Our Motto: "Fois Gras Every Day!"
Duck, Duck, Goose
Though the idea of eating the liver of geese and ducks that have gorged on food has been around since the time of the Egyptians, it only entered our experience in the last couple of years. The French have developed the process of fattening geese and ducks to allow the production of huge quantities of fois gras, that you can purchase at every bistro and restaurant, not to mention road side stand, anywhere in southwest France. We know that some animal rights activists have issues with fois gras production, but darn it, it sure tastes good, particularly when paired with a local sweet wine or champagne!
Of course, when you remove the liver from the duck or goose, there's a lot of bird left over, consequently, there is a lot of duck on the menu. We ate more duck in two weeks than we've eaten in our whole lives. One particularly tasty form is confit - duck cooked and preserved in it's own fat.
No part of the duck is wasted. From the confit of leg, thigh, and breast to the very rare gizzards (and other internal organs we were loath to identify) in your salad, one cannot escape tasting one of our fine web-footed feathered friends. Though we tired a bit of the continuous duck menu, we did bring home a supply of fois gras and confit to share with our braver friends.
Of course, one does not live by duck alone, and there is plenty of other fare available. To an extent, what you eat may depend upon what's available in the local market. A market that not only includes the various supermarche's but the local farmer's markets in the smaller towns (days vary by town) - where you can be pretty sure that the chicken you buy from the mobile butcher probably lived and died within 20 miles or so.
Eating in France
Fast food is an anathema to the French. Because lunch is such a serious event, with proper time to be taken to enjoy every taste - so, from noon until two, every business, except for restaurants, will be ferme' (closed). Don't expect to tour a museum, buy a pork chop, or get a hair cut - everyone is at lunch, lingering over the remains of the plat du jour and the dregs of a carafe of the local vin rouge while encased in a pale cloud of cigarette smoke. Feeling rushed with a 2 hour hour lunch, at least since the work day is over, dinner can be savored over 3 to 4 hours, so long as you don't start too early. There is no early bird special at 5:30. Most places open at 7:30 but some hold out for 8. The fast food places will open at 7. Americans are easy to spot. We're the ones who show up at the posted opening time. "Yes m'seur, we are (sigh) open."
Service in a "nice" restaurant is amazingly efficient and discrete, with a team of waiters and servers under the watchful eye of the maitre d. The standard uniform for "nice" restaurant staff is somewhere between Men In Black and the Blues Brothers. Without the cool sunglasses. But they do the job well, serving, clearing, upselling the wine and cheese, in an intricate ballet honed by years of practice.
In a "mom & pop" type of place (usually a gite or small hotel), the owners are intimately involved in either the service or food preparation, or both. A good example is in Beynac-et-Cazenac. Cafe de Lariviere, a small (10 - 12 table) terrace restaurant/gite owner Hamish acts as maitre d, waiter, and bus boy; his wife works in the kitchen preparing salads and desserts; and the two boys (7 and 10) help out by washing dishes.
But it is in the bistros where you see the best, and worst, in waiters. It's not uncommon to eat in a 30 table bistro that has 2 waiters - one of whom is in constant motion, but about a beat behind the pace of the diners, while the other is engaged in a sudden case of selective autism, evidenced by his ability to even look in your direction unless you physically grab him as he purposely strides back to the bar. Regardless of your waiter type, there is nothing you can do except sit back, relax, have another drink of wine, and reflect on the absolutely ridiculous idea that dogs should not be in restaurants.
The combination of a weak dollar with the naturally higher cost of food was a bit of an eye-opener. Breakfasts (usually a croissant and bread with butter and jam, a small glass of juice, and coffee or chocolate will cost from $6-9. A simple 3 course menu special in an average restaurant can easily cost $14 - 20. Dinner in a mid-level restaurant can easily run $18 - 30 without wine. Of course, wine costs are quite variable. A small carafe (1/2 liter) of a local red can cost as little as $3, and there are very good choices in the $15/bottle range, yet you can easily break the bank on wine if you're not careful.