26 November 2010

FRANCE: Day 7 - Monte Carlo y Menton

Today we’re going to a food show in Monte Carlo. Really. Have I died and gone to food heaven?

That is a fact that I could never have imagined growing up in Peoria, IL. But, today is the first day of the 15th Annual Salon Monte-Carlo Gastronomie in the Espace Fontvieille near the Stade Louis II in the neighborhood of Monaco called Fontvieille.

CA does a bang-up job of negotiating the narrow, winding streets of Monaco, and particularly navigating the parking garages. We learn that when the sign says “complet” they mean it, and if you proceed anyway you will be backing up into narrow winding passages that are bad enough to maneuver when you are pointed forward.

After weaving through the area, not sure where we’ve ended up, we park in an underground garage, come up into the light, see the piéton (pedestrian) directional sign for the “heliport” (which we’ve already established is next to the exposition area) and walk directly into the back of the Espace Fontvieille.

 Truffles, not chocolate

We bought fois gras from these guys.

Wine. Cheese. Truffles. Chocolate. Fois Gras. Spices. Distilled Lemon products from Menton. Candied Fruits and Flowers. And, more varieties of pork than you can imagine—many sliced from a whole pig. There are also a few purveyors of linens, cast iron pots, and various knives. But, about every 10 steps someone offers us bite-sized samples of unbelievable fois gras or aged cheeses sliced from massive wheels. Bliss. Every bite of fois gras tastes better than the last. We buy a jar that doesn’t need refrigeration to tuck into our suitcase to enjoy later in the winter when our weeks in France seem only a dream.

After about an hour we realize it’s a bit early to sit down at one of the three restaurant spaces, yet we’re ready to move on. CA leads me to one of the pork purveyors offering baguette sandwiches with roast pork for 3.50€. CA is actually quite excited about these sandwiches. We take our sandwiches to-go and immediately regret our choice. Purposefully, the fat and crispy pork skin is layered with the roast pork, and the baguette is the Italian variety (dry). After a few bites, we literally can’t swallow.

In Slovakia we joke a bit about lard sandwiches—a delicacy remembered fondly by the older generation, but not generally appreciated by the young. A few years back, after an evening of matching shots with a friendly priest, Uncle PW consumed an entire lard sandwich. Not sure how PW felt the next morning, but since then he’s been fairly proud of that accomplishment.

Today CA and I come the closest we’ll every get to consuming a lard sandwich--we each eat about half a sandwich before thinking better of it and finding a waste can. Talk about feeling full. That sandwich feels like a boulder in my stomach. No amount of water can wash the lump away or erase the after-taste (the actual tasting experience wasn’t bad until it hit bottom).

We continue through the streets of Monaco, following the blue signs for the A8 toward Menton—the lemon capital of France. Of course, we’re in that dead space between 12:00n and 2:30pm so we plan on finding a café for café crème to while away the time.

Menton is a lovely port filled with boats and yachts—a micro-climate that’s probably 10˚ warmer than we experienced in Monaco. Lovely. We’re enjoying another bright sunny day. As soon as we park near the Promenade de Sol, I spot a brocante and head there while CA figures out the parking meter. Nothing tempts, but still I’m pleased to have found my second antiques flea market on this trip.

Brocante (Antiques Flea Market)

After coffee and walking through the streets of Menton for about an hour, we decide to head back to Mougins—about 45 minutes west on the A8. Traffic is light and we enjoy the journey across the viaducts and through the tunnels that get us around this region where the mountains meet the sea.

Le Petit Provencal

We’re actually going out for dinner tonight. We can walk down the hillside and into the centre ville to Le Petit Provençal. It’s cold tonight and I put on my winter coat for the first time—my heavy sweater and scarf have been more than sufficient so far this trip. Again, we’re surprised that the food is mostly Italian, however we both opt for a “Formule” at 18.50€--three courses for which we each select a Salad Bernier with vinaigrette (mixed greens, tomato, hard-boiled egg, and rounds of fried goat cheese) and Entrecôte (grilled sirloin steak with fries) with a garlic-herb butter sauce, and I have the glace (ice cream) while CA opts for the crème brŭlée. Voilá!

The air is crisp and we’re mostly content as we walk up the hill from dinner. Certainly we won’t be eating anything else today!

Tomorrow we switch rooms, moving next door to the two bedroom villa. LFW joins us next Friday, and we’ll have plenty of space for a guest.

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