At any rate, until yesterday, this has been my office:
That chair on the left, partially obscured by a freezer full of various Quorn and Linda McCartney products, clotted cream ice cream, and frozen Yorkshire puddings (among other things), was where I passed the time at the English Corner Shop, which, as I've said, is owned by two Americans, former engineers who got stranded in France when a French version of a tech incubator over in Provence went belly-up. They did some research as to where they could open a version of a store they were already patronizing in Antibes, sensibly chose Montpellier, spent a year battling the bureaucracy, and finally opened at the beginning of October. I showed up to beg bandwidth a couple of weeks later, and was graciously allowed to occupy that chair from 1 til 4 or 5 each day. A couple of days later, Chuck's doctor ordered him into the hospital for a week for some tests, since a blood sample came back with some odd results. Judi asked me if I could hang out and keep an eye on customers, since she didn't like being alone in the shop.
I did, and it was fun. There was quite a parade of characters: regulars who, some of them, came in with clockwork regularity; bemused French people who looked at the stock like it was some sort of ethnological exhibit in a natural history museum -- but usually bought something; British people who'd seen an ad or who'd just been walking by, to whom the sight of jars of Marmite or Bounty bars, or Walker's crisps brought on a nostalgic rush; a South African guy who offered to buy the place; and, memorably, a clutch of teenagers who stood by the drinks cooler, examining the stock, then each selecting a can of root beer, paying, and rushing out the door. "I think they think they just bought beer," Judi said, after a moment's thought. If so, I wished I'd been there when they popped the tab on the top of the can and saw what they'd gotten into.
And besides using the wi-fi, I also met people. This is something I've needed to do for a while, and now I see people I know in the street and nod hello to them. I also know far more than I ever wanted to about British foods and their subtleties, such as they are, and I've come face to face with frightening things like canned macaroni and cheese and a British variation on Mallomars made by Cadbury which have the added touch of a jelly-like filling inside the marshmallow, and may contain not a single natural ingredient. Scary stuff.
Anyway, thanks to the Fowlers, and if you're in town, here's what the place looks like, at the foot of rue Four des Flammes, just past La Tomate, the inexplicably popular restaurant, and across from the Palace Bar, a nice place that does a good lunch at reasonable prices.
I'll be hanging out there more, after I catch up on some of the stuff that's piled up here at home. But I'll leave my computer home.
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Just to the right of that picture is the corner of rue Roucher, which features a number of restaurants. Since the plumbing problem in my kitchen hasn't improved, and, in fact, got worse when I tried to use Chuck's plumber's snake over the weekend without finding instructions before I left the wi-fi on Saturday, I have to eat out until presumably tomorrow, when the landlord's plumber will come to fix that and the toilet, which has been busted since January. (Yes, January. And yes, I told him back then; he did a magnificent job of pretending I hadn't.) I can ill afford this, particularly since the day after my birthday at the beginning of the month I took myself out to dinner at a place I'd been curious about and, as I walked there, had the familiar feeling of my sinus polyps inflating, which meant that by the time I got there, I couldn't smell or taste much. The restaurant also didn't seem so good, although I'll give it another chance some day, simply because the young folks who own it seem very committed. Still, it set me back €40, which was upsetting for a meal I couldn't taste.
But last night, I had to go out, and there was a place on rue Roucher I'd walked past a number of times and was also curious about. It seemed that the fat chef who used to do the lunches at the Vert Anglais, and may have perfected their fantastic hamburger, had opened this place, so I figured it was worth a shot. Was it ever!
The chef wasn't in evidence, and the whole team seemed to be one very serious young guy cooking and the other waiting and busing the tables. There was a small upstairs and also, apparently, seating downstairs, but the place is tiny. There's a fridge just inside the door, the kitchen is semi-open (a real rarity around here), and there's room for maybe ten people upstairs where I was. I started with a tartelette du boudin noir, a small crock with some cut-up blood sausage and apples topped with a pastry crust, served with a salad. I'd never tasted boudin noir before, and it's very pleasant, with just a touch of nutmeg setting off the darker flavors, and the apples being, of course, a natural accompaniment. This was served with a small salad with a tasty mustard vinaigrette. There were several main dishes I wanted to try, and I kept telling myself that I've got to stop ordering steaks of various sorts, because it's boring, but the pièce de boeuf here was advertised as served in a port reduction with confit of garlic, and I found that intriguing. The beef itself was pretty good-sized, tender as could be, and the sauce was a perfect complement, as was what the chef did with the garlic: cubed it up and fried it with cubes of potatoes. Wow. There was also a tiny amount of zucchini and red sweet peppers on the side, and I could have done with more of that, but this was a very satisfying meal, and I sopped up all of the sauce with the excellent bread. No dessert, but that's okay, and the pichet wine, a half-liter, was a nice basic Cotes du Languedoc, perhaps even from Palliatrice (I think that's spelled right), the closest winery to downtown here, not noted for masterpieces, but quite drinkable. The bill for all of this was a whopping €23, or just over half what my last restaurant meal cost. I'll definitely be back.
Thym & Romarin, 14, rue Roucher, 34000 Montpellier. Phone 04 99 61 72 29. Open Mon-Sat 7-10pm, Tues-Fri lunch noon-2pm.
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Incidentally, a couple of people asked what I did with those turnips from a few weeks back: I looked for recipes and had just about decided to toss them with olive oil and salt when I found a very nice-looking recipe in The Silver Spoon, that wonderful Italian cookbook. It had me saute some onions in olive oil, add equal proportions of turnips and potatoes, pour some vegetable stock over it, and then dust it with some oregano and cook in a 400-degree oven, with some mozzarella over it, for a half-hour. Boy, was that good. In fact, I am now in possession of two more turnips so I can do it again.
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So one thing's for certain: winter is coming. I caught the Tomatologist at the market last week with what he said were his last tomatoes until mid-June (actually, it's the Tomatologist's son, but he's as friendly as his dad), but he lied: he was back with more this week. But that's definitely it. There are a lot more roots for sale, dark leaves like chard and spinach, cabbages, odd twisted carrots, some in exotic colors, and winter squashes and pumpkins (in fact, the Silver Spoon also has a recipe for turnips, leeks, and pumpkin which looks good...).
Another reason you can tell what time it is is that Montpellier has balls:
Soon, there will also be a huge synthetic tree at one end of the Comédie, too, as garish as they make 'em. And after that comes the fall wine fair and then the Christmas market on the Esplanade. This year, for the first time, I'll be able to afford a tasting glass and taste the wines on offer, too. And, not for the first time, I'm sure I'll find the goods at the Christmas market to be as tacky as they come.
But that's then and this is now, and I'm glad to be back on line.
Next up: more Year of America in Montpellier.