Thursday, November 03, 2005

A&G Off to France--Day Four

(Author's note: This entry is the fourth of two weeks of daily entries about our trip to Provence.)

19 October 2005

Today's theme song is "Getting to Know Vaucluse, Getting to Know All about Vaucluse" as we will hit many of its top sites on many of its smallest roads. After a lovely sunrise over Gordes, we head to the nearby Lavender Museum and upon finding no one at the entry desk, head directly to the giftshop, thereby cutting out the middleman and saving us two entry fees. We learn the difference between fine lavender (what they grow in Provence and turn into every product imaginable--there's probably a lavender A180 Mercedes) and lavendin (what we grow in our yard, and were once proud of). We buy things, because we are tourists. We drive about, skirting towns like Peter Mayle's Menerbes and Lacoste, where Marquis de Sade thought it would be pleasurably mean to make people wear polo shirts with alligator emblems. Stop and view the Musee du Tirez-Bouchon, which is interesting, free, but not so good it pops our corks. At the same site we get to taste one of the best Cotes du Luberons, the wines of Domaine de la Citadelle. Avoid their 4 Euro cab and some good wines can be had.

Back in the car we head to Roussillon, a town famous for being badmouthed by Samuel Beckett, who couldn't wait to leave. It's probably too picture-perfect for him, especially with its otherworldly ochre quarries that you can now nature walk through, and we do, getting lost in the orange-yellow section of the Crayola box. And it's not just colors, but fantastic structures out of sci-fi movies, luminous pines, and chestnut trees, their fruit fallen and bursting out of their sea urchin-like shells.

It's probably telling that the colors of the quarries are so striking they defeat Photoshop--if you try to adjust them, they don't register on the usual scale. But that's sort of the glory of this region of France--it's slightly unbelievable, rendered too much, too real, too true. The village of Roussillon is cute without being cutesy, and affords terrific views. But you can't buy a savory crepe after 2:30 so don't ask, even if you promise to say nothing to health officials about the adorable cocker spaniel puppy who pees on the floor of the creperie.

We cut back through Gordes on different tiny roads, catch a quick sandwich lunch (if you're expected to dinner at 8 you can lunch at 3:30, we figure) of pan bagnat (basically salad nicoise on a bun) and take the route de tourisme, AKA "terrifying roads through great physical beauty you won't be able to see if you're the driver for if you take your eyes off the road you will die" (thanks for your safety and scenery deprivation, Amy), to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, the village where the Sorgue River pops up from out of the ground. Even early in the wet season it's a sight, so you can understand how all the seasonally shuttered businesses can thrive. Riverside restaurant balconies possess a certain charm, calling out for you to sit and drink lazily as the busy river bubbles by. Still, there's a whiff of a tacky Seaside Heights, NJ to the place that must be a relatively strong smell come July.

We follow the river, making little puttering boat noises as we drive (OK, I do make some stuff up), to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which is actually astride the Sorgue, but the name told you that. It's a town of antique shops, but most are closed by this time in the afternoon. Still, there's more of a buzz on the street here, and we window shop patisseries and charcuteries and imagine what we could cook if we had a kitchen. Later back at the hotel we will drink the Pastis we bought in a market in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and stare long and hard at Gordes.

Dinner again takes two tries, as the Comptoir de Arts, right in the village, is still closed on Wednesday even though chalkboard signs were out just hours ago (maybe that's why they want you to make reservations). We head out by car to just outside town and La Mas Tourteron (which we finally found yesterday, only to discover it wasn't open). Tonight it's just faking, for the parking lot is dark and a first courtyard is too, but then with an effort a door opens onto a magically lit garden and an inviting interior of exposed beams and antique stoves as corner furniture. The tables are set with napkins that have bagels as napkin rings, a hint nothing will be wasted at this place. In fact, the amuse bouche here is better than most main courses at other restaurants, a baby artichoke in all its floral glory stuffed with carrot and sausage tasty enough you'd stuff your pockets with it, and perhaps a soupcon of truffle oil. For entrees Amy orders a mushroom risotto that puts the fun in fungi--forget about terroir for wines, it's all evident in the mushrooms you simply don't find in the U.S. I go with foie gras again, this time an ultra-elegant plate with a mini-savory creme brulee and some chutney, too, so you can cut the liver with two different tastes as you see fit. For mains, Amy opts for lamb two ways, a traditional chop with mustard glaze and what should be a tradition, stew with honey and dates, in its own steaming little pot. I also get the pot delivery treatment, as the waiter plates my boneless double pork chop and spreads about it a magnificent mix of parsnip, onion, mushroom and potatoes that were browned and roasted on their own, clearly, before getting lapped into the mix. We washed it all down with a 2000 Gigondas Domaine Cabasse.

It's a quiet evening at La Mas Tourteron, as we are one of 5 couples who leisurely wade their way through all this top-notch cuisine. But as we eat, the wait staff keeps bringing out desserts to a center table. It turns out for the last course you go up and ask for as much of as many things as you want. It would be easy to turn Mr. Creosote here, so we both limit ourselves as Amy tries only two things and I try three (since a man has to eat more, and no dessert table is going to make a sissy out of me). Amy has the flourless chocolate cake, more or less a great chocolate bar easier to eat as it has no wrapper, and I have praline ice cream (yum) and a framboise-pistacchio tart (muy yum--it's palindromically delicious!), and we both have the chocolate-nut-caramel tart that even in memory makes me drool on the keyboard. We only regret we didn't try the flan, nougat, tarte tartin, pear tart, pears in wine and pamplemouse in juice. With our two cafes and the check we get a plate with yet more treats, as the place's motto must be "More desserts than you have fingers and toes!" This time it's madeleines that could set Proust to remembering things in the present and canelles that are chewy on the outside, custardy in the inside, lip-smackingly-good through and through.

We still fit in the hotel room to go to sleep, but barely.


Blogger CLD said...

Absolutely beautiful -- the quarries. I'm really enjoying your visit to France! Someday we'll get there and drink and eat ourselves silly.

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

you forgot to mention the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse smashed euro! one of our favorite souvenirs!

11:09 AM  

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