Food, frogs and restaurants = serving up memories in France!

Salad Provencal with salmon
Salad Provencal with salmon

So... many WYSU fans have been asking for more about the food we had as we traveled through France. I can do that. From the coast of the Mediterranean, to Paris, I took notes, and pictures!

The WYSU group was on a tour hosted by Go Ahead Tours, and as part of the package, all of the breakfasts and some of the dinners were provided. Those took place in our hotels in Nice, Aix en Provence and Paris. Other than that we were on our own for meals. With bistros, cafes and fine restaurants on every corner, finding food was not a problem in France!

Breakfast was a large spread. Some items were familiar (scrambled eggs, bacon, juice, fruit, yogurt) and some seemed a bit out of place on the buffet (deli style meat and cheese, pickles, tomatoes, olives, rice). The bread selection was amazing – all kinds of rolls, breads, and of course, the king of all bread in France – the baguette! One hotel provided the largest bread knife I had ever seen -- just for cutting off as much baguette as desired from the long loaves. Very effective!

There was always coffee – most often from an espresso machine with about 8 choices. It was difficult to find “American coffee” like we expect from Dunkin Donuts. The French version of America coffee was still quite strong, but once I asked for “café American” and I got the question, "Decaffinated?" from the server, making me wonder what the French really think of our coffee drinking habits. (“Light-weights!” is most likely the opinion.)

For me and Lucia, and many of our fellow travelers, lunch was found in one of the many lovely cafés found along the old boulevards in the cities we visited. In Nice, Salad Provencal (or Salad Nicoise) -- that is to say, green salad with fish on it, was a favorite choice for me. The seafood was so fresh and wonderful here. As an 11-year-old carb eater from Ohio, my daughter Lucia and the other little girl on the trip always asked for pasta and pizza, which most places had. The pizza crust was paper thin, but it was excellent, and the pasta came with butter and cheese on top. Apparently it was good, because they both wolfed it down!

Dinners at the hotels involved several courses and everyone got the same meal – fish, duck, or chicken marinated in a variety of sauces, a slightly exotic soup or salad (eggplant and such), and a fancy dessert (like chocolate mousse). The only criticism would be that none of it was out of the ordinary, although all very good. I kept expecting some kind of aspic or beef bourguignon or some dish that Julia Child would have whipped up in her French kitchen, but that did not happen. (Probably a good thing – does anyone really like aspic?)

But for those who wanted a meal the locals would order, the optional dinners offered by Go Ahead Tours involved cuisine that was a cut above the hotel dinners. One night a group of us travelled by bus to a restaurant in the countryside called Les Ecuries de l’Aube – Sunrise Stables in English. It looked like a sprawling ranch with a large deck set in a reclusive park-like setting. There was nothing else nearby. Inside the décor was rustic, with heavy beams, a low ceiling a large fireplace and antiques on the walls. Here we were wowed from the start with an olive tapenade and a popular drink – white wine with currant. The first course was mushroom ravioli in a dark cream sauce – to die for! Leg of lamb came out with flaming rosemary branches. The staff plated it right in front of us with the vegetables. For dessert -- a lovely mousse cake, with espresso, of course! We all thought this was the best meal we had had in France – for some of us it was the best ever!

The very next night after the Sunrise Stables feast was our first night in Paris – I love saying that! We had another unforgettable meal at Chez Justine. This hip club/restaurant was in a chic part of Paris where the younger crowd hangs out. Our party of 43 took up nearly every seat on the second floor, with some of us at a “table” made up of tiny bistro rounds. We did not care -- it was PARIS! The first course was onion soup (notice how I didn’t have to say FRENCH onion soup – of course, it is French!) followed by veal with vegetables, bread, dessert and coffee. Not one thing was wrong with this.

Just one more meal to tell you about – the last night for our full group in Paris, we all went to a private room at a place called Les Noces de Jeannette – translation: “The Marriages of Jeanette” -- must be some place! We were given a menu with 3 choices for each course: salmon pate, quiche or escargot for the appetizer, and duck, cod or pork for the main course. The desert was a white chocolate cake or nougat glace (ice cream). More current wine, along with red and white, was on the table, and a singer with an accordion was floating from table to table. It all felt very Parisian.

Maybe that is why more so than other places we had been in France, there seemed to be more of a language barrier between us and the staff. Explaining to the waiter that the two little girls wanted nothing from the menu, but would prefer fries (notice no “French” needed!) was a bit of a challenge. He finally got it, but thought he might have some fun with us before he brought the food.

“I know what she would like,” the adorable French waiter said to me. “A bit of frog!” I was sure I heard wrong, so I asked him to say it again. “Frog! Frog!” He was pronouncing it with a long 'o', so as I still looked perplexed, he said, “Hop, hop, hop!” and whirled away as if to find the exotic dish.

Barbara Krauss thought this was hysterical, but I still wasn’t sure that he was joking. I started rationalizing that frog tasted just like chicken, in case it appeared as Lucia’s meal. Barbara kept on laughing.

And the waiter brought... fries. French humor. Good thing they know their food!