Day One in France - Dinner

Fortified by a perfectly local lunch, I headed towards more tourism - the Alsace-Lorraine, a region I knew little of except that it had some of the best Rieslings in France and a very popular eponymous quiche. The drive was littered with trees ablaze with the brightest reds and flashiest yellows. Dark, freshly tilled fields interspersed with green patches of rolling hills, striped rows of vineyards and occasional clumps of trees added contrast. Beautiful sunshine, stretches of fall-hued forests, postcard towns and winding, roller-coaster roads made for a wonderful journey.

I had planned for three villages, but time eventually forced me to choose only one, and I chose the one closest to my exit route to Burgundy. The chosen one - Eguisheim - was indeed devastatingly pretty. Half-timbered houses painted the colours of a pastel rainbow, standing slightly crookedly along narrow, winding cobblestone streets; It was as advertised, a fairytale museum-piece of a medieval town. Indeed, I should have planned for much more time in Alsace - it was just deliciously picture perfect.

Though the village had no shortage of wineries offering tastings, ethyloscared me left the wines alone with great regret. Indeed, the place was a gastronomic disaster; I arrived too late for lunch and way too early for dinner. Alsacce specialiten boards abounded, only to point to closed doors. The only thing I did manage were some regional sausages and a reasonably unexciting local variant of brioche made with almonds and raisins. Even the quiche lorraine was sold out.

Dinner was a long drive back west, to Burgundy. I had chosen, somewhat at random, a two-coquette Hotel-restaurant de La Paix in Tournos fronted by chef David Gider. I must admit I had no idea what two coquettes meant, but figured two was better than one and certainly better than none at all. I was not disappointed. Starting with the aperitif, a local drink with fizz and peaches, a four course tale of an amazing the prix-fixe dinner unfolded.

I spent a bit of time debating the first course. There was chicken, rabbit choices, but snails were apparently **the** thing in Burgundy; I finally went with the snails - and immediately regretted it. I've had snails a few times before and never quite got the point of them. To me they've always felt like an excuse to lap up loads of garlic butter than anything of intrinsic merit. They do, however, have tick-mark value. Nothing was wrong with the dish tonight, tender snails drowned in liquid herb-garlic butter as good as I've had anywhere, so I dutifully ticked.

The wine, of course, was a burgundy. The waitress suggested a demi of Ruilly 2010, grown not more than fifty kilometres away; it was indeed a lovely wine.

Second course was duck breast with raisins, white beans and mushrooms in a local Ratafia wine sauce. The dish made me weep with joy, bless the French and sing praises of the wine gods. The tender, juicy duck with a thin, crisped skin combined with the sharply sweet raisins and the soft, buttery beans in wonderful ways. I marvelled over how even the beans, usually classified with something such as humble or tender, were in this dish worth the effort. In short - before adjective overload happens - it was very very good.

The cheese course came in the form of fromage blanc - a fresh white cheese that people in these parts are very fond of; sprinkle a generous dollop of sugar on it and off you go. It tasted very like a childhood favourite of mine - fresh homemade paneer, similarly eaten with sprinkled sugar. This was a creamier, fancier version, and I loved it. Dessert was the final thing on the menu - a souffle made from some local liquor. I expected an airy cheesy thing; what landed up seemed identical to ice-cream with a strong liquor flavour.

I'm still dreaming of the duck.


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