Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 7, Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 

A fine dining experience: From hors d'œuvre to dessert

In White Post, Virginia, the French Inn L'Auberge Provençal has the look of the quintessential Country Inn. Let us not be fooled by the word 'country'. The Inn is accommodated with all modern comforts and amenities.

Last December, I was an overnight guest at their Royal Suite. Located against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the breathtaking Shenandoah Valley, this particular Inn is situated over eighteen acres of land, designed to attract luxury accommodation that matches the lifestyle of the rich and famous in the South of France.

In the summer, one has to book lodging six months in advance, and the price is exorbitant because of the luscious green golf courses, riding, water activities and visits to the vineyards. The peace and quiet of French country living also attracts many Washington, D.C. area urbanites.

In the winter when it is considered off season one can also get away from the bustle and hectic life just for an overnight stay, for celebrating a special occasion or to have a romantic five course meal in the Inn's dining room, which offers elegant French dining, known as La Grande Cuisine.

French cuisine doesn't satisfy everyone's palate, especially if one cannot read French. One might end up eating delicacies like snails, frog legs and other internal animal organs. Having taken French way back in college, I considered myself well versed in the language. Little did I know that I had a few surprises that were waiting to put me to the test.

Reminded of the need for punctuality, we dressed up in our best dinner ensembles and arrived at the very elegant dining room at 8 pm to be greeted by the owners, Alan Borel and his wife Celeste.

I felt very giddy with happiness that I would feel at home here, amidst the breath-taking décor with the richly upholstered dining room walls, teamed with dark mahogany furniture that was complemented by antiques and various artifacts from France and old lamps.

A formal French dinner consists of a five course meal but it can also go up to seven. After we were seated we were given a wine list which we politely declined in favour of non-alcoholic sorbet and mineral water.

Then I started to feel a little uneasy because the menu was coming and I would have to make selections from French writing. The smartly dressed waiter handed us the menu, and we began to order à la carte. I summoned my courage and put a brave face on and settled in for this experience of a life time.

The meal was divided into five parts: Hors D'oeuvres (entrée), Plat Principal (the main course), Salade (Salad), Plat de fromages (cheese platter), and Dessert. This could be extended to having a soup (Potages) and chocolate and petit fours yogurt after dessert, which meant a seven course, instead of a five course meal. Ours was a seven course meal.

For appetiser (mostly finger foods) we selected the Assiette de Crudités (raw vegetables ) and the Assiette de Charcuterie (selection of cold meats), which is also called Pâté, cut into thin slices made from meats from various game.

With a special request, one could also order Caviar (fish eggs), Saumon Fumé (smoked salmon), Fruits de Mer (seafood), including huîtres (raw oysters) that were flown from Maine, a New England state that is famous for sea food. Another popular choice in the menu was Petit Quiche au Fromage et Jambon (mini ham and cheese quiche).

For second course (Potages) we ordered creamy Purée soup a l'oignon (onion soup). The other choice was the bisque, which is a creamy lobster or shrimp soup. One could alternate it with Poissons (fish) with creamy sauce.

For the main course (entrée) we chose Poulet au romarin et chou-fleur au gratin (Rosemary chicken and cauliflower). They had all other meat available: turkey, duck, goose, lamb, rabbit, horse and snails.

By the time the fourth course came along I was already stuffed. We ordered the Salade dijonne. It had a very few vegetables with vinegar oil dressing. French chefs often use vegetables as a garnish that accompanies the entrée.

Some vegetables were curved into shapes and sizes like an art. In French cuisine, how the food is presented is of utmost importance. French food is very appealing to look at and the harmony that a dish creates is something that one almost never sees in other cuisines.

Now it was my favourite part of the meal, Fromages (cheese). I saw the waiter was bringing the cheese cart around from table to table and I couldn't wait!

The menu boasted seemingly hundreds of varieties. All were big blocks of cheese and after we made our selection the waiter went to work. He curved and sliced from each block and put the slices on our plates. By that time my taste buds were happy. I tasted so many different kinds of cheese that I had never even known existed.

Last but not the least was dessert and by that time I had no space in my stomach. At first I decided to pass but ordered anyway. They had glace (ice cream), pastries and ten different kind of custards and fresh fruits. And yes, they had cakes too. My choice was Clafoutis aux Cerises (a cherry flavour dessert) that was topped with chocolate ice cream.

Then I washed it down with the remaining palate cleanser, the mango sorbet. On our way back I stopped by the table where there was every imaginable kind of chocolate and I took a handful of Truffles (plain chocolate), Praline (milk chocolates), and Ganache (dark chocolates) made by La Maison du Chocolat.

What a treat! Bon Appétit!

By Zeenat Khan
Zeenat Khan is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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