"Alors, a proper pot au feu MUST have at least five kinds of meat," said Philippe Duret-Therizols, the proprietor of the ancient Priory de la Chaise, an amazing 15th-century stone chapel and home in the Loire Valley that Philippe and his wife Daniele have loaded with antiques and turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn. "And one of the meats must be oxtail. And it must NEVER have potatoes," he concluded, waving his fork. It was, in a word, sensational.
This was just one of many discussions and revelations that I had about food last week in France. Forgive me for gushing about every single thing I ate, but I never cease to be amazed at the French preoccupation with fresh, flavorful food, and the overall quality of nearly everything you eat there. The food was memorable and unique from the minute I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport and headed straight to the Paul bakery for a fugasse – a pretzel-shaped bread loaded with bits of lardons pork – to the wedge of fresh coconut flan that I ate before heading home.
Where do I start? At the St. Albin's Pub in the city of Angers, I ate my first bulot, or sea snails, which were chewy little guys that were reluctant to be pulled from their shells. Very nice with a syrupy cabernet franc wine from the region called Petra Alba. The real hit of that dinner was a dessert of iles flotante (floating islands), which consisted of a large, sweet meringue floating atop a puddle of delicious crème anglaise. I would just about ransom my children for more iles flotante.
At the fashionable Hotel Balzac in Paris, the chef sent out an appetizer of foie gras ravioli in a bowl of creamy sauce that was loaded with mushrooms and bacon. And a little puff of shredded beef alongside my steak at another restaurant turned out to be beef heart, a first for me and utterly delicious. For desserts, I had everything from a pear that was perfectly poached in cabernet wine, to figs and yogurt ice cream to a Paris Brest, my new favorite pastry that consists of a ring of pastry studded with slivered almonds and powdered sugar and filled with hazelnut cream. Sorry, Napoleons, you've been dethroned in the pastry category.
Given all this, how can I go back to forty-nine cent hotdogs at the 7-11? Bon appetit!