An Accidental Discovery
One of my fondest food memories is of eating a plate of mushrooms at Château d’Esclimont 20 miles outside Chartres. I had been to visit the ancient cathedral and was on the road back to Paris. It was raining lightly and, feeling a bit peckish, I decided to stop for food.
As traveler’s luck (and poorly marked roads) would have it, we wound up on a tree-lined path leading to Château d’Esclimont. The place had the feel of a Renaissance theme park, that included a five-star hotel and restaurant with towers, pointed turrets, and belfries, a moat, formal gardens, and a glassy pond. Louis XIV would’ve felt quite comfortable on the 16th century estate.
It was mid-afternoon and no guests were in sight. Perhaps they were grouse hunting, ballooning over the valley, or just sloshing about in the 400-bottle wine cellar. The dining room was lovely, but empty. We took a seat next to a window, better to watch the gentle rain falling on the spacious lawn and a lone swan skimming gracefully on the nearby pond.
Our server suggested the fricasse de champignons. I took his advice. What followed was the most stunningly delicious mushroom dish my taste buds had ever encountered. Maybe it was just the setting or that I was overly hungry or still awed by the cathedral, but it was a magical moment.
A Return 20 Years Later
Several year ago, when I was in Paris—this time with my kids—I again drove out to Chartres. On the return I challenged them to find the fairy tale château, though I had long since forgotten the name. To my surprise, we found it, looking very much the same as it did years ago but, this time, without the rain.
Again, it was mid-afternoon when we arrived and, again, there were no guests to be found in the dining room. I asked to be seated in the same window as before in view of the pond and, hopefully, the swan. I couldn’t believe it! The swan was there—though I suspect of another generation. How wonderful that some things don’t change.
I Tell the Server My Story
Our server listened patiently to my decades-old mushroom tale. “Madam,” he said, sadly, “I, too, have heard of this exquisite dish. At the time, it was the specialty of the chef, but he is no longer with us and the dish is off the menu.” I sighed. Detecting my disappointment, he replied with a smile, “But I will bring a special treat for your family to remember us by again.”
After lunch he brought a platter of profiteroles and another of various chocolates (shown below). It was a delightful mid-afternoon treat. A time to collect new memories. . . and I’m okay with that.