Sacramento is producing a new species of gourmet these days:  hard-working women who enjoy fine dining, but don’t have the time (or are remodeling their kitchens and have no stove) to prepare meals.

That means, when they arrive in France , they need food.  If one of our guests hasn’t enjoyed fresh duck, rabbit, or game birds yet, we like to fix one or more of these things.  On the first rest day, we picked up fresh breads, pastries and appetizers of baked endives at the caterer in Gazinet, and Steve barbecued up some duck breasts.  We served them with a fresh pear and liqueur sauce.

The weather did not augur well for touring, so we laid in a massive selection of cheeses into the cheese boat, and a couple of cases of fine Bordeaux reds.  Since 2 cases of wine were not enough, we sallied forth with neighbor Jean-Paul to pick up the 2005 LaFargue futures we had ordered last year.  We were welcomed in style and tasted various reds at 9 in the morning.  Next stop was the House of Wines in the Graves appellation, where we learned about the gravel brought down by the Garonne river, influencing the taste of these southern Bordeaux wines.  The same lady has been offering tastings for 15 years, and we found some delicious sweet white wines and reds.

Thursday was dedicated to shopping in Bordeaux .  There were certain Bordeaux T-shirts, olive oils, colorful napkins, hand towels that just were obligatory!  And the wine organization across from the tourist office was more than generous in giving us beautiful posters.

Rachel had recommended a restaurant by the Quinconces Square called La Belle Epoque.  We reserved and were soon discovering delicious morsels like rouget fish with basil and lemon, and another with warm goat cheese, salad, endive and mushrooms.  Carolynn had a succulent filet mignon of beef with celery root, Steve and Rosemary opted for the classic bistro dish of tender veal in blanquette (a white sauce) in this case with the autumn cepes mushrooms.  Truly outstanding.  Claudia enjoyed a pastry packet of Indian spices and mushrooms with game bird and vegetables.  We had a Saint Robert 2004 Graves and a Lusseau 2004 Graves red.  For dessert we tried a scoop of mandarin sorbet side by side with a meltingly gooey chocolate cake, citrus cream and mandarin oranges.  The other dessert was an apple tart with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, plus coffees, more little glasses with chantilly cream and raspberry sauce.  The 1880 interior of this classic café added to the enjoyment.  We had never seen such a fervor of sweating waiters straining to serve us!  The chef emerged and shook our hands as we complimented him on the wonderful food!

The next day was even more gourmet, as we drove far north up the Medoc peninsula in search of an English speaking tour of Chateau Lynch-Bages and a lunch at the old customs house on the estuary, la Maison du Douanier.  At first, we did not hit it off well with the theatrical proprietors the DiTullios., but when we found out they had just come back from NY from their son’s wedding, and how much they love America, all was well.

The day was calm, still and overcast, so we sat just inside the large glass windows open to the lawn and the river.  Baby blue soft tablecloths and Breuer chairs constituted the décor.  The first little dish to emerge from the kitchen gave us a hint of the fine dining that was to come.  A slice of fresh smoked salmon with a chive cream topped by piquant little red pepper berries.  Four immense green salads fresh and perfectly dressed with vinaigrette.  Two dishes of the marsh grass fed Pauillac lamb, with tiny potatoes in their skins, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes cooked gently (perhaps in white wine and olive oil?).  8 scallops surrounding a stack of the famous cepes of Bordeaux mushrooms, now in season.  The consistency of scallops and cepes was identical.  Your brain tried to figure out which you were biting into if you closed your eyes.  And a local bass in a thick cream lemon sauce, with vegetables.  Carolynn made an executive decision right away:  more cepes!  So we ordered another whole plate for the four of us.  We downed a bottle of 2004 Lusseau Graves – and the local gold-medal winning 2003 Medoc red La Gorce.  The slightly grainy, crystalline, light Grand Marnier souffle arrived with a sparkler burning on it for Steve’s 76th birthday.  A fine, flourless chocolate cake and perfect raspberry, lime or pistachio sorbets with waffle cookie put Rosemary and Carolynn over the top.  But there were still coffees and little rum-soaked Madeleine cakes to cap off the meal.  We rated the meal an A.

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

Evelynn & Michel Allien in front of Chateau Dudon

The next day, it was down to Chateau Dudon for what we thought would be a tasting, and which turned out to be a 5 course lunch served by the owners Evelyne, her husband Michel, and her daughter Francoise.  We were joined by Allain, the highest ranked sommelier in the world (in 1986).  Also attending were the sculptor’s agent Rene Mas, and Pascal (an entrepreneur from Lyon who is opening a wine bar).  We were treated to a vertical tasting of Chateau Dudon sweet white Barsac wine from vintages of 2000, 2001 (the last bottle in existence), 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.  Also on hand were a 2006 burgundy from Hautes Cotes de Nuits, a 2004 Chateau Anthonic from Moulis en Medoc, Chateau d’Aney Medoc 1999.  We started with little herb or proscuitto studded goat cheeses, tiny frankfurters, cepes bread, and then a huge platter of freshly made pate with foie gras, and hazelnut sausage, and smoked duck breast.  Then after an interval another huge platter arrived, with a giant salmon, head and all.  It was delicately cooked in Sauternes wine, and was moist and succulent.  A giant bowl of salad, a giant platter of 10 cheeses, followed by pear tarts, apple tarts and coffees made us ready to nap.  Rene was joking incessantly with Evelyne and Rosemary on either side of him, flirting and saying slightly off-color things.   The “gentlemen” invited Rosemary and Carolynn to a winetasting that evening in a castle in Blaye.  Instead, we exchanged business cards with the wine buyers, and trolled the aging cellars for more oil paintings by Evelyne.  The 2007 Sauternes harvest ended last night, and we could hear all 22,000 liters fizzing in the tanks.  We were fizzing, too!

We are now sitting in front of a nice fire, eating our Sunday lunch of duck foie gras and sweet white wine, followed by rabbit cooked with bacon, peas, mushrooms, cream, onions and garlic and white wine, followed by pastries from the local best bakery.  Tomorrow we diet!

October 6, 2007

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