Featured Writer: natashatbaker
I wish to pay an ode to one of my favorite restaurants – and to dear friends who afforded me the opportunity to experience this gastronomic heaven-on-earth.
Les 5 Sens (the five senses) is located in a small town in central France, Malemort, near where I worked as an English teacher. The restaurant is amptly named; every aspect of the dining experience indulges all of the senses. The location is an old stone building, so charming and warm that you feel you have been transported back to another era of queens and kings. Inside, the color palate is silver and blue, suggesting not only royalty but also modern simplicity.
The true French meal is not just a feast – it is an experience. That is why I remember it so. Everyone begins with an apéritif, an alcoholic beverage before the meal. In this region of France, a walnut-flavored liquor is popular. This is followed by an amuse-bouche or “mouth amuser” (Here we run into a perfect example of the ineptitude of literal translations. “Amuse-bouche” rolls off the tongue and makes you want to comply with the word’s meaning by smiling. “Mouth amuser” makes me feel like I have cotton stuck to my tongue). This is a one-or-two bite appetizer of exquisite presentation that is meant to whet your appetite. As with everything you are served, it’s also a reminder of how lucky you are to be here, in this moment, now, with wonderful people around you.
Following your tempting first bite is the entrée – which to Americans is the appetizer. Also surprising to Americans, appetizers are not limited to salads, soups and potato skins (the picture of shrimp is an example of an entrée at Les 5 Sens). Nor is it Italian style of pasta first, meat second. The French appetizer is simply another part of your gastronomic journey, meant to spark conversation and reactions so sensual that everyone would be fit to do one of those dramatic food commercials. “Oh la la! C’est délicieux!”
Remember that you are also drinking wine. And bread. Three kinds of bread to be precise. Yes, Les 5 Sens offers plain, multi-grain, and apricot walnut loaves, which are presented in the form of the tiniest baguettes. You wonder whether to eat them or frame them. They are warm to the touch and are meant to absorb all of the lingering juices from your plate.
Now we move on to “le plat principal.” The fish with brown rice is an example. The main dish isn’t necessarily much larger than the entrée; it’s simply different. The fish flakes under my fork and swims delicately in the sauce before I bring it to my lips for another moment of utter bliss.
All the while we are debating French education, as those sitting at the table with me are French teachers, middle school teachers in fact. There are strikes, rule changes, staff changes and comparisons-with-the-United-States to digest alongside the food. As well, of course, phone calls to a frantic husband who doesn’t remember where the children’s pajamas are.
The next part will depend on where you go. Often, you will be offered cheese following your main dish. I don’t recall us having cheese at Les 5 Sens, but I do believe it was an option as dessert. You see, cheese is often eaten as a dessert. Dairy products in general are very popular at all times of day, dessert included. In some places you can have cheese and dessert, which I often did. Thank goodness such a diet is not readily available to me anymore.
Dessert is another work of art that I just had to stop and take a picture of before dismantling with my spoon.
Les 5 Sens is certainly a fancy restaurant but the type of love and artistic pride that was characteristic of its food is very common in France and something I truly wish we had more of in the U.S. Even the cheapest cheese, bread, wine and chocolate can make an unforgettable meal – particularly when you don’t need to walk far to find a park where you can claim a bench and people watch as you savor your edible treasure. Good food is not expensive and the energy that is taken into celebrating food is unparalleled.
Bon appétit! Merci Annie et Luc. Je vous embrasse.
Read more from this author at: www.natashatbaker.com