Amongst a décor like this…
You can enjoy dishes like this…sorry, it is gone!
I had forgotten a few things about France.
7:15 AM Paris, France. Mardi, 3 octobre 2006.
I forget that the day rises much later here in Paris.
We are about one mile away from landing in Charles de Gaulle airport and all I can see is pitch black beneath us. Not true. There is also a myriad of lights and, as we get closer to the ground and faster it seems too, I can discern shining spots of color, red, blue and yellow tiny lights. When I was still a young school girl, I hated this time of year when I had to walk to school in complete darkness. It always felt terrible to get up in what seemed still the middle of the night. At 7:30 AM in October in France, it is still dark. I forgot because I now live in a place where the sun rises at around 6:00 AM. Landing is very quiet though. I think it is because it feels like everything is still asleep. And it is raining too. I actually do not mind feeling the soft drizzle on my face as we leave the aircraft to get on the airport bus. The air is always so dry on board. But I am not complaining. My flight was easy, and I know I have much more travel to do.
My parents live in the northeast part of France, so getting in Paris means I still need to take a three-hour train ride before arriving at home. Getting my luggage in Terminal 2A is easy, surprisingly fast compared to other times when we had to wait for so long. What is this smell? Mince ! Bummer! I had forgotten that les gens (people) smoke pretty much everywhere, as they stand in front of Interdiction de fumer (Smoking is forbidden) signs. France is like this, and I tend to forget this part sometimes too. I decide that taking the RER (commuter train) to the Gare de l’Est is easier than a taxi. Who would really fancy getting to Paris by car at this time of the day? From the train, I can see the endless line of cars stopped on the highway, bumper to bumper, and I do not envy them. I have to wait for a few hours in the drafty train station, where it is hard to find a seat anywhere. This is also something I do not miss: freezing train stations. I am lucky that the temperatures are still mild for the season. La gare de l’Est is still being renovated in preparation for the new TGV line which will facilitate a fast connection to the estern part of France. I am also lucky to get on a TGV train, although it is still not driving at TGV speed. I will have to wait for June 10, 2007 to experience it. I forgot how efficient train systems are here.
At the train station in Metz, my brother is waiting for me. I am glad that I manage to wake up as I am worried to find myself in Luxembourg before I notice it. I only have a few minutes to get off the train. On the way en ville (downtown) before the 1-hour drive to our village, we are *welcomed* by students on strike. I had forgotten about that part too, and I realize that I certainly do not miss it. Every time I come back, I swear, I witness a strike.
My parents are surprised. Of course. So much fun! My mum does not know what to do, she becomes all of a sudden absent-minded. Vous voulez boire quelque chose ? Ah mais, je vous ai déjà demandé si vous vouliez boire quelque chose ? Où j’ai mis la bouteille ? (Do you want to drink something? Did I ask you whether you want to drink something? Where did I put the bottle?) As to my dad, he keeps smiling. We slip gently in the evening with a bottle of Château Neuf-du-Pape. At 8 PM, je suis cuite (I am cooked). I am so tired. It feels like I have not slept for days. The same night, I sleep for about twelve hours. The serene absence of noise in the countryside comforts me. It is nice to be back to smells and views I know so well. I love being back.
The next day, we decide to have a special diner to celebrate my dad’s birthday. I think that I must have mentioned that my home village is pretty tiny, with a population of a mere 700 people. In view of this number, you would think that in order to get a fancy meal, you will need to drive des kilomètres to the closest bigger city. Really, what is your chance to eat in a 2-star restaurant in the middle of nowhere? A la campagne ? (in the countryside?) I had forgotten you can do so in France. Even better, you can eat well in amazing restaurants, and because they do not have a Parisian address, they are extremely affordable. So at 7 PM, we jump in the car to drive the only 25 kms away to Hambach, a small village tucked between Sarralbe and Sarreguemines. Hidden at the entrance of a wood outside the village, we arrive at the restaurant of l’hostellerie Saint Hubert. We walk inside to find a décor heavy in style, with chandeliers and large armchairs covered in flowered fabric. Not amongst the type I prefer, but so predictable of the place. As soon as we get in the salle de restaurant, I catch a glimpse of a frame on the wall, a Bocuse award given to Michel Roth, in 1991:
Concours Mondial de la cuisine: le jury international réuni sous la présidence de Léa Linster et Alain Ducasse a décerné le 1er prix à Michel Roth. (World Cooking Competition giving the 1st prize to Michel Roth)
15, rue de la forêt
03 87 95 50 09
L’hostellerie Saint-Hubert is the hotel owned by Michel Roth’s parents. Anyone who has been lucky to dine at l’Espadon in Paris will recognize this name. Michel Roth is simply the famous chef of the Ritz Restaurant in Paris (15, Place Vendôme, 75001 Paris).
Enough to make us assured that diner will be surprising and delicately prepared. I cannot wait to see.
We start with a mise-en-bouche made of a crème de cèpe (boletus). As a kid, I remember going in the forest in autumn to pick these delicious mushrooms. I eat them so rarely now that it feels like a treat right away. We could decide to chose dishes à la carte but instead prefer complete individual theme menus. I look more closely at the prices, twice actually because I think I misread them at first. No, it is what it is. A menu of this quality will only cost us about 31 euros. Ridiculously cheap. Fish for the women, meat for the men, but mainly the desire to share everything and it does not fail. The food is a delight for the eyes and for the papilles (for the taste).
My dad starts with a terrine de lapin (Rabbit Terrine).
My brother has a carpaccio de veau au miel et aux pommes Granny Smith (Veal Carpaccio with Honey and Green Apples)
My mum, G. and I start with roulades de truite, accompagnées de chips de langoustines et de crevettes (rolls of marinated trout, with scampi chips and shrimps).
Then come the main courses. First a walleye fish with julienned vegetables (sandre et julienne de légumes)
My dad eats pork that comes with a gratin de pommes de terre, façon tartiflette (potatoes gratin, cooked tartiflette* style), and a vegetable skewer.
*tartiflette = A specialty from the Savoie region, made of cooked potatoes with bacon and reblochon cheese
Desserts go from a light soupe de fruits rouges avec une compotée d’ananas à la badiane (Berry Soup with Cooked Star Anise-Flavored Pineapple)
To a parfait (a style of icecream) or the classic crème brûlée.
Everything comes dressed on large plates, with style and taste. You almost do not want to touch the food, but only look at it. We decide to drink red wine, un Sancerre rouge de Loire. The evening is finished before we know it. We are not even worried about the drive back. And, one thing is certain: I did not forget that you eat well in France, even in places lost in the middle of nowhere.