Last weekend we were feeling rather nostalgic for Burgundy and began to relive our recent vacation. We remembered all the visits to the great bakeries, cheese shops, markets and wineries. We reflected upon the wonderful meals we shared. and which were the best. One of our favorite experiences was sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by the world’s most iconic vineyards, indulging in a plate of escargots while drinking a glass of Pommard. Soon we were in the kitchen, preparing our own plate of escargots and opening a bottle of wine we brought home from France….
Nothing much needs to said about a day that begins with Champagne and caviar in a random Seattle, Washington park more suited to meth use than recreation, a 9 hour flight, a one hour layover, another flight one hour and thirty minutes followed by a two hour drive except thank god it is over. The flight went well with little Beaumont behaving as good as one would expect from a restless six year old.
British Airways temporarily lost one of our bags. Lucky it arrived on the next flight from London an hour later. To add to insult, the conveyor belt broke while bags were being offloaded. I scampered up the ramp and proudly grabbed our last bag and returned to Lisa like a caveman might have after offing a woolly mammoth.
The only real hard part of the day was the last two hour drive from Grenoble to Burgundy. Beau would fall fast asleep in some awkward position, only to be woken by a swerve, followed by a rain of tears till he fell back into a deep slumber. Poor kid was tired beyond belief. During the last ten kilometers, I started seeing double and tried vainly to cram toothpicks in my eye sockets to keep my drooping eyelids from closing completely. I was very relieved to see the Puligny Montrachet sign announcing our arrival….
WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart, nor any vegans who may not have fully understood the title of my blog page and it’s full implications. Good Ramen is serious porky business.
I start my blog with a confession. I have been a confirmed ramen addict for several decades now. The disease shows no signs of slowing even though, for the most part, I have stopped eating gluten and pork. The addiction began in earnest as a small child left to fend for himself and forage the near empty cupboards of 1970’s America. Instant ramen noodles seemed the perfect cost effective solution for parents of constantly hungry adolescents. Any child with half a brain could boil a cup of water, open the tin foil flavor packet, drop the waxed noodles in and eat. It progressed, or degressed depending on your point of view, to high school where I put the high in high school and had the munchies that needed constant tending. Ramen was the perfect solution….
Day Four: More Champagne, Can my Liver Survive this Onslaught?
“If you don’t have passion, you won’t make very good Champagne.”
We arrived back in Epernay with a sense of foreboding a soldier must feel when returning to the scene of a particularly horrendous battle fought only the day before. I had imagined Epernay’s streets haunted by the ghosts of empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses. The bright, relentless sunlight bore a hole through my aching brain….
It won’t matter if the sun doesn’t come out when you serve this soup,
because it is hotter than the sunshine of the Midi. ~ Roger Verge
Nothing could be more Provençal than to eat a fish soup, whether it’s in the form of bouillabaisse, bourride or this simple seductive soup. Marseilles fish soup, or soupe de poissons as it’s known, is something I actually crave all the time. The assertive flavors redolent with the very soul of Provence transports me back to the old port of Marseilles where I first tried it decades ago. I fondly remember my first bite like some men remember their first experience with a woman. You may have many more in life but the first always commands a special place in your heart.
One of my favorite regions in America is Northern California. In a lot of ways, the picturesque Anderson Valley of Mendocino reminds me of the South of France and parts of Italy, though in an obscure kind of way. The sun kissed rocky hills and foggy valley floor are home to thousands of acres of grape vines, small organic farms and herds of goats and sheep. Its bucolic small towns nestled among towering redwoods and craggy coastlines bathed in the golden California sunshine are a photographer’s wet dream. Like Peter Mayle’s biographical series ‘A Year in Provence’, Mendocino boasts a unique rhythm governed by it’s own cast of colorful characters that people the region. As an outsider you are viewed with a weary apprehension and often confused for a government official of one kind or another till you integrate . Time is measured not by days, weeks or months but by the seasons.
I applied to be a contestant on season two of Guy’s Grocery Games, Food Networks’ blockbuster hit game show hosted by the affable Guy Fieri, without ever expecting to really get on. I did it almost as a prank, sending in my best Johnny Cash picture with my giving the finger and some extreme answers to the questions they asked. I had applied to several shows in the past without ever receiving a response, or even a computer generated rejection letter. When it came to this application I tried a different tact, I went big, bold and let my kitchen persona shine through with all it’s adolescent charm and grace. …
“Man cannot discover new oceans
unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
– André Gide
We are in the final moments of an impending major life change. The material acquisitions of a hard working life have been sold, given away, discarded or packed neatly into labeled boxes lined up in what used to be our dining room. Looking at the stack makes me contemplate how one’s hours are easily measured by the amount of stuff accumulated. It’s hard to break away from these thoughts but my post isn’t about materialism it’s about choosing to live life deliberately and enjoying every second of it….
Dino Bugica has something incredibly and edibly special going on in Geyserville, California. Dino is the Chef owner of Diavola, one of my favorite places to eat in the world. What I like most is that it is a regular spot featuring amazing farm to table cuisine with an Italian touch. The food is mind blowingly simple yet so rich and textured in it’s flavors and combinations. The menu offers everything from amazing pizzas baked in his wood fired oven, like our perennial favorite the Cha Cha Cha, a house smoked pork belly pizza to pan seared Iberico pork loin in a white miso and mustard sauce. Even dishes I would rarely if ever order, like tripe or tuna heart, are brought to majestic new heights at the Chef’s talented hand. If it is on the menu, I am ordering it.
Next time you find yourself in Northern California and you are wondering where to eat go visit Dino at Diavola Pizzeria http://www.diavolapizzeria.com/
Here is a gallery of photos I have taken over the last few years of eating there, enjoy!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! What an incredible start to the day! Despite staying up later than I wanted sorting through over 300 pictures taken yesterday I feel great. Beau still hasn’t fully adjusted to the time change but is doing better. He is a little crabby and needy when he wakes up but after a double espresso he seems to be able to cope. Just like his Daddy….
Day two began altogether too early. Little Beau woke up at 3:56 completely awake and full of life. Apparently he did not get the memo about the time change and proceeded to flick on and off light switches till we all surrendered to being awake. Lisa went as far as showering and applying makeup while I dug in the trenches and tried to fight infant Satan with all my snoring powers. Even Lisa joined Beau on the dark side insisting I shower at 4:23 and start the day. Luckily by 5:34 Beau, Lisa and myself and fallen back into heavy slumber till 10 am. Day two re-began now at a more sensible hour with café crème, croissant and pain au chocolat. We strolled along the Seine snapping shots and generally wandering kind of in search of a converter to restore electric power to our dying laptop. Low and behold we ended up running into Jean Paul Hevin, a famous chocolate shop, for late morning Chocolate cigars and mille Feuille then into Pierre Herme’s simpler pastry shop for macaroons and drinking cocoa. Yes Bacchus, gluttony has begun. Somewhere past the Louvre we hopped in a motorized rickshaw for a thrilling ride thru gay Paris to our lunch reservation at La Fermette Marbeuf, an unbelievable beautiful restaurant dating back to the late 1800’s that almost was destroyed in the 1970’s being saved by workmen who discovered the famous art nouveau stained glass below coats of paint and plaster. Lunch was amazing, edible trip back to my favorite period of cuisine (1870’s to 1930’s). We started with a puree of mushrooms with crispy parmesan while deciding on our order. I opted for a torchon of foie gras with fig compote while Lisa chose the season’s first white asparagus of the season from Nantes served with a poached egg and an amazing Hollandaise. My foie gras slathered on pain grilles melted in my mouth. Beaumont had a mini meltdown which allowed me to steal two plump spears of asparagus while Lisa took Beau outside the restaurant. I admit I felt tinges of guilt during the episode. Beau and Lisa returned and we continued with our lunch. We drank a delicious Bordeaux, Le Clementine du Chateau Pape Clement 2004, that married well with my foie gras and both our main courses. Lisa continued with Magret de Canard, the steak like breast from a duck who gave it’s life in the service of foie gras production, served atop a pile of roasted fingerlings, carrots and haricots verts while I opted for the most tender and amazing milk fed veal dish I have ever eaten: escalopes de veau panée Viennoise. Who knew how tender a baby veal could be snatched from it’s mother? I had a cheese plate and Lisa had Crepes Suzette for dessert. After espresso’s we continued our pilgrimage for chocolate shops and all things designed to stretch our stomachs. Walking thru Paris with a wine buzz is great. We ended up at chocolat shop number three and Pierre Herme shop number two. I am surprised they didn’t remember Lisa from our last trip through Paris as she bought 188 Euros worth of desserts in three minutes. This time we escaped with only a 66 Euro bill. I played with Beau by a famous fountain while she shopped for pastries. Fatigued and tired of walking miles and, excusez moi, kilometers and kilometers thru Paris’s ancient streets we hopped a cab and ended up back at the Hotel Agora. Still saturated from lunch’s excesses we headed out for a Fruits de Mer platter in the Les Halles section of town… one more bottle of wine and a big platter later we were in seafood comatose…
The saga continues…
Day 16 and 17 (even though it hasn’t happened yet) A Beaune Idea
The original plan was to check out of our Provencal vacation rental, drive at light speed to Paris over six hours away, race to the hotel, babysitter than La Tour d’Argent for singularly the best foie gras dish I have ever eaten in my 48 years. With the liver taxed and severe bloating setting in the idea of fast or running like OJ through Paris just seemed impossible. I started thinking that Beaune was half way in between and maybe we needed to revisit either Ma Cuisine or La Ciboulette again….
A fantastique day! The sky was blue as the azure hues of the Mediterranean dotted with big puffy meringue clouds and temperatures holding in the 70’s. The promised rain had not come and the Mistral took a day off.
Walter, Lisa and I ran off to the Cavaillon intermarche for party supplies only to once again fill our cart with way too much cheese, saucisson, wine, fish and dairy products. I simply cannot help myself. There must be some 12 step program for gluttons. Hello, my name is Francois and I have a foie gras addiction. The menu for today’s madness is grilled fat white asparagus, tomato salad, roasted potatoes, various cured meats, my cousin Andre’s favorite Cioppino, Emincer de Boeuf Smitane and an assortment of grillable sausages.
We had Francois, Marc and Muriel from the Alps (Lolo’s family); Anne, Luciano et Annie (cousin, cousin’s son and aunt) from Marseilles and Aix en Provence; Andre, Lolo, Genevieve and Arlette (cousin, cousin’s wife, cousin and aunt) from Marseille; Catherine, Roland and Auguste (cousin, cousin’s husband and son) from Toulouse; Dan, Stephanie and Simone from California; Walter and Kathy from Sacramento and Lisa, Beaumont and Myself.
Today made me feel as though I wish I had spent more time with my family in life. I really do not regret much in life. It’s just I love my family a lot and want to be closer to them. A large ocean should not separate us. Another thing I realized is my mother’s paw print, if you will, on me. Every child has a more dominate parent who they are most like. I am definitely my mother’s child. And by virtue of that fact, the France I know existed 50 years ago. SACRE BLEU! The music I adore, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, etc. The non-compromising attitude towards food and wine, I love my maman. I wish she had come with us to France…
It was wonderful spending time with everyone in my family. Lisa and I both wished the day would last forever. So many times in my youth I sat at tables like the small children seated today. This meal has been played out 100’s of times throughout life. It is the family gathering anywhere. I look back in pictures and see my uncles and aunts in the vitality of their youth. Now it is time for us to stand in the pictures that form the child’s imagination and memories. It is our part in the wheel of life. The moments of Beaumont’s life he will cherish and remember to his dying days.
When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom
And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs
Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be la vie en rose.
Good Night! La Vie en Rose…
Have a glass of Pastis, watch a Marcel Pagnol movie or look at Paul Cezanne’s paintings and get yourself into the mood. Today is all about Marseilles and real Bouillabaisse. We had a passionate discussion over dinner, and I am still convinced there is no other city in the world that argues more about its specialty than Marseilles. Sure, New Yorkers think those crappy pizzas that are synonymous with their city are good (what else would a Chicago boy say?) and are vocal about it. Chicagoans are fervent of their beautiful deep dish pizzas. But the level of enthusiasm pales in comparison to that of Bouillabaisse. In Marseilles, family members cease to be family members, neighbors’ houses razed while they are on vacation and gardens gnomes gone swimming with the fish Godfather style over the correct Bouillabaisse fish. Marseilles even has a charter that TELLS you, rather than guide you as to which fish may swim into the Bouillabaisse and which cannot.
We started the day early with croissant and pain au chocolat from a Boulangerie in Cheval Blanc then braced ourselves for an exhilarating ride through Marseilles morning traffic. A few times I was obligated to play chicken with a Gauloise smoking truck driver as we fought for lane domination. If you ever find yourself lacking colorful adjectives for that play you are writing just take a ride through Marseilles rush hour. We finally docked the Renault near the Vieux Port and took to the streets by foot.
The first stop was a store that specializes in all things Provence. I am always nervous when Lisa goes in here. It is much like when I slip into a bookstore and come out 16 cookbooks fatter trying to pretend like nothing happened. Lisa bought several gifts for family and friends back home.
For the next few hours we wondered thru the streets of Old Marseilles dodging dog turds, photographing cool looking doorways and drinking Pastis. One has to work up an appetite for Bouillabaisse. Marseilles is the second largest city in France and the largest port in Europe. The earliest human evidence, dating back 30,000 years, have been found in the underwater caves near Cosquer and depict two Frenchmen fighting over what are the correct bouillabaisse fish. Marseilles was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia. It transferred to Roman control, was conquered by the Moors and now us. The streets are so narrow and small that you are amazed your car fits let alone the one racing towards you at a cool 137 kilometers per hour.
Simone looking at Beau like he is nuts
for suggesting that shellfish are part of a true bouillabaisse
After a delicious pastis in old Marseilles we returned to our cars and drove to l’Epuisette for an epic lunch. L’Epuisette is somewhere you should go to at least ten times before you die. The bouillabaisse needs to be ordered 24 hours earlier.
I present our epic meal at l’Epuisette in pictures as words will fail to adequately describe it.
Auguste, my cousin Catherine and Roland’s amazing child, gave Beaumont Sophie le Giraffe
Amuse Bouche number one: three mousses Bouillabaisse, Asparagus and Mushroom
Amuse Bouche number Two Scallop larded with Bacon in a Cream Sauce
Aioli, Gruyere and Rouille With Garlic Crouton for the first course
Bouillabaise: an Act in two courses Bouillabaisse is ALWAYS served in two courses. First the broth the whole fish were cooked in is served with croutons smeared with rouille and covered in gruyere.
The broth is wonderful and perfumed with pastis, saffron and garlic.
After first and possibly second helpings of broth are served the whole fish are presented as to show ‘Mais Oui, we know the correct fish’
The congel eels, chapon, grendin, rascasse and st. pierre are lined up fileted on your plate waiting a few ladle fulls of broth to be spooned over
Note the correct silver utensils for eating fish. Every piece of silverware is correctly sized and fitted for proper surgery on the course in front of you. I would have licked my plate but people were watching.
Bouillabaisse is a religion. After decades of street battles and disappeared garden gnomes the Chefs of Marseilles created the Bouillabaisse Charter of 1980 to codify the ingredients and still the guns of war. 11 restaurants signed on and the war rages.
The Best Cheese I have ever Eaten, bar none The cheeses were served with an unbelievable fig bread
Following desserts was trio of mignardises Lemon Tart, Raspberry Macaroons & Chocolate Bombes
“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”
― Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
The French have the good sense NOT to serve coffee till you are finished with your sweets. I never understood why someone would want to hide the flavors of an apple tart with the overpowering flavors of coffee. If you think about it, it simply makes no sense. A good meal is to be lingered over and enjoyed. No rushed and hurried experience that promotes indigestion.
Servers won’t even bring your bill till you ask for it. I have gotten into so many arguments over the years about the French relationship to eating versus the American. Maybe like an infant, we are just a young nation and haven’t learned proper conduct at the table.
Outsanding View from the Dining Room
Beaumont and Auguste play on the glass floor in the dining room Ocean waves crashed below creating an unparalleled experience
The three cousins! Catherine, Francois et Andre avec Auguste
There comes a time on a gastronomical whirlwind where stomach fatigue sets in. Champion eaters and drinkers out there will understand. I call it Bacchusitis. Maybe it was the second bout of Epoisses or the Steak Tartar with Frites or maybe too much great wine most likely all the above. It is funny that my slender wife Lisa woke up raring to eat and I needed coaxing to face food today.
For the first time this trip we ate petites dejeuner at the hotel we were staying at. I love French breakfasts in their simplicity. Café au lait, croissant, a perfect baguette, really yummy sweet French butter, preserves, more café and here in Burgundy a plethora of salumi, hams and cheeses. Given my over-saturation of cheese you’d think that three cheeses on the breakfast buffet would be like kryptonite to superman. But no, somehow I mustered the strength to persevere and march onward. Forget the fruit and yogurt, fill my plate with charcuterie, bread and butter!
The first stop of the day was wine tasting at Cave du Covent des Cordeliers. Alexandre Dumas once wrote ‘A Montrachet should be drunk kneeling with one’s hat off’. I think that should be expanded to include all of Burgundy. Today’s tasting was unbelievable.
The tasting started on shaky ground as Beau decided a convent was a good place to test his screaming abilities. At first I thought the gentleman conducting our tasting was going to banish us from Beaune. Beau kept grabbing the wire shopping baskets and moving them all over the cave. Somewhere between dropping 288 euros on three magnums on vintage liquid gold and us mentioning that both Lisa and I worked for wineries in our checkered past the guy warmed up, even offering that he came from a family of 12 and had a million grand kids. He poured us an amazing Volnay Premier Cru and asked us to bring it for a private tour of the lower caves where the ancient 100 year old Burgundies lived. By now we had crossed from annoying customers to family. The Volnay was outstanding and had me dreaming of food. We wandered through the caves and surprisingly Beau never grabbed one of the ancient bottles though I thought about it several times.
Descending into le Cave
Look at the dust accumulated on the magnum.
This bottle hasn’t moved since it was born!
Feeling much like we just robbed someone we stole out into the afternoon and walked through an outdoor market on our way to Boeuf Bourguignonne, quite possibly the most known Burgundian cliché dish. We spent the afternoon walking between moments of beautiful sunshine and thunder crashing hail through the streets of Beaune. It truly is an amazing city!
As if to apologize for his outbursts petit Beau, ever the ladies’ man, would periodically grab Lisa all day, say mama, and give her a huge on the mouth kiss
After a short rest at our hotel we returned to the city center for dinner at La Ciboulette. La Ciboulette rivals Ma Cuisine for King of the Regional restaurants and in many ways surpassed it. The menu was more interesting, the owners more engaging and the food at least as good. Ma Cuisine has history and magic. But why say one is better than the other, both are great and both should be visited. We stopped at a non-descript brasserie for a kir royale, champagne mixed with local cassis where Beaumont gave his best shot at being annoying before falling asleep, DEEP SLEEP.
The entire walk through Beaune’s bustling streets involved us running a pattern of stopping any threat. by all means necessary, that might provoke petit Satan. This involved muffling dogs, knocking loud children over and pantomiming BE QUIET to several Frenchmen along the rue. If France launches an overnight attack on the USA, it is my fault – sorry. We were the first customers at La Ciboulette and did my best Marcel Marceau imitation to convey to the wait staff that if he wakes it is their fault, not mine. The wait staff quickly got the point and set about making the dining almost too quiet. Other guests entering, maybe some that had witnessed or at least read about in La Monde the infamous America family who’s child melted down in a Champagne restaurant quicker than the nuclear plants in Japan did after the tsunami, quieted themselves and ate in almost Monastery tranquility. Marcel Marceau pantomimes broke out in the dining room. I almost felt like I switched on an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, well, without the spam.
My beautiful perfect little boy sleeping like an angel
After every course Lisa and I looked at each other with a ‘I know exactly what you are thinking please god do not say it out loud and jinx us’ look. Every time someone would make a peep everyone’s attention focused on sleeping cutie to see whether or not he had awoken. I honestly believe the guillotine would have made a comeback this night if someone disturbed his sleep. We ate like gods on regional cuisine. Not Parisian cream and butter over indulgences but good old fashioned solid Burgundian fare, Oeufs a la Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon and mushrooms), Pied de Veau sauce Vinaigrette tiede (veal feet served in a room temperature vinaigrette), Foie Gras, Joue de Porc sauce Bourguignonne (Pork cheeks simmered in red wine), Parmentier de Confit de Canard (Shepherd’s pie made with duck confit, and sweetbreads with morels.
We drank the best wine of the trip so far – a 2007 Volnay 1er cru from Boillot’s ‘Les Caillerets’ vineyard. The wine sang, well quietly sang, the virtues of Heaven and Earth and God’s love for mankind. Truly a liquid orgasm I never wanted to end. The cheeses arrived and were at the perfect temperature. It is not enough to have great cheese. You also need to understand how to present and at what temperature. The basket was a great way to bring a large selection of cheeses thru a tight dining space.
After cheese came dessert and then café… truly a pleasant night. Beaumont did wake up after everything to applause, pantomimed applause and at least one drunken patrons’ poor adaption of of Marceau’s wall, and a nomination for the French Medal of Honor for his performance tonight. If I understood the hostess correctly, he has been invited to the Presidential Palace in Paris for a full pardon. No longer, well at least not till the next meal, will wait staff’s shutter windows and lock doors as we near the entrance of their restaurants.
Viva la Beaumont! My adorable petit gourmand! Bon Soir from Beaune… demain Chateauneuf du Pape. Stomach update: My liver has gone on strike and is refusing any more rich food. I cried when Lisa enthusiastically said yes to breakfast, again. Where is my zantac? God help me!