For the last week, I’ve been trying to figure how to approach this first post after the big French extravaganza. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time, as one does, in Paris and the south of France.
But I’ve been left with a not surprising mild case of post-trip depression, not because it’s over (it is), not because it wasn’t beautiful (it was), not because I didn’t have a great time (I did) and not because I have jet lag (I do). Mainly I’m depressed because the food, overall, was underwhelming. I mean, it’s France! In short, I expected more. Let me explain. Although I’d been gone four years, and have since read this fascinating book about the decline of French food and the rise of Spanish, I didn’t think it’d be noticeable to me, the everyday diner. I wasn’t seeking out, nor being disappointed by the declining quality of, Michelin-starred restaurants after all. I was simply hoping to revisit some old faves and maybe try out a couple that have been receiving some buzz. Well, the old faves fell short and the buzz-worthys were booked solid. Not to mention that I quickly began to notice the proliferation of le cheeseburger and le club sandwich on just about every menu. I know that hamburgers have been on some french menus for quite some time. I also know that the American food trucks are enjoying some success in Paris. But what I didn’t expect was that I would see these items everywhere I went. I finally succumbed and ordered un club (and it wasn’t bad) but something about the whole situation left me empty. Even my favorite salad seemed to be a smaller, less-appealing ghost of its former self. Man, do I sound spoiled (and dramatic…geez, get a grip!)
So on to Provence, where the food was ok (best on our patio) and the ice cream superior, but still was leaving me with a serious case of frustration. At one particular low-point, after another mediocre meal (in the heat, with flies buzzing, and our inability to get our bill and get the hell out despite having asked for it three times), I said privately (and crabbily) to my mother “if I don’t start eating some good food soon, I’m going to really lose it!”
There were of course a couple of bright spots, as there always are, that are worth mentioning. For example, this chocolate-pistachio escargot from the well-regarded Du Pain et des Idées.
And this charmer, up in the mountains and among with vines, in Suzette, didn’t disappoint either.
Here we sampled numerous Provençal treats including a croustillant de chèvre (basically a crispy crêpe-wrapped goat cheese on salad), a tartare de tomates avec son duo des tapenades, a sassy little cheese plate and finally a crème brulée with “coquelicot” (poppy-flower flavored) syrup. I was indeed happy that night.
Lyon also did not disappoint. I sampled the requisite salade lyonnaise and seafood quenelles at a place recommended by our charming hotel clerk. Saved again.
I’d also have to add that there was a content moment or two over café crèmes and fresh-baked croissants, both original and of the almond variety, sitting in the square watching the daily business of our little workaday wine town.
Our own daily apéro (otherwise known as snack time) was mighty pleasant as well.
As was our stunningly beautiful view. Its memory will probably get me through some very gray days in the winter months.
If you’ll allow me to change the subject in an abrupt fashion, I made one of the best salads I’ve ever had just before I left. I had recently discovered the popular blog (and book, which I got lost in while on another mission at the local bookshop) Dinner a Love Story and subsequently watched Jenny’s piece on the Today show where she made said salad. I adapted her version with a slight change in the vinaigrette and by eliminating the corn and replacing it with avocado. And I added blue cheese. It’s simple yet spectacular, and if you can find the mix of colorful potatoes that I used (per Jenny’s suggestion), it’s also highly impressive.
For the salad
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 3 baby cucumbers or one large English, sliced
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup boiled green beans
- 1 cup small potatoes, halved and boiled
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
- 1 pound salmon, oven-roasted or grilled
For the dressing
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- juice of half a lemon
- dash of kosher salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 400° and set a pot of water to boil on the stove top. Prepare the salmon by brushing with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Roast on a foil-lined baking sheet for about 15 minutes. Check for desired degree of doneness.
2. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar and set aside.
3. While the salmon is roasting and cooling, prepare the salad ingredients by boiling first the potatoes, then the green beans in the same water. Chop the tomatoes, onion and cilantro. Lastly, chop the avocado and drizzle with lime or lemon juice.
4. Serve the salad ingredients cobb-style so diners can pick and choose their favorite ingredients (a Jenny idea for getting picky kids to eat well). Add desired amount of salmon on top of salad and a drizzle of vinaigrette.
Mix it all up and eat!
I don’t think I’m yet done with posts about France, or salad for that matter (I’ve been trying to rebalance after eating and drinking my weight in croissants and rosé), but for now, there’s some grilled chicken and, coincidentally, Jenny’s shredded kale salad calling my name. And my stomach is answering.