Tuesday, August 25, 2015

0 A Perfect Provencal Lunch

It began with Charlie falling asleep as we searched for a restaurant. We had just spent the morning hiking up, down, and around Nimes' spectacular Jardins de la Fontaine, a large park built around Roman bath ruins. Jack got to climb up the Tour Magne watchtower at the top; Charlie got to climb over ruins rubble in a hermit crab crawl. Everyone was a winner.

But now we were hungry, and all we could find open on an August Sunday were tourist-trappy restaurants, suspicions confirmed on TripAdvisor to serve awful food. But just as Charlie's eyelids fell, we turned onto another empty street...almost empty, but for two older French ladies gossiping over a bottle of rose. There were just three small tables outside Le Menestrel and the proprietress warmly welcomed us to settle in for lunch. Patrick wedged himself into a seat with a limp, snoozing Charlie still strapped to his chest.

This was our chance: we ordered up three courses from their formule du midi. And maybe because he is just such a stellar kid, or maybe because he knew mousse au chocolat was coming at the end of the meal, Jack was being a total charmer. Emboldened, we mimicked our neighboring table and ordered up our own bottle of rose. It was crisp, refreshing, and most of all totally luxurious to sip as we enjoyed the quiet afternoon together as a family.

Oh, and the food! I've never been one for vegetable "pasta" (spaghetti squash spaghetti...what a bait and switch!) but their tagliatelle aux courgettes wasn't trying to hide anything. A celebration of zucchini, it was a delightful al dente perfectly seasoned and drizzled with balsamic and roasted pine nuts. A hit with all ages. We had a super tender, red wine bull stew (a provencal specialty) and a steak that was exactly the right side of rare served with a roquefort sauce I slurrped up like a soup. At some point in this food parade Charlie woke up, bright-eyed and happy to join our leisurely meal. He was a big fan of the table bread.

Jack was barely able to stay in his seat as the mousse au chocolat was brought to the table. Silky, chocolatey, and served in one of those spherical dessert dishes they use in France that makes everything look that much more elegant. We made it all the way to Jack's last scrape of the bowl before Charlie began to squirm and had to be walked around as I paid the bill.

90 glorious minutes of lunch. Sometimes, the stars align.

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