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euro scribbles: a resurfacing of old writings on southwest france

As I searched my old posts for a short entry on food in Pau, I was adamant that I had written one, alas I could not find it. Turns out, it was never posted. Here is a short snippet from last year’s journey to Pau, where I will find myself again in a few short hours from now. There’s even another entry that follows this one on my brief stint in the right bank. Nothing too technical here, but hopefully it is of some use to you should you plan a little journey there yourself…

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We had been in southwest France for a few days, when Jonathan realized he hadn’t had foie or confit in his basic daily food groups for mealtime. This was a problem. We searched high and low, wondering whatever became of the restaurant Chez Coin Coin (yep– ‘quack, quack’), when we found out it closed. Before we could sob, we learned of its reincarnation: Le Canard Royale. That would do.

It was the perfect way to close our time in Pau. We walked along the perimeter of town and went back towards the Chateau de Pau. Ignore the fact that it seems to be the ‘touristy’ part of town. If you want cassoulet in the dead hot summer like me, you need not look further. Sadly we weren’t seated outside, but at least we were moved from the bright, florescent buzz of the back light. We relocated to a cozier, more mood lit section towards the front. There were some odd design choices they made for this place– for example, the cheap retro wood paneling that seemed like a Madmen on a budget contrasted to lovely cave rock walls… with white plaster to cover most of it. The ambience, otherwise, was actually quite nice. I actually found it endearing. Jonathan, not so much.

We began with a splash of local Juranson Sec from Chateau Lasserre. It was really hitting the spot on this warm, humid evening. It smelled of honeyed apples and the magnolias we kept seeing all over town. It invited thoughts of an Indian summer in a couple of months with its juxtaposed presentation of whimsy and wisdom. It went beautifully with the warm chevre salad on my starter plate.

I no doubt scared the servers when I ordered cassoulet. Three people came to tell me it was ‘gros’– large (though, maybe for once they were speaking English…).  I assured them, I was a dedicated eater. Nothing would convince me away from their house specialty. Not weather or weight of dish. When it arrived, it didn’t look terribly huge. The confit leg of duck was delicious, the sausage a perfect array of spices and texture, the white beans very good (though I prefer them to be more in tact versus mashed) and the grilled foie absolutely melt away magnificent. And I really dislike foie on most occasions. About five bites later, I comprehended the look I was given upon ordering. This dish was dense. A hearty dose of duck fat was holding it all together. Thankfully, Jonathan brought an appetite and was left a little underwhelmed by his foie dish. Though he gave it his best, we hardly made a dent. I would say we ate about half between the two of us. I couldn’t believe it. I pride myself on this kind of ability. Oh well. C’est la vie. It, nevertheless, was a terrific meal, complete with local Armagnac– a 1988 Domaine de Pouteou, a friend of the barman. I certainly recommend this place if you have a taste for duck. But take my advice: split a starter, split the cassoulet and get out of there for less than 50 euro for two people.

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Missing Entry Part Deux:

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Just a few days left, and I beginning to hit a wall with my French. I am exhausted converting every word I hear, every sign I see into English if French, French if English. I have always a bit of an overeater of words. I recall as a first grader reading each and every poster again and again in my classes, dividing up the words into smaller words, parts of words, scrambled words, etc. I had to read every shampoo bottle– often the same one– each time I took a shower. Unfortunately, this addiction to letters has me très fatigué at this point in the trip.

I have continued with the team to Bergerac or thereabouts for the last stop before Paris. At this point, everyone was rather neutral in mood– just getting through it really, with no stage wins or major victories to get them through. I was amazed, watching these young cyclists get up each and every day, eat their buckwheat pancakes with coconut oil and maple syrup, get back on the bike and ride for  hundreds of kilometers, just to return to their hotels (some not so wonderful) to eat their gluten free suppers, get massages, go to sleep and have the motivation to start all over again the net day… for weeks. I mean, sure, it’s their job. But with their lead guy out of the race (Talansky) and a couple close calls but no wins, I really respected their tenacity. I wanted so badly for them to get a win, and with only 3 stages left of over twenty… that was beginning to look grim. Still, I had faith…

When Ramunus crossed the line yesterday with a pelaton just seconds behind him, I couldn’t be more thrilled! Everyone was screaming– the soigniers, the mechanics, the directors… everyone. The team came off the bus hours later, and many hugs and kisses were exchanged. To translate the emotion of that moment– the pure joy and relief everyone felt…. it was magic. It was so well-deserved. That night we clinked some glasses of 2004 Dom Perignon and every last one of us had a smile that would not dare to drop. We were staying in a mass of vineyards at the nicest hotel to date– an old 17th century Chateau staring out over a pond to a pink sunset. It couldn’t have been more perfect. More timely. Those boys worked their asses off for weeks, and they were finally given rest to celebrate. No win that I have witnessed seemed to taste so sweet as that one. The joy was palpable.

The next day, I had several hours to spend as I wished. I wasn’t but 43k from St. Emilion, and I admit, I have never seen it. I have researched it so many times, even been to the left bank once. But never had I been to the charmed vineyards of the right bank. And charming they were– a perfect description of this historic village perched high about the Grand Cru that surrounded them. I only had a couple hours, so I hardly am an authoritative voice on the topic of traveling. That said, if you only have a short time to visit, I suggest you do as I did. Climb atop the tower, see the old church, pop into a few wine shops and salivate over some old vintages, sit on a ledge and people watch while eating a gelato, take in some breathtaking panoramic views and eat at any number of adorable restaurants. My meal was a simple salad with some fresh apple and a local warmed goat cheese on top with a glass of rose. I don’t even recollect where I was! Just a basic pizzeria. If you have time to do a little research ahead and want an unforgettable experience, I have been told the Hostelliere des Plaisance (of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux properties) is the place to stay. The restaurant is Michelin-rated and apparently unforgettable. Shoot me an email as well, and I will set you up with a few of my favorite wineries nearby. You are minutes from Pomerol, Lalande-de-Pomerol, Cotes de Castillon and Cotes des Bordeaux.

Time to wrap it up. As I understand, we are to land this small jet in Paris in minutes. If anything like the takeoff, I hardly trust you will ever read this. Still, the view is pretty, and I suppose there are worse ways to go than being scattered over one of the best cities on earth. If I do walk away unscathed, I should have good memories to come, as tomorrow is the finish on the Champs-Elysees. I will be joined by a colleague in the business as well as our friend Jeremy from Dujac as well. It is sure to be a very jolly atmosphere, raising glasses with a team of young men with admirable patience, diligence and a sense of true collaboration.

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About mistralwine1982

Originally from Wisconsin, I moved to Colorado in 2005 in order to get closer to the mountains and rock climb. When it occurred to me that I would never make money with that hobby, I went to grad school. I received a masters in English and American Literature from New York University in May of 2009. I have since then opted not to pursue a PhD, for studying and writing about wine is far more fascinating (well, perhaps not moreso than Virginia Woolf, but still… for the long haul?). My favorite wines come from the old world, especially the Rhone, Burgundy, Rioja, Piedmont, and Tuscany. I am also smitten with roses, Italian hard-to-pronounce white varietals, and dessert wines from around the world. By day I run a wine shop. By nite, I sip and tell. It’s rough… but someone must do this.

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