With the recent opening of the TGV Est high-speed train line serving eastern France, Nancy, one of the most charming small cities in France, is a very easy hour and a half train ride from Paris and an ideal Indian summer long weekend. The cooler weather is also the ideal appetite sharpener for discovering some of the city’s specialities, and there’s no better place to do so than the wonderful Les Pissenlits (The Dandelions), a truly excellent and very popular brasserie that gladdens the heart with its brisk, friendly service and obvious commitment to serving good quality regional food.
With lunchtime looming on an overcast Monday in Paris, I’m kicking myself for not asking if I could doggy-bag the rest of the first course I had at dinner here on Friday night–a lavish serving of succulent ham smoked in hay to give it a faintly herbaceous perfume. It came to the table with a superb tomato salad dressed in a creamy shallot vinaigrette and homemade celeri remoulade, and with a basket of good bread and a nice bottle of LaRoppe Pinot Noir, I was in heaven. It had been ages, in fact, since I’d eaten such good ham, and it brought back fond memories of a superb traiteur that once existed across the street from an office I once worked in in the now completely gentrified rue du Cambon in Paris. Served with a small ceramic ramekin of creamy, garlicky mayonnaise, this ham was a triumph of simplicity and it was so generously served, I could easily have made a meal of it. Bruno loved his pissenlit (dandelion) salad with chunky lardons, too. Main courses were outstanding, too. I opted for the bouche de la reine, best-known in the English-speaking world as that old ladies-bridge-game-luncheon stand-by chicken a la king. The real McCoy came in a flakey, buttery tasting pastry cylinder that brimmed with fresh mushrooms, shredded chicken and slices of feather-light chicken quenelles and a side of freshly made noodles. Unctuous and delicately flavored with good bouillon, it’s the type of dish I could eat every other day. Bruno’s baeckoffe, an Alsatian stew of potatoes, beef, lamb and onions simmered in white wine, was delicious, too, and the slice of mirabelle (tiny yellow plums) tart we shared was clearly homemade and truly excellent.