Monday Miam-Miam: Savoring Asheville

From the summit of Mount Pisgah, accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Savoring the natural beauty that surrounds Asheville, North Carolina was such a treat that I will write more about it on French Friday.

But even when savoring gorgeous land you get to have your food too, right? And in lovely, vibrant Asheville it can be an equal treat.

Sticking with our deal: one table for an independent bookstore, my husband picked the restaurants based on our mutual desire to support chefs who in turn support locally sourced food. Our two top choices proudly display the names of the farms and farmers they work with. They can be proud of their cooking as well.

Our #1 choice is The Market Place located on Wall Street, which is a short, paved, historic street filled with various small shops.

The restaurant has an outdoor terrace, which was packed due to the lovely weather. Besides, there was a band playing inside and I’m a sucker for live music. So we ate in the back of the restaurant, far enough from the bar and the musicians but still close enough to eat en musique.

Our waitress was from Maine, so it created an instant connection. She had also worked and lived in Spain and knew France, so here we had another connection.

The real connection, though, was with the food.

We started with a bowl of edamame soaked in chili soy glaze and sea salt and served in a beautiful bowl. Pottery abounds in Asheville and every restaurant uses very unique stoneware plates and dishes. Now, we are all big fans of edamame at home. They can be quite addictive, and these were very unique but a little too glazed. We definitely had to wash our hands afterwards. Which was a good way to admire a funny poster. Well, only if I had used the male restroom. So I only got the photo.

Although we both read French, we cannot figure out what the bucher tells the steer. Quelqu’un le sait?

I had decided to go vegetarian that night. It’s not a punishment for me since I’m a huge fruit and veggie person. And when you eat seasonal food that grew locally, you can’t go wrong. The roasted indian cauliflower, black quinoa, green curry sauce, shaved fennel and cashew salad was a delish. Lots of colors, flavor, and texture. Which is a nice goal to reach when we cook.

Mine was spicy-tasty like I love my food

I had a bite of the sunburst farm trout, served with lentils, smoked bacon, and a dressing of confit tomato vinaigrette that my husband chose. Man, that trout was a gem. The way the chef prepared it was genius. The skin was infused with flavors and so perfectly grilled. My husband tried to mimic the technique at home. He confessed needing more practice. It’s great, I reassured him. Which was true. Anyway, I insisted, must be the trout. Have you noticed that trout figured on every menu in the two Carolinas?

His

For dessert we split a saffron & wildflower honey crème brûlée, accompanied by a small pink peppercorn biscotti. Which I generously gave away. The honey flavor was distinct and yet subtle. Saffron is unusual with crème brûlée but it was a great addition.

With Two Spoons, please!

 

A glimpse of the French Broad River that flows through Asheville

 

Our #2 choice is Table. Which definitely reminded me of a favorite place of ours in Le Marais in Paris, before this low key, unpretentious Parisian neighborhood became way too trendy, too popular, and thus too expensive. But this is for another topic 🙂

I love small restaurants best. You are neither too far from your dinner companion nor from the other guests. I like the background of conversations, which tend to naturally adjust a notch lower in more intimate settings. Food at Table is served on gorgeous stoneware plates or even on slabs of wood in a room barely larger than a typical American dining room. The tables are just big enough for a tiny vase and a few fresh flowers. Homey and yet classy atmosphere.

Service was impeccable and friendly from the second we stepped in. A small dish of olives was immediately brought to our table with thick slices of bread and high quality butter. We are both bread lovers. Can’t help it when you were born in France. Table bakes its own bread and I owe my compliments to the baker.

Ours

We picked one order of chanterelles as an appetizer. I’ve loved mushrooms since my youngest age. In France, one of my uncles knew his champignons and treated us to amazing foraged mushrooms omelets. Our chanterelles at Table came with tiny tomatoes, citrus, basil, sweet onions, and almonds. A perfect blend that left me nostalgic for those French autumn suppers. I could smell the woods. We ate our chanterelles before shooting their portrait.

Trout again for my dinner companion that night, only whole. Years ago, I embarrassed myself with a whole fish while having dinner with my husband’s boss. He was a cool guy. Still. You don’t want to mess up with bones and skin while you need to appear smart and elegant. So, I’m wary of a whole fish when away from my kitchen. My husband, however, did a fabulous job with his trout, which he found less spectacular in taste than the one at The Market Place but impressive on a plate and impeccable in terms of freshness.

His

I went fishy too and chose the seared tuna. Which was perfect, no doubt due to the addition of corn, blueberries, and okra that complimented the medium rare cooking of the tuna.

Mine

If you like cocktails, wine, beer, and small plates you’ll love the Imperial Life, the bar and lounge situated at the top of a narrow set of stairs, just above Table.

 

Seen along a hiking trail

Now food for the soul!

Art abounds in Asheville, including bookstores. My favorite is located right in the heart of town.

Packed with books of all genres, for all levels of readership, and with tons of authors’ visits, Malaprop’s is my kind of bookstore. Plus, it’s a few doors away from the public library! What can a reader ask for?

But the special treat was to stay at the Grove Park Inn where F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed twice.

Facade of the Arts and Crafts style hotel listed on the National Register of Historic Places

The terrace overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains

To find these artifacts displayed inside the hotel gave me the goosebumps.

Zelda died in a fire while hospitalized in a psychiatric clinic, also in Asheville. F. Scott Fitzgerald had passed away eight years earlier.

 

French Friday: American Black Coffee

Virginia Tech Horticultural Gardens

When driving together my husband and I often pull over for a cup of mid-morning coffee that we share. We didn’t use to share coffee when we lived in France. Both of us loved our breakfast coffee served in a bol and our espressos in tiny cups.

My French bol and espresso cup

We discovered mugs in the US and also that coffee could be ordered for here or to go and in different sizes. Most exceeded a typical French serving. We learned how to grind our coffee at the supermarket while it was professionally done in France. Lines at the drive-through puzzled us. We were almost shocked to see some people drink coffee with their lunch. I spent quite some time in the dairy aisle. What did people do with all these flavored creamers and half and half? They seemed to have something to do with coffee.

Things have changed, of course. Here, because all these American things are mine too, even though I don’t use all of them. But also in France. I can no longer say that my mother doesn’t speak a word of English. She drinks her tea in a mug. Since the arrival of Starbucks in the early 2000s, the French also order tall, grande, venti, and for here or to go.

Yet some things never change.

Last month, as my husband and I acknowledged the snaking line at the Starbucks we decided to split. He’d check his email and I’d get our tall black coffee to go.

I waited, sandwiched between a young woman and an elderly gentleman. I had ample time to admire the pierced heart, the flying birds, and the homage to a beloved grandma tattooed on the young woman’s tanned shoulder blades and triceps. Soon, however, I couldn’t miss the conversation happening right behind me. I never eavesdrop, but it is impossible to not hear when people talk inches away from you, right? Appeared that a second gentleman stood behind the first one.

“All this line to get a five bucks coffee!” said gentleman #2. “You can get black coffee for next to nothing at Burger King.”

“Right,” said gentleman #1. “But not as good.”

“Don’t like black coffee no more,” said gentleman #2. “Go to Starbucks for their iced stuff. Keep me awake on the road.”

“Only drink black coffee. Straight up,” insisted gentleman #1.

“Went to the Navy or what?” said gentleman #2.

“Nope. The Army.”

Followed then a detailed description of the awful but necessary black coffee they both drank while in the military.

“I know,” concluded gentleman #1 with a sigh. “Starbuck makes it much better, though.”

The line moved on. Now, he and I stood eye level with the small tantalizing pastry window.

“Not sure Weight Watchers endorses any of that,” said gentleman #1.

By then, I could hardly keep my chuckles at bay.

“Oh, you can afford ALL of them pastries!” he said, visibly addressing me, although we had not technically seen each other.

I turned around and smiled. “You can still have this,” I said, pointing at the boxed Caesar salad.

“Without the dressing and the croutons, though.” And he chuckled back.

My turn had arrived and I ordered a tall coffee.

“With room for cream?” said the barista.

“No, thank you. Just black.”

“You’re a black coffee person too?” said gentleman #1. “But you didn’t go to the Army, right?”

“Right.” And I raised my cup.

“Cheers to that black coffee,” said both men in unison.

I walked back to my husband who had finished checking his email.

“It took you a while,” he said, when I handed him the cup for a sip. “And it was only for black coffee.”

“That’s not any black coffee.”

And I told him about gentlemen #1 and #2.

“I don’t know,” he said. “How you always manage to talk to everyone everywhere we go.”

“I don’t talk to them. I only hear them talk. Then, we talk.”

In the US, it is so easy to strike a conversation with people we’ve never met and won’t ever meet again. Yes, it used to surprise me and almost freak me out, back in the days. Not anymore.

I know that sometimes we’d rather avoid a casual chat. Some days when we feel a little sad or worried or too busy or just want to be left alone. Surprinsingly, it it when I want to stay away from small talk that they happen. But guess what? In most cases, I feel then better than I did previously. Then I’m glad to realize that the pleasure of these spontaneous discussions has never faded away.

Truth is only Americans can chitchat about black coffee with total strangers.

 

This pine tree, seen at the Virginia Tech Horticultural Gardens, reminds me of these two elderly men who also stood proudly as they waited for their black coffee and iced stuff. 

 

 

Monday Miam-Miam: Where and what to eat (and read) in Quebec City

Back in France, my OB was highly respected in his field. As a first-time expecting woman I trusted his advice.

“You can eat everything you like,” he told me at my first visit. “Don’t eat for two, though.”

In fact, I had started to eat for three as soon as I knew I was pregnant. I felt so good and so happy. He really put a damper on my appetite.

“Of course,” he added. “Alcohol in moderation.”

I had immediately stopped drinking wine and even coffee as soon as the two lines had appeared on the pregnancy strip test.

“And I would stay away from steak tartare.” He sighed and smiled with empathy. “I know, I know. Same with sushi, of course.”

Sushi had barely entered France, but steak tartare was a staple. And yes, as barbaric as it must seem to you, my fellow American readers, I loved my red meat raw when I used to be 100% French.

Of course, I ate steak tartare occasionally and at the best restaurants or bought the meat from my trustworthy butcher who sold grass-fed beef. With capers, fresh onions, a fresh raw egg, a side of green salad and good bread, steak tartare was a treat that I loved. I knew I would miss it.

But I would have done anything for my baby. And I did.

My daughter was eleven months old when our small family moved from Paris to the San Francisco Bay area.

This is in California that I saw for the first time all sorts of warnings about alcohol and raw food, particularly targeted to pregnant women.

This is also in California that I built my vocabulary list and learned strange words related to the way Americans liked their meat.

We didn’t eat out very often in our early days in California. When we did, my husband ordered his steak “rare,” saignant (bloody) or bleu (blue) in French. I preferred mine “medium,” mostly because it was easier to pronounce than “rare.”

Many years later, when I could order rare and be understood, I rarely eat red meat anymore. When I do, it’s always cooked medium rare or à point in French.

Unless I visit Quebec City and discover that this city loves anything tartare.

“Quebec City,” had said one of our hosts at the auberge, “isn’t a foodie destination.” Originally from France, he grew up eating fresh and seasonal. So he had mixed feelings about Poutine. Me too 🙂 However, he gave us the names of a few places he liked.

To be frank with you, my French and American sides battled when I read the dinner menu at the lively Bistro L’Atelier, in the heart of the old part of the city.

Is it safe to eat raw beef in an unknown place? But you loved it, remember? Yes, but it was a long time ago. Oh, please. I want to make sure it’s the freshest. You’ve become such an American. Well, yes.

This is when I saw the waiters and waitresses carrying wooden boards, which served as plates, loaded with fresh raw meat or salmon or still tuna centered around greens, red onions, capers, and decorated with parsley. Talk of throwback France.

I ordered the 4oz two salmons tartare accompanied with greek yogurt sauce, capers, mango, and coriander, and served with croutons.

My husband prefers tuna to salmon and opted for 8oz. His tuna was served with lemon vinegar, avocado and pineapple. The larger size comes with fries and a green salad. My husband generously offered me the salad but I had to steal some fries 🙂

As always we shared dessert.

The trio looks bigger than the real sizes which are perfect for two

Our waitress was extra nice and professional. We were momentarily confused when we asked for the check and her name appeared as “Jonathan.”

“It’s because it’s my first day,” she explained. “I cannot be in charge of payments yet.”

She would be soon, considering her impeccable service.

View on the St. Lawrence River

The weather was cool with occasional quick showers when we visited Quebec City. On Monday, after our brief encounter with the Prince of Wales, we had lunch at Bistro B on rue Cartier in Montcalm, really close to the place where we stayed.

The décor, service and food are impeccable there. Unpretentious yet sophisticated, original yet totally approachable, Bistro B is a real neighborhood restaurant that will also fit any visitor since the waiters and waitresses don’t play favorites.

Despite the weather we both went for the soupe froide melon canari. It’s cold soup melon in English. Wow. Never had melon used as a soup ingredient before. This bowl was an explosion of flavors with a remarkable texture. Double wow.

We each ordered one appetizer. Impossible to share soup. Besides, this one should never be shared.

Then I had the grilled asparagus with fresh mozzarella, toasted almonds, a poached egg and croutons while my husband enjoyed a beef strip loin, served with roasted beets in Xeres vinegar and a parsley smoked cheddar rosemary sauce. The beets were extraordinary. And believe me, my relationship with beets is complicated. I had to eat them at my school cafeteria and hated the mushy bloody appearance and sweet taste. These would convert anyone. Both our entrees were remarkable.

Mine

His

Instead of dessert, we ordered two espressos. Presentation, execution, and service are excellent at Bistro B. And the check is also very reasonable. Even more for Americans due to the current change. With another night in the city we would have returned for dinner to this really cool place.

I noticed that tartare was also featured on the menu at Bistro B. A quick Google search informed me that for the fourth year, Montreal and Quebec City had celebrated tartarefest, a weeklong May festival dedicated to meat and fish tartare. May is to consider then for another visit 🙂

Love the mix of French and English throughout Quebec City

 

Bookstores for the mind and soul: for such a small city Quebec City has LOTS of bookstores. We visited several. My two pics, only because the list would be too long.

  • La Librairie du Quartier, located rue Cartier, a short walking distance away from the auberge Aux Deux Lions where we stayed and next door from Bistro B., is a true neighborhood bookstore. Despite its sparse décor, the selection of books is wide and diverse. I noticed an extensive selection of contemporary books written in French by Canadians authors. And many novels and non-fiction books translated from American English but also from several other languages. When in Quebec I’m always surprised to find French books written by French authors displayed in the foreign section. If you read French you will notice the homophones nouns “Quartier” and “Cartier.” Quebecois, even more than the French, excel at these play on words.

We couldn’t resist, of course.

For the chef

The Tintin complete Series followed us from one continent to another. Our son taught himself how to read in French spending hours with Tintin

P.S. All photos from this blog post (except the book covers) are courtesy of Evelyne’s husband.

French Friday: French-American in Quebec City

Late June, The New York Times published an article titled: Canada Doesn’t Know How to Party. Related to Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of the country, the author who’s Canadian explains that Canadians are conflicted about the origin of their country but still love it, only quietly. More quietly, he writes, than their next-door neighbors.

My husband and I were in Canada a day after Canada Day, so I can’t tell if people did celebrate or not.

This is what we saw when we walked through Quebec City on Sunday.

This is also what happened on Monday.

While Quebecois were already at work and tourists still asleep or breakfasting we took an early long walk from our lovely auberge to the Old City, passing quiet streets lined with boutiques and shops.

Including a public library in a former church.

We stopped by Château Frontenac to shoot its portrait remembering of our young children, so impressed by the architecture and enthralled by the jugglers on the plaza, now still deserted.

Then, before climbing to the top of the Citadel we sat at one of the café tables set right across the cathedral-basilica of Notre-Dame de Québec. While my husband checked his work email I noticed the two Queen’s Guards on each side of the cathedral’s main entrance door. For a second, I thought I was hallucinating. But it’s impossible to misidentify the peculiar uniform. Soon, a few other people had noticed them too and wanted their pictures taken, as it happens in London at Buckingham Palace.

“These guys,” my husband declares, “mean that a royal member of the family is close by.”

Quickly, the area in front of the cathedral bustles with effervescence. We spotted four policemen on their motorcycles. Men in suits arrived from the neighboring Hotel de Ville.

“Must be Quebec City’s mayor,” said my husband, pointing at the man who crossed the plaza with purpose and ease.

Then, the doors of the cathedral flew wide open and a bishop and other men, wearing official religious garb, gathered at the entrance and welcomed well-dressed men and women before they entered the cathedral.

My husband, meanwhile, had unsuccessfully run a Google search.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered, half pissed, half excited.

Now, if my favorite literary genre is children and teens’ fiction, his tastes fluctuate between thrillers, crime fiction, cookbooks, famous chefs’ memoirs, and current policies. In another life, he was either a chef, but more likely a detective or a spy. So, I knew he would not go anywhere until finding who, from the British royal family, was already inside the cathedral.

“Ah!” he finally exclaimed. “Can only be Charles and Camilla. They were traveling Canada for the 150th anniversary. What’s strange is that there is no official calendar.”

“I bet they aren’t popular everywhere,” I said, right when the Anthem of Europe, based on Ode to Joy, started to play from the Hotel de Ville.

The doors of the cathedral closed. The four policemen congregated and then roared away in two different directions.

“Come on.” My husband pulled me up and together we crossed the plaza. “We could just have a look,” he suggested when we reached a side door left ajar.

“Okay.” By then, I was as curious as he was.

The cathedral was filled to full capacity and about ten people stood in the back where we easily blended. Someone, however, offered us seats, a few rows ahead. We declined.

The bishop addressed his congregation in French, acknowledging and thanking many people from all across Canada for their presence. All were unknown to us, until he included the Prince of Wales and his spouse in his speech.

“Bingo,” whispered my husband.

We left the cathedral on our tippy toes, our curiosity satisfied, yet still wondering why the venue of the Prince of Wales had not been publicized anywhere. A little bit more Internet digging confirmed that Charles and Camilla had received a mixed welcome across the country. Which explained the decision to simply go sans promotion in Quebec City.

Upon our arrival on Sunday, one of our hosts at the Auberge Aux Deux Lions had warned us, “Some restaurants or shops may be closed, due to Canada Day. Not sure.”

We only noticed that shops in general opened later that in the US but closed also later. The weather was still cool and even rainy, but an undisputable summer mood floated through the streets. People acted festive, talking and laughing as they ate at the lively sheltered terraces. Most were locals or at least Quebecois, considering the flow of conversations held in French. English was also spoken from visitors from other Canadian provinces. Not a word about the royal visit or Canada Day.

We returned to the States in time for the 4th of July.

This is what we saw from our little corner of our big country.

Firewords shot from the middle of the lake

My poor pic doesn’t give credit to our neighbor’s ingeniosity. With his boat, he had pulled a small platform to the center of the lake, far from people and trees. The show didn’t last long, but the fireworks were quite lovely for being non professional. There were far less than usual around the lake, and the festivities didn’t last until late in the night either.

We may celebrate the American Independence in a more rambuctious way than the Canadians, but this year appeared (to me, at least) more restraint. In any case, we share a common past with the Canadians, as I was reminded when I read La Rose that night, the latest novel from Louise Erdrich.

Erdrich was born from a German-American father and a Chippewa Indian (of half Ojibwe and half French blood) mother. She is one of the few contemporary writers who features Native Americans characters and settings throughout her fiction work. Also one I admire most.

“From there, he can see down the hill into the marrow of the reservation town. High and mentally blasted as he is, he sees into each heart. Pain is dotted all around, glowing from the deep chest wells of his people. To the west the hearts of the dead still pulse burning soft and green in their caskets. They stream out pale light from the earth. And to the south there are the buffalo that the tribe has bought for tourism purposes. A darkly gathered congregation. Their hearts also on fire until the dreadful message of their extinction. Their ghostly gathering now. Like us, a symbol of resistance. Like us, now rambling around in a little pen of hay getting fat. Like us, their hearts visible as lamps in the dust.”

 

 

 

 

Monday Miam-Miam: Croissants in Quebec City

Quebec has been, for years, our family quick escape to a world where most people spend also their lives between English and French. Even though French is one of the two official languages of Canada, it is clear that Quebec remains the #1 French-speaking region of the country.

And Quebec City (only called Québec in Quebec) is the #1 Canadian city where French is widely spoken.

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

On our very first family trip to Quebec, in the early 2000s, we drove from central Maine to Quebec City, a short four-hour drive.

The city immediately reminded me of the French walled city of Saint-Malo, quite close to where I grew up.

Morning walk on the Promenade des Gouverneurs. Which stretches along the citadel with the fortification wall on one side, and a stunning view of the Saint Lawrence River on the other. You’ll climb a whole bunch of uphill staircases and over 300 steps to get to the top. Worth the effort. I promise.

With four kids in tow we didn’t explore much, back then. We had splurged and stayed at the stunning Château Frontenac. The highlight of this visit was the formal afternoon high tea. My then five-year-old son still remembers of the delish tiny sandwiches. He behaved so well that our waiter brought him a few extras.

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

 

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

Since this first trip, we’ve returned many times to Quebec, preferring vibrant, diverse Montreal, more appealing to teenagers than quiet, historic Quebec City.

Early summer, however, sans kids, my husband and I decided to return to Quebec City for a couple of days.

Sometimes, returning to a place is a bad idea.

Sometimes, it is au contraire as perfect as these flowers seen in a neigborhood park in Quebec City.

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

You know what they say in real estate? Location. Location.

The same applies to hotels. Staying at the right place when traveling transforms the experience and makes it unforgettable.

We wanted a location that would allow us to leave our car and just walk. We were also a little tired of the predictibility of the big hotel brands. Reassuring but not too personal.

Based on our dream-list and the stellar reviews, my husband selected the Auberge Aux Deux Lions, situated in the heart of the Montcalm neighborhood, the artsy part of the city.

An “auberge” in French is an inn. The difference between an Inn and a Bed and Breakfast is subtle. Usually, it’s based on the number of rooms and also the possibility to have dinner on site.

Aux Deux Lions is an inn since thirteen rooms are available but a B&B since only breakfast is available on site. Although the rooms come with a fridge, a coffee maker, and access to a full, modern communal kitchen is granted to all guests.

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

I can’t possibly rank the reasons why I want to return to the auberge. They rank ex aequo. Which means equally placed in French. So with absolutely no order, here is why I wanted to stray away from my typical Monday Miam-Miam and introduce you to a place where I found myself at home for the time of our visit:

  • Perfect location
  • Warmth of the owners and staff
  • Gorgeous old house updated to modern comfort with a purposeful attention to detail

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

  • Unique rooms decorated with impeccable taste to accommodate different needs and budget
  • Full breakfast including croissants baked from scratch every morning on site (the buttery smell was so mouth-watering I could barely wait for the seven o’clock opening)
  • Did I say Location? Within walking distance from the Old City, the Montcalm neighborhood is not touristy at all. So, you get a true local experience as you see people going to work, out for dinner, running errands, and just going their own business. No car is needed, unless you want to explore the surroundings, which we will do when we return.

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband

  • Did I say Uniqueness? Our stay was a last minute decision and we were very lucky to get a room since Aux Deux Lions can be fully booked for weeks in advance. However, my husband scored the loveliest room for us.

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

  • Did I say Croissants? Wow! Full disclosure: I rarely ate croissants for breakfast when I lived in France. When I was a kid, my bought them on Sundays, and only when we took our annual three-week summer vacation. Croissants remain a treat in my native land. Otherwise, all French people would be fat 🙂 But staying in a lovely city, in a gorgeous auberge, in a stunning room, calls for exception. And these homemade croissants? Irresistible. My compliments to the baker.

Courtesy Evelyne’s Husband, right before Evelyne devoured this croissant. Please, click twice on the photo to see what I’m talking about 🙂

  • Although I’m not a huge breakfast person I never skip breakfast. And I like to enjoy this first meal of the day in a nice setting when away from my own cozy kitchen. Breakfast at the auberge is served in a warmly, elegantly decorated room. I loved the red mugs, which were such a happy splashing note against the white table clothes. Coffee, tea, and a smile welcome you as soon as you enter. Then, you can help yourself to the buffet, where in addition to the four-star croissants you’ll find ham, cheese, hardboiled eggs, fresh fruit, various yogurts, banana bread, bagels and bread, mixed cereals, butter, assorted jams, and of course Canadian maple syrup. Ambiance and setting are a nice break from the more rambunctious typical hotel dining rooms. A lovely pause in our busy noisy lives.

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

  • Did I say Warmth? The hosts are here for You. Any request, any question, any tip to make your stay better is fulfilled, answered, and suggested.
  • Two gardens, one on the side of the building and the other at the top, are open for the guests’ enjoyment.

Courtesy Aux Deux Lions

  • Lucky us, we had our own terrace, accessible from an adorable nook off the bedroom. Showers punctuated our stay. So, I wasn’t able to write or read outside. See? I must go back.

Evelyne’s little corner

Evelyne’s little corner for next time

Aux Deux Lions has a fabulous website and I borrowed some of their photos since mine wouldn’t give full credit to one of the most charming places I’ve ever stayed in North America. And beyond.

This visit to Quebec City was too short, yet long enough for two additional blog posts.

So, as they say in Quebec, “Goodbye, au revoir.”

As always, “Thank you, Merci, for reading!”

 

 

 

French Friday: Bastille Day à la French-American

Full disclosure: my husband doesn’t like crowds and even less when they have the potential to turn rowdy. Also he appreciates fireworks now and then but can totally live sans.

When we lived in France, July 14th called Bastille Day by the Americans and la fête nationale or simply le quatorze juillet by the French was mostly the occasion for a longer weekend.

I have a slightly different exposure to the French National holiday.

First, my parents were  juilletistes. That’s how we call the people who prefer July to August for their summer vacation. So we were always away from home on July 14th.

I’ve seen sixteen fireworks with my parents and sister, although I don’t remember the very first ones, obviously. I noticed the ambiance, however, at a fairly young age. French people, known for their guarded personality, rejoiced together, cheering of course for the fireworks shot from a lake, the ocean, or still in the mountains but moreover for liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Then, when I was single I lived feet away from Place de la Bastille. Every morning, before going to work, I bought the newspaper from a small stand at the mouth of the subway station Bastille. Call me sentimental or revolutionary, but every day I always paused before climbing down the set of stairs.

Courtesy Paris Info

Place de la Bastille is one of the most symbolic French landmarks. The Bastille fortress, turned into a prison under Richelieu, stood there until the Parisian people, mostly from the neighboring Faubourg Saint-Antoine, attacked it on July 14, 1789, hungry and desperate to end the monarchy.

The column at the center of the plaza is called Colonne de Juillet. Le Génie de la Liberté stands at the top of the column. This copper statue of a naked man symbolizes liberty. Le Génie holds a set of broken chains in his left hand and a torch in his right hand, one of his feet is planted on a globe representing earth and the other is lifted in the air to represent elation.

 

Courtesy Paris Info

Parisians have always gathered spontaneously Place de la Bastille whether to protest or celebrate.

Courtesy Getty Images

Sadly, last July 14th has been marked by the bloody Nice attack that killed 87 people and wounded hundreds more.

This year French President Emmanuel Macron has invited American President Donald Trump to the festivities including the annual military parade on the Champs Elysées. Which country still has military parades by the way ?:) The invitation has triggered expected controversy. President Trump is not too popular in France. It’s a fact. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said that the American President’s visit symbolized also the one-hundredth anniversary of the American declaration of war against Germany in 1917. France has occasionnally reproached to the US their late intervention and the low number of soldiers who fought.

You already know that my husband and I love eating out for dinner when we travel together. We never eat out for lunch, though, preferring a picnic away from the highway. Then we look for a quiet spot and often share sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, and fruits on a town square. In these small American towns we often find a modest monument honoring local men who lost their lives at war. Their numbers during WWII and the Vietnam War are staggering. But once in a while I will also notice the name of a young man who died in France between 1917 and 1918. It can be one hundred years ago I imagine his heartbroken mom and dad, his siblings and friends who never saw him again and probably never set foot in France where he lived his last day. Also before the official declaration of war some American volunteers were already fighting in France.

The French at large won’t greet President Trump with the joyful and grateful acclamation that the first American men received when they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer on June 13, 1917, quickly followed by thousands more while two additional millions were ready to intervene if necessary. It’s a fact.

But when two countries whose paths have so many times crossed celebrate together not only Bastille Day but also their joined fight against a common enemy their leaders can only forget their differences. At least the time of a parade and fireworks. I’m sure it’s a welcome break for the American President 🙂

As for my husband and me, thousands miles away from Paris, we will be celebrating July 14th in true French-American manner since an American friend of mine invited us to join her family and a French visiting friend.

She promised fireworks.

I promised we wouldn’t chop any head.

Chance is that some of us will wear bleu, blanc, rouge.

Or maybe red, white, and blue.

The flower pics and water feature have been taken at the Horticultural Gardens at Virginia Tech and in northern Maine

Monday Miam-Miam: Village of Nyack

Besides food and books my husband and I like art. Particularly American and French from the 19th and 20th centuries.

So along our deal One Restaurant/One Bookstore, we also try to select our overnight stop in a town or city with a museum that fits our interest.

Doesn’t always work, mostly due to museums hours of closing.

But sometimes we luck out.

Today I’m taking you to Nyack, New York, a small town on the Hudson River, less than thirty miles away from New York City. A train can in fact take you to the city. Not directly but still pretty cool. I read that Nyack’s residents use public transportation 70% higher than anyone else in the US. I also learn how to pronounce Nyack.

Nyack’s compact walkable downtown is packed with independent restaurants, cafés, all kinds of shops, including a shop made for my musician son…

… and a gorgeous library.

My husband noticed Nyack first because of the Edward Hooper House. He’s a fan of Hooper’s artwork, so he was eager to visit his native home where the artist lived until he turned twenty-eight.

Then he chose Velo as our dinner table because he ate there once sans moi and had promised to return whenever we got a chance. Glad we did. Much more fun to eat à deux than alone. Especially when the restaurant is as pleasant as Velo.

Courtesy of Velonyack.com

Velo is how we designate a bicyle in France – with an accent aigu on the e. Anthony DeVanzo, the owner also the chef, a graduate of the prestigious C.I.A. (not that one, the other one: Culinary Institute of America located in Hyde Park, New York), picked the name Velo to illustrate his passion for cooking and cycling. The décor features many bicycles, either as objects or depicted on posters and paintings.

Courtesy of Velonyack.com

Since its opening in 2008 Velo has established its reputation as a cozy yet innovative restaurant in this lovely part of New York state.

From the second I entered the restaurant I understood why my husband knew I would love the place. Ambiance more than décor is important to me. When I eat out I like a space that feels mine for the time of a meal. As much as I enjoy the company of people I never feel myself in an intimidating restaurant. Unpretentious doesn’t equal unsophisticated. I like the new American look of many restaurants. They blend raw material such as wood and brick, tableclothed tables, handsome china and utensils, and impeccable yet approachable service. Velo exemplifies these ingredients.

Courtesy of Velonyack.com

Courtesy of Velonyack.com

It was a quiet, still cool early summer night. A night that calls for candles. We talk less loudly and engage in better conversations under dimmed light, no? Our waiter must have read my thoughts since he lit the small votive already set on our table and someone else dimmed the overhead lights throughout the restaurant. I easily imagined Nyack in the winter when snow spirals in the air and colors the world in white.

Courtesy of Velonyack.com

The wine list is terrific, said my husband. He goes through a wine list as if reading a rare book, slowly and appreciatively. Velo is in fact a real wine bar with an extensive selection of expensive bottles but also very affordable wines by the glass, including unusual French wines that you rarely find in the US. In France we call them petits vins locaux. Unassuming yet highly enjoyable, light in alcohol, crisp and fresh, I still favor them to headier California or South America wines.

Of course, food matters when you decide to eat out. Food is what gathers people around a table, but everyone owns their own taste buds.

For instance, my husband favors charcuterie while I prefer salads. But we both love cheese. Don’t forget that the former French President Général de Gaulle supposedly said that governing a country with more cheese than days in a year was a real challenge. Dealing with lots of cheese has never been challenging to me.

So I happily enjoyed Velo’s Baby Field Greens with thinly sliced cucumber and warm herbed goat cheese. In France we also serve cheese with a simple green salad on the side, right before dessert. Velo’s slightly fruity blood orange vinaigrette complimented the savors. Fruit and cheese go really well together. In the winter, I like to bake individual mini goat cheeses on top on thick slices of apple. I serve them with a green salad and good bread. You got an easy tasty dish.

My husband chose the fried oysters and encouraged me to try one, knowing that I favor fresh oysters and have always preferred the French ones, smaller and never chewy. But these fried ones were a pure delish. The reason being a perfect light batter.

Faithful to my tastes I went for fish and chose the Atlantic Skate. For full disclosure I still have a hard time to know the American equivalent for every French fish and I also start to forget the names of some French fish. So I wasn’t sure what Skate was. I assumed it was fairly local since it came from the Atlantic. I learned that it is indeed a fish caught in New England. In French it’s called Raie. Because of the shape of the skate the presentation was interesting. Looked like a gigantic circular comb served on top of a bed of rice and green peas, with a few shrimps and chopped tomatoes. The seasonned tomato broth added a slightly sweet flavor which I loved since I’m a tomato fan.

My husband followed in my steps and ordered fish too

We had been on the road all day and for once craved some coffee. The waiter who had been absolutely perfect from the second we entered brought us the two espressos we had ordered and the check we had also asked. He had not charged us for the coffee. When we mentioned it he insisted, “They are on me.”

There was no reason for this kind attention. You know what they say about random acts of kindness? I’m sure we will return sometime to this part of New York state and pretty sure too that Velo will be on the list. Not because of the two espressos, of course. But restaurants where customers feel valuable understand the importance of service. Good service stays on your mind long after the meal is gone.

From a neighboring front yard

 

My two extra personal plusses for Nyack:

Pickwick Book Shop, two minutes away from Velo, is a must stop, if not to buy a book at least to admire the building and the window.

Now I’ve visited countless bookstores all over the States and other countries and witnessed booksellers’ creativity when it comes to display their books.

Pickwick stands in its own league.

 

I didn’t want to ask the friendly man behind his crowded counter if he was able to direct his customers to a specific book.

Part of the fun in a bookstore is to get lost. I also love to find a book I wasn’t looking for or bump into one I wanted to read. So I left with Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon, a teen book I had meant to read a while ago.

The novel was a small brick in the elaborate Leaning Tower of Pisa whose foundation was a chair.

 

On the opposite sidewalk and within a quick walk from Pickwick Book Shop you’ll find the Edward Hooper House and Art Center. We were able to visit late afternoon, before closing.

The artist’s house is typical of the houses from the 19th century in this part of the country.

The visit of Hooper’s birthplace is short since some rooms are not allowed to the public. Not so bad since his bedroom is probably where the young Hooper drew most of his creativity.

From his bed he was fortunate to follow the Hudson.

 

Downstairs, it’s possible to watch a video in a room with personal artifacts that once belonged to Hooper and even read a letter to his mother.

This is not your typical museum since the art center harbors temporary exhibits in addition to the permanent Hooper’s collection. The visit can feel disappointing if you expect to see all of Hooper’s work. But if you consider that your place of origin is part of the person you became, then you’ll easily imagine a young boy within these walls, lying on his bed and watching the Hudson, his head filling with artistic ideas that very soon he would explore with his pencils and paintbrushes.

And it would be too bad, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: American Garages

Brand-new in California my husband booked me on a tour of the Silicon Valley, so one morning we buckled up our one year-old daughter in the back seat of our Ford station wagon, the one some neighbors called the boat, and off we went.

“The garage where everything started,” my husband announced, stopping in front of a small garage. “Hewlett Packard was born here.” He told me almost the same thing when we saw the logo of Apple on Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino. “They also worked from their parents’ garage before Apple existed.”

Even for a neophyte like me I shared my husband’s excitement. I reached for his hand. In France, I used to put my hand on his on the gearshift. Or even on his knee or thigh. The Ford was an automatic and the space between us so wide that I had to reach over to touch his sleeve. He leaned toward me.

“I know you don’t really like this kind of stuff,” he said.

“Only because I’ve had no exposure to the “stuff,”” I said. “But I’m happy to see with my own eyes and I understand why it made you dream.”

I assumed that lots of great things happened in American garages since I kept seeing “GARAGE SALE” signs everywhere.

In France, “old” means collectible and expensive, but old is part of people’s lives, so nobody had figured out in the early 1990s that buying used clothes, furniture, toys or appliances directly from your neighbor could be possible and enjoyable. We had flea markets, antique shops, and brocantes (a French version of the low-key American antique shops), but individuals wouldn’t have dared display their own oldies until years later when they launched the vide-greniers (empty attics) trend, a French version of the American garage or yard sales. On the other hand, I imagined that anything already used was vintage for Americans, and I loved watching them, tireless and enthusiastic, browse through racks of jeans and shirts, piles of china and books, hoping for the right find and I suspected for the bargain. It was also a perfect way to talk and laugh. I realized that Americans were much more gregarious and much less inhibited than the French. They were even boisterous in comparison to the guarded French I knew, more naïve and also much less judgmental. I liked those traits a lot, even though they surprised me.

I am now used to the extravert American way of life. Which I find less intimidating than the guarded French way. But once in a while the vision of a car that ambles on a Saturday morning, following a Garage or Yard Sale sign, a group of men and women gathered in a driveway, browsing through “treasures,” bargaining, or just laughing and chatting between neighbors, brings a smile to my lips.

Yes, I think then, lots of great things still happen in American garages.

P.S. The photos have been taken in the horticultural gardens of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Truly gorgeous grounds.

Monday Miam-Miam: Personal San Diego Short List

Once, I met one of my best American friends in Paris. She was visiting with her husband when I was also in France. My husband offered to take us on a nightly tour of the capital. So after dinner we toured Paris, chauffeured by my Parisian-born husband. We brought our friends to the places where we had lived and worked and had dinner and had simply just been. I was so happy to open this personal window on my pre American life.

Now it is my kids’ turn to show me around when I visit them. I’m really lucky that they all live in different beautiful cities. Visiting them is not only the best feeling ever but also a trip to a place they know so much better than I do. Not unlike that night when we took our California friends on a un-touristic Paris tour.

San Diego, where daughter #3 studies and lives, is a popular destination, even for California residents. The weather is almost always perfect and the natural setting gorgeous. With Disneyland and Lego Land nearby and Sea World right in town the city has always been a family playground set on a gorgeous backdrop.

Over the years, though, San Diego has also gained a reputation as a foodie city. Thanks to our daughter we’ve been lucky to get to know the neighborhoods of Hillcrest and Bankers Hills fairly well over the last couple of years.

Courtesy SanDiego.org

Both neighborhoods are within walking distance from Balboa Park, a real oasis in the city.

Six restaurants and cafés make our short list in Hillcrest and Bankers Hill.

 

For the über-quality sushi, Azuki Sushi on Fifth Avenue is our family # 1 choice.

Typical sushi bar downstairs where the cooks greet everyone when they enter. A larger dimmed dining area is located above. Hard to select from the extensive menu, but you can’t be wrong when you see the crowd willing to wait an hour or more for a table. My first encounter with Japanese food goes back to Paris when the first sushi restaurant opened Rue Sainte Anne in the 1980s. But with my first trip to New York City in 1986 I fell in love with Japanese food, and especially suhsi.

Courtesy Azuki Sushi

For classic Italian with a modern American twist: Cucina Urbana on Laurel St.

Although sophisticated enough for a date, many parents show up here with young children. For the pizzas of course. But also for the antipasti plates, perfect to share with your table. The menu offers a balanced mix of meats, fish, pasta dishes and even vegetarian entrees fits every appetite.

Courtesy Cucina Urbana

For the rustic décor and no frill food: Bankers Hill Bar and Restaurant on Fourth Ave.

And for the planes that fly so close above the neighborhood that they seem within fingertip reach. Unlike most airports San Diego’s is in fact easily accessible from the city. Bankers Hill resembles many recent restaurants and it’s hard sometimes to distinguish one from another. I imagine the creative minds at work when they want to find that unique touch that will render the place unforgettable or at least a tad different. Bankers Hill has managed to reach a comfortable mix of authentic rustic and urban feel.

Courtesy Bankers Hill

For the locally produced ingredients and the innovation: Trust Restaurant on Park Blvd.

This is one of the most creative restaurants where I ate recently, both in terms of cooking and presentation. Tons of veggies are prepared in very inventive ways. Even the most reluctant green person will fall for the gorgeous plates served small, since the goal is to share between guests. Hard to take photos since the place is always busy. You can eat in and out, always an easy choice in San Diego where the weather is often dream-like.

Courtesy Open Table

For patio or fireplace brunch: Parkhouse Eatery on Park Blvd.

This is not a show off place but worth a detour if you enjoy copious breakfast and brunch. Our daughter discovered it for her dad when she read that they served eggs Benedict, one of his favorite breakfast treats. In San Diego, you are a foot in Mexico. The cook at Parkhouse knows how to blend typical North America’s breakfast food with South America’s flavor. The egg dishes are really sumptuous, according to the pro. I’m more of a sweet tooth in the morning and I always fall for waffles and pancakes when they are crisp and moist. Coffee is also excellent there, a mandatory asset for breakfast/brunch. Depending of the weather or your mood you can eat inside or outside. Both are lovely spaces. The service is friendly and unpretentious yet professional.

Courtesy Parkhouse Eatery

For coffee, pastries, bread and more: Bread & Cie on University Ave.

This is a very popular breakfast place. Although they also serve typical breakfast fare I’m not a big breakfast girl. Love my oatmeal. Or mixed cereal with fresh berries and plain yogurt. Locals show up early to buy bread, which is served whole or sliced. Definitely a neighborhood café where you’ll meet families with young kids in tow grabbing a muffin before nursery school drop off, young professionals in need of a shot of coffee and also older people either reading the paper or catching up with longtime acquaintances.

Courtesy Bread&Cie

 

And of course a bookstore to feed your mind and soul: Bluestocking Books on Fifth Ave.

There are a few bookstores on this section of Fifth Ave. but most carry used books. Rent, whether residential or commercial, is skyrocketing in most parts of California. San Diego is no exception. Which explains the recent closure of one used bookstore on Fifth.

Bluestocking Books is still there, though, with its broad range of fiction and non-fiction books for kids and adults. The comfy setting and friendly staff encourage browsing. 100% chance to find a book for everyone. I did of course.

Courtesy Bluestocking Books

I wish you all a great week with good food and great books, wherever you are.

 

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