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Feb 27

A Few Days in France Part IIb: Bordeaux Continued

A short introduction:
Our friend Jay Erisman, from the EQ Center @ the Party Source, took a trip to Bordeaux last year. A while back, he introduced us to Part I of his journeys starting in Cognac. Since Kevin & I are in Texas, Jay has graciously offered to share some more pages from his travel diaries. Enjoy!

Part I: Cognac

PartIIa: Bordeaux

_______

Bordeaux: Cold Oysters and Hot Lamb

Saturday served up a culinary double whammy, with two of the
most memorable meals of the trip. Up first were the oysters. I have a serious
love for oysters. If you don’t like oysters, on account probably of the
texture that falls somewhere between gelatin and mucus, know that we oyster lovers don’t
eat them for the feel. Oysters for me are all about the flavor, the secondary
and tertiary notes that happen as you roll an oyster around your mouth. Truly,
a good oyster works like a wine, with an initial sweetness or saltiness, and a
slowly emerging midpalate. And the finish can last for minutes: saline, earthy,
mineral-metallic, maritime.

Jon Reeves, Yorick’s wine manager who would later drive me
around Armagnac, had mentioned a Bordeaux restaurant specializing in oysters.
Sure ‘nuff, while strolling about the Old Town, I found “La Maison de l’Huître”
(House of the Oyster), formally known as Chez Brunet. I found absolutely the
best oysters I have ever had, anywhere, from any coast. The entry level oyster,
Marennes Fines de Clairs, was awfully good eating, and the enormous, elongated
Pleine Mer de Quiberon probably could take me in a fight. But the holy oyster
grail was at hand, I had never had one before: the Belon oyster, for a whopping
€25 a dozen. Would that I had eaten twelve of these sublime bivalves, but I
settled for two of them in a tasting flight of eight oysters. The Belon
deserves its place as the greatest of them all, with the same sense of
effortlessly balanced, highly complex flavor one finds in the very best wines.
A phrase I learned in Cognac applied manifestly to the Belon: longeur de bouche, or “length in the
mouth,” which indicates the slow development of flavors and an extended finish.
I also discovered the great compatibility of charcuterie with oysters. I had a
rillette on the side—a sort of pulled pork in its fat, spread on bread—that went
great with the clean and brisk oysters. The surrounding diners enjoyed small
fried sausages.

France_2007_172

Oyster House!

France_2007_182

I half expect a horse drawn carriage to pull up at the Old
World façade of La Tupiña.

One of my primary goals on this trip, having read about it
in Saveur magazine many years ago, was a visit to the bastion of traditional
Southwest French cuisine, La Tupiña. Chef
Jean-Pierre Xiradakis’ mission in life is the preservation of ultra-authentic Old
Bordeaux cookery. Greeting me as I walked in the door was the famous hearth, a
culinary fireplace full of glowing embers, chickens on antique revolving spits,
kidneys on a grill and an ever present pan of pommes frîtes bubbling in
goose fat. The hearth lends a smoky cast to the restaurant, an archaic, Old
World aroma that you can’t find anywhere else. If the electricity went down at
La Tupiña, the cooks would just pull out some candles and keep on duckin’. (Click
here
for a video of Jean-Pierre Xiradakis discussing, in French, grilled goose
hearts, at the La Tupiña hearth.)

France_2007_194

The La Tupiña hearth. Note the chickens on the spit at
bottom.

France_2007_196

The best fries of my life rest in duck fat over the fire at
the La Tupiña hearth. Note the chain that turns the chicken on the spit.

France_2007_213

The antique spit rotating mechanism. Every so often a cook
would turn the handle at the bottom, winding it up like a clock to turn the
chickens before the fire.

The food at La Tupiña is intense and so deeply flavored it
knocks the wind out of you, challenging in a different way from a fancy shmancy
Michelin-starred restaurant. A plate of shockingly rustic grilled chitterling
sausage started the night with an earthy offal note. I ordered cèpes en persillade, and received a
large bowl of mushrooms (the Italians call them porcini). These
mushrooms
—large chunks of them, cooked in fat with garlic and parsley—kicked
my ass. I’ve never had my ass kicked by mushrooms before. They don’t call them
“King Boletes” for nothing. I ate every one, which probably had something to do
with my inability to polish off the massive lamb shoulder. Here the gamy lamb
flavor was so thick I suspect the lamb had fangs. I finished with a vintage
Armagnac from Francis Darroze, who I would visit the next week. But I left La
Tupiña wanting more, more of this amazing experience. Perhaps I could get back
there in the not distant future….

France_2007_185

Imagine eating this entire bowl of kick-ass mushrooms by
yourself. I did, and lived to tell of it.

Over the weekend I drove out to the Bassin d’Arcachon, a bay
outside Bordeaux on the Atlantic. Arcachon is a popular vacation spot with the
Bordelais, but in late March it was fairly deserted. Except, of course, for the
dog owners, this time on the beach. Despite the tricky footing, it was cool to
see the other side of the Atlantic, and fill my nose with the briny air. At
this point, I had one more day in Bordeaux—one more wine tour—before a
whirlwind tour of Armagnac and another train
grande vitesse
to Paris.

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