France Trip - The Foods of France

This is a continuation of my blog posts about a three-week trip to France for the entire review, check out these previous blog posts: Week One, Week Two, Week Three

Some general food observations about France first:
  1. The Boulangerie – The French love their famous puffy, melting in your mouth croissants straight from the oven. But the Pain au Chocolat was a daily choice for me. Strong coffee versus café americano (watered down). I found their coffee to be strong, but much less acidic as typical American coffee.
  2. Generally, the north uses more dairy (milk, butter and cheese) whereas the south uses more olive oil. South is a more Mediterranean diet (more fish, tomatoes and other nightshade vegetable). More goat cheeses, lots of olive oil. Rosé wine in the warm months. South-East France: Not surprisingly, foods revolving around olives, olive oil and herbs, tomatoes and garlic are popular in this region, in common with nearby neighbors Italy, Basque country of Spain and North Africa.
  3. Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day, and longer than what we take to eat in the US. Many shops close for two hours during lunch.
  4. The most prevalent food we found (available in the big cities, and the small countryside villages) was...Pizza. Fresh food everywhere.

Our first taste of any French food was at a local bakery, in Paris, called Yannick Martin. Our hotel room wasn’t ready, and we had been flying all night. So, our first taste of food in France was a Pain au Chocolat, followed by a cheese plate and wine in the lobby of our hotel, as the wait for a room was drawn out.

Our first encounter with a sidewalk café was in the Montmarte area. We had lunch at a sidewalk café called Au Cadet de Gascogne. I had a ham and swiss baguette (served with hard boiled eggs). 

That evening, the hotel was offering a free drink that they called “The Green Beast” (made with Absinthe, lemon, cucumber and water). Dinner at L’Imperial BBZ. My wife had a warm goat cheese salad, and I had the salmon tartare, along with a carafe of Provence Rose.

Salmon Tartare
A couple times, we grabbed a quick bite at McDonald’s McCafe, which is loaded with fresh pastries and coffee. They take their café business seriously. It is a completely different section of the restaurant. While the regular restaurants are automated (you place an order on an electronic kiosk) the café portion is personal service. The display cases were filled with croissants, macrons, cookies, pastries. I think American McDonalds could learn something from their French franchises!

When we went wine tasting in the countryside, some of the tasting rooms at the Chateau offered freshly made lunches. One stop was the small Château de Nitray. where they served a rustic lunch of grilled chicken, tomatoes and potatoes along with their wine tasting (Sauvignon Blanc, Rose and Cot). All wines were about 7 euros a bottle.

When we traveled to Nice, in Southern France, the front desk person at our hotel was Italian, and he gave us his recommendation for his favorite Italian restaurants in the area. We walked a couple blocks from the hotel to the Villa D’Este. Ordered a bottle of Valpolicella. My wife had a margherita pizza and I had the grilled prawn (which was the whole prawn and not de-veined). The cobblestone streets were packed with outdoor café seating, and tons of choices for places to eat.

The next day, we had dinner at Lu Fran Calin. Authentic Nicoise food. I had the local specialty, Daube (a beef stew on gnocchi). The restaurants that offer authentic local food have the label "Cuisine Nissarde". This is awarded to restaurateurs who work to promote the cuisine of Nice by committing to respecting the recipes, the quality of the products and raw materials used.

The next section of our trip was on a river cruise for a week, so most of the meals were served onboard the ship. The typical buffet breakfast consisted of eggs (not cooked well, usually on the wet side), fruit, fresh baguette with jam, pastries (croissants, Pain au chocolat) very thin bacon, cold cuts, baked beans (I’m assuming this is for the English tourists), yogurt (usually pretty runny, and served in glass jars), cheese, café, fruit juices. The dinners were all four course meals. You could order individual items, or go with their regional menu for the day (which is what we usually did). Meals were made with fresh local ingredients, and paired with wines from the general area.

During the river cruise, we would stop along the Rhone at villages and spend a portion of the day exploring the towns and soaking in the local culture. We found great bread shops (with fantastic olive bread). One of the highlights was a lunch at La Table de Sorgues, for wine tasting and lunch. A typical two-hour French lunch. Opened with a taste of 2018 Chateau Aqueria Lirac (very refreshing and floral with a certain minerality), paired with a couple small appetizers, as well as a scallop dish. Next was a 2013 Clos de T Ventous, paired with perfectly roasted lamb and red pepper tart. This was followed by a cheese course of goat, sheep and cow mile cheeses. Lastly a dessert course that consisted of an éclair filled with a raspberry crème and fruit.

Valrhona Chocolate
Another highlight was stopping at the Valrhona Chocolate factory on the east end of Tain Hermitage. It is considered the finest chocolate in all of Europe, and used by all the top chefs.

Other side trips included a cheese tasting at Les Halles Grand Hôtel-Dieu, in Lyon as well as a cider tasting along with a smoked fish pate. at the Halle de la martineire, and a stop at the Boulangerie du Palais, to taste pink praline cakes, which are made with caramelized almonds. 

Our last big excursion of the River Cruise was a day trip to the Macon/Beaujolais area, where we visited a Goat Cheese factory: Chevrerie La Trufiere, in the village of Lys. Cheese and wine tasting Wines were presented by the winemaker: Christophe Perrin, of Domain Christophe Perrin. He presented five wines, which were served with different aged goat cheeses. The next stop was at the truffle farm at Les Cos Piguet, in Saône-et-Loire. The owner (Oliver Devevre), and his 15-year-old dog (Chinook) gave a black truffle digging demonstration beneath the hazelnut trees. He grows nine different types of truffles in numerous locations. This time of year, the truffles were dried out. The season is really in the fall. After, we went to his house for lunch and wine pairing. Lunch included homemade ratatouille, beef stew, couscous, bread, cheese and chocolate mousse. The wines were presented by Kerrie de Boissieu. Her and her husband’s winery is Chateau de Lavernette. She is an American, and happened to be studying for her Master of Wine with Brandon Sparks-Gillis (of Dragonette Cellars). The 2016 St Amour “le chatelet” was outstanding.

After the River Cruise, we were back on our own, and this is when the food got really fun! 

Back in Lyon, we walked to the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Unfortunately, most of the market stalls were already closed. We stopped at Beillevaire Cheese shop and Bellota Bellota Charcuterie. We did buy some macrons at Seve. The raspberry was a favorite. There is nothing like these in the United States. They just taste better in France.

After checking out Yelp for reviews of authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, we stopped for dinner at Fiston Bouchon. We started with a carafe of Rose. I ordered the Menu Lyonnais, which included Salade Lyonnaise, Andouillette (a traditional pork sausage) in a mustard sauce and dessert of a praline tart. 

Another dinner was at Le Gourmand de Saint Jean. Once again, I had the Menu Lyonnaise, which included a goat cheese and apple salad, and a main course of quenelles. Dessert was profiteroles. If you have never had quenelles, it is something you have to try. This was one of my favorite dishes on the entire trip. It is made with creamed white fish, and shaped like a sausage. Wonderfully smooth, light, fluffy and tasty!

In Dijon, we had to stop at the mustard shops. There are two in old town Dijon: Edmund Fallot and Maille.

Dijon Sampler
Dinner in Dijon was at Temps Des Ducs. where I ordered the Dijon sampler plate which included (in the photo from left to right): Fromage de terroir, boeuf bourguignon, chair de grenouille en creme parsille (frogs legs),Oeufs en meurette, Nage d'escargots, jambon-persille.

While touring the vineyards and tasting rooms along the Cote d’Noir we had lunch and wine tasting at Trapet Pere et Fils, in Gevrey-Chambertin. This is a nice hidden spot, that only locals know about. This day, we were the only ones there. This was an expensive lunch and tasting. The five-course lunch included five wines from Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils. Lunch included a large Gougère, Dijon Jambon Persillé (ham in parsleyed aspic), Beef Bourguignon with crushed potatoes, and assortment of Goat cheese (from the farm and mountain cheese), Organic bread and a dessert.

All the towns had wonderful fresh market places, where fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat and bread were available. The shopping carts were small hand held baskets, so most locals bought just enough for one or two days. Fresh is the key emphasis here.

The market in Dijon
Any trip to France has to include food, and you don’t have to go to the Michelin star rated restaurants to experience France. The most we ever paid for a meal was the lunch in the Cote d’Noir at 140 euros for both of us. Most dinners were around 60 to 80 euros for two, and the larger lunches were less. Breakfasts (Le petit-déjeuner) were simple. 

I could live this lifestyle!

France Trip - Week Three: Burgundy

 On my last blog, we had just finished the second segment of our trip to France, and had us disembarking the river cruise in Lyon. We were allowed to stay on the ship for lunch, and the crew arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 1:00 and take us to our hotel in Lyon. Since our room wasn’t ready, we decided to walk along the Rhone, and down to the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Unfortunately, on Sunday, most of the market stalls were closed. Stopped at Beillevaire Cheese shop and Bellota Bellota Charcuterie. We did buy some macrons at Seve. The raspberry was a favorite. We weaved our way through the town, and made our way to the largest urban park in France, Parc de la Tête d'Or. The weather was very warm, and there were lots of people picnicking on the grass, or paddling in the large lake. Our hotel was located just off the park.

Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
After checking in, we bought a 48 hour bus pass at the front desk. Walking in the heat was a challenge. The bus pick up and drop off was right behind our hotel, and would take us to the Hard Rock Café right at the end of the line in Cordeliers. This made for an easy walk from the Peninsula to Vieux Lyon (the old part of town). We crossed the pedestrian bridge called Passerelle du Palais de Justice, which crosses the Saone River, and lets out at the Palais de justice historique de Lyon. We wandered around the small cobblestone streets that we had previously visited a couple days before. After checking out Yelp for reviews of authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, we stopped for dinner at Fiston Bouchon, more on this, check the food blog post.

Notre Dame de Fourviere
The next morning, we took the bus to our normal drop off point, then walked to the old part of town to take the funicular to Notre Dame de Fourviere Cathedral. The train runs up through a tunnel directly underneath the Cathedral. We then walked down the road to the Fourviere Ancient Roman Theater. Unfortunately, the only day the museum is closed is on Mondays, so we walked around the ancient ruins. The theater was built in 15 BC and is still in use today. The weather was getting progressively hotter, so we walked back up to the Cathedral, to sit inside and cool down a bit. We ventured down in the crypts, below the cathedral. 

Had lunch at an outdoor café, on the peninsula. Hamburgers, Fries and Cokes. Headed back to the hotel to cool down for a bit.

Dinner was at Le Gourmand de Saint Jean. Similar to the night before, I had the Menu Lyonnaise. I will get into the foods of France in a follow up blog.

The owl
The next morning we took a taxi to the Lyon train station. We got there very early, and had to wait awhile before our train was announced (they only announce the gate about 30 minutes before boarding). Our bags were never checked when we boarded, and they never even checked our ticket. Security is a bit different in France! The trip was fairly short, and we arrived in Dijon and picked up a taxi to our hotel. 

Burgundian Tile Roofs
The Hotel Wilson is located on the corner of a roundabout, and is a very old building. The hotel was originally a coach house, built in the 1600’s. The walls are very thick. Only the bathroom had been updated. No air conditioning, but they did have a standup fan. The temperature was well over 100 degrees. The front desk had the Owl Trail Maps, so we ventured out, to find the trail. We found the Palace Du Theatre, and started walking the trail backwards. First stop was at the Square Des Ducs, where dogs were playing in the pond of the small park. Next was L’Hotel De Vogue with its’ Burgundian tile roof. Next door was the Maison Milliere, with the black cat on the roof. The bottom floor is a shop and opens into a pub. The house was built in 1483. Further down the alley was the owl. It is considered to be a good luck charm for those who rub it with their left hand. It is built into the wall that surrounds the Notre Dame Cathedral of Dijon. The Notre Dame has rows of gargoyles around the outside, and beautiful stain glass. It was built in the 13th century.

Place Francois Rude
Further down the road, the streets open up into the Place Francois Rude square, where a large carousel is located as well as a fountain with a statue of a grape harvester, stopping grapes.

Next we stopped at the  Edmund Fallot mustard shop, for some mustard tasting. Then walked to Place de la Liberation. The square faces the Palais Des Ducs, and is surrounded by shops and cafes. In the center are a series of fountains, that kept the young children entertained, and cool on the hot evening.

Place de la Liberation
Ate dinner at Temps Des Ducs. And after dinner, we walked around the square, and made notes for where we wanted to go the last day, then headed back to the hot hotel, and tried to sleep in the heat.

At 9:30 the next morning, we met with Jérémie Durand, from Authentica Tours. Thank goodness his black Mercedes had powerful air conditioning, as it was already hot in the morning. I had hired Jérémie, as an expert on Burgundy Vineyards, to take us around all the major vineyards, meet locals, and learn more about Burgundy. I will say that one day in Burgundy is not enough. It can take months to understand the complexity of all the vineyard characteristics, but this day was a good education. The temperature reached 107 degrees (the hottest recorded temperature in Burgundy).

Clos de la Perriere
We headed south from Dijon through Marsannay along the Route de Grand Cru. Then up into the gentle sloping hills of the northern Cote de Nuit. The slopes are not as steep as I had anticipated. Along the hillsides are outcroppings of limestone. Each appellation has a slightly different exposure with valleys leading out of the north west. This allows cooler air to flow through to the hillside vineyards.

First stop was in Fixin, at Clos de la Perriere. This south east facing slope of calcareous soil is located right at the border of Chambertin.

Clos de Beze
Second stop at the Grand Cru vineyard of Clos de Beze in Gevrey-Chambertin
Third Les Bonnes Mares which is located in both Morey-Saint Denis and Chambolle-Musigny. In a bowl with outcroppings of limestone.

Clos Vouguet
Next stop was above Clos Vougeot. Parked at Les Musigny and looked down on the large vineyard.

Continued down the road, and stopped at La Romanee-Conti. While there, an old vigneron stopped to speak with us. He previously owned the vines right next to La Romanee-Conti at Le Richebourg. He is now retired, and was commenting on the stressed vines in Romanee Saint-Vivant. He felt the young owners of those vines had sprayed sulfur at the wrong time, and it was causing the grapes to discolor in the sun.

Tasting at La Cave Privee
Our first tasting stop was at La Cave Privee in Fixin. Entered a non-descript building, and met Gabriel Angermaier. There was a small office, then you walked down a stairway to an underground cave, stocked with wines. The wine club blind tastes wines from smaller wineries, then stocks them in the cellar to club members, and those that know about them. Tasted about ten wines in the cellar. All were pretty stellar and great values. They do ship to the US. 

Trapet Pere et Fils
Lunch and wine tasting at Trapet Pere et Fils, in Gevrey-Chambertin. This is a nice hidden spot, that only locals know about. This day, we were the only ones there. This was an expensive lunch and tasting (140 euros). The five-course lunch included five wines from Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils. 

After lunch we drove to Aloxe-Corton and viewed the surrounding vineyards, then to our final tasting at Pierre Mayeul in Beaune. Tasting in the cellar with Matthieu Bouchard. Tasted 10 wines. Bought a case of wine at Cotes et Climats, which was held in a cellar in Beaune, until the weather cooled enough to ship. They held my wine for three months.

We drove around the exterior of the Hospice du Beaune, then headed back to Dijon.

Jardin Darcy
It was a rough night sleeping in the heat, but got up in the morning, and had breakfast at the hotel. We packed up our luggage, and the hotel allowed us to keep the bags there, until we were ready to get a taxi to the train station, later in the day. We walked back to the old part of town, to continue walking the Owl Trail. First stop, before hitting the Owl Trail, was at the Maille Mustard shop. The air-conditioning was wonderful. At the end of the Rue de la Liberte, we started at the beginning of the Owl Trail, at the Jardin Darcy, with the large sculpture of a polar bear, and a fountain that was being used by dogs and pigeons.

Marketplace in Dijon
We retraced some of our steps from the previous visit to town, and made out way to the large covered market. The market was full of fruit stands, cheese and meat stands, as well as stands with prepared foods. Next, we walked down to the Saint Jean Church, then around the corner to the Saint-Philibert Church. It was the parish of the wine-growers, and was built in the 12th century. Across the street was the Cathedrale Saint-Benigne. We sat in the church for a bit, to cool down, then entered the crypts that are located under the church.

Downtown Dijon
Up the road, we stopped for lunch at the first place we could find with air-conditioning. Ordered drinks and burgers at Restaurant L'Edito. Took our time in the restaurant, and watched the Tour De France on the big screen televisions located throughout the restaurant. The Tour was going through the Alps. To our surprise, one of our closest friends showed up on the television screen, as an observer of the race. He was in France at the same time as us, following the tour on his bike.

Tombs in the Palais Des Ducs
After a late lunch, we walked back to the Palais Des Ducs, which now houses the Musee des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). They had an exhibition of works by Yan Pei-Ming. The main art gallery was four stories with a focus on Burgundy and the history of the Duchy of Burgundy. Numerous Renaissance paintings, armory, weapons and the ornate tombs of Philip the Bold and his son John the Fearless and his wife Margaret of Bavaria.

We returned to the hotel and picked up our taxi to the train station. We arrived early, and the station didn’t have any air-conditioning, however they were handing out free bottles of water due to the high temperatures.

The train ride back to Paris went through rolling hills covered with sunflowers, and the occasional vineyard. Small villages dotted the countryside, and we could often see the small canals that connected the rural areas with the rest of France. As we approached Paris, the graffiti grew more prevalent. We arrived at the station in the evening, and it was drizzling and 109 degrees. Our hotel was located just outside the station. We checked into the room, with a view over-looking the city. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Sacré-Cœur were all visible from our window.

Waiting on the train platform in Dijon
After a breakfast, we took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport. Left the hotel at 11:30 and got to the gate at 1:25. Traffic was terrible, and took us about an hour to get there. But, we had plenty of time to check in. Global Entry passes fast tracked us through the lines. Got to the gate very early, so had lunch at one of the restaurants in the terminal. 

Arrived back in Los Angeles on time, and once again, whisked through custom with the Global Entry. Got home at 9:38pm. 19 hours from hotel to home.

What a trip, and what an adventure. The River Cruise added a lot of additional expense to the trip, so I know we can do it again, at a lower price. My hope is that this three-week adventure will encourage you to travel, and explore. I certainly have “caught the bug”. Check back for more blogs about Food, Wine, and individual Wine Regions.

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