How lucky can a food writer get to be invited to travel with a San Diego family to tutor an 11-year-old boy, whose older brother was participating in an international junior soccer tournament in Bordeaux? Vive le football! (French translation for the sport).
The first leg of the trip began in the buzzing streets of Paris, where French food has evolved into a global hotpot harmoniously melding cultures, flavors, cooking styles, spices and ethnicities. Every arrondissement (Paris has 20 such districts ranging from quaint communities to upscale pockets with museums, palaces and lush parks) is blessed with a local farmer’s market that reflects the gustatory traditions of the people who live there.
For purists though — butter, cream and rich sauces — are still king of the cuisine, while prix fixe tasting menus with petite portions artistically plated are trendy in posh bistros. To acclimatize my taste buds, I decided to sample a food emblematic of the city — nothing more Parisian than a crêpe . They’re ubiquitous throughout the land, whether you grab some on the fly from a street vendor, or sit and savor them at a fine restaurant or café.
The classic crêpe, a lacy-thin pancake made from white flour, stuffed with vegetables, fish, chicken or chocolate, and folded envelope-style is delightful, but not as divine as galette — a pancake of buckwheat flour with nutty nuances and paper-thin, crispy edges. Mine was filled with a soufflé of spinach and creamy chevre goat cheese, drizzled with acacia honey.
From the first arrondissement near the Louvre to the old Jewish quarter or Marais district, the long line was well worth it for the best falafel on the continent that perfectly blended crispy, crunchy and creamy textures in every bite. While strolling the streets, I couldn’t help but notice the love affair between the French and their beef, especially classic cote de boeuf, or bone-in rib eye, paired with a mound of truffle pommes frites (French fries) coated with Parmesan and fresh chopped parsley.
Merely having breakfast in a quaint Paris hotel can inspire you to become a gastronome. The lavish buffet included fresh fruits, roots and greens along with a high-powered juicer, farm-fresh eggs accompanied by an egg boiler, and an array of buttery croissants — a poem in my mouth.
Au revoir “City of Love,” now hopping aboard the bullet train from bustling metropolis to bucolic countryside where I could compare Parisian fare to Bordeaux delicacies. An oenophile’s paradise, and farm-to-table community, Bordeaux is actually comprised of charming hamlets, each with distinct culinary concepts. A bounty of melons and stone fruits are grown close to the vineyards to attract honeybees so precious grape vines will be pollinated, while there’s an abundance of organically raised chicken and pork.
After arriving at the jaw-droppingly stunning 200-year-old Chateau de Birot on the Garonne River, we headed to the supermarket to stock up on fresh and prepared foods as restaurants were Spartan, and there was only one Uber driver in the entire region. A typical lunch or dinner might start with an heirloom tomato salad with shaved shallots (recipe below), loaf of sourdough levain with salted butter, followed by a whole roasted chicken, baby vegetables, and buttery mashed potatoes. For just desserts, a platter of local cheeses, along with an apricot tart, and French-press coffee to wash it down nicely. Of course, a glass of white wine pairs well with the appetizers, while red with the main course and cheeses.
The next day, we wandered through steep cobblestone streets of the Saint-Émilion commune. Ducking under stone archways, we arrived at a quaint café and enjoyed a light lunch of caprese salad with mesclun lettuces, apple slices and melted goat Brie on toast rounds. But my fave was a pescavore’s feast at a lively open-air café in the port city of Bordeaux. There, I indulged in a whole fresh-caught sea bass with creamed curried carrots and baby-squid risotto. But the piece de resistance was the traditional dessert of canelés, a petite pastry resembling thimbles with a caramelized rum-flavored crust, and custard-filled center.
Miraculously, I hadn’t gained an ounce despite gorging on fabulous food for a week, thanks to walking 5 miles a day during France’s sizzler. Ciao — we’re off to Italy, so look for Part 2 in next week’s “Kitchen Shrink” column.
Recipe: Bordeaux Summer Salad
• Ingredients: 8 assorted heirloom tomatoes, quartered; 1/4-cup minced shallots; handful of chopped basil leaves; 6 diced chives; 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced; 1/3-cup walnut oil; juice from one lemon; 4-ounces crumbled goat feta
• Method: Combine tomatoes, cucumber, herbs and shallots in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk oil, juice and seasonings. Pour over tomatoes and sprinkle with feta. (Serves 4)
(Recipe courtesy of Bernard Guillas, executive chef of The Marine Room in La Jolla)