Thursday, May 31, 2007

Traveling in Tours

Our dinner from the night was unremarkable so we were looking to have a great breakfast. Now, you have to understand that a common French breakfast is espresso, a croissant, and for most, a cigarette. Nicole and I were searching for an “American” breakfast with French ingredients and we found it despite the treacherous rain pouring down on us. Located in the heart of the Bayeux village near a magnificent 16th century cathedral that was spared of the war’s bombs, was a nice little boutique style café. We were the first to arrive at 9am as the owners sat at one of the tables eating crusty bread and drinking coffee as their calm white Labrador looked on. Nicole opted for a French classic a cheese quiche. The pastry dough was delicate and tender and the filling so rich and creamy that we knew it was fresh cooked right out of the oven. I opted to build my big breakfast by starting out with tea and juice (I can’t seem to shake this throat and cough problem that I brought with me from the States). Then I added a crepe with strawberry jam that was delightful and then my queen the Croque Madame. This is one of my favorite dishes that we played with at the Getty Restaurant. I may have a French last name, but I wanted to see how the real French do it. A thick slice of lightly toasted brioche with salted country ham, melting gruyere and butter topped with another slice of toasted brioche, more melted gruyere, but this time browned and, the grand finale, a perfectly cooked sunny side up fried egg on top. I burst the egg with my fork and watched the gooey pumpkin colored yolk drip down the sides of the sandwich. All this richness was perfectly balanced by a butter lettuce salad tossed with a light tarragon and mustard vinaigrette. Yes, all this at 9am.
We left the café to find the Battle of Normandy museum. We have been pretty good about getting around without being lost, but not this time….and what a time, the rain was coming down harder than I have seen since the El Nino days. We walked down each cobblestone corridor and passed each war torn building in search of the main road with no luck. Finally we found it and found the museum. The damage was done….Nicole’s shoes, socks and jeans were soaked. My jacket took in too much water and I was soaked, but we made it and we made that journey so we were going to see the museum.

We jumped our train to Tours which is about 3 hours south of Paris. Tours is located in the Loire Valley which is one of France’s many wine countries. What I pictured of Tours, rolling hills of grapevines, a lush river framed by greenery, was not the reality. Instead, we arrived in a quaint city filled with young students surrounded by relatively modern buildings and shops. It reminded me a lot of Ventura Boulevard with all the boutique shops, a clean look and the busy foot traffic. What we discovered is that the city of Tours was completely demolished to nothing during the War so that almost everything had been rebuilt since.

Like for every new city, Nicole and I set out on foot to explore. We spent about 3 hours walking, shopping and munching on giant cookies that were actually about the same size as my head! Finally the thirst factor kicked in and we stopped at the local college pub and enjoyed a few Belgian beers and shared some funny memories of our past.

Nicole did some research on places to eat in Tours so we searched out the restaurant Brasserie Bure. We were feeling a little jaded at this point about the food in Brasseries. There are at least two brasseries on every corner, but every time you enter one it is a gamble. The brasserie has such potential to be great because of their availability and ambiance, but most of the time their food has been mediocre at best. This has been a big surprise to me in our visit to France. This time, the brasserie was good. We started with a plate of oysters (Nicole’s new favorite food) which were excellent. They were medium sized with a briny and slight cucumber flavor to them. They nicely accented with a traditional red wine mignonette. We then had salmon rillettes which are poached salmon that has been pulverized with butter, a little mayonnaise and then laced with nice slices of smoked salmon. We spread this on our toasted brioche triangles and enjoyed another good appetizer. Our main entrees arrived and I was more impressed with mine than Nicole with hers. Nicole had the Cabillaud (Cod) which seems to be popular here. It had potential to be great, with her ratatouille wrapped in filo dough, but the fish was horribly overcooked. On the other hand, my meal was excellent. I had the entrecote (rib eye) with a rich Roquefort sauce and haricot vert. The beef was tender with sea salt crumbled on top bringing out even more beef flavor. The Roquefort sauce was unnecessary because of the great flavor of the beef, but never the less, was delicious. Haricot vert again….this may be my favorite vegetable besides spinach. Overall, this dinner was successful especially with ½ bottles of wine we enjoyed. Both came from the Loire, a Vouvray and a Chinon which I believe is a Cabernet Franc blend.

Tranquility sets in....

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