maandag 13 april 2009

Early Spring 2009

Should I go for quantity rather than quality? I was musing about the number of my blogs as they become fewer and further apart. Or was it just the novelty that went out of it?
We still had plenty of cold and wet during March but as the month ended, the sun made some discrete appearances and all of a sudden, we had a few days favoring short sleeves and bermudas.
Early March always highlights our daughter and granddaughter’s birthday, which we celebrated with a family party and lots of cake and bubbly. A welcome distraction from an otherwise busy schedule.

Spending a couple of nights in Lyon, I booked a hotel downtown and had time to enjoy a walk in the city center in the evening. Luckily, in-between showers. The quayside of the Saône gives a nice view of the surrounding hillside and some of the monuments look prettier by night than by day.

Spring is nearly there and some of the trees lining the streets show their first green. I thread my way through the rue Mercier that reminisces me of our own rue des Bouchers in Brussels: restaurant next to restaurant, with some displaying seafood.

Instead, I favor an authentic Bouchon Lyonnais for my evening meal. There are fewer and fewer of these bouchons left in downtown Lyon. Rising real estate prices due to the prime location make it almost impossible to maintain a low-budget dining place in the city center.
Le Jura is conveniently located close to my hotel and has a simple bourgeois kitchen. The mirrored walls carry warnings and advise. “Vous avez la montre, j’ai le temps!” “Une cuisine de qualité ne connait pas le mot pressé!” Cute!

I liked it, so I went back a second time and took some pictures (after all guests had left). In Lyon, you inevitably drink a “pot”. This medieval measurement of 0,46l can be of traditional Beaujolais or Côte du Rhône but on my first evening, I have a Côteaux du Languedoc from near the Mont Ventoux, an excellent accompaniment to my Terrine de Veau followed by the Foie de Veau à la sauce Moutarde.

On these trips, eating in restaurants every day, I regularly fancy a very simple meal and on the second evening, Le Jura is almost fully booked, I settle for the Jambon du Pays as a starter and a plain steak with baked potatoes as a main dish. Just like at home. Following the tradition, I have the inevitable “pot” of Beaujolais.The event of the evening happens when the elderly couple sitting next to me prepares to leave the restaurant and the woman mistakenly puts on an overcoat of more or less the same color and size belonging to somebody else. The following exchange of commentaries between the elder couple and the foursome sitting next to them brings a smile to everybody overhearing their conversation. My hotel is located next door and as the insulation of the rooms is below standards, I have a Mirabelle to top off the evening. A delicious deadly sin!
At the end of the same week, I spend a night near Auxerre. To be close to the account I have to visit the next morning, I pick the Hostellerie Saint Pierre in Cravant ( from my guide des Logis de France. There are only few guests in this small family hotel and those not present don’t know what they miss! The restaurant only offers a fixed menu but it is fantastic (I had it all written down in detail but lost my notebook 2 weeks later).

As far as I remember, it contained potage en croûte, foie gras et rhubarbe, saumon fumé et milkshake à la menthe, roulade de poulet en sauce and a delicious gateau, coffee with sweets on top. With all of that, I had an excellent Crémant de Bourgogne (what else?) to start and a very good Irancy 2005 – Palotte – from Caves Bienvenu, at a more than reasonable price. The wine list is very complete with a nice selection from Burgundy and other regions and the prices are a bargain. Céline and her two young assistants perform service at the table in an orderly and very friendly manner. It was noticeable that all other guests appreciated both the food and the service.
After this gargantuan experience, I retired to my room (Volnay). I’ll admit that I am used to just a little more comfort but I have experienced a lot worse as well. For a short stay, it was certainly more than adequate and if you book early, you’ll probably get one of the better rooms. Need I say that I slept well? Except for the morning where I woke up early by the noise of flushing and showering in an adjacent room. However, I wasn’t there to stay long in bed and a marvelous, very un-French, buffet breakfast compensated for that. For those preferring more luxury and class I can recommend the nearby Hostellerie des Clos in Chablis ( I stayed there on a previous trip and this hotel has an excellent restaurant with a wonderful selection of Chablis and other wines. The bill will just be a little more painful.
As we come close to Easter, our garden all of a sudden explodes in a festival of colors and H’tje’s mood improves by the day as she can

crawl around the garden, wield her rake and do all those funny things that people with green fingers enjoy. Knoert, impervious to all her flurries, enjoys the luxury of the chaise-longue.
The Holy Week brings me down the west of France in a full week trip to la Rochelle, Rochefort, Saint-Pierre des Corps, Montlouis sur Loire and back to Valenciennes and Crespin. Unwittingly, for one of the nights, I have booked rooms for our party of three in a real chateau. A fantastic experience featuring a very large room (Henri IV) with a canopied bed, a bathroom as large as some of the smaller rooms I had to stay in and a beautiful view over the surrounding garden.
Couple that to the absence of a television and the absolute quiet during the night and you’re in for a wonderful experience. The bedding and cushions deserve a special mention: top class! Don’t wait until you feel romantic again! (
We have about just the time to make the trip to nearby Amboise and enjoy the view on the chateau d’Amboise from the Loire and make a short walk through the medieval streets of the borough. At the cave of the Vignerons Indépendants, I buy a few bottles of red and rosé Amboise-Touraine AOC.

The trip is not ended yet, a last evening meal with a customer at la Gentilhommière in Artres, deserves more than a mention. The food is superb. I understand why I never succeeded in booking a room there because they only have 9 rooms and are always fully booked. Luckily, they’re expanding and are adding another 17 rooms. There is hope after all.