I have two friends who enjoy trying new foods as much as I do. These two friends also enjoy a good stinky cheese of the dirty gym sock ilk. So yesterday we decided to go all out and make a day of eating, eating, cooking, and more eating. And we were feeling an affinity for French food.
A little about that. Growing up, I had an obsession with French people, the language, the things they ate, the way they lived, etc. From fourth through eight grade I attended an international school and my best friend was a girl named Celine. Her parents were temporarily living in America for her father’s work and I was a frequent overnight guest in their house. This experience only exacerbated my Francophilia, much to my mother’s delight and sometimes chagrin. Meals at Celine’s house simply reinforced my feelings about food and my obsession with the French. Dinner always had a pitcher of water with slices of lemon floating in it, a chilled bottle of Perrier (which I fell in LOVE with and to this day still drink gallons of), and a glass of wine for the adults. I remember plates of fish, or nicely cooked red meats, or chicken. And there was always at least one vegetable of some sort and always a green salad. My favorite part was dessert. While the French are known for their patisseries, dessert at Celine’s house consisted of fruit and cheese. What delighted me the most was the plum and bonne belle miniature cheese that was offered for dessert. Sometimes they would have weekend afternoon gatherings where it took three hours to consume small amounts of food (small by typical American standards), and wine was consumed moderately as well as sweets. And as I stated before, there was always some kind of vegetable. It’s no wonder that the “French paradox” is not a myth but a truth. Mireille Guilano even wrote a book about the subject, and when remembering Celine’s house and the food we ate, and most important the way we ate, it comes as no surprise that French people are rarely fat, in spite of the food they eat.
Part of it is most likely the variety, but also the fact that they eat real food. Their diets consist of little to no processed food, they drink a lot of water, they eat smaller portions, and they make meals a ritual of love. Here in America, we drive everywhere, eat at a speed that almost makes it a competition to see who can finish first, and make food choices for the worst reasons. And we eat portions that make it look as though we are about to go into some sort of six month long hibernation. We eat in stressful conditions or not at all, playing hazardous games with our blood sugar. I have been in situations at previous jobs where I was literally congratulated for skipping meals, and where stepping off the sales floor to snack on some almonds was looked down upon, but a cigarette break was applauded as some sort of proof of industriousness. I remember working for one (forgive the vitriol you about to be confronted with, but this manager was a truly heinous person to work for) woman who despised me for taking my full thirty minutes that employees were legally entitled to. I refused to eat while working but instead chose to eat at a leisurely pace, or leave the building to walk if the weather was nice and I wasn’t hungry. I will NEVER forsake my health for a job. I have no problem working my butt off, but I will treat my body kindly. The healthier I am, the more you will get out of me.
Okay, rant is over!
The French way of dining and living clearly stayed with me, much to the chagrin of corporate America. Part of this was my early experiences with Celine and her very French family, but I later found out that my great grandmother was French, so I like to think it’s also in my blood. Also still with me is my proclivity toward badly spoken French, or as I like to call it: Frenglish.
Anyway, we decided on French food and the French restaurant that I am the most acquainted with is Cafe Rabelais. I have been there on more than one occasion, but Katie and Rod had not. We invited our friend Miranda to join us and made our way over to the Rice Village.
We started off with the cheese plate and the pate. At our request, the waiter brought a stinkier cheese to add to the mix. With the hot rustic bread they serve, we gorged on the cheese and pate. Even more exciting, the plate comes with a small bowl of lightly toasted hazelnuts and walnuts, and a dish of honey with a piece of the comb. Yum!
As you can see in the pictures, I am terrible about taking pictures of food for my blog postings because I am terrible about waiting to eat. If there is anything you take away from the pictures in this blog, it’s that if the pictures consist of the remnants of the meal, the food was wonderful, because we just couldn’t wait to eat.
Katie and I both tend to get full quickly, so we agreed to split the mussels Rabelais because we both had a craving for mussels. Their mussels come with a side of the most deliciously salty, crispy slender fries I’ve had save for McDonald’s. I know I bitch a lot about fast food and people who eat fast food (get ready for the hypocrisy here) but I will admit to loving McDonald s fries. The mussels were in a creamy, shallot- infused sauce that was almost like a gravy. It was served with a lemon half and sprig of rosemary. There was a lot of moaning. Truth be told, Katie and I tend to make way too much noise when we enjoy our food and sometimes these noises border on inappropriate.
While delicious, the mussels were bit different than the last time I had them. Before they were so big and plump it was almost intimidating (in a good way), and the sauce was a more broth-like consistency. It appears that they choose fresh (fresher than most restaurants) ingredients, so it’s possible that the chef doesn’t have control over the size of the mussels. They were still delicious, flavorful, and savory. Katie and I left not a drop of sauce behind as we used both the bread and the fries as a vehicle.
Rod ordered the seared salmon in beurre blanc sauce, which was delectable. It had the right amount of creaminess with a citrus burst at the end. It was light pink in the middle, which was a small disappointment to Rod as he likes his barely cooked in the middle, but it was still delicate and melted on your tongue. For those who don’t like their salmon rare, this would be perfect because it was fully cooked but not to the point of making it tough.
Let’s talk dessert, shall we? I rarely do dessert because I don’t have a sweet tooth, but when in a French restaurant…
Their dessert is a force to be reckoned with. Miranda ordered the creme brulee (pictured above). It was exactly what creme brulee is supposed to be, a porcelain crispy top that when cracked, yields a creamy custard center with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. I even took video of her tapping the top to see if it sounded like a spoon hitting a porcelain surface (I hope the video works):
If this video doesn’t work, you can find it here
Rod ordered chocolate mousse, which elicited a shout of joy that made the girl sitting at the bar jump about a mile high. Actually, I’m pretty sure we made a lot of people jump that day, or grimace in irritation, or just made them plain uncomfortable. This would be because Katie and I moan and gasp and then make constant sexual comments about the food, because good food is a truly sexual experience for us. Sorry Cafe Rabelais, if you don’t want people making so much noise, then don’t make your food so god damn tasty!
Katie and I split a tart. A peach and honey pluot tart. I may be mistaken, but I believe pluots are a hybrid between a plum and an apricot. I’ll have to look that up because I may be giving false information here. This tart was delicious enough to make me cuss up a blue streak. The crust was buttery and flaky and crispy in a way that only (as Katie informed me) a crust can be as long as lard is involved. The peaches and pluots were tangy and sweet and the consistency was more creamy than gelatinous. Needless to say, we enjoyed every particle that passed our lips.
This wasn’t the end of our gluttony. Our taste buds had been teased and cheese was on the mind, so we headed over to Houston Dairymaids. If you haven’t heard of this place, and you love cheese, you are about to be dazzled. Houston Dairymaids is a local cheese shop/warehouse. The picture below is a cheese tasting for three (and it’s free)! And if you want to know more about this magical place, you can read this.
Bon appetit, mes cheres!