Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seven degrees in Nancy

Stanislas Square in Nancy
We've forgotten how really bone-chilling a wet, cold day can be.  Slogging around in soaked shoes with rain hoods up, hands freezing, the weather didn't cooperate for our visit in Nancy despite the few rays of sunshine that broke through mid-day. Fortunately it was a museum day for us and a great one at that - the wonderful Beaux Arts. Five hours flew by and we had to catch a cab over to the Ecole de Nancy to squeeze in an hour before closing. When we left (almost by force - the place was magnificent) the museum and asked for a cab, they shrugged and laughed. "No cabs here."  Consulting our map, we were chagrined to discover that our restaurant L'Excelsior would be a walk of a couple of miles - wet, windy and cold. We sucked it up and set out on our way. Fortunately the map scale was incorrect and while it was a long walk -  hardly a challenge.  A table by the heater in the beautifully decorated space quickly warmed us up. We were squeezed into our dining spot - so typical in France - where your dining table is slightly larger than a place mat resulting in your elbows overlapping into the neighboring diner's space. We ate few meals where we were really comfortable either because of the small space or the noise.
Interior of L'Excelsior

Our jackets were slung over a coat rack and as I watched more and more garments were piled on until our stuff was totally buried. Would we have to leave in the order of the coat pile or would they keep unstacking to reunite everyone with their outerwear?

jammed in 
Waiters virtually run through the dining room, quickly taking orders and delivering plates. We could feel the adrenalin increasing as the room filled. Several Maitre D', dressed in penguin suits, were like major generals barking out orders and keeping things flowing and everyone fed fairly quickly (for France).

I had Pig trotters which contained about 1 teaspoonful of edible portion. As they were served with pommes frites I should say more correctly that I had french fries for dinner with a pig trotter and mustard garnish. Richard had poached eggs in a wine sauce, followed by tartare.  The lady dining alone next to us ordered a creme brulee which they served on fire. The flambe burns out to form the crust instead of the torch method that we use. We laughed, chuckling about how flambe has been outlawed in most U.S. restaurants. The French merrily eat raw eggs, rare duck, unpasteurized cheeses of all descriptions and even cow brains (quelle horreur) oblivious to the dangers therein. The flaming brulee was carried ablaze through the crowded restaurant barely grazing puffy hair styles, dangling beards, moustaches and fur coats along the way. Even if someone was set afire, I'm sure they would simply douse the person and then re-light the dish. Cuisine rules; you takes your chances.

I doubt we ordered as well as we could have in this place, looking at the plates coming and going around us. Raw oysters seemed to be the house specialty. Lost on me, Richard might have enjoyed them. We usually opted for the specials in the tourist area restaurants which consisted of an entree and a plat or a plat and a dessert for a reasonable price.

When we left we stood agape in front of "our" coat rack which by now was groaning under the weight of wet coats, bags, umbrellas, sweaters, hats and scarves. A burly hostess came over and unloaded the whole pile so our stuff was exposed. We snatched our things and she re-piled the whole soggy mess. From being enshrouded by our fellow diner's clothing, our wet clothes had absorbed the aromas of cigars, cigarettes, brandy and perfumes  - stranger's smells, not at all unpleasant - but an odd bit of unanticipated intimacy.


  1. You really should write a travel book.
    I love your descriptions and you make me laugh out loud!!!!!!!!

  2. I grew up on my mother's tartare but lost it in the middle of a meal in Paris. Love your blog.