Last weekend on a school-organized trip I went to Saint Emilion, a weeny lil' town near Bordeaux with lots of history, lots of wine, lots of caneles, and not lots of inhabitants. The sight of neverending vineyards and copious amounts of nature in general is a shocking change from Paris's army of white and gray buildings. Both environments are beautiful, but one is more likely to provide you with clean air and sunshine than the other. If that's your thing.
Saint Emilion is known for its wine, but I was mainly there for the food. In case you didn't already know, I'm not a fan of alcohol, nor do I see myself developing a taste for it in the near future (or the far future for that matter). However, I will admit that there is at least one nice thing about wine: where there's good wine, there's good food! Since I've already taken a class about wine (or alcohol in general), I wasn't really on the trip to lean more about yeast-alicious grape extract. I was there for face-stuffage.
Our four-course lunch at L'Huîtrier Pie began with a simple salad of lettuce, tomato, corn and croutons tossed with a light, notably nasal-passage-clearing mustard-based dressing and topped with A CHUNK OF FOIE GRAS. CHUNK. FOR ME. You betcha that I finished it, unlike many of my peers. How could anyone not want to ingest the meltingly smooth, velvety, delicately savory slab of force-fed fattened goose liver...wait, did I just answer my own question? Yeah, it's definitely not nice to shove tubes into ducks' throats, but we could talk about more common and cruel practices in food production and never feel like eating again. Let's just enjoy the food for now.
Our main course was chicken in a tomato-based sauce accompanied by creamy mashed carrot and potato. I don't know how the chicken was cooked, but it was uber tender and juicy, aka "awesome", especially when chicken is prone to being bland and overcooked. The carrot mashed potato must have only had a tiny bit of carrot in it for the sake of color as you couldn't really taste it, but it did make a big difference (as in, it looks a lot better) to have an light orange plop on the plate instead of something white and pallid.
Of course, there was wine. I actually kind of liked it. Kind of. I wouldn't have a craving for it, but I managed to drink my entire glass of sweet white wine without feeling repulsed.
Nothing better before dessert like a SLAB-O-CHEESE. Right? ...
And for my favorite part of the meal, crème brûlée. The crust was sadly very light, consisting of a mere spotting of crunchy burnt sugar as opposed to a continuous sheet of it (you can't just sprinkle weeny bits of sugar on top, fool!), but the smooth, thick pudding-like custard (as in not quite solid, not quite gloopy) was satisfying. As though I'd ever not like crème brûlée.
Later in the afternoon we had a wine tasting course (they have them in English and French) at Vignobles & Chateaux, a modern looking wine shop (well, compared to any I've ever been in before) with a classroom on the second floor with a large crescent-shaped desks for each student, along with glasses a a spit bucket. I liked our droll instructor, who gave us a little history about the wine of the region and quickly took us through the wine tasting process (I had a wine tasting clas before, so the color observation/smell/swirl and smell/tasting and air sucking process wasn't new to me). However, before we tasted the wine he had us smell sample scents in little plastic bottlecap-sized containers (not in my photo) just to taste our sense of smell.
I couldn't smell any of them. Seriously. While my neighbor mulled over the scent of #5 or #7, I was shoving my nose in everything and thinking, "OMG WTF MY NOSE DIED." And it kinda had; my body has been in uber-mucus-overproduction mode ever since I got back from Rome (it's still in that mode today). My nose eventually did kick back into action, although I almost wished it hadn't since that meant I could smell the red wines in all their ...winey...goodness.
Sorry, I don't really like the smell of wine. It reminds me of alcohol. Fancy that.
However, there is something for everyone in Saint Emilion! Kinda! If you don't fall into the category of people who love wine, you might be one of the people who loves baked goods. There is no shortage of macarons or canelés in Saint Emilion; I found at least five shops that specialized in them. Unlike the macarons I'm used to seeing in Paris, these macarons were just the cookies without filling. They also tasted different; softer and much more almond-y. They come in packages in 24 on preforated paper in case you want to separate the cookies, but I'd just peel them off and eat em straight out of the box.
You know how I like my food: HUGE. My large macaron from Matthieu Moulierac was soft, a bit chewy and full of almond goodness.
I chased my mega-macaron with a canelé. While I had so far been disappointed by my canelé eating experiences in Paris, this one is totally ROBYN APPROVED for its slightly crunchy exterior that protects the soft, chewy, dense custardy innards. I'm not a fan of the rum flavor, but I can overlook it and enjoy the rest of the yumminess.
It took a lot of photoshopping to get the sunset right.
I just killed it, didn't I?
We ate dinner at Restaurant Karousel in our hotel, Kyriad Libourne. For a small hotel that felt like it was in the middle of nowhere (actually, it was in the middle of vineyards, like everything else in the area), the food was surprisingly good, or as good/better than any other restaurant. (I've been told that hotel food in France is usually good.)
Man, I love salads in France. They're always simple, yet manage to taste so good. While the golden ingredient in the previous salad was foie gras, this salad featured goat cheese topped baguette rounds with a hint of honey. The combination of soft, mellow, oozing innards, crunchy bread and slight sweetness was heaven. Really. Why can't someone make that into a huge sandwich? Would that be too indulgent?
I don't think I'll ever get tired of confit de canard. Flaky meat that doesn't taste fatty (well, in the repulsive sense) despite being tenderized by its own lipids will always be welcomed by my stomach. And there goes the life of another duck for my pleasure.
We finished off the night with nougat glacé (nougat-flavored ice cream, a common French dessert) accompanied by raspberry sauce, vanilla sauce and a a drizzling of what may have been caramel sauce. Nougat glacé is another no-complaint dessert for me. It tastes like noog.
Then we went back to our rooms and collapsed from food comas.
This entry needs to be sped up. GET READY FOR PHOTO SPLODGE:
In the morning we took a more informative tour of Saint Emilion instead of just staring at macaron shops (well, that's what I did). The coolest part was the monolithic church carved out of a huge-ass stone that lies underneath the bell tower. They didn't allow photos inside, but it's probably for the best since photos wouldn't be able to convey how cool it is in real life. It's just...well, it's a huge. And it's carved out of a rock. Dude, that takes massive dedication. The pillars inside are surrounded by insanely heavy-duty supports (if I could think of a better word, I'd use it) to lessen the strain of the gazillion-ton bell tower above. They're trying to preserve the church in such a way so that it doesn't internally collapse (they're taking out the water by using the original medieval draining system below the church, which you can see through grates in the floor), which is likely to happen because of the aforementioned tower that sits on top.
"But don't worry; it won't collapse while we're in here," added our tour guide.
[blink] Okay. I THINK IT'S TIME TO LEAVE.
There are also a bunch of exhumed tombs inside, if that floats your boat.
Our first winery stop was Chateau Champion where we were treated to a tour of the facilities and a massive lunch of food and wine.
The dining room was beautifully rustic, homey, comfortable and refined. Being served by someone dressed up in a suit makes a big difference.
Our first course was a salad and cold meat plate. I'm definitely a bigger fan of salad than cold meats. Ground up meats alright (terrines, sausages), but a huge, folded slice of ham isn't likely to please my tummy.
Our main course was a hearty plate of stewed beans and [insert a pig part that I can't identify]. My guess is that this is cassoulet, which I also ate last night (you won't be reading that entry for a while). This is a great dish if you're a lumberjack or are part of some other profession that requires manly strength and burning lots of calories. I'm pretty much the opposite of a lumberjack, but that ain't going to stop me from filling my belly with creamy-soft beans (they taste like baby angels!) in a savoury gravy and a huge chunk of tender, juicy pork (Babe is delicious!). Bad for your arteries. Good if you're freezing your ass off.
No, I didn't eat eight kinds of cheese. My stomach felt like it was about to pop by this point.
Those are the wines we tried, if anyone's interested in knowing. I can't describe them besides that they taste like red wine. My taste buds do not welcome tannic-y fermented grape juice...yet...
Our final winery visit was to Chateau Laniote, where we tasted some wine and got to know the...unique owner. I mean that in a good way, but I'm glad our tour guide "warned" us that he tends to make jokes about his wife or else that may have been awkward. We could easily laugh off jokes about his wife being fat (of course, she's very slim)! Ha ha! Hehe. Nah, he was really cool and he even showed us a video documenting the whole wine-production process in his winery. The funniest parts were when semi-appropriate recognizable background music would accompany a scene; the part where the oak barrels were being fired was backed by some kind of doomsday chant-filled music, the kind that you hear in every movie trailer to heighten suspense and action and whatnot. You know what I mean, yes?
So that was awesome. And then we took the 3+ hour train ride back to Paris and plopped ourselves back into city life. I guess that's where I belong. It wouldn't suck to have a winery on the side to escape to though.
rue de Tertre de la Tente, 33330 Saint-Emilion