Thursday, March 1, 2018

Villefranche-sur-mer Winter 2018 - 11

Dear Friends,

The last week has been unusual here in Villefranche.  Each year we try to have a couple of really nice dinners while we are here.  We missed a great dinner on New Year's Eve because Jane was sick.  Then for some reason we spent the next two months here without going out for our fancy dinners.  Well we have now made for that error.

The first thing we did was to walk to Beaulieu for lunch at the African Queen, one of the fanciest and most expensive restaurants in Beaulieu which is saying something.  We figured it would be less expensive at lunch time which was true, but we were still blown away by the expense.  The restaurant is very pleasant, the staff welcoming and professional and the food very good.  Nevertheless, the cost was far more than the experience warranted.  You can read my review on Trip Advisor here.

We do have a rule that once we are somewhere we do our best to enjoy it and forget about the terrible consequences, like paying the bill and increased waist lines.  We started by sharing an arugula salad with wonderful parmesan cheese.  What you see in the picture is my half.  The original presentation was much nicer than what I did when splitting it.

We followed that with sole.  Sole is a kind of flounder, and the sole here is not the same as Dover sole.  It has more texture and flavor.  You buy the whole fish paying by the gram.  This one is ours and it weighs (according to the restaurant 1 kilogram).  

The fish is cooked whole.  In our case just grilled with butter and some seasoning.  Then with some magic work by the waiter the bones are taken out.

We then each received a plate with two filets.

It was delicious, although as you can see it had a little too much butter.  It was served with some vegetables and potatoes, which were fresh and delicious.

We then went on to dessert.  The waiter showed us a huge tray full of pastries and other delicacies.  We decided to split a puff pastry with a cream filling and beautiful looking fresh raspberries.  Unfortunately, we cut it in half before remembering to take a photo.

The cream filling and the raspberries were just as wonderful as we had hoped they would be.  Unfortunately, the puff pastry was heavy and tough.  We ate it all anyway.  We ended with Jane having a coffee, and I tried the chocolat chaud.  As a reader of this blog, you know that I have been searching for the perfect chocolat chaud for several years.  It is a tough job, but somebody has to do it.  Well, the new winner is the African Queen restaurant.  It comes with the hot semi-frothed milk in one container, the melted chocolate in another and the whipped cream in another. You mix it yourself.  The chocolate was perfect in both taste and consistency and when I did the perfect mixing, voilà the winner.

All was well with the world as we ended the meal.

Then, of course, the bill came, and we were forced to return to reality such as it is on the Côte d'Azur.

We also had a very nice dinner at a different restaurant in Beaulieu, L'escentiel.  It is a small, family run restaurant that is warm and inviting.  The server, probably the wife, is friendly, knowledgeable and professional.  The chef who often appeared with the dishes he had prepared was the same.  You can read my full review on Trip Advisor here.  Unfortunately, we did not take any photos of the meal.  We did get a photo of the menu which is all on three blackboards one for starters, one for main courses and one for desserts.  It is a limited menu, but that makes it possible to make everything on the premises (note the sign above the blackboards which tells you that).

The food, service and ambience at L'escentiel were all fantastic and better than the African Queen for less than half the price.  If you are ever in or near Beaulieu, you should go to this restaurant for either lunch or dinner.

Last night we went to the fancy restaurant that we go to almost every time we are in Villefranche, L'Oursin Bleu (translated:  The Blue Sea Urchin).  It is one of the nice restaurants right on the water.  I did not write a review this time, but you can see two prior reviews on Trip Advisor here and here. Knowing what would be coming later, we skipped a starter.  They give you little treats when you arrive and also an amuse bouche.  The amuse bouche was a small portion of a wonderful butternut cream soup.  For the main course, we both had filet de bœuf Limousine (beef from the Limousine region of France) which was fantastic with a little mushroom sauce.  There are no vegetables on the menu at all and the beef usually comes with mashed potatoes.  We asked our waiter if we could have vegetables with the meat.  He said, of course.  You can see what we got.

What a delicious main course it was.  L'Oursin Bleu is a traditional French restaurant, and as such it offers Crêpes Suzettes flambées.  Here you can see the waiter at work and then the wonderful results of his efforts.

So we had another fantastic meal and experience at L'Oursin Bleu.  It is not inexpensive, but it is a good price to quality ratio.

This last week has not been unusual just because of the eating we have been doing.  The weather has been very bad and very unusual.  Here is a picture the waiter took of us last night as we were leaving L'Oursin Bleu.

It may not show up very well in this photo, but that is snow in the background.  We have had snow several days.  Here is a view from our balcony.  You should be happy you were not living on the sailboat.

Our French teacher had to go to Eze which is high above Villefranche to pick up her son one day after our lesson.  She sent us this picture.  It is not often you see snow on top of a palm tree.

Today when we stopped in at our favorite bakery to get bread for lunch, we asked Marie Claire, the owner, when was the last time it had snowed.  She said eight years ago and then just one day.  By the way if you are ever in Villefranche on a day other than Tuesday or Wednesday and need some bread, go to Chez Marie Claire.  She has the best bread.  It is one of the things that I will miss the most when we leave.  Anyway, there is no more snow in the forecast, just rain for the next week or two.  

We leave on a 6:30 am flight on Saturday.  We have had a great time and are looking forward to our return in the fall.

Thanks for reading and please comment,
The Unabashed Liberal

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Villefranche-sur-mer Winter 2018 - 10 Combat Naval Fleuri

Dear Friends,

The annual "Naval Combat Fleuri" was held in Villefranche last Monday.  The first event of the day was the arrival of a couple of marching bands at l'Octroi (the main drag and plaza).  There were a couple of neat floral arrangements.  Here is Jane with one of them.

The first marching band was from Italy and also from another era.

But they were very good at throwing their flags in the air and catching them without hitting any spectators.

After watching this group for awhile, we had to do some shopping so we could have lunch before the actual boat parade.  From our apartment we watched the people coming from the train station through security to get to the waterfront from which they could watch the parade.  We were invited to view the parade from the apartment of some friends who were just above the waterfront at the center of the activity.  As with all events in France now where there are lots of people, there was lots of security.

These officers were checking people entering the waterfront from the street directly below the apartment from which we were watching.  They were amazingly disciplined.  At all times at least one of them was looking away from the parade at the buildings overlooking the route.  The boats got ready in a small marina area used primarily by the boats from the cruise ships in season.

It is hard to tell from my pictures how many people there were.  It was a lot.  Right on the water, they were five or six deep along the about 5 blocks of the route.  In addition there were people wandering on the street.  While waiting for the boat parade to start the crowed was entertained by several marching bands, including the one we had seen earlier.  One of the bands, consisting of teenage girls from Eastern Europe, stole the show with their fantastic drumming and dancing.

At the start of the parade, the boats make a pass in single file along the waterfront to the cheers from the crowds.

After a boat has made its initial run past the crowd, it joins the others milling around waiting for the rest to finish.  

Once all are done, the "battle" begins as the beautiful floral masterpieces are torn apart and thrown into the crowd.  This maneuver requires the boats to go right next to the shore which has a deep drop off but consists of huge boulders.  If you look closely, you can see the man in the bow has just thrown a large bunch of mimosa (a beautiful yellow flower that is in full bloom around here now).

This continues for a long time until most of the flowers on the boats have been thrown.  Many of them do not make the shore and end up in the water.

At the end of the day everybody is happy and most of the crowd goes home with beautiful bouquets.

Great fun was had by all!!!

Thanks for reading and please comment,
The Unabashed Liberal

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Villefranche-sur-mer Winter 2018 -9

Dear Friends,

The weather here has been colder and rainier than normal, and it has impacted our adventures.  Nevertheless, we have enjoyed several adventures in the last week.

Before starting on the adventures, I want to provide you with a picture of the beautiful surroundings that we get to walk around in each day.  This is a picture of Rue Volti, named after a wonderful Villefranchoise artist.

We have a wonderful tutor who teaches us French three days a week for three hours a day while we are in Villefranche and also Skypes with us one hour a week when we are at home.  We decided to have her and her family for dinner.  We were very proud of ourselves for pulling off this dinner.  First of all, serving a dinner to a French family where the Dad is a really good cook is threatening in and of itself, but doing so in a strange kitchen makes it all the more stressful.  At home, we have two full ovens, a microwave and a speed oven (combination microwave and regular oven).  Here we have no microwave and a single oven.  We made chicken marbella which I must say was great.  It was accompanied by Jane's famous and delicious roasted tomatoes and rice with small vegetables.  The rice was precooked and frozen by Picard Surgeles, a fantastic frozen food store that with any luck will find its way to the US.

The children, ages 3 and 5 ate like adults and were perfect guests.  They especially liked the ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce.  The homemade chocolate sauce was really just some of the wonderful chocolate they have here melted with a little milk and some butter.  It was delicious.  We had a fun night and spoke French the whole night.  

A couple of days later, the day started off the way all Villefranche days should be with a slight breeze, a beautiful blue sky and the sun shining brightly.  We decided we would walk to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat for lunch.  It was a little cool, but the sun was still shining when we arrived at Le Sloop restaurant right on the water in the marina.  The main course of the day was whole dorade which we both ordered.

Jane ordered her's well done, and I ordered mine as the chef prefers.  We learned an important lesson.  It is much easier to filet a fish that is cooked well done than one that is still a little gelatinous.  Once I was able to remove the head and bones, it was fantastic.  Unfortunately as the meal progressed, the temperature dropped and the skies began to cloud over.  The restaurant was prepared with blankets and an awning.

After lunch we started our walk back (2.5 miles) but the sun was nowhere to be seen except a sliver shining on the ancient hilltop town of Eze.  Jane captured the sight wonderfully with her cell phone.

We got back to our apartment and got our clothes off the line just as the rain started.  In this picture you can see our clothes hanging on the balcony of our apartment which is the top floor of the yellowish building.

During one of our French classes last week, we looked out the window to see an unusual sight.

Unfortunately the picture does not do the reality justice.  That is a small blimp with a person sitting in a chair below who is pedaling so that two propellers turn to move the blimp and keep it from landing in the water.  Proving once again that the harbor of Villefranche-sur-mer is one amazing place even on a chilly and overcast day.

After the success of our first dinner party, tomorrow we are having our second one.  This one includes two other couples whom we have meet in our stays here in Villefranche,  In fact it is the same group who had dinner together on Valentines' Day at a local restaurant.  Anyway, we are nervous about the meal.  We have planned ahead.  We went to our favorite patisserie to seek out the perfect dessert.  We saw a large tarte but did not recognize the name.  We asked Marie Claire what it was and when she described it we both made it clear that it was what we wanted.  We asked if she always had one and she suggested that we reserve it which we did.  When I asked if we needed to pay now, she said that she knew us as we had been coming to her shop for several years.  We wondered if she had noticed any improvement in our French over the years.

Today, we had to do the serious shopping.  It was cold and raining on and off so there was no Pétanque this morning.  So after breakfast we were off to the Saturday market to buy all the fixings for our dinner including olives and tapenade for starters, chicken provencal with artichoke hearts and capers, salad with avocados and Jane's vinaigrette dressing as well as Jane's roasted tomatoes.  The local market had everything we needed except for the chicken, artichoke hearts, capers and white balsamic vinegar.  The local butcher was about to go on a two week break which means there is no butcher in the old town of Villefranche.  As a result, his inventory was very low, and he had no chicken legs and second joints.  

To get the chicken and other remaining items, we set off to Nice.  We also needed some Nespresso coffee pods.  Normally this trip is quite easy.  We take the 100 or the 81 bus from the main drag in Villefranche to the port of Nice or the Place Garibaldi.  Then we take the tram to Place Massena where the Nespresso store is located.  Unbeknownst to us, today was Carneval, mardi gras a few days early.  As a result the tram was not running because there was a big spectacle in Place Massena.  The security was intense, a result of the terrorist attack in Nice on July 14, 2016.  Anyway we had to walk which was fine because we not only got our coffee, we got a lot of steps.  

Once we had our coffee, we headed to the old town of Nice to find the butcher shop that I had discovered online, Boucherie Saint-Françoise.  It is well known, as it is quite large and quite a production line.  You tell one of many butchers what you want.  He cuts it and packages it.  He gives you a number and puts the package on sort of zip line to the cashier.  When the cashier calls your number, you pay and get your package.  We got our chicken and then realized we also needed steak for tonight so we got to go through the process twice.  It was quite an adventure.  It is hard to capture the scene but Jane got me waiting in line.

We were a little worried about carrying the raw chicken back on the bus with us to Villefranche, but then this restaurant reminded us that a lack of refrigeration is not a problem in France.

Those fish were there in the middle of the afternoon and would undoubtedly be cooked and served for dinner tonight.

We got home form our adventure in Nice around 6:00 in time to rest a little before having steak, artichokes, potatoes, mushrooms, onions and leeks for dinner. 

Now we must get ready for our next adventures.

Thanks for reading and please comment,
The Unabashed Liberal