Monday, February 26, 2007


We took a weekend trip to Girona, a small city in Catalunya that's surrounded by Roman walls and bisected by a river. I had heard it was beautiful, but I had no idea. It was like a hilly, green, misty Venice. And while it's clearly over-run with tourists in the summer (there are multi-lingual menus featuring color photos of french fries in the windows of most bars), we seemed to be the only foreigners in town last weekend.

We arrived in mid-morning, and walked to our hotel from the train station. We left our bags there and walked across the river and into the old town. We climbed up the narrow deserted streets to the cathedral, and climbed further up through the cathedral gardens, and then further up to the Roman tower. When we looked over the railing, we could see down into the leafy green ravine that runs behind the cathedral. We hadn't seen another person in maybe half an hour, so it was a bit spooky to peer down, catch a flash of orange light amongst the green, and see an old woman, dressed in a black European Old Woman get-up, tending a small bonfire. We were up at the level of the damp green forest canopy, and she stood on the open forest floor, clearly getting the wool of bat and tongue of dog ready. We tiptoed silently back from the railing, and carried on with our touring.

As we were idly looking out for a nice place to have dinner, we walked by a restaurant whose posted menu was only in Catalan and showed an aggressive lack of french fry photos. We took these as the twin signs of a good bet, decided to forgive them for their contrived logo, and planned to come back for dinner.

As far as we could understand the menu and the waiter, we ordered: Baby Vegetable Salad, Paella with Small Lobsterthings, Salt Cod Carpaccio, and Veal with Foie Gras (first prize for Tastiest Ethically Questionable Dish). The meal began with three amuse bouche*: a shot glass of carrot soup, a bite of eggplant topped with caviar, and tuna tartare on melba toast. I would never have thought to combine eggplant and caviar, but it was fantastic. And the paella, veal, and carpaccio were also impeccable, but the dish that sent me around the bend was the baby vegetable salad. Whole baby vegetables, each flawless and perfectly cooked: two little grilled leeks, a blanched baby corncob, two blanched carrots, a deep-fried zucchini with the flower still attached, three mini grilled eggplant, and a few heirloomy-looking tomatoes. They were casually arranged in a lovely little heap, and simply dressed with olive oil and sea salt. It was the best thing I've ever eaten. No, wait:

It was the best thing I've ever eaten.

That's more like it. Each vegetable was so exquisite, I imagined the chef sleeping in his garden so he could pick each one at exactly the right moment. And I will never get over my three-year-old-self's utter amusement and fascination with Things That Are Small Versions of Big Things. You'll never go wrong showing me a mini anything. I try not to squeal, but I'm not always successful.

We shared a ginger gelato for dessert, and with our coffees they brought a little stone tray with an assortment of tiny chocolate/peanut concoctions. Perfect. The chef popped up in my imagination again, giggling to himself as he glued one peanut to another with a bit of melted chocolate.

When we left, the whole waitstaff (three nice fellows) and the chef saw us off from the door very kindly. I admit it was a rainy night in winter, and they were hardly busy, but I was still touched.

The next morning, I discovered another Girona superlative to get excited about. Our hotel was clearly energy-conscious, with compact fluorescents, low-flow toilets, hallway lights on motion-detectors, and one of those gizmos where you have to stick your room key into a slot to turn on the lights. I'm in favor of all these energy-saving strategies, but it didn't make me look forward to the shower. Also, we're in Europe, which is not known for robust water pressure. So when I turned on the water and saw the deluge, I was pleasantly surprised. When I stepped into it and felt like I was getting power-washed (but nicely), I was in awe. I've never experienced so much water when I haven't been swimming. I tried to tear myself away before I drained the river, and my only regret about our trip to Girona is that I only took that one shower. We'll simply have to go back.

*I feel like enough of a pretentious twerp typing out "amuse bouche" (which is practically asking for a slap), but plural amuse bouche? Amuses bouches? Amuse bouches? Amuses bouche? Yummy li'l free thangs? That's the one.


lauren said...

I think it's amuses bouche, but I have just realized I have no idea why I think that.

Another Anna said...

That was my instinct too, but the more I thought about it, the less sure I was. But now that I have backup from your instinct, I figure that might be a good enough authority. Amuses bouche it is!

Nev said...

Recipes AND grammar! In French! This column covers everything I love, Including my husband. I know I'm a bit late weighing in on this, but I think it's "amuse-bouches". They pluralize compound nouns with an "s" on the end, usually.