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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

French Travel Tales: Two Hotels in Agen + Steak Tartare, Part Two


The surge of the TGV, being drawn by the place you are going, leaving out of the station energy is fantastic and electric, so full of anticipation and the unknown. I don't think we were yet going as fast as we would be. I wanted to know which parts of Paris we are traveling under and through. But I would have to look at a map for that and all I want to do is look out the window so I don't miss a thing.

As I recall we met Ben as we left the café and got on the escalator down to our Voie 2. He was only able to get a coach ticket. Once we were engaged in the trip he joined us in first class and never went back. Except to get his bags on the way to the coffee car. Could this be a ritual? Talk and Coffee at breakfast, late morning and late afternoon? This was something I was going to miss on my alone time in France.

But not to worry, life has it's ways and something ~ something would replace it.

After Luli and Nick and Ben and I finished our barge trip in Bezier, I will talk more about those days on the Canal but before I do here's this next part. 

Teen-Chef 2006 on Our Way Back to Provence

The part where I came back to Agen in Gascony. An at first delicious and then encroyable horrible haunting beginning on Halloween Night 1999 at the second of the two hotels I was staying at in Agen. Two hotels on Halloween. Yes, I know. But necessary. 

The first one, Hotel des Ambans, was reasonable and hence my reason for staying there. I tell you there was nothing like lying in your bed and watching the neon sign outside flashing. All night. But it was some very weird situation where it was locked during the day - and when I returned from traveling around to and from Nerac and Poudenas I was unable to get my key to work. It was getting dark, and on this night the time changed too. I think. I panicked as the streets filled with wild shouting revelers from what must certainly have been a world trouncing soccer tournament. Who knows? But these French were out to party. I didn’t want any part of it.

All my bags were just up in my hotel room, there, right there! My window looked out on the flashing Des Ambans sign, but I couldn’t get in. The owners must be out with the crowd, I thought. So I walked quickly among the shadows up the street to Logis Le Perigord. It was expensive and quiet. The door closed on the street noise. Yes, there was a room. They didn’t even ask why I had no bags. I am not sure what they thought. I closed the second door on the world and settled in for a good cry, as I was shaken to the core. When I recovered a bit I went downstairs.

The restaurant was quite lovely. Old wood, brass gueridons, old world. I sat down and knew immediately after the kind of day I had had exactly what I needed. The garcon wheeled the cart over, and proceeded to ask me how much of this, and that. Beautiful lean chopped beef, anchovies, capers, Dijon moutarde, shallots, and Worcestershire sauce. I had had an extreme hunger for raw beef when pregnant with my first son, Erick, and for some reason it made me feel full and close to the memory of being pregnant and a happy time in my life, full of purpose.

During dinner I spoke with a couple from London, while spreading copious amounts of Steak Tartare on slices of crusty baguette.

But in the end that delicious Steak Tatare made the return trip through Toulouse then on to London, then finally back to RDU, on November 1st in 1999, one of the most excruciating journeys of my life.

At least that's what I think it was.

Here is Nigel Slater's recipe for Steak Tartare.

Finely chop 200g of steak – it should be as fine as you can chop it without actually mincing it – then add in 40g of finely chopped shallot, 40g of finely chopped cornichon, 2 tsp capers, 3 tsp of Worcestershire sauce, 6 drops of Tabasco, a little salt, black pepper and then stir carefully. Place the tartare on a plate, neatly in a mound. Make a slight hollow in the centre, break an egg yolk into the hollow and serve.

Don't even think of using anything but the freshest, best-quality meat. Chop the meat very finely or, if you must, mince it coarsely. Season generously, checking the salt and pepper, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce levels as you go.

Try adding finely chopped anchovies or parsley to the mix. A little grated fresh horseradish will be a twist too far for some, but it is extraordinarily good.
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