Sunday, October 16, 2011

All Downhill From Now On ...

The usual suspects ...
Ah me, the morning after the night before ... only counted eight bottles though, and I know for a fact that a fair amount of one of those went into the food rather than into us, so that's alright then. Sadly there's one in the heap that has no label: I say "sadly" because that means I can't rush out and buy some more, for it was wonderful.

Honey and flowers: Sophie got it at some point from her directeur, Norbert (yes, some people really do get saddled with names like that), who in turn got it from some little vigneron of his acquaintance somewhere. Note to self: get the address of that man.

Today the clouds are lifting and the sun is making an admittedly timid appearance, kind of a shame in a way as I can now see the snow down to about 1100m on the Belledonnes across the valley from us, and on the Chartreuse off to the west. Good thing I suppose that the Arclusaz just behind is still wreathed in cloud, seeing that covered with snow would be too depressing.

The meal turned out rather well, thanks for asking: mind you it was a good thing I had the afternoon free to get it all prepped. The honey and thyme with the filo was indeed a good idea, and I was lucky enough to score some asparagus (Spanish) and snow peas (Kenyan, so much for buying locally) at Carrefour, which made a nice little stir-fry to go with the scallops. But I would like to remark that plaiting sole fillets is definitely a tedious job.

Also, that having a small kitchen and a limited number of bowls and stuff forces one to be rather more organised than perhaps one would like. Prepping is all very well, but when you get the salsa ready in one bowl and the cubed aubergine slathered in olive oil in another and the sliced apples ready for the tarte tatin in yet another, you're stiff out of luck when it comes to finding a bowl to make the pastry in because the scallops are draining over the very last one and anyway seeing as the filo shells are laid out on the table there's no place to roll the damn stuff out anyway.

But if nothing else, I have at least taught Stacey that the scallop is not some fierce marine creature which will, in a last spiteful act, try to poison you if you eat it.

Whatever, I got out of the affair reasonably lightly, I think: a book (a cookbook, of course) and a little chocolate-making kit from which, Sophie meaningfully remarked as she handed it over, she expected to see some results before Christmas. So I know what I have to do. Cue a trip down to Grenoble to get some proper couverture, for one thing.

The little book was on something that's rather à la mode over here these days, to wit the apéro dinatoire, which is basically an excuse to get together, drink and eat finger food. The idea is that you make lots of different food, preferably with interesting contrasts of colours and textures, and serve it in amusingly small amounts in special spoons, on bamboo skewers, on pita bread or in those bloody ubiquitous verrines.

Doing it properly is a lot of work I would think, but I can see that the end result could be quite stunning. I did rather like the idea of that ratatouille with quails' eggs, and I can see the skewers of scallops with beetroot chips going down well, but I'm not sure about the minestrone with strawberries.

Still, it's set the old brain to working again: might be an idea to go back and take a fresh look at some of the rustic bistrot food I've eaten over all these years, with an eye to doing something a bit different with it. For some strange reason the first thing that comes to mind was a meal I remember at Anonnay a long while ago in a little restaurant that Jacques discovered with that mysterious talent he has for wandering into places, treating the owners as though he's known them for years, and then expecting good food to arrive at the table.

I've not yet known him to make a wrong choice, so whatever it is, it works. Fair enough, the habitués were either truckies or tradesmen, which is usually a pretty good indicator, but whatever, the food was extremely good. I can recall an enormous salad with hot crispy bacon and fried quails' eggs, but the thing that rather set it apart were the little pyramids moulded of chevre mashed with cream and finely chopped spring onion,  then rolled in paprika and chili (I think). This sounds like a pretty good starting point for something nice, to me.

While we're on the subject, we had clients all day - Bruno and Clément from Sorhéa - and went out to lunch au Barjots, where I actually had a meal that inspired me. To write this, anyway. It's apparently become THE trendy place to eat in Chambéry, which always tends to put me off somewhat: a converted marbrerie, I find it too busy and too noisy for starters. You can put that down to grumpy old age, if you like.

Apart from the noise, and the rather random service (the Frogs would say aléatoire, a pleasing word I think), my real problem with the place is that it's merely competent. The entrée was what they called - with no apparent justification, as far as I can make out - a carpaccio de potiron, lardons poelés, croutons et chantilly au cardamom. For one thing, a carpaccio consists of wafer-thin slices of whatever it might be: it is not a soup. Second, even if you have stuck a shot of liquid nitrogen at the bottom so that it fizzes interestingly as you take a spoonful, you don't serve it in a tall glass the same diameter as the spoon you're supposed to eat it with.

Oh, third thing is that you don't serve it with the beers you ordered to drink before lunch.

I'll grant you that the bright orange colour and the contrast of textures wasn't bad, shame that everything sank to the bottom.

Follow that with coquelet roti et ecrasé des pommes de terre à l'huile d'olive aromatisé aux truffes: half a roasted spring chicken at one end of a rectangular plate, an oval of greenish crushed spud half a mile away at the other end, and a thin line of rosemary-flavoured gravy and chopped chives joining the two. Personally I have my doubts that a truffle had ever been within spitting distance of the olive oil, because I would have recognised the smell (rotting dog, if you're interested), but that's probably beside the point.

Which is is that it looked nice, but was completely unmemorable as food. Just - competent. And that's boring, and a bit sad. (And I'll try to spare you the dessert: a contemporary remake of the matafan would be very welcome in these parts, but not if it involves a heavy and uninspiring beignet.)

If I'm going to actually pay someone to cook for me, I would rather like to be excited, thanks very much, or discover something I didn't know before. I can still remember the flavours of that lunch in Anonnay from fifteen years ago, but I've already forgotten today's. Which is a shame. Next time I have to go I'll just order the little pot of foie gras with toast and confiture de figues, which isn't bad even if it does lack a bit of pepper (which, for some strange reason, is not on the table) for my taste.

On the brighter side, went off to l'Atelier with Margo for lunch today and discovered that not only are their tapas and tartines (love the one with chevre mixed with coriander and mint, topped with shrimp, that I had a while back with Sophie) rather nice, they also do a pretty mean burger. Which you can eat with your fingers, as god intended. And unusually, the chef (who has, incidentally, worked with Bocuse and the like) helps with the service and mingles with the patrons. Makes up for yesterday's experience.

NASA: missed again
Anyway, for once Méteo France seem to have got it right when they promised us a fine week. Well, half right, anyway - that is to say we wake up in thick fog, and then mid-afternoon the clouds disappear and we have the rest of the day under brilliant sunshine. Unfortunately that "rest of the day" is getting noticeably shorter: the sun goes down behind the Chartreuse some time around 19:30, but at least the sunsets are spectacular. (Or as the French might say, crépusculaire - which, as I've said before, has always brought to mind some sort of vile skin disease. To my mind, anyway.)

And even if we don't quite make it into the 20s, the temperature still hovers around 19° for much of the day. Which means that chez Bimler, it's about as hot inside the house as out - or alternatively, the other way around. Depends on whether you're a half-full or half-empty person, I guess. Problem with having a big old house built back in the days when the word isolation meant you were isolated, not that you were insulated. Mind you, from memory a lot of older houses in NZ were no better - our old place in Russell Street certainly wasn't, with tongue-in-groove, gib-board and corrugated iron being the only things between us and the elements - but at least we didn't need it quite so much, lacking the extremes of temperature.

Nights it gets a bit more problematic, and we really will have to start lighting the fire soonish, and then fire up the boiler I suppose. The dog is certainly feeling it, her arthritis is giving her hell. Has great problems getting up and down the stairs from the courtyard these days - partly, let it be admitted, due to the fact that she seems to be going senile.

Gratuitous picture of a cat
Whatever, tonight in "Caring Science For The Feeble-Minded", we'll talk at some length about the culinary implications of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, as illustrated (in crayon) by Schrödinger's Cute Kitten. Which may be resumed in one word: none. Whatsoever. (Yes, small-minded people, technically speaking that's two words, but only because of the full stop which is a punctuation mark added for emphasis and therefore doesn't count.)

So anyway, according to this German fellow at the bar the other day (a gifted but an undisciplined thinker, if you ask me, and a trifle the worse for drink to boot - also had a very strong accent and tended to dribble in his beer, which I do find rather distressing), if, for the sake of argument, you took - say, Sophie, and a salad - and locked them in a room together (with, and this is apparently the important part, nobody watching), they would stay there in a state of quantum flux wherein the two possibilities - of Sophie's eating the salad, and vice versa - coexisted, until an observer collapsed the soufflé wave-form by opening the door and finding Sophie cleaning the salad bowl of the last bit of dressing with a piece of bread.*

Which, incidentally, was not present in the room initially, which immediately struck me as being a difficulty with the whole concept: unless of course you're willing to entertain the possibility that it just suddenly appeared through a wormhole from a parallel universe to fill the gap left by the salad. A bit far-fetched, I feel, and I said as much to him - it was not appreciated and we did not, I'm afraid, part on the best of terms. (But you'll be happy to know that the judicious application of turpentine has succeeded in eliminating all but the most tenacious stains on my suede boots. At least, they're more or less the same colour all over now.)

(I have another, more fundamental objection - which I tactfully refrained from voicing - which, simply put, is that if they're locked in there together, what's to stop them watching one another? And even if they promise not to, the cat will be lurking in there, hoping for something to eat. All of which would seem to render the outside observer redundant. But I'm willing to admit that I might have missed something.)

Anyway, I say bollocks to all that, because I know perfectly well that within thirty seconds of closing the door on her and a salad, without so much as a single furtive glance behind there will be a clean salad bowl and just maybe a few left-over leaves, neatly wrapped in tin-foil in the fridge. (Assuming, of course, that they were locked in the kitchen, and not the bathroom.)

Next time we might take another look at the General Theory of Relativity, and examine whether or not it actually explicitly rules out the possibility of an accelerated, extremely frightened lettuce travelling faster than light.

*132 words to a single-sentence paragraph is not bad, although not a personal best. And no, I don't get paid for it. Although I did once get an award for imaginative punctuation.

No comments:

Post a Comment