USA Extravaganza 2013

I had several goals for J’s first visit to the United States, most of them food-related. Here’s a breakdown of how the USA Cultural Food Immersion Extravaganza 2013 is going so far.

1. Food. We’ve been in San Antonio for four days now, and here is what I have made Ju eat so far:

  • Modern Tex-mex at Urban Taco
  • Street Mexican food at La Gloria (I nearly burnt my tongue off on the spiciest shrimp I’ve ever eaten)
  • Good beer and burgers from the Blue Star Brewery
  • Excellent pork tenderloin from the Boardwalk Bistro
  • Cheesecake from the Boardwalk Bistro
  • Blue Moon, Shiner, Sam Adams, New Belgium beers
  • Texas barbecue at Augie’s
  • Amy’s ice cream (and Blue Bell from the grocery store)
  • Girl Scout cookies (samoas)
  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • A danish from the Pearl Brewery Farmers Market
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Augie’s

At the Boardwalk Bistor. Happy Frenchman.

At the Boardwalk Bistro. Happy Frenchman.

So far the only thing he hasn’t liked is root beer. But the cheesecake was a big win, as well as the Texas barbecue. Phew.

2. Shopping. Besides gift shopping at the White Sands visitors center, which has a lovely gift shop, Ju also went crazy at the San Antonio REI, buying enough clothes for him for the next three years. We discovered he left his polar fleece at Hueco, so we went to a store called Good Sports today in San Antonio, which we liked a lot, and he got two new fleeces while I stocked up on Smartwool socks.

3. Culturally, we’ve been doing a lot of things as well.

At the Pearl Brewery Friday night, we walked down to the Museum Reach of the river.

The Museum Reach in the evening

The Museum Reach in the evening

We took a few pictures with the Day of the Dead-themed statues in front of the restaurant (La Gloria).

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Saturday morning, we went back to the Pearl for the farmers’ market, where we got this serving of paella for free after a cooking demonstration.

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This was Ju’s—I just got the mussles, not this scary-looking shrimp thing.

Saturday, we also went to the San Antonio Rodeo and Livestock Show, which was on its final weekend.

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We got a look at some of the steers before they were auctioned off. They were huge.

We got a look at some of the steers before they were auctioned off. They were huge.

We also saw a steer-driving competition.

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The cowboys/girls waiting to compete

As you can see in the video, a team of two had to drive the steers, one by one, in order, into the other pen. The judge announced over the loudspeaker which number they had to start with.

 We also went to the Alamo,
The Alamo was setting up for the reception of the Travis letter

The Alamo was setting up for the reception of the Travis letter.

Mission Concepcion,

P1010924and Mission San Jose.

P1010928Today we went to see the campus my mom works at, with their rattlesnake statue.

This poster was in my mom's office. The lose/loose business attracted our attention especially for all the French people out there...

This poster was in my mom’s office. The lose/loose business attracted our attention especially for all the French people out there…

The St Mary's University mascot is a rattlesnake.

The St Mary’s University mascot is a rattlesnake.

And now we are bizarrely in the middle of a windstorm the likes of which I have never seen. So we saved the outdoor things for later and finished the day at the Institute of Texas Cultures, near downtown San Antonio. Tomorrow we’ll go to Austin, and later this week we hope to go to the San Antonio botanical gardens.

Buying American Groceries

On Sunday morning, we needed to fill up on groceries and headed to the store a ten-minute drive from Hueco.

It was AMAZING. I think Julien understood a little what I’ve been missing in France.

Take for example this end of the tortilla stand (there were three other sides):
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There was also the modest beer fridge, with Leinenkugel’s, Blue Moon, and Shiner, and the ice cream aisle where we ended up getting a half gallon of Blue Bell cookies and cream.

J, of course, finds the 3-liter soda bottles hilarious, and it’s true I have gotten really used to the 1.5 liter bottles in France.

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The Frenchman is amused.

Overall, though, he’s finding things pretty interesting here—things that I didn’t even think about, like fire engines and 18-wheelers (that ARE fancier-looking than French semis). We went into Academy Sports because it was on our way to the missions, and for fun we walked through the hunting area and the baseball area (they didn’t have any rock-climbing stuff). he finds the benches on the side of the road with ads on them to be pretty funny too.

Tomorrow we go to San Antonio!

Les Voeux de Ségolene et la Frangipane Géante

As president of the regional committee of the French climbing association, Ju was invited to Ségolène Royale’s “voeux” for 2103. To clarify: “Ségo” is from Poitou-Charentes, and since losing her second bid for president to her ex-husband and then losing her deputy seat to another socialist, she has been elected president of the conseil régional. So she threw a huge party to make a speech about the region in 2013.

It was at the TAP (theater) in Poitiers, where neither I nor Ju (who grew up here) had ever been. First Ségolène gave a speech that last about twenty minutes, where we learned things like that gas is cheaper in Poitou-Charentes than anywhere else because it’s the only region that isn’t taxing it. Then we went into the auditorium to hear a few musicians financed by the region.

Then they released us (about 500 people, I guess) on the six or seven buffet tables of local cuisine. Cheese, pâté, even foie gras (though that disappeared quickly), shrimp of all kinds, fancy veggie sauces, and two boats of oysters:

Close up

Close up

Farther back

Farther back

I’m not kidding, there were two of these things! I took advantage of the opportunity to give oysters another chance—but they still just taste like seawater to me. Tant pis.

There was all kinds of good alcohol too: a cognac cocktail (ginger, lime, and cognac), cognac schwepps (Ju says it’s Ségolène’s favorite cocktail), red and white pineau des charentes, red wine, sweet white wine, and champagne (though obviously that would not have been a regional thing). I stopped before the champagne, which goes to show how much I’d already tasted—I love champagne!

The champagne came out at the same time as this huuuuuge frangipane (almond paste king’s cake):

I will never again in my life see a frangipane this big.

Pretty, right?

So yeah, there was a charm somewhere in there. But considering that probably 100 different people ate that cake, we’ll never know who got it.

At the end of the evening, it was clear there was a lot of food left over, so the servers started giving it away. We walked away with a box of tartelettes, two butternut squashes, and a huge zucchini.

It was “du gros n’imp” as Ju said.

Restaurants in Poitiers

Ju and I really love going out to eat, and he’s especially critical of any major flaws in service or cooking. He’s the son of a butcher and he is especially ready to knock a restaurant for serving bad quality meat or canned vegetables. But when we find a place we like, we go back, and we try to talk it up to everyone we know. After two years together and three years in Poitiers, I have something of a list in mind whenever anyone asks for a good restaurant.

1) Les Bons Enfants

I went to this restaurant for the first time with my parents in March of 2010 and it’s a favorite of our lecteur crowd. It’s tiny and is known for having local cuisine. The thing that gives Les Bons Enfants character is the fact that, apparently, it used to be a school, and so there are strange pictures of children everywhere in the decor—the placemats, the walls, the windows. It’s a bit weird. There’s a five-course menu option and they have a real cheese menu, as well as really yummy duck confit.

2) The Bistro de l’absynthe

This one used to be an absinthe bar, so all of its walls are decorated with absinthe ads. The menu is 21 euros for very good food. Last time I went, though, during the Expressifs 2012, the waitress spilled my kir all over me and didn’t bother to bring me a new one, so my experience has been just the tiniest bit soured. Still, highly recommend.

3) The Vingélique

Literally across the street is the Vingélique, which, with its fancy name and its fancy decor, is a step up from the Bistro de l’absynthe. It’s still within our budget, but I’m guessing a spilled kir would be handled with finesse here.

4) Le Caribou Cafe

photo from the restaurant website

The Caribou is on the street I used to live on, a pedestrian cobble-stone road smack in the center, and it is a quebecois restaurant. Having never been to Quebec, I don’t know if it’s at all accurate, but it is tasty. They recently renovated the upstairs of the building and built a staircase, so that the bar is now downstairs and the restaurant is upstairs with the stuffed black bear (not kidding). Ju doesn’t like this restaurant because it doesn’t have the traditional French “menu” option. What a French problem. The bar serves different types of alcohol with maple syrup, which can be surprisingly good. This place is swamped though on weekends, so it’s best to reserve and if you want just a drink, it’s best to arrive before 9.

5) La Cuisine du comptoir

Taking a moment to step outside of the centre ville, you can find this restaurant a bit closer to where we live, and still accessible by bus, though I don’t know how late. It is really excellent and I can’t recommend it more. I went there first for Valentine’s Day with Ju a couple of years ago and we were stuffed when we left. The food is really delicious and well-presented. It’s the kind of place where we tell people what we ate afterward. We never worry about what we’ll find when we go here. For lunch you pretty much have to reserve ahead.

6) Le Cafe Pop

Edit June 2017: We’ve actually been disappointed with the Cafe Pop the past few times we’ve gone, over a period of a couple years—slow service, and lack-luster lunch menus. So I’d have to temper my previously fervent recommendation of this place. The friendly atmosphere is still there though.

Ahhh the Cafe Pop. What can I possibly say to sell this restaurant well enough? I LOVE the Cafe Pop. I didn’t notice it till living in Poitiers from almost two years. It’s tucked next to the Mairie and looks so much like a bar that I didn’t really even bother checking it out. Then one evening Ju and I were looking for a place to eat and decided to try it. It’s a bar-restaurant, so the atmosphere is what you could call “convivial” in French. The menu is only 18 euros for the cheapest option, though it’s hard to stick to that when a 3-euro supplement will get you a fancier starter or main dish. With three courses you have more than enough to eat, and their tiramisu “façon Snickers” will probably stay with me forever. This is, without a doubt, my favorite restaurant in Poitiers and I would recommend it to French people and foreigners alike. (Also open Sundays.)

7) Yakido

For anyone looking for sushi in Poitiers, Yakido is the place I’d recommend. It’s a little further out from the main center, but it’s still within easy walking distance, right next to Parc Blossac. The sushi is simple but very good, and very reasonably priced. They also have massive yakitori menus that will make your stomach explode. Go for the smallest one if you don’t want to die.

8) Chez Ngim (update August 2015)

Chez Ngim serves excellent Cambodian food at thoughtful, affordable prices, that include actual spicy dishes if you ask for it. The owner or his regular servers will also explain every dish on his menu and how to eat it, when needed.

9) Les Archives (update August 2015)

Les Archives is the restaurant part of the Mercure Hotel in Poitiers, which is located in an old, um, archive. It’s a beautiful building but the food is also delicious, AND it’s open on Sundays and Mondays.

10) Le Bis (update June 2017)

Le Bis is a fancy-looking restaurant on Rue Magenta that has perfectly reasonable prices, excellent food, and impeccable service. If you go in for lunch, they can get you in and out within a half hour, and you never have to ask for your water to be refilled.

So! If any of you ever come to Poitiers, you’ll know where to go now… heh. It’s not that there aren’t other restaurants that are totally fine, it’s just that these are the ones where I’ve consistently had good meals and good experiences. And of course, we haven’t tried everything. There are some to be avoided: the Taverne de Maître Kanter, Au Bureau unless you just want a croque monsieur, and possibly even the 16 Carnot though it’s been redone recently. If I can prevent anyone from going to Maître Kanter and lead them to the Cafe Pop instead, my life will have served an important purpose at least once.

A week of fondue

I bought a tv from Marie’s aunt two weeks ago, and Saturday Julien took me to look for a TV stand for it. We ended up looking in Easy Cash because it was the only place open between midi et deux, and though there were no TV stands, there was an awesome selection of used kitchen appliances, and J bought a fondue pot.

Our friend Marine was in town from Lyon Tuesday night so I immediately suggesting inaugurating the pot with a cheese fondue for the obligatory soirée. Perfect for warm weather, right? Ha. So anyway, we did cheese fondue on Tuesday night, chocolate fondue on Wednesday night, and then tonight we’re supposedly going to do fondue bourguignonne.

Any other fondues out there we should try?

San Antonio misc.

I started cooking for my parents this week (not sure if I can keep it up every day—I don’t have that many ideas). The first night I made grated beets:

Purple

and yellow

with parsley in. Only I didn’t take a picture of the finished product, apologies.

Any ideas what to do with the remaining beets? I have one purple and two yellow.

Tonight it’s Mark Bittman’s lamb curry which I really like:

(Not a great picture.)

We’ve been to see the bats twice and have missed them both times:

But that’s where they come out. There are only about 8,000, not 300,000 like in Austin. That’s the San Antonio Museum of Art in the background (the old Lone Star brewery building).

And here is a picture of me and one of my favorite people:

Otto did not pose very well there so he is not at his cutest. I think he looks a little squished. Perhaps I was squishing him.