I pretty much fell in love with Vezelay and its lowland twin Saint-Pere in the course of the bike trip through the Yonne back in June. So much so that I revisited both towns again in late July, on a bike trip from a different direction. I was able to confirm that, together, these two discreet little towns have it all. An impressive basilica, a small river, a good local vigneron, an organic brewery, at least one superb chambre d'hôte, and a stunning restaurant, about which more in a subsequent post...
Vezelay also contains, just yards from the basilica, a marvelous local bar, le Vezelien, where my friends and I took refuge during a swift and furious storm that rolled in like divine judgement while we awaited our dinner reservation.
Having optimistically seated ourselves on the otherwise desserted terrace that evening, we hightailed it inside with our beers. There, where in lesser towns we might have encountered a typical soulless PMU-interior, we instead found ourselves in a cozy country pub. Vernissage flyers from the previous three decades papered the walls. Locals engaged us in conversation. A young fellow was busy writing in the corner - with pen and paper ! We weathered the storm in style and trotted off to dinner. It wasn't until I returned in July that I got to experience the salads at Le Vezelien, which approach something like perfection.
There are any number of reasons to order a salad for a meal at lunch. Chief among them is steak-avoidance, a daily pastime here in France. Salads are often the only recourse. One might also wish for just-a-salad if it is July during a heatwave, as on our second trip to Vezelay.
But the overweening mother of traditional French culture insists on the inclusion of meat. Salads here are given titles - "Salad Paysanne," "Salad Vezelien," etc. - which, in the intuitive style of unsophisticated pizza joints, infer certain combinations of meat toppings. Paysannes, for instance, are known for their appreciation of lardons, eggs, gizzards, and ham, among other variations.
Typical salads in France wind up being rated mainly on the quality of meat-toppings. There remains, nonetheless, the challenge of meat-integration, to which very few lunch chefs seem to have given much thought. Things are usually just tossed on top willy-nilly, rarely with enough dressing, an arrangement in which the lettuce plays roughly the same role as ice on an oyster platter.
At Le Vezelien, salads are presented using a technique chefs called 'veiling.'
You barely even see the salad. You see an elegant plain of ham or jambon persillé, given gentle topography by the crisp curls of perfectly-dressed lettuce underneath. These provide crucial resistence to utensils during consumption. A veiled salad, by allowing a diner to wrap springy lettuce in pliant meat rather than vice versa, also makes it much easier to obey the French dining commandment which states that one should never cut lettuce with a knife.
The plating, as far as I'm concerned, is an ergonomic and aesthetic marvel, and one I wish other lunch spots would adopt nationwide.
The beers we drank on both occasions came from the nearby organic Brasserie de Vezelay, which I've sadly yet to find the time to visit. Their beers are bottled unpasteurised and unfiltered, and I remember quite liking the Blonde and the structured, caramel-spice tones of the Ambrée.
The beers are available in Paris - the other day I was bemused to see them stocked at unconscionably wasteful upscale lunch concept Boco.
|In this photo my friend E is wondering how fast the storm is approaching...|
Place du Grand-Puits
Tel.: 03 86 33 25 09
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