Monday, August 11, 2008

Being There: Moulin de Mougins

En route to Chicago, we were reminiscing about various early August trips we've taken. Last year it was to Northeastern Colorado to a class reunion. Quite a few years earlier, we were spending a few days on the French Riviera.

Being something of a foodie, I love to try different restaurants and recipes, and once long ago in Paris we had dined at then two-star Laperouse, which had exceeded expectations and was the most expensive lunch we had ever eaten. Do you know, I still recall what we ate right down to the Grand Marnier souffle. Ole!

The idea of a three star, just-this-once meal got under our skin, and since we would be on the Riviera, S.O. made a reservation by mail (that's how long ago it was--no email) at Moulin de Mougins up in the hills above the coast.

Roger Verge was chef du cuisine, and the charming hill town of Mougins increased our anticipation of what was to come. We parked and entered and then of course, came the decision indoors or in the garden. The interior with a big hearth and wonderful appointments was seductive, and certainly on a cold winter night would have been just the ticket, but on such a fine summer day where else but the garden?

Pink napery and a menu so vast that I was bamboozled. How to choose? The waiter took mercy and recommended the table d'hote (forgive missing accents). I read what we would eat, and quite frankly, it didn't sound too temping. Fish curry, and duck cooked in its own blood were two of the menu items that didn't inspire.

But that big menu was SOOOO intimidating, and we let the waiter persuade us. A selection of courses arrived, and each one was so delicious one wanted to say, "never mind the rest of the menu, just bring more or this. Lots more."

The curry was superb. There were mushrooms to die for. Potatoes that redefined the dish. No lucious morsel of the duck revealed any cooking blood. Wine unsurpassable. We were too stuffed to share even a cognac.

Of course looking around the garden was not without its charms. That was the time when lots of wealthy Arabs tooled around Europe. Maybe they still do. One always saw them in the best restaurants and department stores, and the women were gussied out in the latest fashions, and everyone was drinking and smoking to beat the band.

There were stories of quick changes on the restroom of the 747 back into traditional dress. It was just very interesting to get a glimpse of life as we didn't know it.

The other persons of interest were two Alsatian (we guessed, because they easily switched from French to German and back) couples with two young children each. The kids were maybe five to 10 in ages. I gaped at their plates, each with a huge bloody filet that had been relieved of two or so bites. Pounds and pounds of prime filet that were going to feed someone's dog at best. And to calculate the bill. Mon Dieu! After their meal, the waiter brought out bottle after dust-covered bottle of liquors, and they drank and drank.

We would have driven right off a corniche. So, regretfully, we left the garden and the other diners and drinkers, one more trip through the welcoming dining room, back to the car and reality. I think we took a very long nap.

It was worth every penny, and everyone who loves fine food should do it once. Maybe right now you may want to wait until the dollar comes out of the toilet. Or hie yourself to New York, Chicago or Montreal. Or even Baghdad by the Bay. Any city where French food is still valued.
Chicago has many fine French restaurants. As young marrieds, we tried them all, and back then meals like that were affordable. The little bistro where the wall was lined with the corks of wine bottles, Chez Paul, Chez this, chez that. We knew the famous Bakery when it was just a little storefront where they seated you in the kitchen if the front was full.
Where are the snows of yesteryear?

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