LES SAVEURS DE THAU, MEZE: RESTAURANT REVIEW

The sunset view from LES SAVEURS DE THAU
The Étang de Thau is the largest of the string of lagoons or salt water lakes that run along the French Mediterranean coast from the outlet of the Rhone down to the Spanish border. These lagoons form an excellent environment for all sorts of fauna, from flamingos and herons beloved of photography buffs to mussels, oysters, and all sorts of fish for that fine, Mediterranean cuisine. So, when you attend a late afternoon concert in a village on the Étang de Thau, why not have dinner at one of the fine seafood restaurants that generally line the waterfront? I've written about restaurants in Gruissan, in Bouzigues, and in Sète. Now, thanks to Bach and a whirling Dervish, Mèze.

(Yes, a Dervish performedd with Sufi chanters in a Protestant church in a small town on the French Mediterranean coast, right after a French group of singers and instrumentalists offered a Bach motet.. I'll be writing about that singular experience anon.)

Internet investigation reveals that there are a dozen or so seafood restaurants that would probably be worth investigating in Mèze. How do you choose? You check out the website (or the Facebook page). You hope that the menu and the prices that have been posted are reasonably up to date. You look at the pictures 'adjusted' to make the place and the food look as welcoming as possible. The fact that we would be arriving on a Sunday evening in March narrowed the field, but not by much. Then you throw a dart at the map and you call the winner for reservations.

Les Saveurs de Thau is a cozy, intimate, well-appointed space. We were among the first to arrive because the concert let out earlier than we expected, but that's OK. We got the full attention of the server that way. And as is often the case in the smaller venues, there was only one server. But even as the place made its way to half full, we weren't rushed and we weren't ignored.

The menu did not quite match what I'd read on the internet but it was close enough for jazz. We were treated to a sweet little aperitif at the start, maybe a kir with a berry syrup. I chose the start-main-dessert special as did two of my three tablemates. One just wanted a main. All opting for starters chose the grilled shrimp. Excellent. Good size and as sweet as any shrimp we've had in France. Messy to shuck but we were given little lemony hand wipes that did the trick. I ordered a piece of beef. Every once in a while, I give French beef a chance. This cut, bavette d’aloyau, was a step above the normal bavette, seared on the outside, pink-to-red on the inside, as proper a piece of meat as you'll get without spending considerably more. Two of the ladies opted for a plate with small portions of two fish, lotte and bourride, that were just enough and just diverse enough to satisfy. Our Slovakian visitor, not a lover of seafood, opted for duck confit. Her first taste of that signature French dish and she enjoyed it. The desserts were impressively decadent, particularly Cathey's crepe maison, the last dish pictured below.

The bill came in at about 35€ per person with a bottle of picpoul, a carafe of rose, and coffee at the finish. A bit heftier than our normal but it was a Sunday dinner, after all. Well done.


Again, my apologies for my ancient digital camera. Each dish tasted better than it looks.

All of the restaurant reviews on my blog are consolidated HERE.






 





AN AMERICAN EXPAT'S TAKE ON WORLD POLITICS: PART 3 - TRUMP

When talk about politics among English-speaking expats here in the south of France turns to the USofA, two questions are inevitably asked.

1. How did Donald Trump manage to get himself elected President of the United States?
This is a technical question, asked by those who are aware that Clinton received 3,000,000 more votes than Trump.

2. How did Donald Trump manage to get himself elected President of the United States?
This is a philosophical question, asked by those who do not understand the current body politic in the United States or, for that matter, in much of the modern world.

Let's take these questions one at a time.

THE MECHANICS OF AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
A quick rehash of the fact that American Presidential elections are fought state by state is in order. The coastal American states are relatively few but with highly concentrated populations. The interior states are less populated but are more numerous. While Clinton racked up big wins on the two coasts, Trump nearly swept the interior. So, in simple terms, although Clinton won the popular vote, Trump won the vote in a majority of the states and therefore the Presidency.

BUT HOW DID IT HAPPEN? REALLY?
I've struggled mightily with this question. I have come to a simple, five-part answer:
Racism
Misogyny
Fear
Denial
Self-Deception

I have no explanation for the existence of racism, misogyny, or the fear that goes with them. I suspect that they are the result of manipulation by those seeking power in order that they may rule us by dividing us. I will not spend more time on that except to say that persons who exhibited those traits made up the core of Trump's base. Such seems to be the way with many Western populists.

Denial and self-deception are more interesting to me because they provide the basis for otherwise rational people to make irrational choices. And in the end, that's who elected Trump, otherwise rational people making an irrational choice. No, there were not enough racists to elect a President in the US, nor enough misogynists. But when you add those in denial, those blithely turning a blind eye, Trump becomes possible.

Denial and self-deception also explain why Trump is still revered by some. Take the budget recently passed by the American Congress. That budget includes both deep tax cuts and increased spending that combined will surely result in huge deficits. Republicans no longer even pretend differently. Yet political conservatives by and large welcome Trump with open arms. The only way that a conservative can approve of such financial brinkmanship is to jettison the policy cornerstones to which fiscal conservatives have adhered for decades. Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan must either be in denial that he ever held those principles in the first place or be deceiving himself into believing that they never mattered. I don't know Ryan. I can't say which explanation is true. But he's on record. He used to be a fiscal conservative. No other explanation for him applauding the current budget than denial and/or self-deception is possible.

Here's an example from a different but relevant conversation that has been raging online recently. How will we address gun violence in America? A picture of the black actor Samuel L. Jackson is circulating on social media accompanied by the following quote: "I grew up in the south with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone." (I've been on his site. It is apparently a valid quote.) A Southern black man who grew up during the civil rights struggle in the American South somehow fails to mention that, while he may never have shot anyone, or his friends may never have shot anyone, Emmitt Till is dead and Medgar Evers is dead and Michael Schwerner is dead and Andrew Goodman is dead and James Chaney is dead and Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead. And more. In the South. Through gun violence. The irony is stunning. The only way that a man like Jackson can own such a quote is to be so deep in denial as to be immune to reason.

Thus, Trump. There is no way to soften it. I cannot find a path to civility or, for that matter, forgiveness. I have listened closely to my American friends rationalize the circumstances that led to Trump's election. I understand the battle between Sanders and Clinton in the Democrat Party primaries took its toll. I understand that bots backed by big dollars and/or foreign governments messed with social media. But in the end, people voted. And the reason that they voted for Trump boils down to those five, simple reasons. Hard to swallow. Harder to deny.
Racism
Misogyny
Fear
Denial
Self-Deception

Read more of my political musings HERE. I'll wrap these musings up with a fourth in the series presently.




10,000 STEPS AROUND QUARANTE WITH PICS




When you live in the rural south of France in a village of 1,500 souls that's off the main road to anywhere, the countryside is right at your doorstep. Walk a few minutes in any direction and the accoutrements of modern living fade away. In a place with as rich a history as our little corner of France, you may even run across a 1,000 year-old church back in the woods, the exterior in amazingly good condition, with no signage to point the way. Is that an old Roman road leading up to the restored walls of an abandoned windmill? Could be.

The season for group walks approaches. Over the winter, I mostly walk alone. Short, brisk walks along a manicured path maintained by the village along the old railroad bed. Just to get the blood pumping. But as the weather warms and friends begin to open their holiday homes for the season, I begin walking in groups at a more leisurely pace to more interesting destinations. My brisk 2.5 miles in about 45 minutes becomes 10,000 steps in about two hours depending on the stops to take in the sights. Here's one route that starts and ends in our little village of Quarante with a bit of scenery and a bit of history along the way.


It doesn't take long to go from town to farm. In this direction, horses. In a slightly different direction, donkeys.

On a clear day, the Pyrenees. Maybe I should cloudfund a better camera.

We live with views like this every day, everywhere.
It looks like snow in the vines. They call them rockets. They are supposed to be edible but they are also a diuretic.           Best to leave them alone

Just in from a colder climate, Sue is enjoying the weather.

Another in my series entitled "Bathtubs Among the Vines".

The bubbling Quarante at the low point of the walk. It's been all downhill so far. From here, uphill.

Home is thataway.

The grounds of Domaine Peche Laurier. How would you like to be married among the plane trees in front a statue of Mary?

Out of nowhere, with no sign pointing the way, this ancient chapel. We're not certain of its history.

Not quite completely restored.

But surprisingly intact.

Yep. Thataway.

The base of an old windmill. Grounds well kept but again, no sign.

And again, more investigation as to origin required.

Could it really be an old Roman road? They were certainly in the neighborhood.

And it's right across from the windmill and right next to a cistern.

From here, it's an easy downhill walk along a blacktop back to the village. A little more than two hours. A little more than 10,000 steps. One of the first of many walks to come. I'll try to keep y'all posted. For more walks, and my take on life in France in general, check out my France Page HERE.



KFC VS LA PATATERIE: FAST FOOD CHALLENGE














After our recent visit to the Asia Market in Beziers, The Southern Woman That I Married and I decided to try out a local place for lunch. One of Cathey's favorite cooks is Somebody Else because when Somebody Else cooks, Cathey doesn't have to. It's not that Cathey doesn't enjoy cooking. But every once in a while, a vacation from the kitchen is required in order to keep Cathey happy. And keeping Cathey happy is an important part of my portfolio.

There's a McDonald's around the corner from the Asia Market. I haven't been in a McDonald's since the year that the cow had the two-headed calf for a reason. The only thing worth eating at McDonald's are the fries and decent fries are just not enough of a reason to spend my lunchtime trying to gag down one of their burgers.

There's a KFC right next door to the Asia Market. Oddly enough, we'd just been to a KFC. At a friend's house a while back, we'd discussed fried chicken. I lamented the fact that Cathey hadn't fried up any chicken since our arrival in France. Frying chicken is a messy business and would turn our little kitchen into a disaster area. But Cathey's fried chicken is the best, the very best. It makes sense. A good cook born and raised in the American south? If you can't fry chicken...

Anyway, having found a coupon for KFC on the back of our register receipt from Carrefour, we decided to give the local KFC a try. Regular visitors to this space will remember that the local Burger King was jumpin' on a winter Friday recently. The same cannot be said for the KFC that we visited in Narbonne. Well, the location wasn't as prime and it wasn't Friday. But there were cars in the lot and folks were having their lunch inside. So we gave it a try.

We both had the cheapo special - a fried chicken 'breast' on a bun, fries, and a drink for 4.99€. Under 10€ for both of us for lunch. How could you go wrong? 

Here's how you could go wrong. It just wasn't worth it. I suppose that the barely warm chicken was OK, whichever parts of the chicken that the meat came from. And the bun held together okay. But the cheese hadn't melted and the lettuce had given up the ghost about a week earlier and the fries had clearly spent too much time under the warmer without becoming particularly warm. Very disappointing for a first taste of fried chicken in four years.

And so, after finishing our shop at the Asia Market, we went around the corner and down about a block to La Pataterie. For those of you who are not familiar with La Pataterie, there are 18 or so of them scattered mostly throughout central and southern France - one apiece in Beziers, Narbonne, Montpellier (St. Jean de Vidas), Perpignan, and Carcassonne. Toulouse appears to have been spared.

You can check out the menu HERE. They do appear to try. It's almost a real restaurant. There was a fish-based plat du jour. They feature fondues and other, non-burger luncheon choices. But we are still in search of the perfect burger. And so we ordered burgers. Immediately though, La Pataterie separated itself from the pack. Beer! Big glass. Ice cold. (Sorry, Brits. But that's the way that we like it.)

Cathey ordered a Patata Burger Simple, 125 grams of Charolais beef with raclette (cheese) between two potato patties. That's right. No bun. Two crispy potato patties about the size and thickness of the beef patty that they sandwiched. I had the La Gaillard Simple, onion confit and a thin slice of French bacon on the inside, and a slab of grilled goat cheese on top. And two potato patties. The beef was quite good. The idea of replacing the bun with chunks of potato was...well...unique. The almost hot fries were generous and the side salad, with dressing no better than bottled if it didn't actually come out of a bottle, at the very least had more life than the lettuce that had graced our KFC sandwich.

We spent about three times as much as we did at KFC, about as much as we would have spent for lunch in one of our favorite, more traditional French restaurants. But at least we came away satisfied...and with a slight buzz from the beer.

So in comparison, La Pataterie won the day. I'm not certain what that means in the end, though. I doubt that I'll be able to drag Cathey through the door of either KFC or La Pataterie in future. But Cathey has agreed to put together a fried chicken dinner in a couple of weeks. Life is good.

I consolidate all of my food writing and restaurant reviews HERE. Take a look if you have a minute.


 

ASIA MARKET, BEZIERS: WORTH A VISIT


The Southern Woman That I Married is an accomplished, multi-cultural cook. Over the years, our table has been graced with examples of authentic fare from the world over. If there is one limitation to the diversity of the menus that Cathey can create here in the south of France, it's the availability of proper ingredients. Sometimes, it's the simple things. I've spent my entire life enjoying lox on a bagel smeared with cream cheese for breakfast on a Sunday morning. There's fine smoked salmon on display in just about every supermarket here, but even though the packaging of Philadelphia Cream Cheese looks the same as in the States, the formula is clearly different. It just doesn't taste the same. And a bagel? A real, honest-to-goodness, Brooklyn-style bagel? In the rural south of France? Fuhgeddaboudit.

For Cathey's cookery, more exotic fare than bagels and cream cheese is required. Almost immediately after our move here four years ago, she lamented the difficulty in obtaining tamarind paste. I'm sure that there are dishes that I enjoy that require tamarind paste. I just don't know which ones they are. And in any event, Cathey did convince a friend to secure a batch from an Asian market in a city about an hour away. But apparently you can run out of tamarind paste if your supply is not replenished every three or four years. Who knew? 

Then a very good friend, a chef who Cathey admires greatly, told us about the new Asia Marché in Beziers, just off the ring road at the exit to the Auchon, right next to KFC. (Yep. KFC!) Off we went. And it was worth the trip. The photo above shows our first haul including, of course, a block of tamarind paste, at a total cost of under 30:
Rice Vinegar
Fish Sauce
Won Ton Wrappers (labelled Ravioli Leaves)
Dried Black Mushrooms
Canned Water Chestnuts
Canned Bamboo Shoots
Tofu
Crispy Fried Onions
Sesame Seed Candy
Sweet Sausage
Bamboo Pics

We'll return. There are things to buy in bulk whose purchase will be negotiated with Cathey's friends and family. But the point is that the market has it all - dried, canned, frozen, fresh. There may be exotic ingredients that a true Oriental chef might not find, but Cathey was happy. And when Cathey's happy, you can't beat the food coming out of the kitchen.









TRUMP COUNTERS PUTIN'S NUCLEAR THREAT

In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russia was perfecting a nuclear-armed missile against which there could be no defense, President Trump announced that the United States had already considered its response.

"I've met with Wayne LaPierre and we agree. The only way to stop a bad guy with a nuke is by giving the good guys nukes. To that end, I have authorized the distribution of our entire nuclear arsenal to our friends in the Ukraine, where my good buddy Paul Manafort assures me that they will be put to good use, as well as to our allies in Saudi Arabia and in Taiwan. What could possibly go wrong?"

US Senator Marco Rubio commented,"Gee, I wish I had thought of that. Maybe we could get a few of those bad boys for my friends in Little Havana."

US Vice President Mike Pence could not be reached for comment. His spokesperson said Pence had traveled to Jerusalem to await the Rapture.

RESTAURANTS IN FRANCE: COST OF LIVING - PART 3

One of the great joys of living in France is the simple fact that the French take their food so seriously. I'm not talking only about th...