Breakfast at the Hotel Rèves d'Ochre ("Dreams of ochre") consists of a basket containing two crusty rolls and a croissant, a tiny jar of honey (miel, en Francais), a tray containing butter and pre-packaged jams (currant and apricot, in this case), a container of plain yogurt, coffee (or tea or hot chocolate), and juice. Very simple.
Next stop is the town of Apt, which is also in the Luberon valley. As we drive to Apt, the visibility is incredible. Mount Ventoux looks like it's only a few miles away.
We're heading to Apt today because it's "market day". The group is given assignments to purchase items for a communal picnic lunch. I make a joke to Brigid, saying that if we screw up our assignment, it'll be because we were inApt. Brigid insists on sharing the bad pun with the group, to the well-deserved chorus of boo's.
Our assignment, with Marlys' assistance, is to secure around €25.00 worth of meats. We arrive in the market at around 9:30 AM. The plan is to roam the market, which extends through a rather large proportion of the town's streets, meeting back near the bus at 11:30, to actually purchase our goodies. Since Brigid seems intent on looking at fabrics, which bore me, we decide to split up. I have a ball, wandering the marketplace, sampling tapenades, olive oils, cheeses, local specialty pastries, an aperitif...
There are these deep-fried ravioli-like goodies, stuffed with various fillings -- I purchase 3 apple and 3 plum. Unfortunately, they didn't last until I found Brigid. Phil, Jeff, and Rob snag one each (at my invitation, of course!), and, well... I ate the other three!
I sample a cavaillon melon-based aperitif, asking for only a teensy portion, since I have no intention of purchasing any. Wow! It's really good, and tastes like fresh melon! Damn. How am I going to get this €15.00 long-necked bottle home?
I encounter a sausage vendor, who has samples out. I taste a few, and decide to take a chance on his sausage, for lunch. His deal is 4 sausages for €10.00. I choose one flavored with cepes (mushroom), one with black pepper, one with wine, and one smoked sausage. He also has some unusual specialty sausages that would probably be too far out for the tour group: Wild boar, goat, and believe it or not, donkey. (Kristen later tells me that the donkey sausage really kicks ass! Ahem. I didn't get it until journalling the day's events, around 12 hours later. Sometimes, I'm just a little slow on the uptake...)
As great as the Sarlat and Aix markets were, this one is bigger and better. The number of vendors of each kind of product really keeps the price and quality competition up. I can't believe some of the breads. The bread committee did a good job, bringing back an olive bread, a couple of regular baguettes, and a "complet" (whole wheat) bread. If they had held out for the second or third or fourth breadmaker, they might have gotten some really incredible items. As it happened, they skipped all the market vendors, and bought their bread in a boulangerie store, fearing that the breads in the market might be old. In France? That's unlikely -- there's probably a law against it.
Marlys generally tries to avoid meat as much as possible, so Kristen suggests that we might want to look for a fish paté called Brandade. That's Marlys' mission. I also keep an eye out for it, and while there are plenty of paté vendors, and plenty of fish vendors, none of them seem to have any fish patés. Marlys ends up buying some excellent "caviar de aubergines" (eggplant pureed with anchovy and garlic, I think) and "caviar de tomates" (similar, but with rehydrated, sun-dried tomatoes instead of eggplant). These go well with the breads, and Kristen and Sarah bought more (plus an anchovy paste and a couple of tapenades). For our final meat item, we choose a couple of roast chickens (medium sized, €6.00 apiece). Deeeeeeeelish!
While I'm out and about, I stop into a Casino market (France's answer to 7-11) to buy some bottled water. I notice a hip-flask of Calvados for just over €4.00, and pick one up, for us to try at home.
Brigid bought a cute ceramic garlic grater. I had been considering buying one or two, but decided against. On the bus, Marlys sees ours, and mentions it would look good in her kitchen. I run across the street from the bus (where we have gathered to go to the picnic point), and pick up an assortment. Marlys picks hers, and the rest will go to friends, if they make it home intact (which they did).
This was the best picnic lunch yet. We have a great assortment of fruit, including several fresh figs. (Amazingly, these turn out to be the first fresh figs that many of our group have ever tasted!) There are the breads and meats, of course. And more of the wonderful cheeses of France (and one from Switzerland, raclette). I don't know how I will cope without all these delicious cheeses when we return, but I'll have to. I just don't believe that we really understand the "French Paradox" that allows these good folks to eat all this saturated fat and remain thin and relatively free of cardiovascular problems. Yes, there are several theories, but none are particularly compelling.
The wine committee has purchased no less than EIGHT bottles (no Château Neuf de Pape denominations, of course), exceeding their budget by around 50%. Most of the wines are excellent, and very little is left, by the time we finish.
Dessert consists of assorted pastries and fruit. The pastries include some pine nut tarts, eclairs, napoleans, jam tarts, and some crust-only types. Fruits include fresh figs, cavaillon melons, pineapples from the Ivory Coast (€1.50 for TWO! Interesting timing, too, since Ivory Coast had just became embroiled in a serious coup attempt in the last few days.), apples, and brugnon (a nectarine variant).
Enough about the picnic! Back to Roussillon, for a brief rest. Then, we decide to shop for an unfiltered olive oil, which Sarah recommended as having the best flavor for dipping and other "cold" uses. We find some in a rather chic store, and I can't resist a small bottle of a pamplemousse (grapefruit) liquer.
We stop at Restaurant David, which Kristen had recommended yesterday for an upscale dinner. When we had looked at their carte yesterday, we only saw one "menu" (remember, that's what we call a prix fixe), for €30.70 per person. Pretty pricey, we thought, compared to the €20.00 that the ETBD book had estimated for our "value" choice, Le Piquebaure.
As we mentioned, the latter ended up costing €28.00 each, without wine. It turns out that Restaurant David now has a €20.70 menu that comes with three very nice courses, plus a 1/4 liter pitcher of vin du pays ("table wine", probably non-A.O.C.), plus you get Restaurant David's view of the ochre cliffs. It appears that the value/price scale has swapped between Piquebaure and Restaurant David!
And back to the hotel for another relaxation period, and to dress for dinner. Before dinner, Kristen holds another French lesson for the interested members of the group, and I've managed to convince Brigid to attend. She actually does fairly well, considering how little instruction she's had. Kristen starts getting into verb conjugation of the regular verbs, and the most critical of the irregular verbs. Yeah, French is a really, really bizarre language, with tons of rules and exceptions. It's almost as bad as English!
Olives are served during the aperitif course. There are two varieties: A black, oil-cured olive (not bad, but not all that good in my opinion) and a green, brine-cured olive, flavored with anise. Now THIS one, I like!
Next, an amuse-bouche. This is a freebie course, thrown in at the whim of the chef. Tonight, it's a pair of baked, whole tomatoes, perhaps 1.5 inches diameter each, sprinkled with cracked pepper and kosher salt, and drizzled with an emulsion of olive oil, parsley, salt, and possibly cayenne pepper (at least, that's Sarah's guess). This really is very nice, and even Brigid was sopping up the escaped tomato juice and parsley emulsion with her bread. (This is highly irregular for Brigid, considering her unfortunate aversion to wet bread).
Next, the entrée. For most of us, this is a saumon tartare (chopped fresh, raw salmon, tossed with minced shallots, ground pepper, olive oil, and salt), and topped with a handful of finely shredded zucchini. The plate is decorated with a couple of stripes of a vinegar-cream dressing of some sort. The dish is exquisitely light and delicious.
Those who eschew uncooked fish have been served a gazpacho, which apparently has been creamed, in this version.
Next up is a half of a roast capon, served alongside string beans and cooked flat beans of some kind, in a rich gravy. The chicken is aromatic and wonderful. I can't resist eating some of the leaner bits of the skin.
To clear our palettes, we are each served a tall, elegant, cylindrical glass bowl (almost like a miniature champagne flute) of mousse de fromage blanc. Brigid wants me to reproduce this dish. Where do I obtain (or how do I make) fromage blanc? Nevertheless, I have orders to figure out how to reproduce a dish that Brigid likens to tasting a cloud. Wish me luck!
Dessert is a poached pear, fanned and blanketed by a sabayon sauce that has been browned by a blowtorch. Actually, this dish doesn't impress me all that much. The pear is very straightforward to prepare. Only the sauce is at all tricky, and sabayons are relatively simple. This one is unusually light, and may not be fortified with the usual dose of extra egg yolks.
After we have declared that we don't want coffee, they bring out crunchy lace cookies for us all. There's one for each of us at the table, 8 in all. These things are basically butter and sugar, perhaps including a remote acquaintance with a faint whiff of flour. It's more like peanut brittle (without the peanuts) than a cookie. NOW, I wish we had coffee! On the other hand, these things are just way too rich! Few of us are brave enough to eat our entire cookie. I get the willies just looking at the butter slick that covers my fingers after handling a few crumbs. Over half our cookies remain on the plate. What a shame!
Okay, time for some shut-eye. Tomorrow is an early wake-up-and-pack day.