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Bonnieux: Le Fornil

I know it’s a lot on Bonnieux, but I really think Bonnieux is worth it.

Le Fournil is one of the restaurants featured in Gilles Pudlowski’s guide to Provence and the Cote d’Azur.  This place is an absolute pleasure.  It fits in perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere and beauty of Bonnieux.  The food is refined yet unpretentious.  The service is friendly and on the lively side, which gives the place a bit of a younger vibe–totally welcome after a week at Mas de Guille (“Relais du Silence”) where we were the youngest people by twenty years.  And judging by the stares I got when I was taking pictures, this place is equally appreciated by tourist and locals alike, which lends credence to the chef’s work.

fournil sign

fournil1

Le Fournil at 7:30pm

We’re early eaters at home, it’s no secret.  But I swear we were eating at 9 and later in Guethary!  But during that first week away in Provence, we were still adjusting.  Add to that the heat and our minimum of five miles of walking per day (assessed by pedometer no less) and we ended up really needing that first reservation of the night.  Plus it made for good pictures right?

fournil menu

Le Fournil’s menu

fournil amuse

Fish paté amuse bouche

I’m a little bit of a wuss when it comes to something like fish paté (and I. even more so) but this was absolutely delectable.  I never expected such a texture to work–but Le Fournil made it so.

fournil salad 1

Petits farcis provençaux servis tíèdes

I have no translation for “petits…” but based on the little I know about Provençal cuisine, stuffed crudité appears to be somewhat of a tradition.  We had several incarnations of this dish at different restaurants and this was indubitably the best.  The stuffing is bread crumbs, herbs, and other fabulous Provencal things.  Sorry I can’t be more specific, but aren’t the colors great?

fournil salad2

Bouquet de haricots vert et cocos frais, ris d’agneau poêlés vinaigrette d’herbes

If only this could be recreated.  I’m not sure what the cut of lamb was, but it was so tender.  Perfect with vegetables and some aged balsalmico.

fournil beouf

Contrefilet de beouf poêlé, chutney de cerises, blettes au jus

The pièce de résistance: contrefilet.  Although my favorite steak of the trip was at Le Madrid (Cote de Beouf with Bearnaise) due to its total simplicity and melt-in-your-mouth qualities, this contrefilet is a very, very close second.  The cherry confit had the perfect balance of sweet and tart to the meat.  Every bite was a pleasure.

As we left everyone was still enjoying.

fournil scene

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Bonnieux: Home Away From Home

A big part of my trip to Provence was a pilgrimage to Lourmarin, the town where my grandmother lived the last quarter of her life.  Lourmarin has changed significantly in the past 20 years though (my grandmother died in 90’s).  What was once nothing more than a small town surrounded by old farm houses is now a chic getaway, easily accessible from Paris by the TGV to Aix–and even closer than Peter Mayle’s famous Menerbes (although Mayle has purportedly relocated to Lourmarin).  Boutiques and restaurants abound where there used to be nothing.  As I told my mother this morning, Lourmarin in July isn’t the most relaxing place to sit back and relish an afternoon at a cafe–there are just too many people.  And the commerce is practically overstimulating.  Next time I go it’ll be in spring or fall.

But a twenty minute drive west and north along a beautiful narrow uphill road lies Bonnieux, which I considered our home away from home for our time in Provence.

bonnieux with lacoste in lights

This picture was taken at the end of the first night we spent in Bonnieux.  Those tiny yellow lights in the distance (middle horizon) are the town of Lacoste.  It looks much closer when you’re there.

the church at night

Here you can see Bonnieux’s 19th century church below us in the centre ville.

les terrasses

If Bonnieux was our home away from home, Les Terrasses was our living room.  Really lovely, kind people and a terrace (not pictured) on the opposite side of the street overlooking the village.  A great, very casual place for coffee, dessert, an afternoon snack, or even a complete dinner.

rooftops

The rooftops of Bonnieux, seen from Les Terrasses

on the way down the hill

When you enter Bonnieux from the direction of Lourmarin, you enter the village at its highest point (the village itself runs along the side of a rather steep hill).  The main road leads you into the centre ville in a zig zag fashion.

wall

The old, old wall alongside the road down into town

looking up to les terrasses

Looking up from the road to the awning of Les Terrasses

little street

Narrow little street

evening

Early summer evening in Bonneiux

new evening

More early summer evening

Bonnieux is pretty sleepy, and everyone seems to like it that way.  There are a handful of restaurants, a gallery, a tabac, and an old antique store.  It’s certainly nowhere to go if you’re looking for action.  The antique store was full of very old treasures, the store itself little more than a musty stone cave.  It’s dark and cool in there, and the owners sit outside on chairs that are for sale.  My husband found a dead scorpion under an old kitchen weight.  I think it was the first time I’d ever seen one up close.  I told the owner and he came over, just in time for us to figure out the scorpion wasn’t dead after all.  We all had a good scream about that.

dramatic view

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A Perfect Day For Pamplona

We slept in this morning and awoke to foggy weather on the coast.  After a few strong cups of coffee we decided–Pamplona?  Why not?

The drive was a little over an hour, and before we knew it we were in Pamplona, in the midst of the Fiesta de St. Fermin.  We even magically found free street parking close to the city center.  Of course our first site was the miniature running of the bulls.  It was great fun.

The entire city is dressed in the traditional all white with red scarf tied at the waist and a red neckerchief.  In fact, you really stand out if you aren’t (word to the wise and any lazy ill-informed tourists who decide to wake up and go to Pamplona during the Festival of St. Fermin on a whim–wink wink).   It was almost lunchtime by the time we arrived in the city, and all of the spectators, residents and tourists alike, were filling streetside cafés.

fermin cafe

We walked around towards some of the monuments–the Palacio de Navarra, the Plaza de Castillo, etc., but then found that the real action was on the old, narrow, side streets were the bars were a little more than crowded.

narrow street

At first it was fun, but then I realized I was hungry, and the line to the bar everywhere was about six drunkards deep.  Eek!  Everyone was much drunker than I was, and probably had been for a few good hours by 2pm (being that the bulls run at 8am).  The sun was high in the sky, it was very hot, and the odors of thousands of drunk people were starting to marinate.  I was borderline panicky–where would I find food (as not being able to find food is one of my greatest fears)???  Not even the smell of baking urine (sorry!) would allay my hunger.  I had to stay strong.  “I’m a traveler.  I’m exploring Pamplona (dammit!).”

We walked towards the Cathedral.  All of the monuments were closed due to the festival, and as we got closer to the Cathedral it got quieter.  Alongside the old church many of the revelers had resorted to street-side siestas (one of my most amusing discoveries so far in Spain–the public siesta–I’d like to think it is my great esteem for human dignity that kept me from photographing these hysterical scenes).

When I had gotten to the point where adrenaline had taken over as energy supplier in place of my usual daily calories, we turned a corner behind the Cathedral and found this lovely café:

el caballo blanco

Amazing.  No house music blaring from inside?  No line to the bar?  At least one person in sight who is clearly an employee of the institution?  Sold!  You can’t imagine what a haven this little café became.  It’s called El Caballo Blanco.  The service was necessarilly brusque, but efficient.  They were out of Txakoli by that hour, so I had beer, I’m not sure what kind, but it was cold, and the nice man brought it over to my table, which made it, as far as I’m concerned, akin to ambrosia.

Much to the amusement of the clientele seated nearby (who mostly drank and smoked) we ordered a lot of food–foie gras, jamón ibérico, tomates y avocates, y gazpacho.  They all teased us to see if we would eat it all–and we did.

comida

tomates

It wasn’t until I got home tonight that I figured out the name of this café by Google-ing “cafe behind cathedral pamplona.”  What I found was this timely little piece by on the New York Times.  And what do you know?  They found the same soothing little spot behind the Cathedral.  I double checked by matching up the NY Times and my own photograph of the café exterior.  I couldn’t have planned my sojourn in Pamplona better.  While I love reading travel guides and planning, I hate feeling bound to an itinerary when traveling (you’ll later find out that although I read the Pudlo guide to the South of France cover to cover not once, but twice, I only visited two of the restaurants it lists in my two weeks in the country).  I’d rather just walk and enjoy what’s in front of me.  So discovering El Caballo Blanco was a happy coincidence.  We returned to rain in Hondarribia tired, happy, and with an appetite for a late Spanish dinner.

goodbye

Goodbye sunny Pamplona

hondarribia

Hello rainy Hondarribia

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Lunch at Le Madrid, Guéthary

You might start to notice that I’m working backwards now, which is slightly awkward, but I’ll make do.  I’m finding it less awkward than starting from the day I stopped blogging and working forward.  I hope you’ll stick with me on this strange anti-chronological journey.

Le Madrid was the unofficial (official?) hang of our stay in Guéthary.  Our first two days in Guéthary it was closed for two days before officially opening for the summer season, but Le Madrid was all I heard about for those two days from our Parisian friends and hosts.  It was so inflated as a “spot” that it hardly occured to me that the food would be any good.  When I ate dinner there for the first time on the night of the 8th I was absolutely blown away (some of you might remember a tweet of mine about the Cote de Beouf melting in my mouth).  Those kind of dinners aren’t for stopping every few minutes to photograph.  We were among friends, telling love stories, and sharing wine and Cote de Beouf (with Bearnaise of course), and since the best parts of the ephemeral meal were only captured in memory, I pledged to return in a more alert state so that I might record some of my meal for ARL.

Of course, the real way to do Le Madrid is this: aperitifs at home (our aperitifs of choice on this trip were foie gras (forgive me), radishes, and wine).  Savor all this from approximately 7pm-9pm, then make your way to Le Madrid for the real meal.  Oh, and having Manzana Verde post-Cote is the digestif de riguer.  The few images I have from Le Madrid at night:

le madrid 9

Customers entering Le Madrid behind lovely Martine at approximately 9pm

sunset

The view from outside Le Madrid at approximately 9pm

So, that said, on to lunch.

le madrid day

The view from the terrace

le madrid menu

The menus

It is worth explaining that I. and I fell in love with the menus as pieces of art in and of themselves.  We loved the fonts, the illustrations, and the color.  When we mentioned this to our friends they explained that the menus are designed by Martine, one of the owners, who was a graphic designer before she was a restaurateur.

lunch menu

The lunch menu

rose

The essential rosé

le madrid signage

Looking back towards the restaurant from the terrace

club

My companion’s club sandwich (I had a bite–absolutely delectable)

maigre

Maigre a la Plancha, pate fraiche & herbes

The perfect lunch.  The oil for drizzling has parsley and tarragon, the cherry tomatoes are roasted, and the pasta has a crisp piece of bacon artfully arranged at an angle atop.  And, how is it that the French know how to salt meat so perfectly?  You can see the small crystals of sel de mer on the maigre here.  Delicious.

Now that we’re in Spain it seems impossible, but I am actually missing Le Madrid.  If you are in the area go, sit for a few hours.  People watch, imbibe, and go back a few times to sample a variety of what’s on the menu.  You won’t be disappointed.

If you are as in love with Le Madrid as I am, you can click here to see the dinner menu: Continue reading

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We Made It To Spain

Of course between Paris, Marseille, Lourmarin, Guéthary, and Hondarribia (Hondarribia is the Basque, but the town is also known as Fuenterrabía in Spanish and Fontarabie in French), much is missing from my typically daily entries here.  That noted, we are very happy to be in Spain.  This part of Europe is especially striking due to the stark constrast in food, language, and terrain found just across the border from one country to another.  A twenty or thirty minute drive from Biarritz and we’re in a whole other world.  We landed in Hondarribia, in the old quarter of town at an amazing hotel called Obispo, housed in what was a 15th century palace.  I love this place.  It’s charming–old yet comfortable, and impeccably kept including all the amenities a modern girl could want (WiFi!  while it was fun to be liberated, it is fun to reconnect too).

We arrived slightly exhausted from all the fun we had with our friends, the vacationing Parisians, in Guéthary (is it possible to have too much fun?) so we did the unthinkable and sat down to dinner at 8:30 (does it count that it hasn’t been before 10PM or finished before 12AM for the last week?).  The Hotel Obispo recommended Sebastián, which happens to be just around the corner (no walk or drive to the new part of town necessary).  It looks beautiful from the outside, so it wasn’t hard to draw us in.  Here is our meal in pictures and a few words (I was too relaxed to remember to take any establishing shots, but the restaurant’s website has a good virtual tour and great historical photographs too).

sebastian window

The restaurant’s website states that “[the space] was a grocery shop several centuries ago [and] the most representative elements of the shop are still conserved, such as the window displays and glass cases once displaying the groceries which supplied numerous generations of residents of Hondarribia.”  Here are various bottles (age unknown) in the window display case.

our view

We ate upstairs.  This was our view; a window box planted with purple amaranth and ivy.  Across the street are window boxes with red and white geraniums.

upstairs

The upstairs dining area.  Note that we are among the first present for dinner…there was one other couple across from us.  The benefit of the early hour is great photographs.  I loved the alternating colors between the beams on the ceiling.  Only a Spanish chef/restaranteur could pull that off.  Honestly.

chefs suggestions

These are the beautiful cards containing the chef’s suggestions for the evening.  Qué bonita!  Las ilustraciones sólo!

tablecloth

An essential component of any fine dining experience: fine linens for the table.  I found Sebastián’s particularly soothing due to a delicate pique.

txacoli

Txacoli: it has become as essential to my existence as Almodóvar.  Sin txacoli lo que es la vida?  These tall cups (unlike the shorter versions I am used to drinking Spanish wine in) are very cool.  It is like drinking liquid ambrosia, the liquid of life.  The wine is produced in the countryside outisde of Hondarribia.

txacoli autentico

Don’t be fooled by any imitations; the “Getariako Txacolina” sticker across the foil is as essential as any Bordeaux A.O.C.  It is an extremely limited area in which these special grapes are grown, and the special wine produced.

gazpacho

Ah gazpacho, con una anchoa y algún aceite de oliva bueno

monkfish

Monkfish and shrimp–preparation unknown, rather forgotten, in a good bottle of Txacoli

tuna

The “taco de atun rojo de Hondarribia a la parilla.”  With my limited Spanish I have little clue what I ate (sorry).  I half expected some tuna in a corn tortilla.  Wrong.  What came was 1,000 times better.  It tasted like the most beautiful tuna steak seared in a deep seasoned pan of pork fat–there was surely a strong bacon-ish element that was delicious.  On the side are some crispy onions and a drizzle of parsely-seasoned olive oil.  Amazing.

brick of chocolate

I can’t be sure because I forgot to photograph the menu, but I am fairly certain that this dessert was advertised as the “chocolate brick.”  It delivered as advertised.

Overall an extremely successful first night in Spain.  We will indubitably return to Sebastián–did I mention the service is impeccable?  If, for nothing else, the fine pique linens!  Salut!

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Currently in Guéthary, at Le Madrid

Guéthary is a charming little surf town between Biarritz and Saint Jean de Luz.  It’s 9:30 and the sun is bright, if only slightly above the sea, and I’m yet to eat dinner.  Of course I just changed purses and failed to transfer the memory card reader from one to another so no pictures.  Zut!!!  I am destined not to blog.  But here is the picture of where I am from the restaurant’s website:

le madrid

Le Madrid is run by a beautiful couple, Cyril et Martine, and it is les plus chic spot in Guéthary, perhaps in all of French Basque country.  I’m right there under the window on the right right now.  Having a great time–super soothe.  Wish you all were here.  I’ll come back with a full report on the food at Le Madrid plus tard.  Á tout!

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Grizzly Bear, Fillmore 6.22.09

Pictures first, words later.

crystals

Grizzly Bear’s “Swarovskis.”  The band personally hand strung each crystal (certified Swarovski) with fishing line.  Soothe.

crystals2

The complete display

crystalbear

For the last three or so songs of the night I went up in the backstage balcony.  I love the way the crystals are growing out of Bear’s head.  It’s like a mash-up of Encyclopedia Pictura’s and Patrick Daughters‘ videos for Grizzly Bear–crystals and wild things coming out of the band’s heads!  Here’s more:

crystalbear2

I love it when Taylor plays the clarinet:

taylor clar

They did a really special acoustic encore:

acousticsoothe

fan1

San Francisco audiences are really soothed by Grizzly Bear.

jesusisjustalright

Above are some of the wild spirits in the front row.  It’s great to check out the audience.  The previous night, I spotted one of the guys who works at the bookstore around the corner from my house (Diesel) about three bodies from the front of the stage.  Last night my favorite fan was this guy in the headband.  I think the band should put him in the artwork for their next album.  Once, a picture of my friend Emily of Wild Life in the audience of a Sonic Youth show ended up on the inside of their next album.  That was pretty cool.

drum circle

drum circle2

After the show, the wild spirits from Here We Go Magic hosted a drum circle.  Everyone was dancing like Kokopelli.  It was super San Francisco.  Raymond, one of the kind gentlemen on staff at the Fillmore said that he felt that we were bringing back the true spirit of the Fillmore from the glory days.

nikko

We ended up in the lobby of the Hotel Nikko with these really wild light fixtures and a grand piano.  Dan jammed out on some Doobie Brothers and we all sang along until we were kindly asked to retire.

Find Patrick Daughters online here.

Find Encyclopedia Pictura online here.

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