My search for tete-de-veau

The setting: After a research visit to Paris in 1992, I moved on to visit a colleague in Germany, in an uninteresting town in the Saarland. For a break, I took a day trip by train to Strasbourg, in France but close to Germany. One of the "classic French bistro dishes" that had caught our imagination when researching the Paris trip was "tete de veau", or calf's head. We were unable to find it in Paris, and Strasbourg was my last chance. I finished my sightseeing by late afternoon, and...

It was getting time to think of dinner. I had found an Academie de la Biere with Flammkuchen (an Alsatian specialty, like a pizza made with creme fraiche and bacon) and some interesting beers, and I figured I could eat there early (I wasn't really that hungry, after a big lunch of choucroute garni -- various pork cuts and sauerkraut, another Alsatian specialty) and catch the 6:38 train, which according to the information in my colleague's schedule was the last train to Saarbrucken. But in my wandering I found a restaurant called Au Pigeon which had... tete de veau! But no opening hours listed. What to do? Was there a later train, perhaps with a different connection? I walked to the train station, noting the location of supermarkets and patisseries, and waited with a numbered ticket for the information counter.

It turned out that I could take a 7:51 train to Metz (a third of the way back towards Paris), change, and go to Saarbrucken; but the total travel time was over an hour more. Would that suffice? Not if the restaurant opened at seven as was the Parisian custom. I wandered back down that way and noticed that they had put out a signboard to attract tourists. But no sign of the opening hours. Not knowing what to do, I walked back up the street to the nearby square, which was Place Gutenberg (he lived there for a while), near the cathedral, and was where I had found my morning coffee. And right next to it was a brasserie-restaurant with tete de veau on the menu, at 58FF. It was a bierstube, with wooden tables covered with red checkered tablecloths over which were paper covers, and a motley mixture of locals having beer.

It was 5:00. I went in and asked if I could eat then, apologizing for my gauche behaviour by saying I had to catch a train. I ordered a frisee aux lardons (chicory salad with bacon) to start, the tete de veau as a main course (the waitress said that if I was in a hurry this was not a good idea, but I said I wasn't in that much of a hurry), and a 1/4 pichet of a local white wine, whose name I have forgotten. The frisee had more lardons and more dressing than it would have had in Paris, but it was good and alarmingly filling. Had I made a mistake ordering two courses?

The tete de veau arrived, to the apparent approval of the older folks at the next table having a drink, though they wondered how I could eat it so early. It consisted of many triangular chunks of fat, looking like sections cut from a thick soccer ball, with globs of stuff clinging to the inside. About what you'd expect tete de veau to look like. No slices of brains or tongue. What little meat I could find had a soft texture. On the metal platter, which was really embarrassingly large, were slices of cornichon, a sprinkling of capers, and a couple of boiled potatoes. A little boat of vinaigrette was served to the side; not quite "sauce gribiche", but close. As I was struggling with it, the waitress came back and put it on a hot plate, to keep it warm while I ate.

I was done fairly quickly, without having made an appreciable change in the pile of food. The triangular chunks seemed theoretically edible but, having ventured one piece, I wasn't about to try more; the globs of stuff, when they weren't obviously fat (the texture of chicken fat, not of the type of fat that edges steak), seemed not "repellent and gristly" (which the books warned was the drawback of a bad tete de veau) but rather soft and uninteresting. I ate one potato, all the cornichons and capers, and was quite full. But what to tell the waitress? I peeked over and saw that she was eating her own dinner at a side table, before the evening rush. Quickly I went over, apologized and said I had to go, settled the bill, and left before I could be further embarrassed.

I had time to make the 6:38 train.