But the reason for this post is what happened afterwards. My sponsor, Prof. Claude Chastagner, took me to dinner at the Trinque Fougasse, a restaurant I've been curious about since I got here, as a way of compensating for the fact that there was no payment for the talk. It compensated, all right.
I'd been getting weekly announcements of the lunch menu at this place from the local Slow Food chapter for some time, but this turned out to have set up wrong expectations. The chef who does lunch isn't on for dinner, and the restaurant falls back on a set seasonal menu. This has its good points and its not-so-good (although not bad) points. Whereas the lunch menu is an exploration of local ingredients, with a single chef as architect, the dinner menu is actually lighter and more aimed at pairing with wine. I tend to eat my heaviest meal last in the day, as I suspect most Americans do, and so I had a bit of trouble choosing something from the menu. The two "la planche" combos included dessert, which I don't eat, and the "Automnale" included goat-cheese as well, to which I'm rather violently allergic most of the time.
I went with "Les 3 Jambons," tastings of three different kinds of Spanish ham, including the rare Pata Negra. What you get is just that: ham and bread. We also ordered fries (unexceptional, but at least they didn't seem frozen) and salad (which was, um, salad), and Claude had the seafood combo, which looked good enough, but, again, light.
When you sit down, there's a paperweight-like thing with your table number on it, and you're invited to go over to the wine-bar area and taste some wines. This led to the discovery that the restaurant is also a retail store: along the wall was a very, very impressive selection of local wines, including every one of my greatest hits and many more I'd heard of but not tried. None of them were involved with the tasting, which features six or so bottles of a range of stuff, from simple to very complex. Each bottle in the wall display has three prices: a bottle to go, a bottle to consume with your meal, and a per-glass price, all of which were very reasonable. Unfortunately, as I discovered when the guy poured a taste of a Pic St. Loup I'd never heard of, my nose had gone to sleep, as usual for the evening, so I could only very barely taste what was there. This didn't mean that Claude, who admitted that he wasn't as familiar with the local wines as I was, had to suffer, though, so I picked out a Clos des Immortelles from Mas de la Seranne, which is right up there with my favorites, easily the best wine I've discovered here so far. He was impressed, as people tend to be.
I was able to tell a bit about the hams, with the Pata Negra having a granular consistency and a higher degree of salt than the other two. In fact the jambon de la vallée des Aldudes had hardly any salt at all, but was clearly well-cured, from its dark color. The intensity made for leisurely eating, although I did wish for a bit more stuff to fill me up; I'd had to walk to the University for lack of tram fare in a driving cold wind (although apparently most of France got slammed with snow last night and only this tiny pocket was spared, so that's something) and, on my current economically determined one-meal-per-day regime, I could have used more calories.
Since we were in a car, I'm not 100% sure where this place was and how one gets there via public transportation, but I'm quite interested in going back when the weather warms up and the outdoor section is viable, both because that's nice and because it might be further away from the live music, which I certainly don't need with my food. The setup is nice: wandering to the bar, the informal vibe, the possibility of taking a bottle of something you liked home with you. So thanks for the dinner and the chance to do a try-out of the talk, Claude!