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Crepe on a stick

Crepe on a stick

One of the nice things about France has always been their approach to eating.   They sit, enjoy and savor finely prepared foods (even if that food is a goddamn snail).  In moderation.

I’ve seen that trend fading with the preponderance of fast food places and prepared foods at the grocery store (which I like to pretend are geared towards american tourists, even though logic tells me otherwise).

But I’m sorry, a crepe on stick?   Yes, this was at an outdoor festival of food.    I’m sure it’s lovely to be able to stroll around with one hand free while eating a crepe, but this just isn’t right.

Jeez, the next thing you know they’ll be making camembert-whiz and drinking wine out of berets.

Wine-Hatphoto of wine cap from www.likecool.com.

 

the night of a billion bubbles

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If the bottles pictured above were mid-priced champagnes, together they’d be worth over a thousand dollars.   But these are bottles of cremant, roughly valued at $250.00.   Much more my speed.

Cremant is basically a sparkling wine made in the traditional “method champenoise” manner.   The only thing that separates a cremant from champagne is the origin of the grapes  (in order to qualify as champagne, the grapes must be from the Champagne region of France).   And the price, of course.

There are all sorts of sub-categories, like “Cremant de Loire, Jura, Bourgougne, Alscace and Limoux.   Some are called Vouvrays, some are called Blanquettes.   But if it says “method traditional” on the bottle, you know you’ve got the closest thing you can get to real champagne at a fraction of the price.

So I get to thinking:  there’s got to be one or two cremants that rival fine champagne.   A cremant that, in a pinch, I can pour into an empty Dom Perignon or Kristal bottle and pass it off as the real deal.

I must find them.

There are a lot of cremants out there and I have my work cut out for me.   I begin collecting bottles of cremants.  Once I have 20, I gather a qualified international panel of experts for the first annual Degustation des Cremants, Antibes 2014.

My distinguished international panel:

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Vlad Bertin Roudenko

  Vlad hails from Paris.   He is French with Russian ancestry (nobility, of course). Vlad’s life experiences have been limited to consuming only the finer things in life. His dream is to someday eat a bucket of chicken nuggets in boxers while watching crappy television.   He considers tasting faux champagne with the bourgeoisie a step in the right direction.

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Romain E. Lix

Elegance is Romain’s middle name. He was born in the country that REALLY brought us French fries and Hercule Poiroit (Belgium).   You know Romain possesses impeccable taste and refinement just by looking at him.   And if that’s not enough to prove it, he’s gay.

 

14896_10154303726590315_4817333573199544993_nJoc Even 

Joc owns and operates one of Antibes’ finest dining establishments, Miam Miam, 1 Rue Vauban, Antibes, Currently rated #7  out of 433 restaurants in Antibes on TripAdvisor.

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Angela Duley1604516_10104403875180714_1716919940_n  

Angela is an American from Texas.   I know what you’re thinking; how could an American from Texas (the state that brought us George Bush) have any discernment whatsoever?   To that, she answers, “shut up or I’ll blow your brains out!”   Just kidding.  Believe me, she’s a culinary explorer with very discerning tastes.   Proof?  She always orders what I do at restaurants.

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 Adam Duley

He is a brewer and connoisseur of fine beer.   I figured, beer/champagne, what’s the difference?   They’re both bubbly and get you drunk.   Clearly his input is invaluable. Also, he is the only one in attendance who knows how to open a champagne bottle.

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IMG_7127Michel Khoury

Originally from Lebanon, Michel is not a terrorist.   In fact, his background is Catholic, which means he knows his wine.  Very, very well.  On the culinary front, he can down a pound of Haribo gummy tarantulas in less than an hour.

 

 

1016647_10152926550305065_315480438_nVirginie Haziers

Virginie is French, thus her knowledge of wine-based beverages is a birthright..   She is beautiful, discerning with impossibly refined taste. Except in men.

 

 

 

WP_000727Tomislav Jonjic (the man, not the dog)

From the burgeoning Croatian food and wine destination, Istria, Tom knows his stuff.   He also claims to be an expert vinar, stručnjak za hranu, gurman, hortikulturista, renomirane hrana kritičar i srce kirurg.   We’ll just have to take his word for it.

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The tasting.  Notes, comments, scores:

Everyone gets  a list of the cremants in order to score (1-10, 10 is the best) and make comments anonymously.    My notes, the comments and scores follow.

Bottle #1:   Louis Bouillot Perle de Vigne Grand Reserve Brut Cremant de Bourgogne. 2011.

Comments:   “fruity but dry”, “really quite good”   “excellent, fruite” “buttery sparkling chardonnay” “This pleases me” “not bad for less than 10 Euro”

Scores:  from 8.5-10

Bottle #2:  Arthur Metz Brut Millesime 2011 Cremant d’Alsace

My notes:   This bottle exploded all over the place when Adam opened it. I didn’t shake it, I swear!.  We already hate this bottle

Comments:   “appley”   “bitter, flat,” “meh,”  The name sounds like an accountant:   Arthur Metz CPA.  flat and lifeless.    Less bubbly (said one kind soul).   “Sans ebulliance. Triste.”

Scores:  from 3-8 (8????? Wtf)

Bottle #3:  Patriarche Pere & Fils Brut Cremant de Bourgogne

Comments:  “Average”, ” “c’est normal” “comme ci comme ca,”   “I’ve already forgotten it” “You call this cremant?”, ” Not the worst thing I’ve ever tasted”.  “a bubbly glass of hope that dissolves into disappointment.”

Scores:   5-6.5

Bottle #4: Bouvet Saphir Saumer Brut Vintage 2011

My notes:  Vlad says he has crossed from tipsy to drunk.

Comments: “Hey, this is pretty good!”, “She, she, she!!!” , “deeeeeeeelish!”, “why yes, I’ll have another”, light with just the right balance of fruit and dry”

Scores:   7-8.5

Bottle #5: Veuve d’Argent Chardonay Brut

My notes: Talking about Lebanon and the Middle East.   Michel says some people only know Lebanon for hummus and terrorism,

Comments:   “deeeeelish!”   “Fraiche,”   “Dry with a nice hint of berry,” “subtle, refreshing, nice lively bubbles”, “I don’t even LIKE hummus. fuck them!”

Scores:   From 6-8.5

Bottle #6: La Cave de Reine Jeanne Brut Cremant de Jura

My notes:    Joc tells us that Jura is the region where Comte cheese comes from.

Comments:   “comte, wine>crap”, ” Puppies!!!!! ”   “Deeelish!”   What is this shit?”  “She, she she!”, “they should stick to cheese”, “tastes like loneliness.”

Scores:  2-5

Bottle #7:  Wolfberger Brut, Cremant d’Alsace

Comments:   “appley, average”   “mushymushymush,” “deeelish!”, “bitter. Like me,”    “promising dry appley start with a bitter aftertaste.”  ” Milk, coffee, toilet paper” and something in Arabic.

Scores: 5-33

Bottle #8:  Wllm Brut, Cremant d’Alsace.

My notes:   Michel! Pants!

There are only two comments on this one:   “huh?” and “deeeeeeeeelish!”

Scores:   yaaaaaaaaaah!-k

 

my lavish lunch at the hotel du cap (or thereabout)

hotel du cap eden roc exteriorThe Hotel du Cap Eden-Roc is a landmark.   Well, it should be a landmark.  Maybe even a UNESCO world heritage site.   It was built in 1869 by the founder of Le Figaro newspaper as a sanctuary for writers seeking inspiration.

In 1889, it was sold to an Italian hotelier and became the Grand Hotel du Cap.

Up until the 1920’s the hotel was a winter escape for the wealthy and was closed for the summer.  Until Cole Porter introduced Gerald and Sara Murphy, two wealthy American ex-pats to the Cap d’Antibes and they fell in love with it.   The Murphys begged the hotel management to keep the hotel open for summer to accommodate them and their friends.   The management was more agreeable back then —  in 2011, they refused to open for President Barack Obama during his visit to the Cote d’Azur for the G20 conference in Cannes (maybe the current owners are Republicans?).

The Murphys brought F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway and ultimately ushered in a resurgence to the area.

Fitzgerald immortalized the Hotel in Tender is the Night as the Hôtel des Etrangers. Marc Chagall sketched from one of the shady beachside cabanas (now over 500 Euro a day) .  Kennedys had trysts here.   World leaders negotiated here.   Everybody who is anybody in Hollywood has stayed here, from Gene Kelly to Cary Grant to Robert Redford to Johnny Depp.

The hotel is now owned by an elite German hotel chain.  It may be the only place left on the Cap not owned by a Russian or Saudi.  These days, a room goes for 830E -6150/night.   Cabana not included.   And don’t even ask about the Villas.   No prices are listed and I assume, they’re going by the philosophy that if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

Up until now, I’ve walked by the gates of the hotel, but was afraid to go within 10 meters of it for fear of setting off some poverty alarm and being tackled by the security guards flanking the gates.   But today, dammit, I’m going in.  Even if I have to shell out for a 90Euro lunch!   Rumor has it, the food is impeccable and it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a room (hell, I’ve stayed in hotel rooms that are cheaper than lunch at the Hotel du Cap).

I take the number 2 bus from the Antibes Gare Routiere to the tip of the Cap (probably not the most elegant vehicle from which to make one’s entrance to the hotel, but what the hell).   It’s about a 10 minute bus ride.

I get off the bus and walk confidently towards the hotel, getting closer to the gates than I’ve ever been before.   My heart is racing.hôtel du cap Then I read the sign:   Fermature Annuelle.    Sigh.  A couple of gardeners open the gate a bit to roll out a dumpster of leaves.  I consider making a break for it and running through the gates, but figure I’d be shot.    Damn, I’m going to have to wait til April to see this place. And I’m as hungry as hell all of a sudden.  And there aren’t a lot of (any) restaurants here on the tip of the Cap d’Antibes. 

My plans are ruined.   I intended to eat a lovely, civilized  lunch, walk the grounds, look for famous people and walk back to Antibes.   But here I am, locked out, starving and weak.    How will I make it back without sustenance?   Maybe I’ll collapse in the middle of Boulevard Kennedy and get run over by a rich handsome man with an exotic accent in a Ferrarri.   Maybe he will stop, pick me up and gently deposit me into his Ferrarri,  drive me to a hospital and never leave my bedside until I fully recover and by then of course, we’ll be madly in love even though I’ll never walk again.  That sounds great!   Clearly I’m getting light-headed.

IMG_5880Then I remember that I wisely put a banana in my purse before I left.   I find a nice spot across the street from the hotel, which just happens to be the garden of Les Chenes Verts, the villa where Jules Verne lived and worked.   I sit down and elegantly devour the banana (pinky finger out) and savor the sweeping vistas over the Golfe Juan.

I still can’t speak to the splendor of the Hotel du Cap or the skills of its chefs. But I can honestly say, this is the best damn lunch I’ve ever had.

a traditional thanksgiving in the south of france

Thanksgiving has always been a sort of mixed holiday for me.   I like the concept (in an uncomfortable, self-conscious kind of way), but the reality has always morphed into something far more complicated and different than the original idea of coming together and giving thanks.  It’s more like a delicious meal with a soupçon of dysfunction.

Where I come from, a traditional Thanksgiving goes something like this:

The day usually begins with my mother freaking out about how long to cook a turkey.   She becomes increasingly bitter throughout the day because my dad is sitting on his ass watching football and nobody is helping her in this gargantuan task.

By the time the guests arrive for dinner, my mother is usually on the verge of tears and/or telling everyone to go fuck themselves.   Dinner is usually delicious and we gorge ourselves nauseous.  Later, my mother weeps over some event from her childhood.

Over dessert some too-drunk member of the family has a mini tantrum, and storms out blithering semi-coherently about how someone has always loved someone “better than me”(and yes, on occassion, the blithering drunk has been me).

Frankly, I was perfectly happy to let the holiday pass quietly here in France, even though I appreciate the irony of having a first Thanksgiving in “the new land.”

But then my American neighbor and (ex?) friend, William, invites me and 20 of his closest friends for Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m a little petrified.   All these people will be in their 20’s,   That’s a chasm that can be wider than any language barrier. Clearly I won’t find a boyfriend here…unless some of them have single fathers.   I’ll probably end up alone in some corner with everyone feeling weird that an old person is there.

On the other hand, it’s a cool opportunity for observation, maybe it’ll be fun, I might make new (albeit young) friends and I could use a good meal.

The first thing I do when I enter is knock over the coat rack, not an auspicious beginning.   William reacts as if I just burned down the apartment.    I assume he’s a little tense from cooking all day and wanting everything to be perfect.

I sit down  next to William’s good friend Cedric, an adorable pilot who lives in Biot (an adorable nearby village) and almost knock over the TV.  At this point William is practically apoplectic at me.  Cedric kindly moves the tv farther away from the chair so I won’t destroy William’s prize possession.

Clearly the safest place is either in the bathroom or out on the terrace where the only thing I can really break is me.   I opt for the terrace because I can smoke out there and I won’t be constantly interrupted by people who have to pee.

I join a couple of fellow smokers on the terrace and we get to talking.   More and more people join us and we’re all laughing and having a good time   Pretty soon I know their life stories (more or less).

There are people from Beijing, Moldova, Spain as well as all over France.  Li, the guy from Beijing is going to cook me a chinese dinner and Cedric the pilot can get a plane for 50 Euros an hour flight time and we’re thinking Corsica!   Floriane invites me to her housewarming party next week.      I’m not the lone hag in the corner, yay!!!!!!!   In fact, I think I’m becoming a Yoda figure for a couple of the girls.

I try to ignore the fact that every time I catch William’s eye, he’s glaring at me.

Dinner is great, despite the lack of turkey (you try to find a whole turkey in the south of France that doesn’t cost a million dollars).

I’m feeling pretty darn good about the whole thing,  This may be the smoothest least dysfunctional thanksgiving I’ve ever had (except in 2005,when I spent it alone).  I get home about 1AM and am greeted by a message from William telling me that he’s really pissed at me.

I call to find out why and he tells me it’s because his friends liked me so much they didn’t pay attention to him.   When I realize he’s not joking, I angrily blither something semi-coherently and he hangs up on me.

You gotta love tradition.

looking down on the masses

“Mur des amoureux” by Raymond Peynet

I’ve been wanting to visit Le Cannet for awhile now, but have put it off because it’s not directly on the train line.  It’s a small artists’ village in the hills above Cannes.   Its selling points as far as I’m concerned are the Peynet painting on the side of a building I’ve seen in pictures, a vieux ville (an old town), the Musee Bonnard and the fact that it isn’t Cannes.

It’s a simple 10 minute bus ride up the hill from the Cannes train station (#1 Le Cannet bus).  I get off at the Town Hall/Musee Bonnard stop.   It’s not the old town, but I suspect this is the closest the bus can get.

The quiet up here is a little disquieting   Nobody is brushing against me.   I don’t have to maneuver walking down the street.  It’s practically deserted.   Maybe the rapture happened on the bus ride up and all the good Christians were up here in Le Cannet.    I’m feeling positively light-headed and I don’t think it’s the altitude.   It’s probably some form of culture shock from having just been in the frenzy of Cannes 10 minutes ago.  Well, either that or I’m hungry.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of food options.  There are several cafes and restaurants with varying degrees of expensiveness.   But before I eat, I have to scope out the village and make myself so hungry I don’t have to choose which restaurant to dine at, but rather eat at the one whose entrance  I pass out in front of.

How can nobody be here?   Granted, there’s not a preponderance of little shops.   There are some storefronts where artists show and sell their work, but I’m a little afraid of them.   I can’t imagine anything is in my price range and don’t want to insult some up and coming artist.   Or break something.   I feel the same way I used to feel about designer stores on Madison Avenue (which I got over, but it cost me dearly).   But I digress.

The village is lovely.   The Peynet “mur des amoureux” (lovers’ wall) is all I dreamed it would be.   And there’s a funky tiny ancient church restored by Theo Tobiasse with the theme life is a party (an interesting choice for a church).  The musee Bonnard is..pleasant, kind of like Bonnard’s work.   I like it, would probably put one or two on my wall, but nothing screams “genius”.

Now I’ve passed from light headed to shaky and vicious.

Fortunately, I collapse in front of a small restaurant called Arts & Assiettes which is low on the price scale with a simple menu that doesn’t muddle my little brain with options.   It’s not really a menu…it’s a plat du jour which today is a combination of daurade (some kind of fish), ratatouille, smashed blue (actually a vibrant violet that the photograph doesn’t capture) potatoes with persillade (a parsley pesto popular in these parts — the green and purple together are stunning! and a couple of cheese raviolis.   Despite the fact that something on the menu lead me to believe I was getting veal, it’s pretty damn good and the colors are beautiful — a vision in Fauve.  It’s all fresh, organic and grown locally.    I just wish the daurade wasn’t staring up at me while I devour it, but I’m going to have to get over that.   The French clearly don’t mind looking their food in the eye.

In all, I got a little culture and had a delicious typical provencal lunch in a quiet, charming medieval village overlooking the Mediterranean for a mere 12 Euro.  If I were among the masses down the hill in Cannes, I probably would have paid 40 Euro for the same lunch (sans culture).

Suckers!

eating for two

Today I’m eating for me of course, but I’m also eating for Wayne.   Wayne is…was my often partner at the San Francisco company where I do a lot of freelance remotely.   His last day is Friday.  Since I just can’t bring myself to fly 6000 miles to attend his going away lunch,  Wayne and I decide I’ll eat a bunch of French stuff for him over here and chronicle the deliciousness.  So I take a stroll through the Antibes Marche Provencal to find some goodies.

I start by raising a mojito macaron to Wayne’s new job.   It’s surprisingly good–tart but sweet with a subtle whoosh of mint.   Damn, I’ll have another.   Oh, make that four.   It’s for Wayne.

Wayne is experiencing a bit of a sugar rush so I race past all the gorgeous fruit and vegetables (you can get them anywhere) towards the Socca oven that’s up and burning at the other end of the Marche.   Yes, Wayne must have a socca.   It’s distinctly from this part of the world!   Socca is basically a crepe made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and salt and it’s much better than it has a right to be, especially with a healthy shot of black pepper.   It’s a specialty of Southeast France and the Ligurian Coast of Italy.   It’s like a tidy falafel.    It’s a particularly good choice if Wayne happens to be on a gluten-free diet.

Next up, the Grande Aioli lunch.   Very South of France.   Very traditional.   It’s basically boiled cod and vegetables with an aoili dipping sauce.     It would be very healthy if Wayne didn’t insist on slathering it with the aioli.

Now I figure Wayne could go for something sweet, so I pick up a pack of the nougat that is popular here and in Provence.   I get the multi-flavored assortment to try all the nougaty essences.   It’s sort of a sophisticated version of Turkish taffy.    While there’s a similarity, it’s not as sweet and much more, as the package says, “tendre”.   Also, the flavors are more subtle and natural tasting.   The roasted almonds are a nice touch.   I get another pack for Wayne to enjoy later.

As I make my way out of the marche, all the people selling cheeses, olives and tapenades invite me to sample their wares.   I’m kind of full, but it’s a good opportunity for Wayne to try a lot of delicious Provencal products for free.  He particularly enjoys the the sundried tomato,caper, anchovies, basil, garlic tapenade and the brebis cheese.

As I stagger food-drunk through the old town, I make my customary stop at the window of the bakery and ogle the michettes.  Only today, I go inside and order an assortment.   For Wayne.   They’re yeasty little rolls filled with all kinds of savory things.   Onions, saucisses, chorizo, tuna, spinach, ratatouille, several varieties of cheese, etc, etc.   You could definitely make a well-balanced meal out of them.   The chorizo and chevre ones are particularly good.

I’m not sure if it’s me or Wayne, but one of us is starting to feel a little sick and needs to lie down.    On the way home, I can’t help noticing a beautiful little cake in the window of another bakery.

I start thinking that we really haven’t had any fruit and this cake is full of fresh strawberries.    On the other hand, it’s a little pricey, I’m pretty stuffed, and I think I’ve fulfilled my going away lunch commitment.   But it looks so delicious.

Then it hits me.    I think Wayne’s birthday is coming up.   So I buy it.   Anything for Wayne.

my latest sources of intense sensual pleasure

Ulti Jus d’orange, pamplemousse et frambois. 

Nectar of the gods, I tell ya!   Monoprix makes one that’s equally delish under the “daily monop” label.    And not terribly easy to find outside of big cities.   So far, I’ve only encountered it in Paris, Nice and Marseille.   It’s fresh and so good you want to savor it like a fine wine (or in my case, chocolate milk).   With every sip I take, I’m boggled by its deliciousness anew.   I think there must be something in it like crack.

A friend of mine tried it when she was visiting France and is showing signs of a burgeoning addiction.   Now when she calls me, her first question is “are you drinking that juice?” her voice thick with desire.     She’s now planning to retire here, in part, I believe for this juice.

Domaine Ramateulle 2010 Rose

I am by no means a wine connoisseur.   In fact, I never been a big wine fan.   Until I met rose (with an accent over the “e” — someday I’m going to have to figure out how to do a accent grave on my computer).   I always thought they were the white trash of wines, but boy was I wrong (well, either that, or I have white trash taste).   They’re dry but refreshing.   Light, but fuller bodied than white.   They’re jush desilicious.

So far, this is my favorite.   It’s hauntingly good.   I find myself thinking about it at various points during the day, looking forward to the moment my lips touch its cold, dewy glass.  And the best part is, it not only tastes ambrosial, it gets me drunk!    I never want to be without it ever again.

Sun dried tomato/anchovy tapenade

I can’t vouch for all of them, since every recipe is different (and they often have different names such as bagnattou, or croistillade.”   I’m in love with one at the Antibes Marche Provencal that has olives, sun dried tomatoes, basil, anchovies and god knows what else.  They call theirs “bagnattou d’angele”, which seems apt.    Everytime I eat it, I’m surprised at how utterly freaking good it is.   I find myself having it for dessert.   Who knew something without chocolate in it could be so addictive?

Rotisserie chicken from a truck

I have yet to eat a chicken as perfect as those from a truck in France.    I don’t know if it’s that the chickens are better, or fresher, or better prepared but dang, those are good chickens.   Perfectly seasoned, moist, flavorful.   I have sought tastier chickens all over the world and have yet to find one.   Particular kudos to the hot guy and his pretty wife at the Vidauban market (not pictured here).   The best of the best, IMHO.

Oreillettes de Languedoc

I happened upon these babies while waiting in line at Monoprix to pay for my Ulti jus d’oranges, pamplemousse et frambois.   They’re one layer of pastry drizzled with lemon juice and sugar.   I ate the entire box in an hour an am now planning to go to Nice first thing in the morning to stock up on more (I’d go right now, but it’s Sunday).   I guess they’re a specialty of the Languedoc, which is making me consider moving there.

Meil de lavande from La Maison du Miel in Vidauban

I always thought honey was honey.   And lavender honey just sounds like so much BS.   So when Gilli told me people travel from far and wide for this honey, I took it with a grain of salt (or pollen).

Well, over here they have honey degustations (the next gourmet preoccupation?) which I’m glad to take part in (hey, free food!).   After tasting honey from across the land, I’ve come to revise my thinking.   Honey is not honey, and this stuff is amazing!!!  I wish I could describe what it is exactly that makes it taste above and beyond every other honey–a subtle hint of spicy-ness?  The round, almost buttery depth of flavor?   Yes, it’s a miracle honey.   I think it probably cures illness and eliminates wrinkles when applied topically.

Produce

Holy shit!   So this is what these things are supposed to taste like.

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