Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The raw side of Mosnes (Loire Valley)

Pre-dinner fun
So, we’re in Mosnes on Ascension day, i.e. in a small town in France on a public holiday.  Staying at Le Domaine des Thomeaux, a small chateau hotel in the middle of nowhere. 
Very pretty, very reasonable.

The prospects for entertainment or any choice in food or drink establishments are slim to none.  After having a couple of “recovery drinks” on the terrace of the hotel bar, the Finn, the Dane, the Lithuanian and I all agree to meet in 45 minutes to wander the village before heading to dinner at the adjacent hotel restaurant, the “Les Saveurs du Monde”.
The Finn and the Lithuanian had been complaining all day about “digestion problems”, “acid-reflux” etc, etc.  Back in my day, we called those sorts of things a “hangover”.  Anyway, they had decided that they needed medicine (which was not available because it was a holiday, and there were no pharmacies in the village), so they were willing to settle either for baking soda (best-case scenario) or some sort of milk product (worst-case scenario).  Strangely enough, as soon as we walked through the gates of the hotel and into the village, we ran across a tiny store that was actually open.  The walking-wounded bought some yoghurt drinks, I asked the proprietress if she knew if any of the local winemakers’ cellars were open that day.  She pointed us in the right direction, and off we went.

As we approached the cellars of Xavier Frissant, we noticed that it was full of people.  Some sort of local group was having an organized tasting.  That notwithstanding, the vintner, his son and the wife were happy to scooch some of them over so that we might have room at the tasting bar.  So we tasted. And tasted.  Starting with two different sparkling wines, then on to several whites, and finally to a number of reds.  These were some seriously nice wines at reasonable prices.  The vast majority were in the 5-7 Euro range with the premium wines in the 10-14 Euro range.  Definitely worth the price.  At this point, we were reminded of the only drawback of traveling by bicycle – you can’t really take your finds with you…
Apologies for the torn label -- paniers will do that to a bottle over a couple of hundred km.

With the skids greased, we returned to our hotel to sit down for dinner.  Les Saveurs du Monde describes itself as a restaurant gastronomique.  It doesn’t boast any Michelin stars, but it clearly would like to.  After receiving our menus we noted that the menu was small enough to signify that the kitchen might actually be market-oriented and wasn’t beholden to a repertoire set in stone.  While we were making our choices the amuse bouche arrived, as well as our Saumur sparkling wine.  The Saumur Cremant was as good as the amuse bouche was bad.  I don’t even remember what it was – I think it might have been mayonnaise in a shot glass..

Not a good start.

We then started noticing bad signs.  The wait staff/busboys were clearly nervous high-schoolers.  The “sommelier” wasn’t sure what was in the wine list.  We never had the same server coming to the table.  It was all a bit chaotic.  Nevertheless, we ordered our meals, our wines and settled in.

The wine was good.  Full stop.  I had over-done chicken (described as being an exlusive local breed that rivals the Bresse chicken in its awesomeness), the Dane and the Lithuanian had something eminently forgettable, while the Finn was the least lucky. 

Now granted, the Finn is a bit picky.  He’s a great cook, and he seriously knows cuisine.  Our last cycling trip (to Chablis) had him hating a restaurant that the Dane and I loved, because the duck that he ordered did not have crispy skin (granted, he DID ask if the skin would be crispy, and had been assured that it WOULD be.  It wasn’t.).  This time, it wasn’t a matter of being picky – his pork was raw.  Not au point, not rare, not undercooked, but simply raw.  One could simply chalk that up to the chef being distracted, taking the meat off too early, or something like that.  However, the problem was that the pork was raw in certain parts of the cut – an indication that they were using frozen meat (which they hadn’t even bothered to defrost properly).

The state of affairs was mentioned to one of the waiters (highschool kids).  His reaction?  A curt “d’accord” (OK)

We were amazed.

When the head serveuse came to our table to bus it (yes, strange that the high school kids weren’t doing it), she asked rhetorically whether we’d enjoyed our meal, and was taken aback when I replied that, as she could see, the Finn couldn’t eat most of his, because it was raw.  Instead of diffusing the situation by apologizing, she demanded to know why we hadn’t told anyone.  I responded that a) no one was within earshot for quite a while after we discovered the problem, b) it was raw and cooked at the same time, and c) we HAD told one of the kids, but had garnered only a reaction of “Duh. OK.”.  I then continued by asking her if they’d been using frozen meat, because the way that the cut was raw/cooked pointed to that.  At this point, she disappeared.

Up to this point, I had been desperately being quiet and polite (my voice projects, whether I like it or not).  Then the maitre’d came.  After patiently describing the situation to him, he had the gall to try to lay the blame on us, by implying that we hadn’t told anyone, and that this was all our fault.  Then I got pissed.  Leaving the French language behind, I asked him, in English and raising my voice, if he was challenging us.  It took him a good 4 seconds to realize that this situation had the potential of going south in a hurry.

His reaction surprised all of us.  He backed down.  He apologized profusely, told us that the entire meal would be on the house.  We declined coffee and desert and left – choosing to go for a walk to cool down.

After a nice long walk during which the Finn, the Dane and the Lithuanian assured me that I hadn’t been out of line, and that we’re all pretty amazed with the way things turned out, we returned to the hotel for a couple of gin-tonics before turning in.  During the second cocktail, the maitre’d showed up to mention that by the meal would be on the house meant sans wine.  Naturally, we agreed that that was only fair, especially as I had mentioned during the incident itself that I was glad that their restaurant had no control over the wine, because it was the only thing good about the meal…

So, long story short – Le Domaine des Thomeaux = nice hotel.  Les Saveurs du Mond = crappy restaurant, but with a maitre’d that has a sense of propriety.  It could actually be a good restaurant – it just needs a chef that actually cares about the food that he/she is putting out…

1 comment:

  1. Can't think of any thing worse than a restaurant with pretensions, though I'm sure there are many such things. Stick with the liquid calories to be safe.