Day 1 in France

Early Friday morning Amy and I drove to the airport and boarded a flight to Atlanta. Once in Atlanta we hastily made our way to the very furthest end of this behemoth of an airfield to catch our connecting flight to Paris. After landing at Charles de Gaulle we made a mad dash to the terminal that a very pleasant and seemingly efficient young woman had directed us to. Once clearing customs, another very pleasant and seemingly efficient young woman directed us on another mad dash to yet another gate. This was followed by a series of other very pleasant and seemingly efficient young women and one young man who shepherded us through an eventually successful attempt to circumvent some very long lines and get us on the plane that would take us to our eventual destination.

We arrived safely and soundly in Languedoc, Montpellier to be more specific, including the time difference, about 26 hours after pulling out of our driveway the previous day. After a 2 hour nap and a shower, we went in search of an ATM and a small lunch. The last decent meal either of us had enjoyed was Thursday night when I had cooked some lamb chops, roasted baby redskin potatoes and a simple spinach salad. Between then and jet lagged Saturday afternoon that we now found ourselves wandering in, we had been treated to a breakfast in an airport joint better known for beer and hotwings (the highpoint of our travel meals) and multiple airline meals. Unless one has experienced breakfast in jail, it would be quite easy to mistake an airline meal for the only food on the planet that is worse than what we subject our children to in school cafeterias.

That was the gastronomical situation that Amy and I found ourselves in as we wandered the beautiful streets of Montpellier, Euros in pocket, tortured stomaches empty, searching for sustenance. As many people who know me can attest, even my native tongue can desert me at inopportune times, so my grasp of any language other than English is limited to some swear words picked up as a child from friends and even some less friendly folks in the melting pot neighborhood of Toledo where I was raised. Amy took French in school, but even with the podcasts she has been using to refresh her memory, and practicing with my current French scholar child, she was feeling uncertain of her conversational French. Between the lack of French language skills, our quite intense jet lag, and the culture shock of being here, we couldn’t get up the nerve to walk into a real French joint and try to order. We also didn’t want to avail ourselves of the place painted with the huge American flag, eagle and the lovely French woman who oversees the harbor in New York City. As starved as I was, the movie playing in my head kept us out of there. It was a variation on Pulp Fiction, and we were Vincent and Mia entering Jackrabbit Slim’s. The only difference, other than the obvious height advantage that pair enjoyed, was that in place of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe look-alike servers, this movie had Dick Cheney and Milton Friedman serving us $5 milkshakes. Having survived 3 plane rides, 2 extended airport sprints, multiple airline meals, and 3 in-flight movies, one of which was possibly the worst movie Julia Roberts has ever made (think about that for a minute and then marvel), starvation seemed the nobler option.

Eventually we gave up and decided to grab a quick snack at the hotel that would hold us over until the evening’s planned dinner, which was still 3 or 4 hours away. Since it did not appear that there was any food to be had at this time of day, we settle on an espresso, one piece of chocolate, followed by a champagne chaser as our lunch. Not the jet lag or hunger cure we had hoped, but there are way worse ways to suffer.

Eventually the appointed hour of our dinner excursion arrived. After a round of introductions and a short tram ride we arrived at Le Petit Jardin. Past may indeed be prologue, but in this case it was merely forgotten. After some very good airy appetizers and a glass of tasty Vermentino-based white wine, this was placed in front of me.

Carmelized onions and goat cheese

Under those greens is a delectable mountain of incredibly sweet caramelized onions mixed with tangy goat cheese. How’s that for the first decent food in days? It definitely worked for me. So did the wine that it was perfectly paired with. The 2008 Domaine Lacroix-Vanel Pezenas Couteaux du Languedoc had a dusty perfumed nose with aromas of tart raspberries. The flavor was richer than would be expected given its light color. The richness combined with a bright acidity made it work perfectly with the caramelized onions, while the tart cherry and ripe berry flavors with a hint of earthiness picked up the tangy goat cheese. It was nice to eat well again.

As good as that was, the best was yet to come. My entrée was a delicious piece of beef onglet (hanger steak). The food was delicious, but the wine was even better. Made up of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, the 2007 Chateau Saint Esteve d’Uchaux Grande Reserve was real treat. It had a wonderfully intense rich and spicy nose that had my mouth watering before I ever took a sip. Deep, dark purple in color, it is bursting with perfectly ripe fruit flavors. The finish is long and complex with hints of cocoa powder and baking spices mixing with all of that juicy fruit. I will be seeking out more bottles of this.

We were seated intentionally and kindly with others in our group that spoke English much better than we spoke French, and our dinner companions were both wonderful company and impressively accomplished individuals. Sharing food and conversation at our end of the table were organic winemakers Anne Sutra de Germa of Domaine Monplezy and Monsieur Coste from Domaine Costeplane, as well as Britt Karlsson, wine renaissance woman who runs BKWine. I look forward to more conversations with all of them.

UPDATE: After further review, the ruling on the field is overturned. We, in fact, could have eaten anywhere without worries. The city is full of students working in the restaurants and cafes, and they all speak English. Blame it on our jet lag, but certainly not the good people of Montpellier!

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