Tag Archives: dining out

Better luck with French food

The last of our summer 2013 events included two of the better meals I have had in France. And yes, I DO have trouble finding meals I really enjoy here. In fact, Stoney eats a French lunch with his Airbus counterparts many Wednesdays, and some of the stories he comes home with me just give me the willies. The French eat EVERYthing, in three courses with an aperitif and finished off with an espresso. Once he sent a photo of a lunch because it had to be seen to be believed…there were just too many cephalopod arms on the plate.

I did have two meals this summer that I can honestly recommend, though. One was in the enchanting ville of Rocamadour. We didn’t have long to explore, as we were on our way to the grotto and caves nearby (le gouffre de Padirac whose site you should seriously check out), but we did have lunch.

Rocamadore. Stoney and I hope to return and explore it further.

Rocamadour. Stoney and I hope to return and explore it further.

We ate at a hotel cafe, and the guys opted for pizza, thinking that was likely safe. It was pretty good.

The view was of the old town, and the weather was perfect for patio dining!

The view was of the old town, and the weather was perfect for patio dining!

I have good luck at picking well from menus, though, and this time had elected a heavenly chicken kabob. It was really good!

Eat your hearts out, guys! Yummy!

Eat your hearts out, guys! Yummy!

We also decided to brave another Toulousain attempt at a Mexican food restaurant, this time with better success. I’m not saying it tastes like TexMex, but Texxas Cafe definitely had Mexican cuisine with recognizably Mexican flavors. We have been told by some colleagues of Stoney’s to avoid barbecue night, but I can recommend the Mexican.

Stoney always looks too serious about his food; it wasn't too bad. (My tacos al carbon were better!)

Stoney had fajitas. (My tacos al carbon were better!)

Theo wasn’t willing to risk the Mexican fare and, seeing that authentic Red’s Buffalo Sauce was on the table (a rare but not impossible find), he opted for French Buffalo wings. These are invariably just dry seasoned fried chicken wings, rarely very flavored, much less spicy. Theo emptied half the bottle on his basket of wings. A little embarrassing, actually.

juicy wings

juicy wings and an antagonistic model

So, our luck is improving. If you have any great but not too expensive restaurant suggestions, I’m taking notes! Let me know in the comments.

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Passing Through Geneva

Geneva was our port of entry for Switzerland, and also our exit. Upon arriving, we had to stop and purchase a decal for the car window that permitted us to drive on Swiss roads. This is their alternative to tollroads, which are a huge expense in France. Winding through Geneva to get to Bern had shown us a lovely city on a lake, with sidewalks overflowing with wildly dressed mostly-young people. There must have been a festival of some sorts, it was that wildly dressed; like pirate-wear and almost no-wear. We struggled to navigate through the crowds and did not stop.

Leaving Brienz, we enjoyed the nicest rest stop we have found in Europe thus far:

Texas plates? Really?!

Texas plates? In Switzerland? Really?!

Passing out of Switzerland through Geneva, we had planned to stop and visit. Theo had selected a lunch site at the top of a major multi-level department store, Manora, which took several passes around to locate nearby parking. It’s one of those cities where you can see where you want to be, but street directions may not get you there easily. The restaurant is sort of like a cafeteria, but divided into stations. For instance, a fresh pizza station, a pasta station, a sushi station, a grill. The food was good, and fresh, but you had to watch out for a la carte pricing. For Switzerland, though, it wasn’t too terribly costly.

Then we attempted to strike out on foot and see some of the city.

A park across from the lake.

A park across from the lake.

Some pavilion-like structure in the park.

Some pavilion-like structure in the park.

Up close, it is quite detailed.

Up close, it is quite detailed.

I guess this is how they keep the park so clean?

I guess this is how they keep the park so clean?

The famous water cannon on Lake Geneva.

The famous water cannon on Lake Geneva.

An Anglican church. There are so, so many more Protestant churches in Switzerland! This one was a cutie!

An Anglican church. There are so, so many more Protestant churches in Switzerland! This one was a cutie! It kind of reminded me of Charleston churches.

We only visited a few hours before moving on to our destination for the night: Lyon. Geneva just didn’t call to us; after so much vacationing, we were looking forward to returning to France. You can find all of our Swiss visit by clicking the tag Switzerland on the sidebar to your right, or searching the tag Switzerland, once it moves out of the tag cloud.

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Staying in Bern

Bern is the capital of Switzerland. It is part of German-speaking Switzerland, and toward the center, a city surrounded by hills and tidy farms of cows and goats. Our hotel was directly west of it, attached to a mall with a water park and cinema, and next to the train and tram station. I was pretty pleased with the Holiday Inn.

The rollout bed was a tad short for my fast-growing boy, but it worked.

The rollout bed was a tad short for my fast-growing boy, but it worked.

The now-traditional view from the hotel room: many commercial roofs are planted, and goats are pastured in the distant farm. We could hear their bells tinkling.

The now-traditional view from the hotel room: many commercial roofs are planted, and goats are pastured in the distant farm. We could hear their bells tinkling.

The cinema in the mall offered Despicable Me 2 in English, with German and French subtitles. We jumped at the opportunity to attend the sequel to one of our favorite shows, and the theater happened to be having a family day. They were giving away minions and other themed items. We bought a popcorn with a minion cup. Stoney found his twin…

My Ironman with his twin.

My Ironman with his twin.

The German title for Despicable Me 2. Yeah, the French title bears no resemblance to the American title either.

The German title for Despicable Me 2. Yeah, the French title bears no resemblance to the American title either.

The drawback to staying in Bern was the cost of eating out. Just a warning to folks going to Switzerland…even expensive Starbucks is more $$, as in 6-8 francs a drink, at least. Our hotel’s all you can eat evening grill was 50 francs a person, and the Japaneses noodle shop in the mall food court was about 16 francs for a good sized bowl, 19 francs with a few dumplings included. Stoney and I split a bowl, because, seriously?

We did get free passes to the waterpark, but I couldn’t get any takers on that one. And while Spain, Italy and France are all nightowls, the Swiss are morning birds, so things in the mall closed relatively early. I’ll show you around Bern next time.

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Wrapping up Barcelona

For my final post (of 6? NO, NINE!) on Barcelona, I’ll just leave you with a sampling. Don’t forget to click for bigger photos.

Stoney and the girls browsing an antiques street-marche.

Stoney and the girls browsing an antiques street-marche.

Katie, my former barista, in front of one of the MANY Barcelona Starbucks. We don't have these in Toulouse, or southern France at all, and so we were daily visitors here.

Katie, my former barista, in front of one of the MANY Barcelona Starbucks. We don’t have these in Toulouse, or southern France at all, and so we were daily visitors here.

We found it odd that a sidewalk tent-shop would be selling birds in the cold winter. They sold EVERYTHING in the sidewalk tent shops.

We found it odd that a sidewalk tent-shop would be selling birds in the cold winter. They sold EVERYTHING in the sidewalk tent shops.

Just like in Toulouse, there were a ton of street performers, and after these guys finished playing their piano and saxophone, they pushed it where ever it came from. I definitely wondered as they past me at the 3 Cats.

Just like in Toulouse, there were a ton of street performers, and after these guys finished playing their piano and guitar, they pushed it  back where ever it came from. I definitely wondered as they passed me at the 4 Cats.

more Barcelona here

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A Little Bit of Mexico, Sort of

Good TexMex is hard to find in the United States outside of Texas. In fact, good Mexican food can be a rare jewel in any state north or east of those bordering Mexico itself. The further north you go, the blander it often becomes, and the further east, the more Cuban its influences (which isn’t necessarily bad, just not Mexican).

Now imagine the needle in the proverbial haystack Mexican food of any stripe becomes in Europe. (And no, Spanish food and Mexican food are barely related, so not the same at all). If you find an eating establishment professing Mexican ethnic cuisine, you go out of your way to give it a try.

Welcome to Vaquero!! This little surprise is tucked back in the ville of Colomiers.

Bienvenidos, amigos! At least the decor is familiar.

Bienvenidos, amigos! At least the decor is familiar.

It looked like a Mexican restaurant. That was nice. It runs on French hours, though, so it didn’t open until 7:30, and we were among the first people in the restaurant. I think it will prove to fill up once the French dinner hour really gets under way.

The food tasted kind of Mexican and cumin-y, and kind of French. Considering how everything even I cook at home, when using all French ingredients, also tastes a little French, this should not be surprising. It was also kind of spicy. See a trend here?

Not a great picture in the lowlight, but the overflowing stuffing in the taco is not to be missed.

Not a great picture in the lowlight, but the overflowing stuffing in the taco is not to be missed.

My son was not impressed with the tacos. The beef was mixed with corn and black beans, and was sort of sweet and thick. He called them meatloaf tacos. No denying they had a sort of Mexicany flavor, though.

Yes, I always mix my refried beans into my rice. No, I'm not weird. Not very, anyway.

Yes, I always mix my refried beans into my rice. No, I’m not weird. Not very, anyway.

My own plate was a quesadilla, with mushrooms. I liked it; it was pretty good, although kind of French (they love them some mushrooms). The refried beans were the black bean variety.

So easy to be a salsa hog here.

So easy to be a salsa hog here. If you can’t find the tiny bowl of salsa, no need for a magnifying glass, just click on the photo to see it larger.

See the little bowl of salsa beside Stoney’s “enchilada”? Folks, it was good salsa. It was also the salsa for the WHOLE TABLE. Yes, you read that right, accompanied by a similarly scaled bowl of flour tortilla chips. The salsa was the best, most Mexican food in the whole meal, and this is how much we get? If I cry, will it come in a larger portion?

All in all, I would be happy to go back and try something else. I am thinking the fish of the day will probably be pretty good. Not TexMex, but when you’re this far from home, getting even this close feels good!

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The Beauty of Clean Drinking Water

Public clean water fountains may be in the French villes, but I just haven’t run across them yet. And of course, public drinking fountains abound in the states, although folks might look at you funny if you brought up your jug and attempted to fill it there. But what struck me in Catalonia was how beautiful the public drinking fountains were. I captured two, but when we go to Barcelona in January, I plan to add to my collection, if they continue to prove to be works of art.

An unprepossessing, yet charming fountain, a little like a chess pawn.

Much more elaborate, in the tony seaside town of Roses, not far from the marina.

And while we are here in Roses, I just have to mention our lunch. We enjoyed a wonderful meal at a seaside cafe beside the marina.

We ate protected from the wind by plastic windows rolled down around the patio. Theo’s curry is on the way.

And afterward we had some amazing Italian gelato at a spot down the boardwalk.

I guess its never too cold or windy for gelato.

I also have the MOST FUN photo of Theo mimicking one of three adorable ice cream-eating toddlers in a huge photo on the wall, but was strictly forbidden from posting it. Such a disappointment! It makes me happy every time I see it, but you will just have to imagine the fun antics of a family at Roses.

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Comfort Food?

Apparently when one’s “new experience” allotment is full, flooded even, one becomes a less open person. At least, this is my observation of my near-13-year-old son. Back in the States, he had seemed fairly adventurous. He liked trying new recipes, new restaurants, and visiting new places. Somehow, I thought that would translate equally here in France.

Not so much.

Now, a ham sandwich on a baguette looks too foreign, as do all the other sandwiches in the patisserie case. (I admit to being a tad disappointed when my poor ordering skills got me the tuna and egg salad baguette instead of the ham and egg salad I was trying for, although I actually think that may have been confusion on the cashier’s part.) But the croissant still looks like a croissant, and tastes even better. It has become lunch. The burger at the hotel restaurant is too French, with aoli mayo and grilled peppers and onions. At breakfast, the eggs have parsley in them, the chocolate muffin has a molten chocolate center, and the sausages seem undercooked. All very disappointing under the current circumstances, when in another place I am not sure they would have been set aside. And I have no doubt my son is losing weight!

So we decided to give the Tournefeuille McDonalds a try. Now, Theodore is not a fan of McDonald’s even back in Kansas. Oh, he’ll eat there, but he’d rather go lots of other places. But he went to this one prepared to be disappointed.

It’s all gone in a flash, but still no smile. Some attitudes are just choices.

Actually, he conceded that the flavorfully salted steak fries were quite good, and much better than traditional fries at home. He ordered just a plain hamburger, but the nuggets look promising, so next time he will probably get one of each.

I think the French would be highly disappointed if they came to visit the States and ate at a McDonalds. The food tasted fresh and, while not grand cuisine, still better than McDonalds back home. Stoney got a Charolais burger, which came on a ciabatta bun. He also got a side salad, which you can see was fresh greens. Theodore concedes the soda pop here seems better everywhere we go. I suspect the use of real sugar, rather than high fructose corn syrup. My burger was good, with some kind of thousand islandy dressing with a hint of horseradish, and lettuce and tomato. Some mayo-based sauce was given us, probably in lieu of ketchup for the fries.

The best thing in my mind was the automated ordering kiosks, which had an English option, and allowed for ordering meals or individual items. Unfortunately, although our swiped American credit card got us into the kiosk ordering system, it couldn’t take payment off that non-chipped card, so we still had to pay with euros to the non-English speaking cashier. Definitely a good experience for us, though. And I think it let our son relax a little, knowing he CAN eat here if he wants to.

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In N Out Newbie

My younger daughter dragged me back home to Texas again, and tired though I was, we had a great time. The inestimable, legendary In N Out Burger has opened down there finally, and my youngest son is the only family member to have never tasted the freshness. We had an opportunity to introduce him.

A fan is born!

Interestingly enough, unlike any I’ve ever eaten at in California, the drive-through proceeds along a maze much like the sort that winds a line at Disneyworld back around on itself. This line is kept organized by police officers. And you are asked at the drive-through, “Will you be dining in your car?” With the afternoon temp around 110, we did opt to skip the al fresco seating and add to the carbon emissions as we ate.

My sons devouring burgery goodness.

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The Flavor of a Place

What makes a comfort food?  Those foods that make your heart as full as your tummy? I think some foods we associate with people we love, some with events, and some with places. Even the smell of them brings that association to mind. Hot chocolate smells like my husband. Giant Belgian waffles topped with strawberries, powdered sugar and whipped cream IS the Texas State Fair for me.

And as a gypsy’s wife, having lived few places for more than a few years, a longing for certain foods is inextricably linked to a longing for certain places, especially my home state of Texas. So, in spite of the inevitable extra pounds, visiting Texas has to mean visiting certain Texas restaurants. The sense of home and relief eating these signature foods is powerful. And unfortunately, a few days’ vacation isn’t long enough to experience all the important ones, but it is enough to put on the extra pounds. Give and take, I guess.

Our first home-tastes dinner was Mama’s Pizza, and it was just very sad that we only had time to eat there once. Stoney was once a teen manager of a Mama’s, and our own kitchen still benefits from the skills he gained there! Next stop was El Fenix:

If only we could have ordered the whole menu.

Their tortilla chips HAVE to be the best I’ve ever had. They are paper thin, crispy and homemade. That is a chicken enchilda in the middle there, with a puffy taco. Only Texas can bring you TexMex! Next on the tour was breakfast at La Madeline’s with a friend. I wish they would bring one up to Wichita! Another day I dragged Stoney there for lunch. I think he feared for his manly rep, because he ordered the American breakfast for lunch. Bacon and eggs is safe, I guess.

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Lincoln, NE, home of…King Kong?

My youngest son and I drove up to Nebraska Friday to attend The Gathering of the Talents at Concordia University the next morning. We stayed in Lincoln, and I am still afraid I missed an amazing opportunity by not eating here for dinner:

That’s right: King Kong Burger. The welcoming family of Kongs was hard to pass up.

And maybe if I ate there, I, too, could have buns like these.

But no, we passed up this cheerful visage to split a catfish plate at Cracker Barrel, where we could browse and wander until our travel-weary behinds had gotten all the kinks worked out. Maybe next time, King Kong Burger!

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