Normandy, Bordeaux, Loire Trip notes Jan. 2012
Rouen, Etretat, Poitiers, Bergerac, Saint Emilion, Bordeaux, Amboise
First, Houndies, an apology… I’m usually faster on the notes turnaround but (thank you New York State) in the 5 months since our trip to France we got married, Bman started a new job, and we moved. It has taken until now to report back. Mea Culpa.
I subscribe to the “stay up the entire first day, go to sleep at a reasonable hour and try to get on the local time as soon as possible” camp, though this was particularly hard this trip. I almost never sleep on the overnight, usually because my 6’3”Liebling-esque frame doesn’t easily squeeze into coach… this time we sprang for the Open Skies seats to no avail: rough winds shook us from JFK nearly to Dublin. Allors – so once we picked up the rented car and headed for Rouen and la Couronne for lunch we were in dire need of some succor and resuscitation.
ROUEN - LA COURONNE. Located on a pedestrianized square near Les Halles, the “plus vielle auberge de France" has been taking in hungry travelers since 1345, perhaps most famously for us Yanks, St. Julia after HER rough sea passage back in 1948. The tall half-timbered building just opposite the strange 1979 Eglise Jeanne D’Arc seems wedged into place, like all the buildings lining the square. Once inside, a calm and cozy opulence envelops: exposed beams, ochre walls and lush jacquard draperies all set off the simple, pinky-salmon colored floor-length linens. What we had: Bman started with Crémeux de pousse d’epinards, ( a sort of mini-souffle) copeaux de jambon sec followed by Saute de Veau à la provençale. I started with Coquilles St. Jacques and then had (what else) La Belle Sole de la Manche Meunière. The scallops were delicate and sweet and gently, and quickly, grilled, served with slightly odd tempura battered vegetables and braised strawberries. It worked, but for me the scallops were the focus. The sole, I will admit, not unlike Julia’s description or Meryl’s depiction, did make one swoon. Perfectly cooked, moist, napped in browned butter, and with a squeeze of lemon, sublime. The filet was huge, covering the plate; I ate every bite and would have kept going if they brought another. We drank a bottle of Pouilly Fume (42€) and had cheese and mignardises. Total: 163€
ETRETAT – LA TAVERNE DES DEUX AUGUSTINS. Rookie mistake: hadn’t reserved anywhere and ended up at this joint. Cozy enough looking from the outside. Even okay on the inside, I suppose. Crowded (was it the slightly lower price point of the menu than the other joints nearby??) and lively. Appalling service. Nearly left, twice. Finally some food arrived…. I started with the Soupe de Poisson… (not bad actually) Bman started with a Salade de Campagne that had lardons, chesse, tomatoes, croutons….. Duck confit and Veau in sauce camembert were the mains….. we were onto, at this point, hour 40 sans a wink….My memory: it was more than I would spend for the level of service, but edible.
ETRETAT – RESTAURANT LE GALION. Lovely half timbered building with exposed beams that had all been painted a subtle and pale grey, giving the room a softness and more airy and bright feeling. After having been shut-out the night before (“Desole, complete!) we were determined to go back, and reserved early in the day for lunch. I started with the Foie Gras which was sweet and firm and had lovely accompaniments including two slices of brioche nested in a little bed of napkins to keep them warm. I followed with Lotte that was crusted in Riz Sauvage (a bit crisp and chewy, that, and with a few too many Baie Roses for my taste) but the fish was good. Bman had a steak au poivre. Between my courses I was given a Normande palate cleanser of calvados infused apple sorbet. It was very tasty. Cheese plate for me (all good) and for dessert we shared Mousse au chocolate and Profiterols Caramel au Buerre Salé. We drank a bottle of Domaine Tassin Sancerre (33€) Total 116€.
HONFLEUR – SA.QUA.NA. A spare, Japanese influenced seafood place close to the harbor on a small side street. For those who follow such things (I don’t) I think, a two-starred joint, many say on its way to a third. Small dining room, probably not more than 20 covers. Spare, elegant, quiet, refined. Much about this esthetic to be read on their website. A gentian aperitif, and a an eau de Coing for bman. Madame was quick to offer English Menus, and as I’ve groused before, I hate that. A) I don’t need them (usually) and b) the translations often can be much more confounding than the occasional French word I don’t know. Indeed in most cases, I’ve had to look at the French menu to understand what it was they were getting at: true, Google translate is better and better all the time, but if they have no mastery of English the menu can be a confusing unappetizing mess i.e “A white sauce of baby cow with mushrooms and onions” instead of Banquette de Veau… So, I continue to eschew the Menu Anglais, though this time it proved nearly (sorta) fatal. Bman is allergic to all shellfish. In the past I’ve gotten away with saying, in French, that he was allergic to les crustaces. Usually that’s all I have to say, and we haven’t needed the epi-pen once. Here, for the first time, apparently I needed to say crustace et les coquillages, because the first course (cabillaud) comes out liberally sprinkled with small gray clam-like shells. Houndie - you’ll probably know the name of such things, but if they were listed on the description of the dish it was lost on both of us. And unfortunately, the allergy is no joke: I’ve seen him nearly go into anaphylactic shock and it is very grave. To her credit, Madame did ask me “all fish?” and I said no, fish were fine, crustacé were not. Until now this level of qualifying had been enough. From this day forward I will specify crustacé et coquiallge but here in the U.S. just saying “shell fish” has been enough and seem to cover the whole spectrum… I know there are folks out there that are only allergic to one shellfish and not others, but most folks that have had an allergic reaction to one shellfish are generally counseled not to eat any of them (and apparently, rightly, based on our few close calls…) Back at Sa Qua Na… This was a bit hard to figure out at first, but there are two options on the menu which changes daily: Vert Olive (98€) or Rouge Cerise (68€). In essence, and this was why it took reading the menu for a while to figure out, if you go the green route, you get every dish, all 9 of them, listed on the menu, and since they mostly all read like Plats it was a bit hard to figure out at first. Red route bought you 5. With drinks they brought out a selection of crunchy little amuses. Then the first course, which was presented in a medium-sized deep bowl, and was the cabillaud filet almost still quivering, and accompanied by, I think, edamame, pale baby lettuces, a rich clear broth and those little grey shells… This I think was followed by another fish course, a dorade with cous cous and cauliflower, and then a very rosy delicious morsel of cochon noir from Iberia with a porcini cream. Dessert was an odd affair – a large macaron “painted” with various powders (cocoa, others being green, red and orange, I have no idea what they were…) And then at the end a small pot of ice cream. Truth is, after the little shells it was hard to relax and regain the confidence we weren’t going to end up in the emergency room (which of course I had no idea where the nearest one was) and I think the Epi-pen might have been back in the luggage… in Etretat! They did whisk away the dish and returned with a new one sans little shells… but… maybe a few days further into vacation mode we could have made a faster recovery…. Allors… A bottle of Pouilly Fume, Domaine Michel Redde (45€) water and coffees- 220€
ALENCON – BAR DES PIETONS. A very, very simple café in the pedestrianized area, after walking around and finding the rest of the pickings to be a bit slim… but this spot was relatively full with lots of folks seeming to be on their lunch break, and paying with their orange lunch tickets…. Plats du jour, which happily here included sauté de lapin au sauce pruneaux ( et “ses spaghettis”… love that!) for Bman and a bavette frites for me. A small carafe of vin and we were out of there, and happily, for under 30€.
POITIERS – BISTROT DU BOUCHER. We’re making our way down from Normandy to see a friend in Bergerac, and this turned out to be where we would land overnight. Actually did something I never have done: asked the concierge if he had a recommendation. He pointed across the street at this place. After wandering around for an hour or so to get the lay of the land and consider other options this seemed to be a reasonable choice. Turned out better than that. Brasserie feel, despite its name… bright lights, brass rails, bustle. Turned out we were the last walk-in they would take for a while. Started with some Kirs, had the Cote de Boeuf for 2. Came with a good salad and super delicious roasted fingerlings. Course salt, sharp mustard…. We were happy. Washed down with a nice bottle of Samur Champigny (21€) 88€.
BERGERAC – LA TABLE DU MARCHE. Juste en face de Les Halles. Lovely spot recommended by our local pal. We started with some sort of amuse, and peanuts in a test-tube… kind of interesting… For entrée we had potato-leek soupe, and then Bman had biche and pomme puree, and I had the St. Jacques with same. All was delicious, the welcome warm. A bottle of Rosé (18.50€) and deux express. 78€
BERGERAC- FLEUR D’ORANGER 30 Rue de la Resistance. A lovely, modern salon de thé and Bar a soupe with an emphasis on Bio and local. We’re here just after the market which had many beautiful edible and non-edible products… Had: Pumpkin and chestnut soup, tartines of avocat and jambon sec, and chevre frais et fruit sec each served with a little salad. Crepe beurre sale for us to share. 32€
SAINT EMILION – L’ANTRE DEUX VERRES Place du Cabiou….(as the name suggests, literally in a cave, not quite the size of Saint Emilion’s but a slightly damp and slightly moldy cave… But we don’t have many options… we are here for lunch, off season, a bit late in the day, and many places are either not serving this late or are just plain closed. Despite the damp interior with theatrical and colorful lighting and the subtle, thumping rock and roll, the food and wine (no surprise) are pretty good. We have a glass of Graves, soups of mushroom and asparagus and le plat du jour, something called Chicken ala Mexique. It might have been better named a la Inde since it was curried, but I suppose the sweet red peppers kicked it a bit south of the border. Whatever it was, on this cold winter day it actually hit the spot, and the chicken was tender, the basmati perfectly cooked and we were happy to have found this spot. I had fromage and B a dessert of caramel, mascarpone and a macaron somehow all combined. About 60€
BORDEAUX – LA BRASSERIE BORDELAISE. After several agreeable home meals with pals in Bergerac and Bordeaux we ventured out for some lunch on our own. We had reserved, thankfully, at this very large, lively and popular spot that was recommended by our local foodie friend. Bman started with a Potimarron/ chataigne soupe and I had Oeuf Brouille au Truffe. Jou De Porc et pomme puree for him and Dos de Cabillaud Roti for me. Every bit was yummy, and the place, if a bit overwhelmed at lunch, was also lively and pleasant. A bottle of Alycastre Rosé (24€) and 2 coffees, 85€.
AMBOISE – RESTAURANT L’EPICERIE. Had been trying to make it here for a while but been shut-out as our visiting often corresponded precisely with their fermeture annuelle. Started with a Kir and a Ricard, then started with Fois Gras (moi) veloute au cep et ses croutons avec oeuf poche (Bman) followed by Confit de Canard for Bman and Onglet de Veau a la crème et ses pleurotes for me. If nothing was revelatory, it all was fine and the welcome was very warm and the dining room full and cheery. A bottle of St. Nicholas de Bourgueil (21€). 80.50€
Merci Hounds for all the guidance.
You are - literally - all over the map !
Wow, close call at Saquana. I come from a family with serious allergies. Some family members are spared, others not. And there is, in some cases, generation-skipping, or evolutions and ebbs and tides of allergy intensity in the timeline of one's life. My nephew has allergies so severe that a mild reaction means running out of the restaurant to vomit outside, and severe reaction means telling the waiter to forget about apologies and just get an ambulance pronto. All my sympathy to Monsieur Gman. Saquana should have been more attentive.
I did not, in the end, find the food, even setting aside our trepidation, to be all that memorable... refined, yes.... tasty..... not really anything that would make me feel like going back, and yet, par example, a simple cod dish I had at La Cabotte in Nuit Saint-George comes to mind and I can still conger the deep flavor of the dish....
Brasserie was, unfortunately the only place we made it to... We were staying with foodie friends and mostly ate in... would like to go back and spend more time in the city...
On the other hand it's also very nice to stay with foodie friends in Bordeaux. I'm sure you were well taken care of.
I really liked la Brasserie Bordelaise when I was there. I think there's a very festive feeling about eating out in Bordeaux.
Next time, try La Tupina, absolutely.
Le Petit Commerce
Le Lion d'Or in Arcins (Médoc)
Café Lavinal in Pauillac (mostly for the atmosphere and setting)
In Sauternes, l'Auberge des Vignes (long wait though, but best frites ever).