Let us step back in time a few weeks, to the halcyon days of les vacances. A quiet weekend trip to Orléans (or, as Nick and I have taken to calling it, Old Orleans). The sky is clear, but the breeze along the banks of the Loire is brisk. No jacket necessary, though a sweater and a scarf are certainly welcome. We arrive into town early Saturday afternoon and spend a few hours wandering the cobbled streets, stopping for an occasional snack or drink, and looking for restaurants we’d like to try that evening. Les Antiquaires, situated on a tiny street near the river, has one Michelin star and one Gault-Millau toque. Doubting we’d be able to get a reservation at such short notice, we called anyway. We underestimated, however, the extent to which everything slows down in the summer. They were able to accommodate us without any problems whatsoever.
Upon being seated in the comfortably upscale dining room (no jacket necessary here, either), a plate of amuse-bouchewas placed before us containing a dome of tomato gelée on a parmesan tuile and a wedge of peppered melon. I didn’t get a picture of it, but this was when I decided that this would probably be a meal worth documenting. Given our past experience with tasting menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, there wasn’t much debate when it came time to order. We went for the chef’s market menu and ordered a bottle of local wine to accompany our meal. It’s funny, whenever we go to a nice restaurant, the waiter hands the wine list to Nick, who takes a glance before passing it to me to make the selection. I choose the wine and order it, but when it arrives at our table, the first taste is invariably offered to Nick. Being the gentleman that he is, he graciously defers to me, which is usually met with an expression of slight surprise from the waiter. This wine chauvinism doesn’t bother me too much… yet. I’m sure after a few more years I’ll start to get really annoyed at waiters who don’t think the woman at the table could possibly know anything about wine. But for now, I’m mildly amused.
Officially four courses, the menu has plenty of extras tacked on at no extra charge. After our order was taken, a second amuse arrived at the table. (Which would lead me to refer to the first little bites as hors d’oeuvre, if I were being nit-picky.) This one consisted of a chilled glass of cucumber panna cotta and a tiny pastry filled with roasted red pepper. Historically, I am not a huge fan of either cucumber or bell peppers. But the panna cotta was excellent. Cool and smooth, with a just-set consistency and perfectly balanced seasoning, it was a real treat. I can’t say as much for the pastry, which was undercooked, dull in flavor, and inexplicably served cold.
And then the real first course was served.