L and I stayed in Barcelona a few days, then rented a car and drove into France, staying a night near Carcassonne, then a night in Saint-Emilion, and a week in a cottage in the Dordogne Valley, just outside Sarlat. We drove back to Barcelona before flying home. What bliss!
My favorite meals...
Omlette sandwiches with cepe mushrooms (porcini), tomato, shallots, and purple basil
Brebis (sheep cheese)
Prunes from Agen
Midway through an 8km hike, L and I sat down in the shade in a walnut orchard and ate the egg sandwiches I'd made that morning. All the groceries were from the farmer's market in Sarlat. Nothing tastes better than food on a hike.
9. LA FONDA, BARCELONA
Cod in Goat Cheese Sauce
Thanks to S. for recommending this joint, which was the best value of the trip, I think under 20 euros per person. The cod and goat cheese was a weird combination that really worked, and fideo is just scrumptious. I wish I'd taken notes because I can't remember what this crisp, aromatic bottle of white was, some blend of local varietals including Muscat d'Alexandrie.
8. LUNCH, CHAI PASCAL, SAINT-EMILION
Warm Goat Cheese Salad
2006 Château Peyrou Côtes de Castillon
After we visited my inspirational friend M, who Is making her own wine in Montagne-St-Emilion, we stopped in at a wine bar in town she recommended. What a great meal! Their salad was huge, with fresh beets and chunks of warm, ashed goat cheese smeared on rustic toasts. The charcuterie plate had ham from the black Perigord pig, house-made terrine, pork rillettes, and dry sausage, and we washed it down with the juicy red Côtes de Castillon, made by Catherine Papon-Nouvel, which they poured by the glass.
7. STEAK DINNER, LA MUSE, LABASTIDE-ESPARBAIRENQUE
Local Entrecote with Red Wine Pan Sauce
Mashed potatoes and turnips
Cahors and Minervois
I made us a yummy dinner in a farmhouse kitchen at this wonderful artist's retreat in SW France. If you're an artist and you need some space and inspiration, you should really check out La Muse. It's in a spectacular, isolated mountain villiage in the Black Mountains, just outside Carcassonne. The landscape is almost medieval with a cool mystical vibe thanks to the Cathars.
It's hard not to eat well in this part of the world. We shopped at a tiny general store in the neighboring village of Mas Cabardes, a trip during which we got lost finding the store and finding our car afterwards.
The entrecote was from cows just down the road, sliced fresh for us by the local shopkeeper. I rubbed it with olive oil and garlic and sauteed it rare. Three firm Pyrenee cheeses: a brebis, a cow's milk, and a great, cheddary goat, plus a bloomy-rinded chevre that L said smelled like manure but I loved. It went great with the 6-euro bottles of Cahors and Minervois.
6. TAPAS, BAR BOQUERIA, BARCELONA
Octopus a la Plancha
Grilled Shishito(?) Peppers
Grilled Shrimp (the kind with their heads still on)
Barcelona's Boqueria is a serious contender for the title of Best Farmer's Market in the World. We had lunch at one of the bustling, informal countertop restaurants there. The lines were too long at Bar Central so we went to Bar Boqueria, which I think was even better. Everything was delicious, and ordering was an adventure. We drank lots of cheap rose out of tumblers.
Watercress salad with garlic dressing
Roast quinces with chestnut honey
2005 Domaine de l'A Côtes de Castillon
This was a let's-eat-everything left-in-the-frig supper. The stock from the head-on chicken I'd roasted the night before was better than the roast itself - I've never before gotten so much flavor out of a single bird. I threw in some giant white lima beans, carrots, leeks, pumpkin, and served it with garlic croutons. The smell of roasting quinces filled up the whole cottage.
The merlot-dominated red was made by Stephane Derenoncourt and purchased at a great wine shop in Saint-Emilion called Terres Millesimees. It was a fabulous value - silky and powerful with jammy black fruit and that special vibrancy you get in natural wine. Wish I'd brought some home!
4. LUNCH, BISTRO D'EN FACE, TREMOLAT, FRANCE
Salad of duck gizzards, Jerusalem artichokes, radicchio, and endive
Some weird and yummy herbal aperitif
Duck confit in port wine sauce
Potatoes Sarladaise (i.e., fried in duck fat)
House Red (Bergerac)
We decided to take down some serious duck fat at this charming bistro, which is the dressed-down sister of the Michelin-starred Vieux Logis across the street. The salad was one of the best dishes I had on the whole trip. I'd tried to make duck gizzards once, and they were ghastly, and so I was afraid to order this dish, but oh boy am I glad I did. The gizzards were like little chewy duck sausages, and the Jerusalem artichoke was tossed in some kind of tangy, creamy dressing, and the bitter greens cut sharply through all the richness. It was superb. Other things were less fabulous, like the snails, but basically this was what you want a bistro to be.
We talked to the elegant octogenarian at the table next to us, lunching with her niece. The two were discussing the aunt's wartime memories. She was happy to learn that I was Jewish and told me that during the war many of her neighbors had hidden Jews in their barns. As a symbolic gesture of gratitude, I gave her a feather I'd found in the woods.
3. DINNER, LA TREILLE, VITRAC, FRANCE
Pot au feu of foie gras and vegetables
Lamb chops with wild mushrooms
Macaroon with salted caramel ice cream and strawberry sauce
Vin de Pays du Perigord
Our hostess from the gite recommended this excellent local restaurant. The foie gras pot au feu was surprisingly delicate, with local baby carrots and turnips and potatoes cooked in a flavorful chicken broth. I had never had foie gras in consomme before. The dish was served, adorably, in a little mason jar. It was sort of like foie gras potpie, minus the crust.
The lamb chops were delicious and the presentation was beautiful, as if every spear of asparagus and tendril of morel had been set in its right place. Dessert was good, too. The wine was rough around the edges. I'd never heard of VDP Perigord before and maybe there's a good reason. Best service of the trip from the solemn, deft waitress.
2. DINNER, AUBERGE SAINT-JEAN, SAINT-JEAN DE BLAIGNAC, FRANCE
Grilled foie gras with celery root mousse and apple sorbet
Pigeon with Roasted Tomato
The chef's cute pregnant wife ran the front of the house at this ambitious restaurant on the Dordogne that probably deserves a Michelin star. The foie gras appetizer was L's favorite dish of the whole trip. It was seared, meltingly tender, and the celery root showed up three ways on the plate (I think): in a mousse, a puree, and as a brunoise. It was such a full experience of the flavor of the vegetable, and the apple sorbet tied it together perfectly. This dish was really breathtaking and announced a certain seriousness emanating from the kitchen.
The pigeon was very good, too. The breast was possibly cooked sous-vide, perfectly pink and earthy. The leg was falling-apart tender. My dessert (some kind of brownie-like thing) was only okay, and I was very jealous of L's choice, which had a vanilla-poached pear in salted toffee sauce and caramel-chocolate wafer. We splurged for a 2005 St-Emilion, which was great.
Afterwards I asked for verbena tea. It arrived in a teapot shaped like a hedgehog, which is what the chef's surname, l'Herisson, means.
Photo: Justin Bernhaut/acpsyndication.com
1. TAPAS, CAL PEP, BARCELONA
Mixed Fry of Smelts, Shrimp, and Squid
Cockles Steamed with Sausage and White Wine
Grilled Shishito(?) Peppers
Sweet Sausage with White Bean
Cod with Roasted Tomato and Potato
Gran Riserva Cava
The meal of the trip for me came on our last night in town. I've tried to go to Cal Pep many times, but the line was always too long.
This was a nearly-perfect meal, marred only by the fact that the line of people waiting to dine is right behind you, meaning that you can't linger over your food the way you want to when food is this good. The bottle of cava recommended by the waiter was flinty and refreshing and had a ton of character. The salty, crispy fried fish, the opulent cod, the sausage - it was all fabulous - but the spanish tortilla, a custardy omlette of potatoes flavored with bacon and aioli, was the best dish of the trip for me. Proof that simple food can be extraordinary.
When I had to say "no" to the question "uno mas?" I was genuinely sad.