Friday, August 22, 2008

To Market, To Market

Thursday we woke up at 7:30AM to catch another market in Nyons, about an hour away. So intent were we on getting to the market nice and early that we even skipped our morning ritual coffee and tea, something far harder for me than for Jen. However, being as habitual as I am I feel that I deserve a great deal of credit for this feat.

We arrived shortly before 9:00AM and parking was already getting a little difficult. We were able to duck into a back street and park by a veterinary clinic then walk the remainder of the way into the town center.

We grabbed a quick coffee, tea and croissant at the nearest cafe before starting to tour the market. I asked for a black tea and they brough me Earl Grey, which I thought was odd, not just because I hate Earl Grey tea but because it is a strange assumption to make. It would be like asking for green tea and being served green tea with licorice root added to it. That being said, it was one of the better Earl Grey teas I've had. Having sampled many over the years, I've decided after twenty or thirty of them that it is just not for me. Perhaps drinking the tea with a croissant helped it to be much more enjoyable than previous versions I've had.

The market at Nyons was incredible, far more vast than the market at Gordes and a little more easily accessible, not having to drive through too much mountainous terrain. There seemed to be every bit as much produce, meat and cheese available in Nyons but they also had a much vaster selection of fabrics and pottery available for sale.

Nyons also had a jacuzzi.

And they had this bitchin' beach towel which I considered making my first souvenir purchase in France, but at the last minute decided to give it a pass.

We ended up buying some great dishes from this vendor named Thierry Lionti who does all the pottery (his wife Hélène does the painting). We also ended up talking to him for a while about his work and the markets. Read that as: Jen talked to him for a while while I nodded, having no idea what they were both saying in French without picking up the odd work. I'm afraid my French is limited to leading with bonjour ending with merci beaucoup and finally au revoir while letting Jen fill in all the empty space between, sometimes as much as ten or twenty minutes worth of conversation.

As we left the market it was still early, around 11:30AM, but it was beginning to become overrun with shoppers, and the streets were basically choked with cars. Luckily, with our strategic spot by the veterinary clinic we were able to take a back route out of town while everyone else struggled on the streets as either drivers or pedestrians. So long, suckers!

We returned to Châteauneuf-de-Mazenc early, a little after noon, and made ourselves another lunch out of our leftover goods form the Gordes market. It was still early enough to enjoy it on our west terrace before the sun became too bright.

There were lizards all over the terrace while we ate. I became obsessed and started taking pictures of them. I took 24 pictures of the lizards total. I am sure glad for the digital age because 15 years ago that would have been an entire roll of film.

After our lunch (and of course, our obligatory afternoon nap), we headed out to explore Châteauneuf-de-Mazenc a little more. There was an exposition going on that an artist had created which was a model of the entire town. It represented the entire village and had hundreds of pictures and newspaper articles about the village's history.

We decided to go all the way to the top of hill where there was a church and cemetery. It was a beautiful view from the top of the hill but we were embarrassingly winded from the hike up the hill. It was also embarrassing to pass a woman many years our senior who was making the hike with her dog, both of them showing no visible sign of exertion whatsoever.

When we returned down from the tremendous climb we stopped by a great little artist shop that sold jewelry, pottery and drawings. We couldn't decide on a combination of bowls to buy. There were three blue ones, three with a green and white pattern and two with a yellowish green pattern. After much deliberation we just bought them all. How often does one make it to these parts anyway?

We had dinner reservations at a place called Les Hospitaliers in the nearby village of Le Pöet-Laval. Jen had been making much ado about how our dinner would be in a village perché and had been saying that for the past few months. It is fun to say you are going to eat in a village perché. Don't believe me? Just give it a try.

After touring the little village for a while we sat down at our table to view the menu. We opted for the the menu traditional. It was about a three-hour dinner, which is about an hour outside of my restless stage, but the food was exceptional. For those not interested in food, unable to understand French, or both you may want to skip ahead. Keep in mind that I'm just writing what we had directly from the menu. I only understand about 50% of the words on the menu simply because I went to culinary school and learned from a bunch of crusty old French chefs.

They brought out some almonds, lying on top of some rock salt to start. Jen had the Muscat as an aperitif and we ordered a bottle of the Saint-Joseph, Cuvée Amandine St Desirat C.D.R. on the waiter's recommendation (thank God).

We started off with an amuse-bouche which was a vegetable terrine of tomato and olive tapenade. Our bouches were quite amused.

Jen started with the Tarte fine de longoustines aux tomates confites et tapenade, copeaux de parmesan, huile d'olive de Nyons et vinaigre balsamique.

My starter was the Medaillons de foie gras de canard au Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, chutney de figues et fruits rouges, reduction de Rasteau, toasts aux cereales.

We both had the Filet de lottre rotie, bouillon de crustaces au parfum d'Orient, quinoa aux fruits secs. It was probably the most interesting and least French thing on the menu, having a decidedly Moroccan flavor. I was pretty surprised to see a dish with quinoa in it, particularly seeing that I didn't really read ahead on the menu too much. That way everything was a surprise! I was pretty much only prepared for the main elements of each dish (e.g. foie gras, fish, veal, etc.).

For the main course Jen had the Carre d'agneau roti au romarin, gousses d'ail confites en chemise.

For my main course I had the Emince de filet de veau facon Custine, huille d'olive de Nyons.

For a cheese course there was some sort of exchange in French between Jen and the waiter. All I understood was the word cheese being repeated between them. There was also something mentioned about coulis. A few minutes later they brought out a soft white cheese in a little silver dish with two cruets, one containing raspberry coulis, the other containing heavy cream. I wasn't really sure what it was exactly but I tried pouring a little of each cruet over the cheese and the resulting taste was delicious. The cheese tasted very much like yogurt and the cream and coulis mixed together to make an interesting course. I was so full by this point that I could barely move. I thought to myself, "What a great end to a wonderful meal."

After that they brought out the dessert menu. I didn't want to order any until I learned that it was included in the price of our meal so I figured that we should at least get some dessert even if we were only going to have one spoonful each.

Jen got the Corolle de peche pochee, gratin froid de chocolat, gelee de surreau.

I got the Tulipe de tiramisu et son coulis de rhubarbe, which was pretty much a last-minute decision as I was feeling the pressure of having to order knowing I was both too full to walk and not quite sure what I wanted. Plus I thought that the combination of tiramisu and rhubarb was something I may not have the opportunity to experience again any time soon.

If this wasn't enough they brought out a little dessert plate (which alone would have been plenty of dessert for two people) which had chocolate mousse, a tiny eclair, a little fruit tart and some crispy almond cookies which I have made before but I cannot remember the name of. I know you make the "dough" and then bake it and right out of the oven you can form a shape with it. After it cools it will hold that shape. It's pretty tasty but much more useful on a mechanical level for making interestingly shaped sweet crackers. These, I presume, were shaped by cutting them out and resting them on a rolling pin to cool.

Jen finished with some coffee and, of course, they brought out some little chocolates too just in case we were not sufficiently full at this point.

After that we walked outside where you could look up and see thousands of stars in the sky, something that certainly doesn't happen in New York and something we haven't really witnessed yet due to the persistent cloud cover. I was able to find the Little Dipper, the North Star and Venus and then that pretty much wrapped up my stargazing expertise. As we looked up you could see small objects streaking by the lights on top of one of the towers of Le Pöet-Laval. After a minute I realized they were bats, something Jen was not too crazy about. As we turned the corner leaving the restaurant and hotel area it was pitch black so we had to walk very gingerly on until we approached a dim streetlight ahead and were able to get into our car. We were safe from bats and Jen's worst fear (which is apparently getting bit by a rabid bat and having to explain it to a doctor in French) was not realized.

By the time we got home we had just enough time to lie down on the bed, smear Tiger Balm onto our stomachs and groan ourselves lightly to sleep, knowing we'd overdone it.

Was it worth it? Yes.

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