“Bonjour Madame. Do you have a table for four people?” “Avez-vous un réservation?” Madame asked. “No” we replied as our eyes drifted over the room full of empty tables. “Ah, then I cannot help you. We have no tables available.”
Perhaps it was because we arrived at the local top-rated restaurant breathless and sweaty, dressed in hiking-around-medieval-town-wear. Or maybe all of those tables were reserved, even though it was well into the lunch hour. Whatever it was, we were not going to be seated. Period.
We had already walked quite a distance from the center of the town of Durtal, in the Loire Valley, expecting the restaurants on our list to be right around the next corner.
Once we began passing the garden store (think Home Depot for plants) and the Super U (supermarket with a George Jetson-inspired entrance), with no restaurant in sight we had to choose: walk back 20 minutes to get the car or keep marching forward. We decided on the latter. It was at the end of that walk under the hot noon sun that Madame from Restaurant des Plantes shuttled us off to what she clearly considered an inferior establishment up the road, bidding us “au revoir” without meaning it.
Alas, we would never know the Angevin delicacies offered to more suitable patrons of the Restaurant des Plantes. But the waiter at Au Relais d’Anjou, only a few doors away, welcomed us and showed us to a fine table, tablecloth and all. Our effort was rewarded.
Choosing from several prix fixe menus with the aid of a carafe of a dry Anjou rose, we soon had plates of foie gras and seafood, “Tomates Farci Façon Marie Therese,” beef with Szechuan peppercorns, and veal kidneys in puff pastry.
Followed by a cheese platter of ash-covered goat cheese, camembert, an aged goat cheese, some kind of tomme, and two bleus. Followed yet again by dessert—lemon tart, fresh pear tart, and passion fruit mousse. And coffee.
One of the wonderful things about this time in the Loire Valley has been the externally imposed downtime of a two-hour lunch. It is not easy for a group of Americans used to multitasking through lunch to sit down. And relax. In this overachieving drive for productivity we sell ourselves short. Do I remember any of those sandwich-crumb-covered emails or memos? No. But will I remember this luncheon in Durtal, each course carefully prepared and presented? Bien sur.