Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Bark: Service!

Yesterday was very much a day of two halves. The first half being spent sitting around eating and drinking, and the second half being spent... yes, you guessed it - sitting around eating and drinking. And like a football match between two very attack-minded teams, the second half was much better than the first half.

For the first half we visited one of my girlfriend's cousins, Marie-Paule and her family for a very British barbeque: i.e. it was pissing it down, so the cooking was done in the garage and we ate indoors...

Marie-Paule and her two teenage daughters were nice enough (despite their Harry Potter obsession); the problem was Marie-Paule's husband, Michel. If you've ever played the introductory sniper level in No One Lives Forever, where you have to protect the deaf American ambassador in Morocco, you'll remember Cate's comment about him: "This guy is too much!"

That's how I'd sum up Michel. He was like a manic-depressive, but without the depressive part. On Speed. Add to that the bottle and a half of Corbieres that he drank, he was like a Spinal Tab amplifier: He went up to 11. I had to graciously decline his offer to play petanque on the grounds that I would've thrown one of the metal boules at his head JUST TO SHUT HIM UP.

Next time I'm taking a baseball bat.

It was a relief to drive home; just in time to go out again. Fleur and I were treating her parents to dinner at Au Petit Paradis, the finest restaurant in the area. Situated unassumingly in a tiny rural village, within an old mill (the disused grinding stones stood impotently next to an external wall), it gives little indication of the quality of the food inside. The inside of the building itself is beautiful: all of the supporting wooden beams for the structure are exposed, and there's a fantastic feeling of light and space. Our hostess for the evening, Marjorie (I discovered from reading her bracelet) was equally enchanting. She was very much my type: in her early 20's, slim and sleek of figure, not too tall, with shoulder length dark hair, brown eyes, sharp features and a wonderfully warm smile. Seeing as the restaurant was practically empty (only three tables booked for the evening), she was very attentive, without being overbearing, topping up our glasses just before they ran empty, with a discreet "Service!" after every time I thanked her. I could have sworn that she was trying to get me drunk, due to the rapidity with which she was refilling my glass; though that may well have been wishful thinking on my part. She was painfully cute...

The food was spectacularly good. For entree I had a King Prawn tempura, served tomate a la folie. Tempura is one of those really simple dishes; so simple that it's really easy to get horribly wrong. This one, however, was perfect: Light, crisy batter, without a hint of oil to the taste. The tomato dipping sauce was delicately spiced (a touch of paprika and a hint of Worcester sauce, I think), and the bed of sliced tomatoes the prawns were served on were seasoned with a little salt and finely trimmed chives: Not a natural herb I'd associate with tomato, but it worked surprisingly well.

I chose the main course purely on account of never having tried the meat before - pigeon. I'm certain that the pigeon I ate last night hadn't been sourced from Trafalgar Square, as it was absolutely delicious. It was served just a touch pink, stuffed with spinach in a "croustillant", which is a very well done wrap of filo-style pastry, but only a sheet or two thick - not "en croute" like a pie. The taste is quite hard to describe. "Gamey" covers a whole multitude of sins when it comes to describing meats beyond the traditional sphere of beef, pork, lamb and chicken, but it somehow fails to do pigeon justice.

It's a very densely fibred meat - like a very good cut of beef - and very strongly flavoured: somewhere beyond duck and approaching boar in "gameyness". It went very well with the balsamic vinegar sauce and the wonderfully pretentious vegetable accompaniments - a courgette mousse and an aubergine "fondue" (i.e. a baby food-like paste). I'll definitely be trying pigeon again, though.

Seeing as I was in a really decent French restaurant, I just had to plump for a dessert of Creme Brulee. Predictably, it was the best I've ever had - bar none. I really love vanilla, and there must have been a whole pod in my serving. It was glorious. It even came with a scoop of "fromage blanc" (white cheese) sorbet, which was as unusual as it was delicious. All in all, a fabulous dinner; albeit one that made me feel like I wanted to explode, after spending practically the entire day eating.

No wonder I went to straight to bed (for 12 hours). Still, at least the local mosquitos didn't make a meal of *me* last night. Not a single new bite. Maybe they realised that I'd done enough eating for everyone yesterday. Or maybe they just don't like pigeon...
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