Le Mans Report
I felt duty bound to add this report after my repeated pleas for help finding good restaurants in Le Mans failed to draw a single response. It's not much, but it is a little feedback for future posters looking for a meal in this very nice city.
My first proper meal was at L'Assiette, a bustling cafe just off the campus of the Universite du Maine. Friendly staff, but rather middling food: probably to be expected at a place that caters to students and faculty. Not bad at all, but not particularly memorable. The highlight of the meal was a rather good tarte fromage. A plat du jour of a white fish in a mushroom sauce with couscous was simple and good. Isle flotante was executed well. Straightforward, affordable fare. A safe bet if you are at the college for a conference (as we were).
Dinner our first night was the La Chamade, which I though was very good, particularly with a menu price of 19 EUR. The meal began with an excellent pork rillettes....a specialty, of course, of le mans, served with good bread, and a complimentary aperetif whose exact composition unfortunately escapes me. Our first course was one of the best things I ate during my entire trip to France: a mushroom soup with chestnuts: rich, perfectly balanced and textured...an absolute winner. I could have eaten a gallon of this and been quite happy. The main course was monkfish bourdelaise....quite a new dish for me, but also delicious. Served with leeks and an acidic red wine reduction that complemented the fish well. Dessert was a crowd pleaser: generous molton chocolate cakes with creme fraiche. Not earthshaking perhaps, but certainly delicious. We drank the brand new beaujoulais that had just come out the night before with our meal, and it too was a good value. Having spent a great deal of time in Paris, I was quite surprised at just how good the food was for the price.
Our final meal was at La Vielle Porte. We had the private room in the back, which was nice but made for a rather subdued atmosphere. Dinner started with more good rillettes. The restaurant has several menus, ascending in price from 18 EUR to 22 EUR to 30 EUR, as well as a la carte choices. I opted for the 18 EUR plantagenet menu, not because I'm a cheapskate, but because the options struck me as interesting and local. First course was a fried soft boiled egg: a crispy breaded exterior--not unlike an arancini in texture---gave way to a perfectly cooked runny yolk. It was served over greens and bacon. Excellent! For my main course, I opted for another egg dish purely out of curiousity: an omelette of cheese and rillettes. This was good, but was, in the end, just an omelette. Much more interesting was my companion's dinner of braised deer! Another companion opted for the turnedos, served with mushroom cream sauce. A good safe option for picky eaters, and cooked properly a point. Dessert was totally forgettable: some type of banana tarte with ice cream. While not outstanding from beginning to end, this meal still struck me as a very good value compared to Paris.
All in all, I enjoyed my time in Le Mans. I can recommend La Chamade, at least, unequivocally, and certainly would not hesitate to return to La Vielle Porte.