You can blink now
posted 1 February 2005, updated 9 February 2005
On Friday, we usually go out to eat, and this last week, we decided to try the restaurant of the Hôtel Metropole in Beaulieu, which Gault-Millau rate 15/20. (They rate on a scale of 20 points, like the French school system. There are only two 20's in the world, and until two years ago there were none. We would place the best Tallahassee has to offer--say Mozaik, Kool Beanz, and Cypress--at about 13/20.) We had planned to walk from the apartment, but the freezing rain that started as we left work changed our minds. By the time we got home, changed clothes, and were ready to set out, the rain had turned to snow.
At the Metropole, the valet parking guy couldn't get over it--"Have you seen? It's snowing! It never snows here!"--but it did, heavily and accompanied by howling winds, for a good hour and a half. The dining room was deserted, because it was only about 7:30 p.m., the earliest French restaurants open for dinner, but the Metropole is a class establishment so the tables were elegantly set, each decorated with a pot of blooming miniature roses, and all the candles were lit, including those on the awning-shaded terrace outside, where the miniature roses shivered in their pots and the flames wavered in the wind even inside their hurricane glasses. The maitre d' was even there and on duty (7:30 diners often see only the commis--i.e., junior assistant--waiters), straightening his jacket as he popped hurriedly out of the kitchen door.
As we often do at a new restaurant that we expect to return to, we ordered one of the set menus--it gives you a chance to find out the kitchen's strengths and weaknesses, and it usually features the ingredients that are freshest that day and the dishes the chef is most proud of, so you have a better idea what to order à la carte later--and it was great. It really restores your faith in gastronomy.
And this was the smallest, least expensive set menu! Next time, we'll probably order à la carte, because I want to try the whole fish roasted on the bone, and David looks forward to trying the lamb and goose-liver dishes.
- They offered a choice of breads: petites baguettes, pain de seigle (rye), pain aux céreales (multigrain), and the raison-walnut (the best). Salted and unsalted Échiré brand butter.
- Amuse bouche (i.e. pre-appetizer) 1, while we studied the menus: tiny puff pastries filled with cheese and ham and mini-pissaladières (local caramelized-onion pizzas).
- Amuse bouche 2: A slice of lightly smoked salmon rolled around herbed cream mixed with diced smoked salmon.
- First course: Salade folle aux legumes croquants et son croustillant de soja (salad with mixed greens, mung bean sprouts, crisp thinly sliced vegetables (fennel, carrot, courgette, leek, etc., some raw and others sliced extremely thin, lightly sugared, and toasted until crisp), plus a pencil-thin crisp strudel of soy sprouts (?). Particularly good were beet-red leaves that the waitress said were "poiré" (or perhaps "poiret" or "poirais"; I haven't looked it up yet).
- David's main course: pigeon, roasted whole and then carved, on a bed of braised white cabbage with "baies roses" (pink szechuan pepper); presented on a single curly cabbage leaf, topped with crisp-toasted cabbage leaves.
- My main course: roasted filet of sandre (freshwater pike perch, Lucioperca lucioperca) on fat Peruvian asparagus with (peeled and seeded) white grapes and a foamy butter sauce.
- David's cheese: Comté, Tête de moine, Roquefort. The Tête de moine is always fun, because it's cut, with a special rotary blade, for each order, into a sort of ruffled rose shape.
- My cheese: bouton de culotte ("trouser button," a tiny dry goat cheese on a stick), pavé de (somethingorother; I've forgotten, a rectangular ash-coated semi-ripened goat cheese), Pont l'éveque (a well-known flat, rectangular, semi-soft cow's cheese) .
- Dessert: blanc-mange of griottes (special sour, "morello" cherries) on sheets of pistachio cake/cookie, topped with thin, shiny rounds of chocolate and stemmed maraschino cherries (real ones, alcoholic enough to take the top of your head off).
- Five kinds of mignardises (miniature petit fours served with coffee): almond tuile cookies, tiny lemon tarts, lemon-flavored chocolates, and pink meringues, and tiny chocolate ganache cakes.
When we got home, we found half an inch of snow on the roofs of the cars in our parking lot, and in the morning a light dusting still remained on the lawn below our balcony.
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