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Lunch On The River Yonne

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As we were driving along the river routes between Avallon and Auxerre Monday, I had seen in my Michelin a restaurant in the small town of Vincelottes that looked like a nice stop for a good lunch. It was a "two fork" Bibb Gourmand listing, which typically means excellent food at a good value. Not inexpensive, but worth the money. We made a lunch reservation.

When we arrived, we found the restaurant across from the river, with a pretty patio dining room set up right above the riverbank. Several tables were filled with couples or groups, all fairly casually dressed and speaking French. The food looked wonderful. The owner came over, switched to perfect English immediatly, shook hands, and handed us enormous menus. After that pleasant beginning, things progressed somewhat like an episode of "Fawlty Towers."

Monsieur came back to ask if we'd like an aperitif. We said no, but would like a carafe of water. We were then treated to a five minute lecture on the evils of tap water, and how he never uses tap water for any of the cooking, buying many huge bottles of good water for the restaurant's cooking needs. OK. (Sorry we asked!) Can we have a bottle of water then? Monsieur asked if we were ready to order. (No, since we've spent the past 5 minutes listening to him.) He made a face, said he'd come back in 10 minutes. We waited. And waited. And waited more. That was the last we saw of him.

Finally, one of the waitresses came over to take the order. There were several complete "menus" of varying prices with one or two choices for three or four courses. We both ordered a three course menu, and chose a half bottle of wine. We were told that we had to order dessert now, so the kitchen would know. OK. I quickly chose creme caramel, Larry the cheese. Larry, who was sitting facing the other tables, noticed other tables getting an bouche amuse (little bite of a dish from the chef). None arrived for us, since we had not ordered an aperitif. This seems to happen in some (but not all) restaurants.

After the usual interval, our first courses arrived. The waitress came with the bread basket, and we were each given a different kind of bread, according to what we were eating. And I'll happily report that the food was wonderful. Larry had a galantine of lapin (OK, cold composed salad of bunny rabbit and vegetables), and I had fresh chevre with smoked salmon. Everything delicious, and very pretty.

Humn. Water never did arrive, did it? First we asked our young waitress for our water. We never ordered water, she said, frowning. Um, yes, actually we did. No matter. Could we have a bottle of Evian, please? Five minutes went by. Ten. We asked again, feeling like we'd somehow sinned. Finally an older waitress came with our water.

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Our plats arrived, with still different bread. My rouget was fillets of pink-skinned fish with dollops of an intensly flavored tomato and herb mixture, and a tangle of buttery spinach. Larry had extremely tender veal, very subtly perfumed with asian spices and served over delicious short-grained rice. We ate very slowly. I'd love to figure out how to make that tomato-herb mixture.

After we finished, our plates and silver were taken away. We noticed the waitresses would "decrumb" the tables of other diners, but we were left with our crumbs. Only after Larry motioned at his crumbs did the younger waitress huff over to scrape them off. Out table was set for dessert, and the waitress came over with two enormous cheese trays. There must have been 20 kinds of cheese on each tray. She asked me what I'd like. Oh, I had ordered dessert, I said. No, you told me you were taking cheese, she said. Um, no, sorry. (Were we going to argue about this? Why am I the one apologising?) She gave another dramatic huff, (by now, we'd been treated to two--or was it three?) tore away my settings, and was very obviously annoyed with us.

Larry chose three kids of cheese, and my creme brulee arrived in a tureen so I could serve myself. Or could, if I had some spoons! Again, two tries until we got spoons. By this time, the younger waitress had disappeared.

We didn't linger for coffee. A strange experience, but boy, that food was good.

Comments (2)

Britt Sullivan:

I was watching the food channel this afternoon before cooking dinner and I saw a sauce called a pistou that the "Barefoot Contessa" served in a soup. It was like a pesto sauce but made with tomato paste. Could that have been similar to the tomato herb sauce?

ken:

The fish in the picture is rouget barbet -- red mullet. I had rouget for lunch today and it was delicious.

In restaurants with the kind of service you describe, at some point you just have to be very direct with the staff. They will get it if you are clear about what you want and need. I think...

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