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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Champagne Diaries - Part 2: A gourmet meal in Troyes

     It may seem strange to place together the elegance of champagne and the austerity, almost roughness of Troyes.  The city is an hour and a half drive south of Reims, and it is the former capital of the region.  No champagne vines around Troyes, but this medieval jewel, full of wooden cantilevered structures, has overabundant charm to offer.

The typical wooden architecture of Troyes

     The cuisine of Troyes is a rustic one.  In the cold climate of the region, walking through its ancient streets, all housing made out of musty wood, one can imagine troubadours and peasants in need of a good warm-up.  The specialty from Troyes is the andouillette.  It is a dish for the adventurous (quite a few French people do not dare try it, even when they may be consummate pork lovers).   Andouillette is none other than sausage filled with pig’s intestine, stuffed into yet another intestine.  Due to its composition, it even smells – and tastes - like… well, you can guess, I suppose.  But I am an adventurous traveler… 

     If one is going to eat andouillette, one must make quite sure it comes with the AAAAA labeling standard from the Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique.  This guarantees one’s eating the authentic, prepared-to-standards andouillette.  One place to eat a superb andouillette is La Mignardise, a restaurant in the heart of the old city, run by Chef Didier Defontaine.

     The restaurant offers a set price menu that includes the dish, which I stubbornly obligated myself to like.  It wasn’t hard actually.

     The restaurant’s décor is simple yet welcoming, and a hostess will take your coat and hang it in a visible rack as soon as you step inside.  In the summer, La Mignardise will offer sitting in the outdoor patio, but at the time that I visited (early Autumn), this was not an option.

     The meal started with puff-pastry amuse-bouche, which were brought to the table along with the menu.

There were three, but I ate one before I even took the picture.
     They incorporate the lamb of the region into some of these (agneau de l’Aube), which is raised only a few kilometers from the restaurant.  Talk about regional cuisine at its best!

     Then came another amouse-bouche.  A tiny verrine of chestnut soup, served lukewarm, and topped with herbs.  

     After all these, the menu offers three courses.  For the first one, I chose the foie de canard over a bed of mushrooms of the region.

     Again, the dish was just warm.  Every single mushroom of the region was there – chanterelles, amanite des Cesars (a breath-taking one, coming up in a future post on the local market).  The liver was cooked to perfection.  Not a single nerve in sight, and so soft it melted in my mouth.  I would have been fine with just dessert after this.  But it was the turn of the famous andouillette.

     The andouillette was served over a sauce made out of Chaource, one of the regional cheeses, and a bed of mushrooms.  The heady cheese sauce and the mushrooms provided a strong bed for the sausage to be aromatic, yet not overpowering in its aroma.  Mr. Defontaine has found the perfect balance in making this dish absolutely palatable.  The sommelier suggested a glass of white Burgundy from Coulanges, both floral and mineral, strong enough to stand up to the andouillette, as well as the rest of the meal.  Roasted potatoes rounded up a succulent main course, which I couldn’t finish as I was already too full.

     But in a gourmet meal one MUST have a cheese course.  I was served a Chaource fermier (locally produced) and a Reblochon, along with fig compote.

     Quite stuffed by now, yet dessert was coming.  I chose the lightest one I could find on the menu - which wasn’t, by the way.  What the heck.  You only live once.  Sabayon de fruits au miel de notre rucher, basically, a fruit salad with sabayon on top.  I don’t know how local the mangoes would be, but the fruits were fresh, and the sabayon creamy.

I rounded up with an espresso from Comptoirs Richard.
     The total cost of the meal was 55€ (not even USD $60), including wine and gratuity.  A superb value no doubt, especially after paying almost the same at Le Procope in Paris for half as much and not even of this caliber.  La Mignardise is just as ideal for a romantic dinner or as a get-together for lunch, which in fact I saw on that day – a large table of friends, another one with a young mother, her baby and another lady who appeared to be the baby’s great-grandmother.

     When in Troyes, treat yourself to La Mignardise.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Fat is good for you

     “To know how to eat is to know how to live”, claimed Confucius.  And he was absolutely right.  For all the food culture growing steadily in America, I still find, time and time again, that there is no true conscience of nutrition and what eating well is.  Eating well will change your life, but not because you will feel better and healthier – although you will, undoubtedly – but because it will just give you a new perspective by being selective, and by not eating for instant gratification or as an excuse to deal with a problem.  Instead, it will shape your life and your character, enabling that better person that we all want to become.

     I’ve been told I have high cholesterol.  I do, yet my doctor is not worried.  Why?  Because although my low density levels (the bad cholesterol) are bit high, my high density levels (good cholesterol) are SO high that they break the bank.  How is this achieved, one might ask?  Simple.  I follow the diet of the Cretians.  I eat lots of protein… and fat.  I admit I do like butter quite a bit, and when I eat it I eat it with gusto; but mostly on weekends.  Otherwise, I eat loads of olive oil, olives and raw fish.  My favorite course after a day at work is an open-faced sandwich with a base of crème fraîche and a slice of salmon topped with a sprinkle of lobster oil, or some delicious “pan con tomate”, sprinkled with garlic and olive oil.  I even marinate my cheese in olive oil.

     Sardines are always a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.  I love the ones that Connétable has, and they meet their match with a dry Vouvray from Domaine Clos Naudin.

     For your appetizer, here is a dip worth plunging into, both for its benefits and its flavor:

  • 18 oil-packed cured, sliced anchovies
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup chopped flat parsley
  • 3 Tbsp. of lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tsp. chopped shallots
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
Mix it all and dip your best baguette in it.  And tell me how your heart – and soul – smile.

    For a quick snack, or even a light lunch when accompanied with a green salad, try rye bread spread with a very good sweet butter and smoked cod, a highly fatty fish made highly palatable in this way and which melts in your mouth.  Sprinkle chopped chives to finish for a spark of flavor.  Or even go for a slice of sourdough spread with cream cheese and lax-style salmon.  I particularly enjoy the Darjeeling-marinated one found at my local Whole Foods, which has a hint of sweetness to it.  This time, top with red caviar or salmon roe.

     Fish is always well-paired with white wine.  I found a particularly inexpensive one yet ideal with this type of food, a white Bordeaux by Baron de Rothschild 2014 Réserve Spéciale, which accentuated the flavours of the fish in a truly unique way, without the acidity characteristic of a Sauvignon or Chenin.  It is also a great wine to savor with a splash of cassis for the classic kir.

     I like to serve an amuse-bouche like peppered-filled green olives wrapped in anchovies, this time not cured, yet to add even more amino acids to my diet.

     I definitely encourage you to try these suggestions often with the next 3 or 4 months, then go and have your cholesterol checked again.  I am sure you will see considerable improvement.