Saturday, April 12, 2008

Exceptional Meals - Truffle mania

Over on eGullet I described our best ever bouillabaisse eaten during a vacation at Bandol. There I promised to describe a second memorable meal that took place during the same trip.

As mentioned on eGullet the deal was that one of the three couples would choose & pay for a restaurant each week, the rest of the time we shared all costs. The week it was my Sister-in-Law's turn she came up with a restaurant that she had read about in an English Sunday news paper. It sounded good; a young Chef, the restaurant in an old farmhouse, lots of local fresh ingredients. Sort of sounded as if you ate sitting around a table in a farm house kitchen. So I called and made a reservation for the next night.

The next morning I suggested that we explore the area and see if we could find the restaurant as I wasn't 100% sure that I'd understood the directions. Off we went in our holiday gear, shorts & shirts. As it turned out we found the restaurant, Chez Bruno, without difficulty. I decided to go in as it was now lunch time and check that our reservation was OK. Our first clue that this restaurant was not the simple place we had expected was when we were greeted in the car park by a young man in spotless white jacket complete with epaulets. The second clue was that as we entered the restaurant along an arcade there were boxes of wild mushrooms on one side & boxes of truffles on the other. Multiple thousands of dollars of truffles. In any case they did indeed have our reservation and having seen what a great place this was we were really looking forward to our dinner.

Only one problem; the ladies weren't about to go to dinner in a place like this dressed the casual way that they were. (All the French having lunch were casually, but stylishly dressed) Neither were they about to let we guys go dressed as we were either. No problem really we'd just take the autoroute home via Toulon, change clothes and return. Simple until disaster struck. As we entered the Autoroute a horrendous thunderstorm struck. The works! It was so bad that we could only manage 30 KPH on the Autoroute. Then we hit Toulon in the middle of the thunderstorm in the middle of rush hour! Virtual grid lock. We finally made it home, but told the ladies that they had 20 minutes only to do their turnaround. They made it!

Meanwhile we'd been looking at the maps & trying to find a way around Toulon so as to avoid the traffic. The thunderstorm was still raging. (We learned the next day that it had been the worst storm in decades & that several people had been killed during the storm) We found a route & decided that Leo would drive while I navigated so off we went. The traffic was still terrible, but our route through side streets seemed to be working. At one point we we were going up a steep hill on a street with 3 inches of water cascading down it when a car two ahead of us stalled. No hesitation! Go Leo, up on the curb and around the stall. Eventually we made it through Toulon and the storm abated. We were an hour late at the restaurant, but were still greeted warmly and with sympathy.

There were no menus. Bruno himself, all six feet, 300 pounds complete with beard, came to the table and described the meal we were to have, five courses. All in a local French dialect of course. When he finished Leo piped up: "could you please repeat all of that in English please" A hearty laugh and Bruno was gone. Every course except dessert featured truffles, wild mushrooms or both. Absolutely delicious. Truffle soup. Bar with a truffle & mushroom sauce. Mushroom & truffle sautée. Fillet steak with truffles. Very nice local cheeses and a wild berry compot for dessert. A splendid meal and given the circumstances unforgettable.

Afterwards we got a tour of the basement kitchen complete with life sized oil painting of Bruno. No ego this man. It was only much later that we learned of his reputation and as far as I know the restaurant is still going.

The storm had passed so we had a peaceful and contented ride home.

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