting, a few church visits, and we even caught up with 2 of Cheryl’s friends who up and left LA for Paris.

We met Robin for the world’s largest coffee I’ve ever seen, served at bakery great Poilane’s cafĂ© in the 6th.  There was a group leaving when we got there at about 10am and they had already each finished off a glass of wine.  Now, that’s hitting the ground running.

Poilane's great bread spread
Coffee, not soup!

Cheryl and I at least tried to wait to drink until lunch, where one day we went for supposedly the best croque madame/monsieur’s in Paris at Le Nemrod.  I haven’t done enough research to say if they’re truly the best, but they were certainly good.

Le Nemrod's Croque

We slipped into the tiny L’Avant Comptoir for a mid-day glass and also hit one of my local favorite’s Baron Rouge where we joined a lively bunch gathered on a random Tuesday night.

An afternoon glass at L'Avant Comptoir
Double fisting at Baron Rouge

The cute couple from the US who used to host the hugely successful underground dinners in their home, have now opened a restaurant and wine bar called Verjus.  We ate in the wine bar one night and had a fabulous meal of spicy fried chicken, rare duck, dumplings and Asian style broccoli.  They also have a great restaurant upstairs with a different menu, which I reviewed here
We had dessert and a final glass at Willi’s Wine Bar down the street.

Willi's Wine Bar
Verjus Wine Bar



Cheryl’s friend Richard showed us a great view of Paris from the top of Belleville and then we wandered graffiti’d streets back to the Canal St. Martin. 

I’m always intrigued as to what’s happening in some of the outer neighborhoods, especially where some of the hot chefs are being lured there because of cheaper rent.  I took Cheryl to one of these restaurants on the fringe, called Le Galopin.  While we may have been able to purchase drugs of our choosing on the way in, we ended up being treated to our own mood enhancing meal.  They give you a sheet of paper with the night’s menu, but there are no choices.  It’s more of a heads-up of what’s to come and let us know if you’re going to break out in hives if you eat any of this.  I loved it all, right down to the raw veal.  Due to our lengthy and late dinner, we ended up being the last table in the place, so we got to see the 2 young chefs take a seat, grab a beer, and start smoking in the restaurant.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell them to stop after the wonderful meal they gave us.





It was a short, but sweet trip and now I’m gearing up for my own trip down to Bordeaux for the week-end.