My friend Betty tells me a story of a wonderful dinner in France that almost “got away” from her and her husband, Tom, years ago when they were traveling in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon. They happened upon this dinner by chance, really, and she tells me it was the only time she ever ate so much she thought she might be sick (been there!), but fortunately dinner stayed put.
As they checked into a country hotel in Les Angles, L’Ermitage Meissonnier (and I’ll continue in Betty’s words):
We were asked, “And will you want dinner?” and we said, “We’ll see,” then checked out the restaurants in town and returned to say yes, we’d have dinner.
Later, we realized that we were at a country hotel of a famous chef, and that people stayed at the hotel mostly to have dinner. So here’s what we had at L’Ermitage Meissonnier, outside of Avignon:
1. a little plate with 4 things: a tiny brochette with some kind of meat, a fried round of fish, a little black log of tapenade, a garlicky stiff sauce.
2. Entrée: langoustines with ravioli in pistou: ten raviolis stuffed with different things, a little knob of langoustine mousse, and 3 deep-fried little “purses” of crisp pastry tied with a chive, with 3 little treasures in them, served with head and claws of one langoustine as garnish.
3. Lamb cooked 3 ways: one roasted, a little one in the center of the plate on top of a few haricots verts and peas was steamed, two little fried puff pastries filled with ground lamb, and a crusty fried finger with lamb inside (a tiny tomato & tiny zucchini piece stuffed with ground meat, probably lamb sausage, and 5 haricot verts).
4. A flat round medallion of a grainy custard with a puff of egg white topped with a crackly praline sauce–a variation of floating island I’d never tasted.
5. Two desserts: one a plate of 3 cakey tarts (strawberry, wild strawberry, cherry) with a dark fruity sauce; the other 3 layers of a crispy round with wild strawberries and whipped cream in a strawberry sauce.
6. A plate with 3 kinds of sweets: a cookie, a chocolate, a meringuey thing (I was too full to taste any of them)
7. Ginger sorbet
While I still find listings for this traditional restaurant online, including on the Gault&Millau website, one site says it’s closed. But another site mentions cooking classes so maybe they are in business, and very au courant with those cooking classes. The head of the Hermitage, Michel Meissonnier, took over in 1978 from his father, who founded the restaurant in 1964.
Before I knew better, and before the ease of Internet research, I’ll bet I missed some great meals on my own travels (not that they were extensive), simply not realizing that a great meal was just around the corner or a few miles away. I’ve always tried to do some culinary research before I go anywhere new, of course, and I can’t imagine choosing a travel destination that might have indifferent food. (I remember being pretty frustrated in Aruba about 30 years ago. Yes there was Dutch rijsttafel, a sort of colonial Indonesian/West Indies smorgasbord. But I didn’t love the meal, partly my own ignorance at the time, I’m sure. And much of the seafood seemed overcooked to me, even then.)
With you, DEAR Faith and Betty, re Paris, re France, re the state of the world, and the excellence of happened-upon meals in that blessed country’s byways, over the decades. Nobody does it better, although the Carversville Inn in Pennsylvania (where we celebrated our November Birthdays) comes close. The puff pastry tiny ‘chapeaux’ of your escargots were welcome, evanescent garnishes to my oyster ‘stew’ — the most delicate of my life. Like sipping the most elegant silks of Lyons — oyster-grey yet luminous, flecked with butter like a mirage, punctuated with tiny melting yet meaty oysters. The puff pastry evaporated like a dream.
The Nazis did not destroy Paris. Nothing else can. Truly the City of Light, it lives wherever excellence is paramount, in memory, in reality. And even in tucked-away rustic towns in Pennsylvania…. c