Friday, July 22, 2005

beyond pathetique

I just got back from France and have virtually nothing to food blog about. I undertook the trip in a cloud of resentment, having traveled so much recently that what I really wanted was to stay at home and collect my wits and clean my house and cook for my friends. The resentment was so great that I decided to leave home Saturday, give my talk on Monday and return on Tuesday, and I made no plans for where to eat in Toulouse.

The last bit was not just resentment, it was also due to a well-founded trust that you tend to eat well in France just by walking into moderately likely-looking places. It hasn't failed before, but it failed rather consistently this time around. None of my meals were terrible, but none were inspiring. In my obligatory cassoulet the sausage was hot but the beans were not, and that sort of set the tone. Missing a connecting flight and getting stranded in Paris for a day pissed me off at first, but I played tourist until I settled into a more "c'est la vie" frame of mind.

Things I learned:

"French Pastry" is almost impossible to find in Toulouse

It is easier to find in Paris, but can be stale and uninspiring if you get it at random (and it is called "Viennoiserie" -- maybe what I should really do is visit Vienna).

Middle Eastern (or North African? Have we established whether I can say "Levantine" without it being a slur?) pastry is, on the other hand, fantastic, and seems to have all been made by the same factory whatever shop you buy it in.

Never let the chef ruin a perfectly good gazpacho by putting olive tapenade in the bottom of it, and never stir the thing that someone put in the bottom of your soup into it before tasting it first.

NoCal bread is still better.

Best things I ate:

The Levantine pastries

Slice of custard pie with prunes in it for breakfast with coffee

Things I brought back:

Can of confit du canard (for my own upcoming cassoulet or choucroute)

Bottle of an aperitif made of wine, armagnac, and sugar. The bottle was kind of old-fashioned and small-producery looking, but I'm sure it's all marketing. Armagnac, in case you were wondering, is made from grapes, like cognac, not from prunes. I once had this argument with a very confident Frenchman who maintained the opposite, but he was wrong. This trip I think I figured out why he thought that: they often bottle prunes in Armagnac.


On my way back from the airport, at 11pm, I stopped in Mountain View on Castro Street hoping to find an open restaurant and craving Chinese food. The place I found still open was amazing, and I had lamb and fish soup with preserved vegetables (marvelous), Szechuan spiced cold rice jelly (fiery and numbing), and something called "'A' vegetable" which I got by asking for "a vegetable". Apparently the vegetable looks like a letter "A" before you slice it up. It was green and crisp and garlicky and delicious.

There's no place like home.


At 8:40 AM, Blogger the grocer's daughter said...

We will hope for better food in Corsica :) I'm sorry your latest trip was a culinary disappointment.

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Mimi said...

Remember the time in Armagnac that we bought the armagnac from the little old lady with the mustache and bald chickens? I tried a recipe for prunes in armagnac. I have torn the place apart looking for the recipe without sucess. As I remember, one pits the prunes, soaks them over night in armagnac to cover, stuffs the formerly-pit hole with chocolate fondant (or an easier substitute), rolls them in cocoa powder, and serves them in ltttle fluted paper thingies. I would imagine it could be done with the stuff you brought back.

PS. "Confit" is bad news for your lipid profile.

PPS. Chickens are funny.


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