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No update for over a week, mainly because I’ve been in France, at another of my company’s offices near Lyon. The main reason is a training course, but the subtext behind the visit is a company “jolly”, or junket, a chance to schmooze with various loosely-connected colleagues and make a few more professional connections. The course is now over, everyone else has left, and I’ve moved to a nicer part of the building to use the Internet in peace and quiet.

The training was on another of my company’s “string and sealing wax” products, this time based on Linux, which I now describe as “something I hope no customer ever sees”. A real “old-school” Linux application, or set of applications, held together by custom scripting and assumptions about the stability of the computing environment it will be used in. My fellow students were generally more experienced in Linux and the related applications than I am, yet we all had severe difficulties in getting anything working at all, uncovering whole classes of failures not seen before.

Yet it is already out there, and while I was bemused by the push to get so many of us trained so intensively, I’m not any more. It’s going to need a major support effort to keep its customers happy. We don’t expect that many customers on it, but those few will need all the help they can get.

Before I came to France, I had hoped it would be possible to experience some fine dining; what actually happened is an interesting story in itself. Each working day this week I’ve had lunch in the office cafeteria, which is in a whole different league to that back in Dublin, starting with double the variety of dishes. They serve starters as well as freshly-prepared desserts, even beer and wine. They don’t charge for garnishings like olives or pickles, something I only noticed today and am kicking myself over, being an olive addict who balks at the high prices charged at home.

Most importantly, the quality of the dishes starts with the quality of the ingredients, and they don’t need to do that much to them to make a fine dish. What happened each evening this week is a salutary lesson in how to do it, or not.

Sunday’s dinner in the hotel bar, as tonight’s will be: I don’t remember what I had, so nondescript was the meal. However, the hotel has my new favourite beer: Abbaye Affligem Blonde, a Belgian “blonde” abbey beer that really works for me, in a quality vs. quantity sense: I couldn’t drink a lot of it, but I enjoy the whole glass. This is considered a “commercial” beer in Belgium, so I clearly have a lot of drinking learning to do on this topic.

On Monday a bunch of us headed out to the neighbouring village of Bourgoin-Jallieu to see what we could find. Not much was happening, and we landed at the Grande Cafe (I think it was), under the TV, with a bunch of Tunisia supporters shouting over our heads. Annoyingly, the advertised dish of the day was gone, and I had to make a snap choice from an all-French menu. I think I landed on my feet, with a small rack of beef and vegetables, but the wine was indifferent and the Crème Brûlée was a bit tasteless.

Tuesday was the semi-official dinner of our visit, for which we all went to Bernard Lantelme‘s highly-rated family restaurant in Saint-Alban-de-Roche, with its small-but-classy menu of traditional dishes. After a well-balanced starter of red pepper with anchovies, the main course was rabbit with shallots and new potatoes. We went with the house recommended wines: I stayed with the red all evening, which was excellent, but my colleagues heaped praise on the white.

Wednesday was an evening off, so I walked up to the town of Villefontaine, to do a little shopping. A sudden summer thunderstorm hit as I was in the centre, an excuse to hang around with the locals as they fought to get themselves and their things under cover. The storm disrupted an outdoor music festival of sorts, so quickly that a young girl had to be rushed off stage, mid-song, in case her trumpet and microphone gave her a shock. Some chips and petits fours were all I wanted that evening, and a book.

Thursday, last night, was when things got a little out-of-hand. It was the last night for most of the gang, so we all trekked up to a place one of them had been to before: L’Alouette, in Bonnefamille. The initial signs were not good: we sat outdoors, on plastic chairs, in a courtyard next to a busy road, while insects swarmed around us and the house Alsatian stuck his nose round the door and stared at me. After sunset, the traffic subsided and the insects were attracted away by lights.

As with Lantelme on Tuesday, I can find no English information online, but the menu is readable under “les menus” on the site I linked to. I had the “small” Menu de l’Alouette, starting with Une Tranche de Foie Gras frais de Canard, Mélange de Salades maraîchères à l’huile de noisette. (A slice of fresh Duck Foie Gras (liver), with a market salad in filo pastry, with hazelnut oil.)

The main course was un suprême de Caille cuit en croûte, farci au foie gras, un jus de viande réduit aux betteraves et à la crème de Cassis. (Quail Supreme in pastry with Foie Gras stuffing, served with a beet reduction and blackcurrant sauce.) The presentation included small dishes of vinaigrette vegetables and creamed broccoli. I don’t have much to say about that. except perhaps… Wow.

Two separate amuse-bouche dishes were also included: followed by a loaded cheese board. After all that, the house Vin d’Orange (Champagne and Orange wine), and several glasses of excellent white, I had forgotten about dessert: a mix of ice creams and sorbets that put a silly grin on my face. The caseophile in me had gone a bit ga-ga at the cheese board, where I overloaded on Roquefort and good Camembert (among others I can not recall the names of), but I made it all the way to coffee in one piece. I wasn’t the only one to overindulge a bit: one of the others, despite going for menu dégustation, the 3-course gourmet menu, polished off double desserts after an ordering mistake left a spare.

After last night, anything will be a let down, but my notebook battery is on its last legs, so I should stop typing and return to the hotel soon. I hear they make a decent basic pizza, and there’s always the Affligem and the football. Tomorrow I have a day in Lyon, sightseeing, and I fly back on Sunday at noon, sharp. I don’t care if my boss doesn’t let me put the two gourmet meals on expenses: I can afford it, so rarely do I get the chance to dine well. Bye.


Written by brian t

June 23, 2006 at 4:45 pm

Posted in culture, food, travel, work

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