Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hippie-chicks and the kindess of strangers

After settling in to the basic and clean Logis Le Cheval Rouge, we each seperately ended up migrating to the cafe/bar next door for some pre-dinner drinks. Now, it’s important to note that we were 200 meters from Chateau Villandry, a chateau that was justifiably famous for its gardens, and thus firmly on the tourist route. The town caters to tourists, and we weren’t really expecting much in the way of good food or fun.

We would be wrong.

While the Finn, the Lithuanian, and the Dane drank their drinks, I went into tour-guide mode and quickly looked around the area for the best possible dinner scenario. Everything looked too touristy, i.e. the fake chalk menu boards (do they really think we can’t tell that the menu hasn’t changed since forever?), and the wilted, yellowed menu sheets with menu choices that are clearly NOT in season... However, not 15 meters away from where the boys were wasting no time in ordering another round, I came across L'Epicerie Gourmande. It looked a bit hippy-ish, possibly vegetarian and clearly NOT geared towards the tour-bus crowd. The carnivore in me hesitated to read the menu, but was pleasantly surprised to see that there was, indeed, duck on the menu. Nothing risked, nothing gained. I popped in, completely unsurprised by the two girls who looked like flower-children – reserved a table and went to join the drinking down the street.

At 20:00, we began our meal by ordering the charcuterie as a starter. I ordered the duck as my main, and, for the life of me, I cannot remember what everyone else ordered – while they were ordering, I was led away to the vinotheque to choose what we would be drinking. Because L’Epicerie Gourmande is actually a teahouse/restaurant/wineshop with local foodstuffs and the occasional local handicraft, they’ve got a great selection of Loire wines. The wineshop part acts as the walk-in cellar for diners. You choose your wine(s), drink them and pay the same price as if you’d bought it in the store. Awesome.

So, the hippie-chick takes me and the Dane to the wine, where we peruse the ample range of choice. Always one for utilizing local know-how, I asked if she could recommend something. She could. She pointed out the most popular red, which was pricey, she then pointed to a much less expensive wine and said, “this is what I drink”. I’m sold. I’m a sucker for a recommendation that seems to go against the profit motive.

To complement our charcuterie, we’d ordered a local rose. It went down extremely well with the local meats. The Finn (an afficianado for all things cured, smoked, etc.) pronounced the plate excellent, so we ordered a refill of all of the above.

As we had our meal, drank the wine, ordered more, commenting to one another on how incredibly good everything was, how pretty the presentation, how nice the service, and reviewing the day, the whole repast became a too-loud, too-much-fun, too much wine experience. At some point, I noticed that the loudness wasn’t just us. The whole restaurant (it’s not big – maybe like a medium-sized living room) was buzzing. The one pair of American?/Canadian? Tourists (they all look the same, non?) had left, and I realized that the rest of the crowd was honestly local. Most of the space was taken up by a group of families and friends – clearly friends with the other hippie-chick owner who was tending the bar. They were having a great time, we were having a great time, and when it came time to (naturally) move from wine to digestifs, they were happy to raucously recommend what we needed to drink. We took their recommendations more than once, toasting to their health, while they toasted to ours.

We stayed until closing, enjoying the atmosphere, the drink and the friendliness of strangers. And people wonder why I do these trips...