When we lived in the U.S., Josh and I didn't go out on dates very often. We were lucky to have Nana as a regular babysitter, but usually during the day while Josh was at work. Our neighborhood babysitter Morgan was great, as were a couple of others we found through friends, but our routine didn't include regular nights out until maybe six months before we left South Carolina for France. But in our "cultural training" class at Michelin - and can we talk about how useless a generic 'cultural training' class is, when you haven't bothered to train the expats first about the day to day realities of living in the specific country you're sending them? Ugh - we learned that previously expatriated kids almost all report that the move is hardest on their mom. And we knew from living in Japan for a year how hard expatriating is on a marriage, so we decided early on to prioritize time together as a couple.
And then we failed miserably, of course. The daily realities of moving into an apartment, helping the kids adjust, and just managing the thousands of little issues that crop up after a transition like this meant that we kept putting off finding a babysitter and going out together. Josh's accident limited his mobility, and by September, two to three months into our expatriation, we'd gone out to dinner together without the kids exactly twice.
Last weekend we made good on our promise to change that. After six weeks of near-constant togetherness thanks to Josh's working from home, we had avoided having the real, personal conversations we needed to have in order to process everything that's happened. So we found another new babysitter, the son of Josh's colleague (and our first male babysitter - yay!), and headed to a new restaurant.
Le Bistrot d'à Côté is a new place in Clermont, having taken over the space vacated by Emily's Diner, a cartoonish impression of an American burger joint that really didn't fit into the culture of the city center. The new place is a cocktail bar whose cuisine verges on fine dining, but at really reasonable prices - 28 Euros per person gets you a gorgeous appetizer, main dish, and dessert, plus a lovely amuse bouche. We ordered a bottle of wine and settled in.
The amuse bouche was a tough one to photograph, but it tasted amazing: an under salted (in a good way) cauliflower soup with cardamom and tarragon. Rich, creamy, and so full of cauliflower flavor - it really hit the spot.
|No one looks dignified drinking from a tiny |
straw. He's a good sport!
|Might've taken a better picture if I hadn't drunk up half of it first.|
Next up were our appetizers. I deeply regret not taking a picture of the menu, because it's hard to describe these exactly given how intricate they both were. But Josh's was a calamari dish with a squid ink sauce and some lovely, foamy cream surrounding. Fish usually isn't his favorite, but this was so delicate and tasty that we both adored it. Mine, on the right below, was a room-temperature barely-cooked egg in another foamy cream sauce, with little hazelnut pieces in it, bacon-like crumbles on top, and brioche with bleu d'Auvergne cheese baked right in. I'm going to run out of superlatives to describe this food.
Over the course of this incredible meal, we had a really overdue talk about the past few months, our schedules, and a few things that need to change in order for us to be happier here. Those kind of talks just don't seem possible in the apartment, after a long day followed by cooking dinner, putting the kids to bed, cleaning the kitchen, and staring down every chore that still needs doing. Granted, a restaurant like this one is still a damned fancy backdrop for an ordinary marital rundown, but hey: gotta make the most of this opportunity while we have it! I'm sure a meal like this would cost three or four times as much in the States, if we could even find one.
Allons-y! To the main course!
Dessert was, unsurprisingly, delicious. We wound up switching plates - I absolutely loved the apple cookie bowl with yet another creamy sauce dotted with hazelnuts, which Josh had ordered. And he devoured my chocolate cream puff with smoked vanilla cream inside and vanilla ice cream. The cream puff itself wasn't sweet at all, just toasty and warm and intricate. If you can imagine a s'more without the sugar or stickiness, punctuated by little tastes of sweet ice cream, you'll see why we're hoping to come back to this place soon.
Just a quick mention of the wine: a 2014 Côtes-du-Roussillon recommended by our waiter for 30 Euros. It's about 13€ in the store, which again is more than we used to spend. But it was so flavorful and delicious and perfectly accompanied all of our dishes. When in France, drink the good wine. Oh, and the lovely, naturally carbonated Chateldon mineral water, which is collected and bottled near here. We are so classy now.
So there you have it: date night downtown! The only thing that's missing from our life here is visits from friends and family to share it with. And those are coming soon!