We headed into the "second service" without an appropriate break -- say, a five-mile march through the mountains and an eight-hour nap. The courses, naturally, became more substantial. First came an oven-glazed brill served with fennel cream, anchovies, and roasted currants, then a stew of suckling pig that had been slow-cooked in a red-wine sauce thickened with its own blood, onions, and bacon. I leaped forward from this into a warm terrine of hare with preserved plums, and a poached eel with chicken wing tips and testicles in a pool of tarragon butter. But I only picked at my glazed partridge breasts, which were followed by a savory of eggs poached in Chimay ale, and then a mille-feuille of puff pastry sandwiched with sardines and leeks.This quasi-pornographic account of palate over-stimulation left me with absolutely no urge to run to the kitchen and grab a snack. Gluttony had always seemed a slightly charming vice -- eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may diet! -- but this resolute slog up a mountain of rich fare just because it's there left a grim and depressing aftertaste. This was compounded by the author's clinical justification for the feast:
... (After a break,) The "third service" loaded even bigger guns, or so it seemed, with its concentration on denser, heavier specialties that tried the patience of my long-fled appetite. From Massialot, we were offered a "light" stew of veal breast in a puree of ham and oysters in a pastry-covered casserole, and a not-so-light gratin of beef cheeks. La Varenne's gray squab was boned, stuffed with sweetbreads, squab livers, and scallions, and was spit-roasted. ...(W)e had wild duck with black olives and orange zest, a buisson (bush) of crayfish with little slabs of grilled goose liver, a terrine of the tips of calves' ears, hare cook in port wine inside a calf's bladder, crispy readed asparagus, a sponge cake with fruit preserves, and cucumbers stewed in wine.
At midnight, while sipping a paltry brandy from the 1920s and smoking a Havana Churchill, I reflected that this was not the time to ponder eternal values. I was sitting next to Gerard, who was cherubically discussing the historical subtleties of certain courses. In a way, we were forensic anthropologists, doing arduous historical fieldwork. How could we possibly understand the present without knowing what certain of our ancestors had consumed? (The chef and staff) had led us on a sombre and all-consuming journey into the past.Sombre indeed. Fortunately, the rest of the book has proved to be quite charming, but it's been hard to rinse the taste of the 37 courses from my mouth.