CAFE DES ARTS, PUISSERGUIER: RESTAURANT QUICK TAKE

Maybe it's not a good idea to judge a restaurant in times of stress. Maybe it is. To be sure, the CafĂ© des Arts in Puisserguier is a jumpin' place on market Friday. The sidewalk behind the market stalls are packed with tables and the tables are packed with all sorts of folks, young and old, meeting and greeting and passing the time of day over a coffee or a beer or a more exotic alcoholic beverage. 

At about 12:30, the two bustling young barmaids who had been hawking the drinks transformed seamlessly to waitstaff taking orders for lunch. I don't know the drill for a regular weekday. Maybe there's a menu, maybe not. On market day, the choices were limited but sufficient. The five of us had no problem with the range of dishes to choose from, no problem with the food when it arrived, and no problem with the bill averaging about 16.50€ apiece for beers before, wine with, and three courses. 

As is the norm in these sorts of places here in the south of France, solid food with the occasional pleasant surprise. Worth trying on market day or any day. An extra bonus? The bypass is finished. No through trucks. Much quieter.

HERE'S their Facebook page. Read more of my restaurant reviews HERE

Tasty little charcuterie plate at the start...

Or start with a seafood cassoulet. It's the first time that we've encountered it. One of those surprises...

French beef, but at least the fries were fresh and not reconstituted.

A slice of veal liver, properly done, for those into liver.

One of those white, Mediterranean fish that abound in a proper cream sauce. Rice instead of fries might have been nice.

Apple tart with a custard-like base. And, of course, a bit of cream.
House mousse. And, of course, a bit of cream. Intense dark chocolate. Yum.



EL RACO D'EN MIQUEL, PONT DE MOLINS, SPAIN: RESTAURANT REVIEW

We go to Spain to shop about twice a year. It's a southern France thing. Lots of stuff is cheaper in Spain - clay pots, for instance. And cigarettes. Everyone who smokes and has a car capable of making the run buys their cigarettes in Spain. You can also find stuff in Spain that you can't easily find in France - sherry, Hellman's Mayonnaise, and rioja come to mind. So, twice a year...road trip to La Junquera, a paradise of malls, groceries, and liquor stores. And food courts. And Spanish food court food is...yes...food court food.

We all have our own takes on what constitutes a good meal while on the road. For some, Cracker Barrel works just fine. Waffle House, too. (My European friends will just have to imagine what one finds in a Waffle House. I'm not going to try to explain.) Others prize out-of-the-way diners that serve juicy burgers, fresh-cut fries, and homemade cherry pie with hand-dipped ice cream. I admit to being of the latter persuasion. I also admit to having failed to have figured out how to find exceptional road food while traveling here in France. Regular readers will know that bad meals here are few and far between. But a road food meal is judged differently than a pleasant interlude in a local cafe. And when it comes to Spain, I just have too little experience.

We started our latest shopping excursion in Figueres to check out a huge pottery outlet there. It's a bit further south into Spain than La Junquera  but worth the trip. Good prices on clay pots and saucers. When we headed north, we came across El Raco D'En Miquel along the old highway that parallels the toll road. As lunchtime approached, we decided to give El Raco a try.

We  arrived just at noon and, although a sign said that the restaurant was open from 8h00 to 22h00, we were informed that lunch service did not begin until 12h30. That made sense as the wood fire was just being laid under the grill. Would we like an aperitif while we waited? So we nursed beers until a waitress with no French or English arrived and, through a series of pantomimes suitable for the kiddies, explained our luncheon choices. (At La Junquera, everyone speaks French and English in addition to Spanish. Fifteen minutes further south? Not so much.)

The menu was diverse and interesting. I started with a salad chevre chaud (hot, fresh goat cheese). Tasty. The girls both chose grilled asparagus topped with slices of grilled ham and tomato. An interesting take, perfect when asparagus is in season, and well executed. For the main, I had a piece of grilled sausage, interestingly spiced. Liz had grilled rabbit, a large and meaty quarter. And Cathey had a heaping plate of crispy fried sardines. With simple desserts, a jug of rioja for the girls, and another beer for me, the total came to under 40€, the meal formula at 11.50€ that included the wine and one beer, plus the three beers while we waited.

Fine, hearty road fare. You can read more of my restaurant reviews HERE.










WHAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT - JUNE, 2018: AIR CON, DIESEL, SCIENCE

Installing the first window air conditioner in the living room of our little ranch house in New Jersey in the 1960s didn't change our lives very much. The only unit in the house, its benefits didn't reach down the hall and into our bedrooms. We still slept under window fans. We still sweated in our sleep. My wife Cathey, on the other hand, spent her youth in Texas. She went from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned playground...well...not exactly. But AC was definitely a fact of life for her. So when the AC in our old Citroen Xantia went on the fritz last summer, it needed to be fixed. No question. Cathey laid down the law. No AC? No marriage.

Have you ever tried to find AC parts for a 20 year-old car? They exist but they are as rare as politicians with callouses. Hence the search began for a new...albeit used...car.

I searched for a diesel-powered vehicle with a manual transmission. Abundant trunk space. Big enough to carry five adults in a pinch. (On seats, not in the trunk.) Preferably a French marque because I will be depending on French mechanics to keep it running. Why manual? Because I like to feel as if I'm driving my car and not guiding it down the highway while sitting on a sofa. Why diesel? Because diesels last 50% longer on average than gasoline engines.

But wait. What about pollution? Diesels are dirty, aren't they? Don't you care about the environment?

Here's where it gets interesting.

You see, I believe in science. I believe that two plus two equals four and not some number approximating four. (And yes, I am aware of non-Euclidean geometry. I just don't choose to acknowledge it's existence until it demonstrates its practical use by providing the means for faster than light travel.) And science tells me that modern diesels are better for the environment, not to mention the body politic, than even electric cars.

Let me repeat that.

Modern diesels are better for the environment and for the body politic than electric cars.

In America, the federal government and many of the states provide tax breaks or other subsidies for the purchase of electric vehicles. How can this be a bad thing? When you consider that more than half of the purchasers of electric vehicles have incomes above $100,000 annually and that a plurality of those have incomes of over $200,000, it's reasonable to ask why it's necessary to provide the most affluent among us with one more gift paid for by the average taxpayer. And when you add the subsidies that feds and local municipalities provide to utility companies for the establishment of charging stations, the most affluent 2% of Americans, whose EVs comprise 1% of the cars on American highways, have the rest of us to thank for their shiny new, quiet rides.

But spending taxpayer money to the benefit of rich folks is OK as long as the environment benefits, right? Wrong. The environment does not benefit, at least it doesn't in the US, the second biggest carbon polluter in the world. 30% of US electricity is still produced by coal-fired plants and the Trumpster has just directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to find ways to keep failing coal-fired plants open. (Luckily, putting a policy decision in Rick Perry's hands is like directing a monkey to type out a Shakespeare play. Eventually, the odds indicate that the monkey will be successful. It will just take time. Lots and lots and lots and lots of time.)

The point is, as long as the US is burning carbon-based fuels, the pollution generated by the power plants necessary to service the electric vehicles pollute more than the vehicles that the EVs replace. And that includes diesels. Yes, I know. Diesels have a reputation of being dirty. But modern diesel technology has fixed most of the problem, especially with improved particulant filters. So yes, new diesels are more environmentally sound than old gas engines, equivalent to modern gas engines, and when you add in the better fuel mileage and longer useful life, are actually superior. Then add in the cost to the environment posed by the necessity to mine the components for rechargeable batteries for the EVs. In sum, my purchase of a diesel-powered car is the most environmentally sound choice that I could make.

Do I need to drive in the major cities of France that have or will ban diesels? No. Will there come a time when the advantages of EVs will outweigh the environmental cost? Probably, particularly in societies committed to conversion to renewable energy production. But today? I'll take diesel, thank you very much.

What's really important? Two plus two equals four...
 





HOBBYHORSING AROUND, THE GREATEST GENERATION, DRUNK DRIVING AND MORE: #23

  THE GREATEST GENERATION Friends were taking the ferry from the UK to  France and came across these gents headed for D Day ceremonies. They...