It was nearing the end of the trip. It had been cold and rainy all day. The day before we had made reservations for Les Truffieries which is a Ferme Auberge (farm house restaurant) in Tremolat. We had heard great things about this restaurant, and were very eager to try it. We drove on winding roads up into a mountain a few kilometers outside of town, parked in mud, and braved the rain as we walked to the door about 5 minutes early for our 7:30 reservation. The door was locked. We were shivering and confused. However, 7:30 is usually the earliest dinner reservation available so we figured the restaurant just hadn't opened yet, but would soon.
After a while, a man in his 60's came to open the door. We quickly learned he spoke little to no English as he beckoned us to choose from about 9 tables in the room. We sat near an open fireplace on which he tossed a fresh log. The restaurant was packed with decorative items, in a "grandparent's living room" style. Books were stacked high on the upright piano behind us. Framed photos were everywhere. Maps were pinned to the walls. Odd vases, houseplants, and radios were placed on various shelves and ledges. All the tables and chairs were mismatched.
The gentleman brought out a steaming tureen of soup as the first course. It was the perfect dish for our cold-soaked bones. It was the most unusual tasting soup. I loved it, but I had never tasted anything like it before. I later found out it is a traditional garlic soup made in the area. When we got home I found this recipe online and tried to copy the soup we enjoyed this night. It was similar, but I doubt I'll ever have anything just like it. For one thing, a major ingredient is duck fat, which is a bit out of my league and accessibility.
We learned that the man serving us was Yanick, a retired architect turned Ferme Auberge proprietor. We didn't remember that he and his restaurant were mentioned in the article Cody read in Budget Travel magazine that sparked our interest in Tremolat in the first place long ago. Here we were, in person with famous Yanick. And Yanick, being a typical Ferme Auberge out-going spirit, wanted to talk to us in a bad way. He pulled up a seat at our table and began a 3 hour conversation that was conducted in broken French, broken English, smiles, nods, hand signals, and every prop imaginable from maps to goose livers. He only paused long enough to prepare the next course and bring it to us.
At some point we realized we were still the only customers in the restaurant. No one else had come, which was a little unsettling. We were enjoying Yanick's attention, but we couldn't help but ask where all the other customers might be. He shrugged. The rain, it was mid-week, people didn't want to spend the money, he had been busy earlier in the week. Don't ask me how I got all that. Some miracle of timing and nature had occurred to render Yanick and his restaurant ours alone, so we sat back and soaked it up.
After the soup, we were served the best foie gras. Goose liver is not my favorite food in the world, but Yanick's preparation of it was the most palatable, bordering on this is quite good. He brought out a goose liver and the special mold he uses to chill the mixture he creates. He told us all about how he makes it...mostly in French, so it's still a little unclear.
By this time, the pear wine we started with and the chilled white that accompanied the foie gras were kicking in and I was warming up. A gentle rain still fell outside, the fire cracked and glowed, Yanick disappeared to ready the next course.
Little did I know I was about to be presented with the most beautiful salad I had ever seen.
It tasted as good as it looked. The cantaloupe was sweet and juicy. The mixture of strange leaves, herbs, and flowers was perfect. Unusual, but perfect. I have no idea what kind of pate is in the corner, but it went well with the salad, too. I didn't want this salad to end.
After the salad, Yanick brought out grilled duck with mixed grilled vegetables and potatoes.
Meanwhile, Yanick got out a map of the US to show us where he visited a few years ago. He also got out a map of France and proceeded to tell us where all the best wineries and restaurants are. If only we had dined with him at the beginning of our trip!
The next course was a simple, yet elegant cheese plate.
Yanick admitted that he doesn't like Roquefort cheese. I agree it's a little too strong, but I like it in small quantities. We heard more about his history as an architect and his love of cooking. Again, I stress that each of us knew hardly any words in the other's language. Conversations like these border on the sacred...dare I compare it to speaking in tongues? It may be blasphemous, but I am unsure how else to explain the mystery of the conversation we shared at the table in this small farm house setting.
We finished with a dessert of strawberries and cream. The past three hours had been delightful and filling in every way. It will always be a special memory for Cody and me. It could easily be crowned our best meal in France, maybe our best meal ever.
If just one aspect had been missing: if it had not been a cold rainy evening, if the food had not been blissfully delicious, if Yanick had not been friendly and eager to converse, if there had been other customers dining nearby...then it would have been nice, but not as memorable. Everything came together to create one of the most beautiful meal experiences, and I am so thankful Cody and I shared it and get to savor that memory together.