Gather Round The Table: French Cuisine
In addition to being a world-class destination known for its rich history, beautiful language and incredible architecture, France has some of the best food in the world. I daydream about returning to France every day, and I’d be lying if I told you those dreams were devoid of baguettes and Alouette. In a true fantasy world, I could eat bread all day and not get fat, but let’s get real here: I didn’t step on a scale after returning to the states because I already knew it would be bad news.
Dining is a big deal here. Even our most casual family dinners lasted at least an hour. Step into a restaurant and you could be sitting for two or three hours, savoring each delicious course and sipping on the perfect accompanying wine. I’ll be honest, all that bread and cheese and wine and constant stream of desserts led to a minor breakdown while clothes shopping in Dijon, but I regret nothing! Here are some of my favorite dining spots from our stay in Chaumont.
Hotel Restaurant le Grand Val: Every day started the same way. After getting dressed and ready for the day’s adventures, those of staying at the hotel made our way downstairs to the breakfast buffet, where for €8.90, we could fill up on a selection of traditional French breakfast options. Now, I am a lifetime fan of bacon and scrambled eggs, but I wasn’t complaining about the selection at this place. Croissants, madeleines, French bread, charcuterie, hard boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt and cheese were the main selections, along with hot tea, coffee, cocoa, and a variety of fresh juices. My normal breakfast consisted of a chocolate croissant (or three) and a slice of rustic French bread smeared with creamy cheese and salami, along with a hot, rich mug of cocoa. Bonus: Individual Nutella packets were available for the plain croissants, which I naturally hoarded and brought back to the states with me.
L’hôtel restaurant La Vallée: This was my favorite restaurant from our stay, and one that we visited often. Our first meal here, a “welcome to Chaumont” kind of meal, was truly stunning, and set the bar high for all our future dining experiences. It was the perfect welcome to France. From the endless tiny appetizers, to the wine that accompanied every dish, to the gorgeous dessert presentation, it really was a magnificent production. We occupied the private dining room, a gorgeous place filled with natural light (and wasps drifting in the open door). We began with champagne and progressed to wine as the meal continued (red for what I call “the real adults,” and white and rose for Jennifer, Jared and I). Those not imbibing were treated to gorgeous fruit mocktails. It’s a good thing this meal lasted for three hours, because there was no way I was saying no to dessert!
We came back to this restaurant two more times before continuing on to Paris, and each time, the meal felt entirely different. Our last meal at this location was a much smaller affair, attended by myself, my grandparents, and three other siblings while the rest of the family drove out to attend church.
I could rave about this meal for hours. I still dream about those scallops, beautifully presented and perfectly complemented by a sweet citrus vinaigrette. Do you see the radish carved into a blossom? I felt like I was judging food on Chopped (seriously, how can I score that gig?). I chose a pesto seafood dish served with squid ink pasta (!!!) and a new spin on ratatouille, while my youngest brother opted for lasagna with root veggies. I like to branch out with my food choices, but couldn’t resist ordering the rose crème brûlée I had loved so much on our first visit. I was shocked and entirely delighted when the waitress brought out a different variation of the same crème brûlée – this one pink and topped with lychee fruit.
Other tasty dining options?
Restaurant Belle Epoque: We stopped here for lunch on one of our last days in Chaumont. I love looking at these photos now, but I was definitely not feeling well at the time. Jennifer and I had picked up a couple inexpensive bottles of wine the night before (I swear, some of it is cheaper than water), and my grandparents knew something was up when I declined wine with my meal. Mamie mimed chugging a glass of wine, then burst into laughter. You guys, I’m getting old. I picked at some bread and even stomached some of this salmon with creamy dill sauce, and was back to my normal self by the time dessert rolled around.
Good thing, too: look at that dessert trio! If I recall correctly, it was a small slice of cheesecake, a mini crème brûlée, and a spoonful of chocolate mousse, accompanied by an adorable cup of espresso with sugar. It was delightful. The siblings who did not order the trio immediately set to grumbling that they would have gotten it, had it not come with coffee.
Restaurant Le Petit Charme: You wouldn’t know it from these photos, but this is actually intended to be a truck stop. We were without a doubt the largest (and loudest) group at this roadside restaurant, which was occupied primarily by small families and older couples. Overly conscious of our reputation as horrible, rude, awful Americans, we settled down quickly and set about ordering our food. The restaurant brought out a small appetizer, housed in a shot glass sized cup. I eyed the creamy yellow dollop, dusted with spices and served with a miniature spoon, feeling a twinge of dread. It’s rude in France (as in most civilized cultures) to turn your nose up at the food that is served. I like to think I am adventurous with my food, but I drew the line at this. I wish I had a picture to share, but I was rather preoccupied trying to pass my appetizer off to another family member. It was butter. Butter in a cup, served with a spoon, to really get the old arteries pumping before our meal. Naturally, this resulted in a lot of frantic under the table attempts to get someone, anyone else to eat the most beautifully presented butter the world has ever seen.
I’m relieved to say that the rest of the meal was fantastic. I had a seafood bisque, stuffed with salmon and scallops, and served with the perfect crusty bread, while others opted for foie gras, salad and more. Just like everywhere else, the presentation was simply impeccable, the champagne was flowing, and the dessert was to die for. I opted this time for a delicious banana crème brûlée (you may have noticed a bit of a trend here). I didn’t know when I would be back, and if I wanted crème brûlée, then I was sure going to have some!
Mamie & Papy’s home: Of course this one makes the list! We did a lot of eating, drinking and just hanging out while we were here, and our grandparents extended every hospitality during our stay. While I didn’t regularly take photos of the food we were served, some of my favorite menu items include roast pheasant, lamb stew, and pasta salad with tuna (not all at once). Mamie went out regularly for more bread, wine, and cheese, and dessert was a given!
Dining in Chaumont was like celebrating a special occasion with every meal. As a lover of wine, bread and especially dessert, the food aspect of this trip was a literal dream come true!