Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lemon, Lemonade

Every day for the past eleven days, I've awoken to see this in progress, and have contributed as little as I could to it. But it remained. And, bit by bit, grew.

There's even more than this, spread over most of the kitchen. It got there because the sink drain got clogged, I would plunge the water out of the drain, the floor would flood, I'd mop it up, and finally I borrowed a plumber's snake a week ago Saturday, got as far as disconnecting the drain right under the sink, figured out I didn't know how to use the snake, put the drain back together -- only it wasn't. I have no idea what's wrong, but I do know that the landlord said he'd send his plumber on Thursday of last week early in the morning. I got up after a rough night of going to Le Jam to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops, since the tramway construction has made it almost impossible to walk to the club (and the map on their website is, um, more impressionistic than utilitarian), and I wound up after the show sliding down a mudbank to get back to the tram, thereby frightening the hell out of two young women who obviously have seen too many movies featuring people named Jason. Anyway, I messed up a clean pair of jeans and my right kneecap in the process, which was almost ameliorated by the CCDs' excellent performance

I didn't eat dinner that night because there weren't even any trustworthy kebab stands open by the time I got back, but I'd been coping, as noted in my last post, by eating out. When the plumber didn't come on Thursday, I got mad. The landlord told me he'd been there, and I hadn't, which was at least one lie, but he then signed off on his duty. Fortunately, a friend contacted me with the name and number of her plumber, I gamely screwed up the courage to call him (I'm no good at all in foreign languages on the phone, but this guy was very patient), and he's due in about 90 minutes.

But, although I really can't afford it, I've been eating out, so I thought, hey, a chance to re-visit some old favorites and maybe make a new one.

First stop, unsurprisingly, was Thym & Romarin, from my previous post, on Friday night. They'd had an amazing-looking pork loin with a mushroom cream sauce going, and I was going to get some. Except I wasn't: "Sorry, no more tonight," the waiter said. Dang. Instead I started with a roast Camembert with a small salad, which was okay, and then had seiches, a local cuttlefish which was said to be served with pistou, which is like pesto, only without nuts and cheese. Now, granted, my nose was only half-cooperating this night, but I sure didn't see any pistou in the vicinity. The rice was just plain rice. And the seiches weren't cooked all that well: parts were hard. I suspect this was an off night (and I know, dammit, that basil's not in season: what was I thinking?), but I still won't recommend the utterly atmosphere-less downstairs room, which wasn't helped by a sound-system playing salsa a bit too loud. I still like this place, make no mistake, but I'll be more careful what I order next time and sit upstairs.

Saturday, I took a chance, and went back to Gourmet Gulch, my name for a square properly known as Place de la Chapelle Neuve, which has four or five restaurants (maybe more, depending on what time of day you go) surrounding it, a lovely place on a hot evening. Which Saturday wasn't. Still, I'd had an amazing meal here last summer at a place with the uninspiring name Bistro Gourmand and wondered how they'd do in chilly weather. Not so well, at least from a business standpoint: maybe I was there too early, but the place wasn't exactly jammed, and it was Saturday night. Still, the food looked good and, well, how can you go wrong ordering a starter of lentil soup with little "meatballs" of foie gras in it? I followed that up with a parmentier de canard, which is sort of a pie of rich, super-tasty duck with "frosting" of mashed potatoes, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and browned. Mistake: I ordered a cheese plate for dessert, I was having so much fun. Not only did they not include this in the menu price (okay, I should have said something), but it was served too cold, and there was much too much -- but it was good. Wine was a generic grès de Montpellier out of a box, big, plummy, richly satisfying, that went with everything. Phenomenal!

The seiches were on my mind on Sunday. The first place I'd ever had them, Le Bistrot d'Alco, was still the best I've discovered -- and one of the cheapest good restaurants in town. The question was if it'd be open on Sunday. It was. Since it wasn't as expensive as the previous night's place, I splurged and ordered a starter of mousse of fois gras, a few tablespoons of which came with four thin, somewhat dry, slices of pain d'épices, often erroneously translated as gingerbread, but really a kind of soda bread with spices like mace, ginger, and I think cinnamon. I'd always wondered about pairing foie gras with sweet stuff, and I'm not sure I understand it, but this worked quite nicely. Afterwards, I passed on the seiches, which they make with persillade, parsley and garlic finely minced together and tossed into olive oil, and just had a steak, which was okay, in a sauce I didn't quite get, served with a baked potato and some green beans tossed with olive oil and garlic. Had the wine of the month, which they serve by opening a bottle and then estimating how much you'd drunk. They estimated less than I thought, but it was a lovely Faugères, more peppery than the fruitier wines I'd been drinking, and, as their specials always are, a bargain.

Monday, though, was a real problem, especially when I seriously considered the damage I'd already done to my bank account, which was considerable. (Of course, I'm not even thinking of paying my rent until my plumbing works again, but I've still got to have enough left over for that). Okay, Monday would be pizza. There's a joint called Valentino's, down on the rue des Balances, that I really like, and they do a grilled eggplant and sundried tomato pizza that was going to be dinner last night. Well, it would have been if Valentino's had been open, anyway: lots of places close on Mondays. The fallback was the famous Pizza Ste. Anne, which occupies most of the short rue Ste. Anne, and that's where I went. An undistinguished "green salad" (lettuce, thin rings of red onion, thin half-slices of tomato, olive oil, and a lemon to squeeze onto it, but at least it was a salad: these other restaurants aren't big on vegetables) was followed by my usual, a Pizza Atomica, made with mushrooms and Spanish chorizo sausage, not as atomica as you might think, but proably plenty challenging for your average French person.

But please, let me eat at home tonight. I can't afford another restaurant.

Note, however, that this attitude is subject to change with appropriate income. I've still got a half-dozen places I want to try or re-try.

Off to find some dough to pay the plumber!

* * *

Thym & Romarin: see last post. 

Bistro Gourmand7 place de la Chapelle Neuve, 34000 Montpellier, phone 04 67 66 08 09, open daily including Sunday from 10am til midnight.

Bistrot d'Alco, 4, rue Bonnier d'Alco, 34000 Montpellier, phone 04 67 63 12 09, open for lunch Monday-Friday noon-2pm, dinner daily 7:30-10pm. 

Pizza Ste.Anne, 3, rue Ste. Anne, 34000 Montpellier, phone 04 99 63 54 42, open daily noon-2pm, 7:15-11:15 pm, no dinner Monday. 


  1. Can you try a sink drain? Cheap sieve thing which fits over the plughole and collects food fragments when you drain the sink. And wash dishes in the bath? Or is there no bath?

  2. Had one of those since the beginning. Bath, such as it is (more a place to stand while showering) won't work, if only because showerhead's so clogged with sediment. Nope, this is a job for a pro.

  3. I finally got to try your eggplant sundried tomatoes pizza at Valentinos (which always seems to be closed). Delicious!


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