Monday, July 23, 2012

Gullible's Travels pt trois - Oyster picnic in the Grass

Here we are just sitting down to a little al-fresco lunch, when in walks a long-haired Dachsund wearing a rather garish yellow & black swimsuit and a collar. By collar I don't mean the dog variety, this is a starched gingham button-down shirt collar with pearl-capped snap fasteners.

I dont know whether to call the SPCA or the fashion police.

My first bite is stalled as I wonder how the poor thing takes a leak? In the absence of opposable thumbs and longer limbs than this little sausage can ever hope for, theres no getting out of those frilly knickers without some serious and careful assistance. :0/

Poor pup, some dog owners should be impounded.

Not to be put off my lunch, with the miss universe swimsuit contestant parked under the next table, my focus returns to an enormous platter of my favorites: oysters as freshly shucked as they get, prawns, sea-snails, a pot of pate and a basket of fresh-baked baguette chunks. Oh and a carafe of chilled Rose. Mmmmmm.

Welcome to L'Herbe's degustation d'Huitres. (The Grass's oyster tasting) This used to be more of an under-the table affair, back when local restauranteurs had a stranglehold on local dining. The oyster sellers where allowed to do only that, with a little 'tasting' offered, which mostly and discretely, included a sneaky carafe of wine and some bread, maybe even frittes, on the side.
The rules have relaxed a bit now that the local restauranteurs have eased up on the reins. The weathered decks, held together with fishing nets, old marine rope and draped in dried seaweed overlook row upon row of oyster beds, but now bear a closer resemblance to restaurant terraces. I still wouldn't invite an OHS officer to lunch here, but if the facades of these tiny quasi-cafes still arent their best endorsement, brightly coloured garden umbrellas, flags and menu boards announce their legitimacy in a festive kinda way.

It's simplicity only adds to the pleasure; no phone-book-fat menus, no multiple courses, no pretentious waiters, no frills at all. Just jovial oyster sellers and, as per the deal struck with the local authorities, oysters, prawns, bulot (sea snails), terrine du compagne (pork pate), fresh baguettes and either rose or white wine. Rule is, if you want red wine, dessert or coffee you have to go to the big-menu boys with the table cloths and pay the premium.

But the little guys dont just beat the restaurants on price, (€60 for four people; food & wine) they are all over the views and ambiance. Long stretches of golden sand with each oyster 'park' marked out with multitudes of tall twisted driftwood spikes. Taking in a bit of sun, the breeze is cool and salty and the decorative bits of marine flotsam make for some quirky works of art. A bicycle rests against a wall almost entirely given over to an invasion of crustaceans; no tour de France for this little velo.

As we leave I gaze around at the assortment of pooches, Lolita still hiding in her cossie under the table at her masters feet, and I wish I could have taken a photo. It's something else I love about France - gratuitous canine inclusion, even if the couture could do with a solid re-think and most of them haven't seen soap & water for a loooong time.

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