Wednesday, July 3, 2013

French Countryside

After having some french fries in Canada, I started reminiscing how the french fries in France tasted in comparison. 

On my recent vacation in France, we visited the French countryside to get away from the noise of the city for a couple of days. We had to take a 1.5 hour train ride out of france, then rented a car and drove 2 hours into the heart of the Loire Valley. 

It was miles after miles of grassy fields covered with bright yellow forthyesia, with the occasional town here and there. We noticed the French highways have lots of roundabouts so that if you miss your first exit, you can always get back in the game.

Chateau de Verrerrie

When we finally arrived, we were stunned by the sheer beauty of the view. It was a gorgeous castle nestled between a tranquil pond and acres of forest. We had made reservations at this ancient castle-turned-hotel for us, but never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined the magnanimity of it.

The hotel receptionist was pretty nice - she said that we'd brought  the sunshine because it had been raining for days on end. 

Then she showed us the dining room, living quarters and parts of the chateau that was open to us. 

We also took a little tour of the chateau with someone dressed like someone from the 14th century, with a bustier dress and a milking maid cap.

She recounted the history of the hotel and showed us the treasures amassed by its previous owners, including four million dollar statues that were found along the tomb of a famous bishop. We joked that we would be like the french robbers and hatch a plan to snatch them in the middle of the night.

$4 million dollar statues

It was so peaceful at the chateau that we didn't even feel like doing anything, except taking a walk around the lake. There were bikes that you could ride on the estate. 

Unfortunately we were both pretty exhausted, so we rested for a while. The chateau's own restaurant was closed that day, so we headed out with our little Fiat to explore the nearest town Aubigny-sur-Nère, which was 15 minutes away. 

When we got to the town, we were surprised to find that the restaurants weren't open until 7pm, some 7:30pm. I guess people ate dinner late here. We were also surprised that people would stare at us because we were Chinese >< Haven't seen people do a double-take at Asian faces in a while, so it was pretty funny when they look stunned with their mouths agape and staring at us. 

We walked around the cozy little town. Their Main Street consisted for 5 boulangeries (bread/pastry shops), a couple of delis, a bar, and some flower shops. We stopped by one boulangerie to look at their delicious pastries, and ended up buying one flan and a peach brioche desert. 

Finally, the restaurant that I had checked on my French tourist app opened, and we went inside to discover a quaint yet elegantly furbished restaurant inside a hotel called La Chumere that resembled a miniature Jean-Georges.

Upon being seated, we were asked about the choice of beverage. We got a cafe and half a bottle of Evian water (they sold water by the half or full bottles here just like wine). I really liked the coffee cup with accompanying spoon that came with it, which nested neatly onto the curvature of the cup. 

The coffee expresso was really strong, as were all French cafes. I would have diluted it with water.

We wanted to splurge a bit, so he got the four-course menu, while I got the three-course seasonal. 

The bread and butter was seriously good. The bread, although a bit hard, had a nice sourdough texture. The butter? Insane! Made from milk in the region, you could taste that this fine creaminess carried a fragrant aroma.

Fortunately they only gave us one piece of bread each, or else we would have devoured the entire mound of butter.


For starters, the carrot puree with broccoli juice and olive bits was refreshing. Though a bit diluted, it was made from local ingredients and tasted really healthy (like drinking an upscale V8). Plus it was on the house.

Appetizers: Hubby got a crab cake mouse with broccoli puree, while I got a shrimp with olives and tomato. They were both beautifully crafted like the artisan plates you'd get from upscale restaurants in NY. 

I was surprised by the quantity of my appetizer, because the toast with celery cream was filling enough in of itself, let alone the generous bits of shrimp that followed. Hubby's crab cake mousse was just its name - light and frosty, it tasted more like whipped cream than mousse. You couldn't really tell it was crab cake after being fluffed into that form, but we appreciated the artistic touch.

Somehow I managed to finish my course. Then the main course soon followed - hubby got sole on risotto, while I got a filet with ribbon pasta. I didn't expect our dishes to be this big, as I thought all French cuisine were petite. 

I had trouble finishing the entirely of this dish, because the ribbon pasta was quite filling. I liked the peas and carrots that accompanied it, and the texture of the pasta was right on. The fish tasted fresh and flaky, though a little undercooked on the other side.

Hubby's sole was also pretty good, with three soft and chewy pieces of fish on top of a bed of creamy risotto.

A note about the waiters - highly professional, with three of them doing the ordering, serving and asking you how the service was here and there. Must have been trained at a culinary school. Plus the chef comes out now and then to check up on his customers, and occasionally stop to chat with some of them.

Most of the patrons at the restaurant seemed like businessmen who stayed at the hotel. No one spoke English, so I guess they all came from nearby towns or even Paris. You could tell a lot of them were regulars at the restaurant because they all seemed to know the wait staff.

Hubby's second meat dish was rabbit (probably locally hunted) with cavier on eggplant. The rabbit meat was surprisingly tender, and the eggplant tasted just like the Chinese style eggplant that my Mom makes at home. You couldn't really taste the cavier, but it was a delish course.

 By now, hubby and I were both overstuffed and wanted to walk (more like run) around. You could probably imagine at the portion from the pictures that one would need an extraordinarily large belly to eat the entire thing.

Yet we braved on. But nothing would have prepared us for the cheese plate. We watched as our waitress pushed over a large cabinet of what we thought was bread. 

But it was actually cheese - lots and lots of it. She asked us to choose three each, and then served us a huge, and I mean HUGE portion of it. I couldn't eat that much cheese without eating so much already in the first place. Then she deposited some bread for us to eat with the cheese.

I think I got a regular swiss milk cheese, a goat milk cheese and a peppered one. The peppered one tasted really nice, salty and milky with a nice texture. The goat cheese was meh because I forgot I disliked the taste of goat milk. The swiss one was kind of plain.

Hubby got a a gruyere, some "very strong" almond spice cheese (one in bright red) and a really creamy one. I really liked the very strong spicy cheese - it was so flavorful that it tasted like a unami bomb in your mouth. 

We tried to stuff as much of the cheese as we possibly could, but you know after three courses it was kind of difficult to go on. So we left some behind.

Then came the deserts. Usually my fav part of the meal, I was not looking forward to it this time, lest my stomach explodes (as it was about to). I got a toasted madeline with a round of cappuccino ice cream, garnished with a lovely burned orange slice and pieces of mint.

Hubby got the dark chocolate creme brûlée which looked and tasted sinfully good. It wasn't that sweet, with maybe a 60% dark chocolate as the base. 

My dessert was really good as well - that was possibly the best madeline I'd have had, and the cappuccino ice cream, what can I say? It was simply divine.

Somehow we managed to wipe the desserts clean. But then, we were surprised with a last course - a dessert tasting menu on the house, which consisted of two coconut macaroons, two caramel squares and two meringue puffs. 

I've never had a meringue puff so I tried one - it tasted like chewy sugar! I wasn't a big fan of coconut or caramel so I tried a tiny bite of each.  

The bill totalled up to 76 Euros, which was really cheap all things considering. A meal like this could have easily cost $200, comparable to that of Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental.

We left the restaurant happy but in a serious state of food coma. We had to walk around the town a bit to walk it off, though by then it was difficult to walk straight from all that food. 

***** (5/5 stars)

La Chaumier (Hotel and Restaurant)

2 Rue Paul Lasnier

+33 2 48 58 04 01

Kids-friendly (Reservations for dinner is recommended)

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