Whether you know it or not, or whether you've even identified it yet, you've got a travel MO: that thing you're most drawn to do when you find yourself in a new place. My grandmother really loves cemeteries (my mother complains that's all she saw during her childhood travels). My dad loves art museums and galleries, and good luck getting him out once he's gotten started looking. My mother likes to shop. And I - well, when I travel I love food and drink. I can't resist the siren call of a sidewalk cafe, specials written in chalk on slate, of a carafe of white wine collecting condensation in the afternoon sunshine.
My former colleagues called me a "foodie" with an air of derision, but that's such a joke. Being a foodie is awesome. And for better or worse, it's what I like to do and how I like to spend my time, especially in foreign countries. I think there's no better way to get to the true heart of a location than to: a) sit at a restaurant and observe the goings-on, and b) to try the local foods and drinks...fresh cevice in Costa Rica, crepes in France, homemade potato gnocci in Italy. You learn so much about a people and a place.
For instance, I've learned that lunch is tres important here. Dinner is typically at 8-9 at night, so it's a long time to wait if you have lunch at 1:00, especially for me. My mother and husband will tell you, I am not a fun person to be around when I'm hungry. Last Friday, I roasted an artichoke for lunch, and had a couple of cookies for dessert. That was it. Due to indecision and bad luck, by the time we received our food on Friday night, it was after 10:00 and I was in tears at the dinner table because I was so hungry and tired.
So yesterday I decided, instead of nibbling on bread and cheese, roasting an artichoke, or grabbing a sandwich from a boulangerie, I was going to have a proper lunch. Tartines and Co. came at the recommendation of a French coworker of my mother's at Wake Forest University, who takes a group of students to Tours each summer.
It was a little chilly and the outdoor tables were in the shade, so I decided to eat in the restaurant. It was smaller than I expected, and much more modern. I loved the turquoise walls and water glasses, and the little sparkly white pom-poms strung around the room. I also enjoyed watching the others that were eating there. Even though I couldn't understand their conversations, the two girls about my age to my right seemed to be having a serious, slightly venting discussion about something: irritating coworkers, a jackass boyfriend, who knows. The ladies to my left very much had the appearance of "ladies who lunch," both of them having a glass of wine with their meal and taking their time with it. And one of them had a huge diamond.
Me, well, I skipped the wine, and I decided on the "formule," a common thing here. It's a combination of appetizer, salad, entree, dessert and/or beverage for a set price. What's included varies depending on the restaurant, but this one featured the "tartine du moment" or the "Madras Burger," a dessert of choice, and a bottle of water for 10.50 euros.
I settled on the tartine du moment. It wasn't what I was expecting. I had pictured something like a fruit tart, with a kind of shortbread crust. I think maybe I had pictured a quiche. What I received was a long, narrow slice of toasted bread, topped with ham, cheese, fresh tomatoes, and a little cumin sprinkled on top. But it was more than just plain ham and cheese. The ham was jambon cru, which is a dried, salted ham, almost similar to "country ham" back home. The cheese was St. Marcellin, creamy and delicious, dropped on the long piece of bread in melty dollops. And of course the tomatoes. I love fresh tomatoes.
The tartine came with a petite side salad, with what I believe were crushed, almost powdered, nuts on top, and a sprinkling of cumin to match the tartine. Delicious, and just the perfect amount of food. The tartine looked huge when I got started, but as I ate, it was perfectly satisfying without feeling stuffed and sick.
But the dessert was what got me. Every so often I venture out of my comfort zone and try something new, and it sparks one of my many "obsessions." Last fall it was Bloody Marys. At my sister-in-law's bachelorette party, after staying out until 3 a.m. partying in Nashville on Saturday night, I eschewed my traditional mimosa at Sunday brunch because it just didn't sound appetizing. Instead I ordered a Bloody Mary, which I'm not sure I'd ever had in my life, and Lord, I was hooked after just a sip. For the next few months, I kept inventing reasons to go to brunch on the weekends just so I could get a Bloody Mary. If you haven't figured this out already, my husband is a very patient man.
Anyway. At Tartines and Co., my two choices for dessert were this: fromage blanc or panna cotta. Since cheese does not qualify as a dessert in my book under any circumstance, I went with the panna cotta. I think I had had it before when I studied abroad in Italy, but my memory of it was fuzzy. I vaguely remember disliking it because it wasn't super-sweet and I would rather have had gelato or a pastry (FYI: not much has changed in 11 years).
But this time - oh. Either my taste buds have matured, or this was better panna cotta, because oh. good. lord. I could have eaten another couple of ramekins of the stuff. It was all I could do to keep from licking the dish.
Panna cotta translates loosely to "cooked cream," and it's a mixture of heavy cream, egg whites, and honey, baked on low heat. This had just the right texture. It was similar to creme brulee (minus the crunchy top part, of course), but firmer. It was just sweet enough without being too sickly and overbearing after the large, rich tartine. I was hooked. And now I'm going to drag my husband from restaurant to restaurant to see if there's panna cotta on the menu.
If you find yourself in Tours - well, first of all, if you find yourself in Tours in the next five and a half months, let me know so we can hang out. But if ever you find yourself in Tours, be sure to make a stop at Tartines and Co. And don't forget the panna cotta.
P.S. - My apologies for no pictures of my lunch. I didn't have my good camera with me, and I would've felt awkward whipping it out in a restaurant to take pictures of my food, anyway. So enjoy the pics of the exterior. Maybe it'll help you find the restaurant if ever you're searching for it.