Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Euro Spring 2015 - Part 27 - NUTS!

Where Our Heroes
  • Return to the Bulge
  • Lose over 50% of their force in the heat of battle
  • Come close to a total core meltdown
  • Only arise like the Phoenix from its ashes in familial glory
  • While having the true experience of the Southwest

NUTS! you say?  Nuts is the famous response of General McAuliffe gave to the Germans that surrounded his forces during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 when asked to surrender.  And indeed today we went to the Bastogne War Museum dedicated to that battle.

It was a very easy drive on major roads and the museum itself was incredibly well done with a ton of material.  If you were not familiar with the details of the causes of WWII and the events leading up to this battle, you could get totally briefed at this museum.  There audio guide was especially well done with the story being told from viewpoints of four individuals - a German soldier, an American soldier, a Belgian resistance member living in Bastogne and a child who was growing up int he Bastogne region at the time.  You could easily spend 4 hours or more in this place.

Unfortunately and perhaps predictably, it was totally overwhelming to our 3 and half year old 3.1.  She didn't even make it inside.  This meant that one of the parents had to skip the museum and amuse the children.  Fortunately there were some great areas for the children to run around and play and both #3 and 3A took turns with the children so they both had chances to see the museum. 

Equally unfortunately we had gotten a late start to the day and by the time we were done with the museum it was after 1 PM.  Now began a sequence of events that nearly led to a total family meltdown.  You know how it is with disasters where a series of seemingly innocent decisions combine for things to crash a blow up?  It was like that.  We had intended to have a nice meal.  We decided to go into the town and that took a while.  The place we went to had a very extensive menu so there were difficulties making decisions on what to order.  Our youngest member was starting a new tooth teething and was in a bitchy mood.  It took us twice as long as normal to get our order in.  The baby starts crying.  Mom leaves restaurant to quiet her missing her first course.  This is a recipe for a total disaster.

Instead, everyone remains in control.  We are almost ready to leave without our meal when first our waiter comes and says the meal is just minutes away and then #3 comes back with the 3.2 finally sleeping.  Everyone is already gone from the dining room at this point anyway.  3.1 has been the best behaved child ever through this whole period.  The meal is fantastic.  So instead of family meltdown we bring you  - Gastronomic Experience!

First, hats off to Restaurant Wagon Leo, a classic brasserie style restaurant which has a train car theme and dates to 1945, right at the end of WWII.  They were really lovely in being patient with us as well as serving some damn good food. Go to the link I provided to see what a cool place this is.

Now on to the meal!

The Appetizers:

#3 had a shrimp croquette
This was probably the least successful dish - in part because she was out with 3.2 when it was served but also because we all felt it was bit fishy flavored.

3A had a Veloute of Legumes (a pureed vegetable soup).
Now this is in reality something done with the prior days vegetables so they won't go to waste but if those vegetables were good and the kitchen is good, you end up with a nice dish.

It was a huge portion with 3A getting two and half bowls and he said it was excellent.

Wife and I shared one of our favorites, White Asparagus.  The preparation we had came with some local cured ham.

The asparagus were wonderfully sweet.  The Ardennes region is noted for its cured ham and this was excellent as well.

The Mains

3A had an escalope of veal with ham and cheese flavoring.

Wife and #3 had Sole and Skate Wing respectively.  Both are very picky about the quality of fish and were very complimentary of these

But now the piece de la resistance!
Cue the heavenly music and light shining down from the heavens

For we have Le Vrai Cassoulet!

This is a dish from the south of France and is one of those dishes that is wrapped in lore.  So often when you have one it is nothing like the real thing.  From the moment this arrived with its dark brown crust and wonderful aroma, I knew I had hit the mother load.  Under that wonderful crust are beans that have been slow, slow, slow cooked until they absorb tons of flavor but still have a bite.  Then there is a selection of meats.  In this case there were two kinds of sausage, a piece of fresh bacon, and a duck leg, all equally tender and delicious.  I've had some great food this trip but this was the best!

I found out that the chef is a member of the Acadmie Universelle de Cassoulet, an organization that trains its members on the traditional techniques which accounts for its quality.

After lunch (which was around 3:30 at this point) we had one last task - getting our sweet 3.1 a treat to say thing you for being such a wonderful 3 and half year old in such a difficult situation.

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