Monday, July 24, 2006

Le Mandarin: A Little Trip To Heaven

One of the joys of having family in France is that you see a side of France that the average tourist doesn't see. I've been several times to the supermarkets, I've sat just as numbed by French TV as I have Canadian/American shows, little local historical sites that only the most picky specialist might dream of visiting and being greeted by family and friends all over as one of their own with the little double peck cheek-kisses. One of the little joys, too, is going to a restaurant that your French family has patronized for years and years. You are known by name and treated with an affability that only familiarity can bring.

Yesterday we went to such a restaurant in Bar-Le-Duc. It's called Le Mandarin. I've been there before a couple of times but this time we went for a family favourite: Chinese Dip. Chinese Dip is a type of spicy fondue in which you take individual portions of meats, noodles and vegetables and cook them to your liking in the bubbling brew. I'm sure it has another name but I don't know the English version.

Fairly patted into our seats, we were started with freshly-made shrimp chips, the kind often served by North American Chinese restaurants but these tasted more shrimpy than the ones I have known. I don't know about my readers but I love to let the little bubbles of those chips pop on my tongue and attached like little suction cups. It's a ritual I've had with these chips since I was very little. We were also served a nice bit of the bubbly for an apértif.

In a feat that always amazes me in Europe, our lunch was brought out almost as quickly as we were done the apértifs and snacks. I'm not used to restaurants like that in my part of the world. Or maybe I'm going to the wrong ones.

The Chinese dip is set on the table warm in a metal bowl and immediately brought to a boil with a table-top gas burner. The broth is an amazingly complex collection of tastes: satay, peanuts, chiles and many other secret indredients. We are assured it is very healthy for the body just as a soup alone. Along with the dip comes overflowing dishes of bean thread noodles, chinese cabbage, bean sprouts and plates of various kinds of meat. With a little metal scoop in hand, you chopstick your food choices in to the bowl of the golden spoon and then dip it into the boiling fondue. When it is cooked you can take them out and continue with as much cooking as you please. Ladle in some of the spicy fondue into your personal bowl and then dig in. This procedure took well over an hour, I think. Since the bowls are small and it is a labourious process, it lets you eat over a long perioud of time.

The most amazing wine was chosen by my Frogger-in-law to go with this spicy dish: Gewurztraminer. A flowery white wine from Alsace, it has a perfume like a Chinese flower tea which makes it perfect for Chinese food. I was amazed by the way the food and wine complimented each other. If you have never had this with Chinese food, try it! You might be pleasantly surprised.

Although we were stuffed, after a little bit of a chatty break with the owner and watching the giant, fat-lipped fish in the door-side tank, we ordered some desserts. My own choice was Nougat Chinois. I really didn't know what to expect and wondered whether I regretted not getting a moon cake. What came was a red bowl full of delectable little chewy golden-brown cubes with peanuts and covered with toasted sesame seeds. It was very nice, rather like a complex jubejube. Of course, as with all French meals, it ended with little cups of coffee served with dark chocolate.

I think the dreamy 2-hour lunch ended perfectly with hot towels for our fingers that were not only hot but perfumed with essence-of-white-peach. My fingers smelled of peach for hours after, a nice little reminder of such a pleasant visit.

If you are ever in Bar-Le-Duc, try out this little Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant. With such a pleasant atmosphere and smiling service, I really don't think you'd go away disappointed. Go on... Madame is waiting for you.


wheresmymind said...

Make your own fried food? Where do I sign up?? :D

s'kat said...

Now, that sounds like my kind of lunch!

Dawn said...

This sounds like shabu shabu, which is Japanese. You cook in broths or oils and you get a variety of meats and veggies, along with noodles and/or rice. Those peach scented towels sound great.

sher said...

I think people here call it Mongolian Firepot--and it's delicious!

Pam said...

Sounds and looks delicious!

I could be wrong but I think the Chinese refer to it as a Steamboat, I remember Kylie Kwong making something along thee lines.

Pam said...

I too really love Gewurztraminer wine!

Sumitha said...

Ooooh you sure did sound to have a lunch of dreams!Lucky you:)

paz said...

A little trip to heaven? Lucky you! Love your pics.


christine said...

I'm really enjoying your posts from France! Your photos and descriptions are wonderful.

Leigh said...

Fabulous pix of fabulous food! I love it!

Kris said...

from the photos, i'm already drooling :p

will come back to read the review ;)

michelle said...

What a wonderful experience! I wish I knew people in France! I love your descriptions of the food, and how things went together...especially the wine and the coffee with dark chocolate (my absolute favorite!!). I wanted to ask you, just out of curiosity, are you fluent in French?

Nerissa said...

Thank you, everyone, for writing comments on this post. I've been away in Alsace and Germany for the past four days so I have been unable to answer until now. I'll be writing about my trip shortly.

wmm: I think it's more like highly spiced and boiled but it's still quite good.

s'kat: It certainly beats having just a sandwich ;D

dawn: Yes, I did think there was something Japanese that was similar but I didn't know if I was right or what it was called. Thanks. :D

Sher: Come to think of it, I have heard of that. I'll have to look it up. Could be a dish that Asian countries have in common.

Pam: thanks for the info. I'll check it out. I'm glad at least one person has heard of the wine. :)

Sumitha: It was indeed dreamy.

Paz: Thanks and I do feel lucky.

Christine: Aw shucks! Thanks.

Leigh: Gee, thanks a lot.

Kris: I'm flattered as I thought they were not such great pictures. I'm glad you enjoyed

Michelle: Thanks, sweetie. It certainly DOES help to know people in France. I think it makes for a different impression of France/Europe. Even the news focus is so very different. As for my French, I have enough of it to understand the general gist of many conversations (fewer in a convo? the better), enough to sort of make myself understood and I can read it modestly well. However, I have a long way to go yet, I think.

gattina said...

now you're torturing me!!! I miss the Chinese dip (or steamboat) badly!!! Hey, that gewurztaminer sounds great!

Nerissa said...

awww... sorry about that, gattina. ;-)

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Oh My! this just looks delicious. I would love to have that for brunch today :-)

Un abrazo,

Lisa said...

Thanks for the tip on Gewurztraminer with Chinese food. What a great idea. I can see how that wine would be complementary.

I'm really enjoying reading about your trip to Alsace and Germany, also. And enjoying the wonderful photos!

Nerissa said...

Melissa: I'm sure you would have loved that for a meal. *hugs*

lisa: You're welcome and glad you're enjoying.

Limin said...

I have hadn't seen any chinese restaurant serve that "hot pot"( they put it as "chafing dish" in the dictionary!?) in France yet, lucky to visit your web site to know we still could find it in France!!! This hot pot is the best dish for the cold winter for most of taiwanese, chinese, average people loves it!!! and my parents in law are living in the town close from Besançon, we are in Lille, each time went back to visit the family, I loved to cook chinese dishes for them, maybe one day you would be my guest too for a chinese chinese cusine trip, so !!!???

Bon vacances !!!