On Saturday, July 2nd, the end of our first week in Rouen, France last summer, we had a rather quiet day, but we did manage to get out and visit a museum. We had a quiet morning, eating breakfast in our apartment, doing some laundry (love having a clothes washer in our travel lodgings!), uploading and editing photos, and generally relaxing. But eventually we did get out into the world, having lunch outside and seeing Rouen’s National Education Museum. Then we did some grocery shopping and I made a scrumptious dinner for us (more on that later – love having a working kitchen in our travel lodgings, too!).
We did play fast and loose when it came to eating lunch out. You see, many restaurants in Rouen don’t open for lunch, and the ones that do usually have pretty limited hours – like, say, 11am to 2pm. And when we left the apartment, it was already a little past 2. Sure enough, as we walked past restaurants on Rue Eau de Robec, they were all done serving lunch.
Therese said, “what about L’Espiguette?” Well, Restaurant l’Espiguette is where we had our first meal in Rouen when we visited the city together in 2014, so it has a special place in our hearts. I didn’t know if they would be open still, but they were not far from us, so it was worth checking.
As we approached, it was hard to tell if they were still serving – what told us they probably were was the fact that they still had their hand-written chalkboard menu on display outside. Therese asked a waiter in French, and he told us that the kitchen was still open for lunch. They may have been flexible because it was Saturday. We also asked if we could sit outside – it was a borderline chilly day, but the sun was out – and the waiter set us up with two tables right outside, with the sun pouring down on us.
He started us off with a snack of peanuts in the shell and we ordered drinks. Their menu doesn’t usually have too many things I can order – I went for the same dish this time around that I ordered the first time, namely, beef tartare. With the raw egg on top of the freshly ground beef, and the assorted sides (chopped onion and cornichons, etc.), it is a hearty and very pleasing (and filling) lunch.
Our museum chosen for the day was actually back on Rue Eau de Robec – namely, the National Education Museum.
Rue Eau de Robec has many ancient-looking half-timbered houses on the north side of the street, but not that many on the south. One of the few that does stand on that side of the street houses this museum. It is one of the city’s free museums.
This is a very charming museum, full of rooms decorated to resemble classrooms from different periods and artworks depicting interactions between students and teachers and the like. There were numerous displays giving information about various aspects of learning as well – for example, the first floor addressed the subject of the use of animals in didactic systems (for example, teaching the abc’s with picture books of animals).
My favorite exhibition was called “Lumineuses Projections” (literally, light projections) and dealt with what we always used to call “audio-visual” – using projected slide shows, films, etc., as a way to bring history and culture to life. The museum’s collection of histoirc magic lanterns really captured my imagination – they even had one set up with a variety of slides for visitors to have some fun with (as you can see, I particularly enjoyed looking at the classic Grimms’ fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood).
After spending a couple of easy fun hours in the museum, it was time to move on to doing some grocery shopping for dinner. On our first day in Rouen, our host Patrice had driven us down Rue Armand Carrel, a street not far from our apartment that is filled with restaurant and food stores. I had an idea about making a real classic seafood cioppino, that tomato-y pasta dish that features a rich almost soupy broth, and thought I could get some first class ingredients to make this dish on Rue Armand Carrel.
The first place we stopped was a seafood store, Le Chalut, where I picked up some tiger shrimp (heads on, of course) and scallops (with coral/roe).
Further up the street, we stopped in at Pijama (called a convenience store but really more of a fruits and vegetables store – it is also known as an “alimentation” or what we would call a delicatessen, a bit closer to what it is in my view). There we got some mushrooms (for another day) and herbs – cilantro and basil.
The lion’s share of preparation time for the dish was in preparing the stock – chopping onions and garlic, taking off the shrimp heads and shells, putting that all in a pot with lots of water and letting it cook down for a while. I added more water at one point and let it cook for a bit longer, and when it had the right smell and look to it, I strained away the liquid from the scum and shells and whatnot, and then I made some pasta (I only had one big pot, so I had to clean that one and then boil the pasta in it), cooked up the seafood, put the seafood aside to rest, added onions and garlic and eventually tomatoes to that dish, then added some of the incredible broth (wow, so much flavor, and as Therese always says, so much depth).
When the vegetables and broth were looking pretty much ready, I added back in the seafood, heated it all together to let the flavors marry, and that was it. Then it was just a matter of pouring some of the cioppino over the pasta (angel hair or cappellini was what we used) in a bowl, and dinner was served.
And oh, I did finish my dish by grating some of that excellent Violife cheese I had brought with me from Bulgaria. A truly stellar dish, with some of the most amazing seafood I have eaten in my life (when they say that the food in France is excellent in part because of the quality of the ingredients that are available there, they are absolutely spot on).