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Two weeks the Hérault, Cantal/Lozère/Aveyron, and northern Gard/Ardèche -- report

Thanks to everyone — including and especially mangeur, Ptipois, Parigi, johanabanana — for the recommendations leading to two great weeks (mid Sept) in (1) the Hérault; (2) the intersection of the Cantal/Lozère/Aveyron; (3) northern Gard and much of the Ardèche. I’ll mention in separate posts within this thread most of our dining stops, and I’ll try to augment many of them with a few photos (taken furtively by iphone, often as my wife rolled her eyes).

We really loved these areas for the people we met, the fine driving roads and walking paths, beautiful vistas and villages — and very often fine foods, including châtaigne in many forms.

In line with recent requests/comments, I’ll usually give our dining price totals. (Note: Most lunches included an aperitif, a demi or pichet of local wine, a local bottled gazeuse water, and one or “deux express”; dinners almost always included the same, but with a full bottle of wine and only one express.) — Jake

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  1. Sète & Bouzigues: After a delightful picnic on the TGV from Paris (our standard: a crusty baguette, jambon and beurre, and fromage with white wine, etc.) and a refreshing citron pressé on the canal in Sète — it was hot and humid — we dined on a Monday night (limited options) at Restaurant Quai 17, in the Le Grand Hotel de Sète, http://www.legrandhotelsete.com/#/en/... . Our corner room at the hotel with a view onto the canal was fantastic; dinner at the nice-looking first floor restaurant was merely good to OK. We each had the 29€ menu, “entre terre et mer”; sardines and mackerel, moules and tomats, lotte, and gambas bio plancha, a bottle of local wine and water. 100€ total.

    The next day, after a leisurely drive around the Bassin de Thau (and thanks to Parigi for encouraging a diversion up to Pézenas, where we ordered more citron pressé after walking around the beautiful town), we had a very nice and totally fresh lunch at Restaurant Rive de Thau, on the edge of town and directly across the road from the oyster beds. We split “Le Special” — a plateau of raw oysters and moules, 6 oysters gratinee, and a simple crisp full bottle of picpoul; then 1 creme brulee, and 2 express. 43€.

    1. Sète — dinner at La Coquerie, 1 chemin du Cimetière Marin, http://www.annemajourel.fr . This was one of our top three meals of our southern trip (lunch at Jardin des Sens and dinner at Faurie were the others, and one more that I’ll mention later came pretty close). This small place is a 20 minute walk from the bustle of the town and canal, in a residential area (next to the cemetery) quietly overlooking the sea. There’s seating for about 12-14 inside, where you can watch chef Anne Majourel, a twinkle in her eye under a cocky cool hat, work behind the counter. There is seating for 6-9 outside at three terraced tables under substantial rectangular umbrellas with a partial view of the harbour/sea. It was too stuffy/hot inside, and so we dined out.

      We had earlier that day seen a negative review in Anglo publication “The Herault Times” (Sept-Aug 2012), complaining about the service and idiosyncratic ways of the place — but still saying the food was worth its star. (Gripes included: Failure to adequately accommodate a group of 4 when they arrived 10 minutes before the 20:00 opening; a single handwritten menu and wine list gets passed from table to table; no substitutions were allowed although a dietary restriction was mentioned when the reservation was made . . . .)

      It took a while for the chef’s husband to come to our table with the lists and take our apéro order; but when he did, he gave us full attention. And we had a totally enjoyable seafoodcentric evening. After, chatting inside with chef Anne after all of the inside diners had departed, we mentioned the negative review, laughed about it, and she gave us as a souvenir that evening’s sole handwritten no-choice menu. But still I’m not sure I’ve properly read her handwriting:

      “Prélude: Le filet de nuge des pehits nelieres, tomate grand Coeur glace basilica, vinaigrette feuille de Moutarde”; “Ouverture: [L tougeouuette] [huh? sp?] de Merlu des Halles, langoustine de pays, bouille, aïoli, turbine à l’oseille”; “Suite: Le dos de daurade saisi sur la veau, aubergine, tête de veau faudante (the only non-seafood item on the menu) , aromate palourde à l’orange”; “Final: Les figues confites a la vanille . . . .” All with a fantastic local white wine — “Escalelle” [sp?] — it managed to be creamy and minerally at the same time — at 54€; 2 coupes champagne; 1 glass local vin blanc to go with the fromage; 1 grand Chateldon; 2 dinners at 58€ — total 218€. Not inexpensive, but great ingredients from the nearby bustling “Halles de Sète.” (Where we went each morning for a simple breakfast of express and regional yogurt.)

      Next: Hotel Mimosa and environs (Saint Guiraud, St. Saturnin de Lacian, St. Guilhem le Dessert, and In Montpeyroux) with a side trip to Montpellier. — Jake

      1 Reply
      1. re: Jake Dear

        Wonderful. Can't wait for the rest.

      2. Great details, Jake. Am saving this thread to my profile page to use with malice of forethought. Many thanks. :)

        1. Restaurant Grill Le Pressoir is directly across from the charming little Hotel Le Mimosa, http://www.hoteldumimosa.blogspot.com/ at the planetree-lined center square of quaint 34725 St. Saturnin de Lacian. Those who have been to Le Pressior in prior years or who have read the book “Virgile’s Vineyard” will certainly not recognize the place. It’s been totally remodeled and now specializes in “grillade au feu de bois” — take a look at its spare web site photos: www.restaurant-lepressoir.fr . Over three days, we had a lunch (64€, with a full bottle of wine) and one dinner (90€). The food was good and nicely plated, but not great. The most memorable dish was my andouillette (very good, and I’ve had many others); other dishes were well-executed and simple, like a salad of anchovies; grilled lamb; and a grilled rolled round of sausage. This is a nice, bright, and rather stylish local place, and certainly convenient to the hotel, but hardly a destination. One hopes that locals make it a success; the street side terrace seems be a hangout for them.

          1. Restaurant Le Mimosa is down the road from the hotel in 34725 Saint Guiraud. Until next month, anyway. We were a bit apprehensive about going after reading some recent cautionary reviews here (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854933). But we are not sorry that we went. The 2 km walk over from the hotel was pleasant. On arrival, we found a heartfelt written notice, in French and English, explaining that they are closing for good in November. They want to sell, but will quit in any event. This, after 28 years and a couple prior attempt s at selling/closing. What a difficult business.

            We had nice chats with Bridget Pugh (chef and former ballerina, she glides across the floor) and her husband David (wine service, and a very pleasant fellow). We each ordered the five-course 58€ menu “capricieux,” with 29€ wines by the glass for each course (plus David brought extra — three vintages of one). They are selling off their considerable cellar if they can’t market the place as a going concern. The food was good, but maybe a bit heavy. (I was far too full by the end — partly my own fault, from taking parts of my wife’s plates before she gave them up). Plus the room seemed to get rather warm; I was looking forward to the walk back with aid of iphone’s flashlight feature — it’s very dark out there. In fact, we turned down an offered ride from another couple also staying at the hotel, feeling we needed the exercise and air. Total with 2 aperitifs & 1 water: 194€. We wish them the best.

            1. La Terrasse du Mimosa, www.laterrassedumimosa.com is in Montpeyroux, a few minutes by car from the Hotel le Mimosa, and at least somewhat associated with it, tho that relationship seems to be waning. On the first floor is a wine shop/wine bar. We had dinner in the small upstairs dining room, which my wife thought lacks the ambience of the downstairs wine bar. For the first and only time on our southern trip we heard English from half of the tables — all of a British flavour. Maybe this is related to the book, Virgile’s Vineyard.

              The wine carte set out vertical offerings of many makers who don’t distribute broadly. After consulting with the new proprietor (in English), we settled on a producer not found through Kermit Lynch, a deep and rich Divem 2007, 39€. The fare: amuse of rare duck breast; truite fume; velote de choud et huite; margret de canard au vin rouge; filet de merlu; selection de fromages; dessert, blanc mauger. All good. With 2 kir, a bottled water, 2 glasses of white with the cheese, it was 117,50€.

              Next: Le Jardin des Sens.

              1. Le Jardin des Sens, www.jardindesens.com , 34000 Montpellier. Thanks to Ptipois for encouraging us to take the short drive. This was one of our top three dining experiences during our two weeks in the south. The restaurant is a few blocks from the charming and beautiful old town, where we walked both before this fine lunch, and especially after, for a few hours.

                We chose the 49€ lunch menu (what a deal), offered only a few days each week. See pics: Three nice amuses (served together); then another amuse, with a tiny triangle pastry. Entrees: (1) Autour de Méditerranée: filet de rouget pané croustillant au célerie mariné, le pressé, d’aile de raie au basilica, le tartare de thon fraîcheur, espuma de pomme vert; (2) La fine tarte feuilletée de cèpes poêlés, caviar d’aubergine, feuilles de roquette à huile de noix, vinaigrette au jus de rôti et cube de figue.

                Plats: (1) Le filet de daurade Royale au four, ravioli de vert de blette aux pignons de pain, concassée de tomates et brochette de calamari à la plancha, réduction à l’encre de seiche; (2) Le filet de veau roti en croute de pistache, fine purée de châtaigne, poêlée de raisin, molleux de terre au Comté, jus de veau acidulé.

                Le dessert du jour (see two pics) et les gourmandizes. Boissons: 2 coupes de Champagne, 1 chateldon, wines by the glass with each entrée and plat (one glass each came included with each menu), and a single glass of 1994 Gaillac Doux “Ondenc” by Robert Plageoles et Fils. Total, 185€.

                The bright and open raked room, with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides looking out to les jardins, was full within half an hour except for three tables. What a lovely Thursday afternoon, capped off by a walk on the Place Royale du Peyrou and a visit to the excellent Musée Fabre.

                1. Le Guilhaume d’Orange looks out over the little Pan River at the base of the rather isolated tourist hillside village of 34150 St. Guilhem le Desert. This was one of the most pleasant lunchtime stops of our trip. (It’s also a hotel with a serious indoor restaurant, www.guilhaumedorange.com.) We happened by minutes before noon, while the staff was finishing their lunch, and got a table on the crunchy graveled terrace under an old planetree and multiple umbrellas. Within half an hour, they were turning people away. Not surprising, given the loads of cars and buses parked atop the village, but this place seemed to be full on merit. (The other places we saw inside the village at the main square under the biggest planetree we’ve ever seen looked pretty enough, but the cartes and dishes we saw didn’t inspire.)

                  So this was fairly simple but good. Here are a couple pics. I took no notes and forgot to photograph the carte, and now we can’t recall what fish was inside the wrap of pancetta — but it was very good, the standout of the meal. My wife asked for a salade vert (not listed on the carte), and got a very nice one before her trout (excellent, among the best of the trip). And I had a little roasted bird, slightly dry/too crisped, still quite nice. And local rosé in the recently ubiquitous icewater sack. And waters. And good fromage, to split. And dessert to split, and deux express. And a nice chat with the French tourists at a table near us. By that time the gusty vent had picked up, and soon the umbrellas had to be pulled shut after a couple folks nearly got bonked. A fine lunch stop. 73,10€.

                  Next: Hotel Remise/Fontaine de Gregoire, in St. Urcize (southern Cantal, near Nasbinals, Lozère); Hotel Restaurant de la Domerie, in 12470 Aubrac (Aveyron), and Restaurant La Source du Pêcher, in 48400 Florac (Lozère) . . . .

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Jake Dear

                    Great report.
                    And all your pics are fab. With my pics, even good food looks less good. :-(

                  2. Our next stop was Hotel Remise/Fontaine de Gregoire, in St. Urcize (southern Cantal, near Nasbinals, Lozère, and also next door to the Aveyron). http://www.aubrac-chezremise.com To get there we drove north via Lodève (where we picnic shopped for our jambon, beurre, fromage & bread at the street market) over the dramatic and rugged Pégairolles-de-l’Escalette to the Viaduc de Millau — a great place for a picnic. (Not so much from the tables at the parking lot/ very nice visitors center, but up the hill, on a bench, in view of the bridge. You can also pick up fairly good looking sandwiches at the visitors center.) Then on through the changing and somewhat barren/ rugged landscape, dotted by large boulders and bovine breeds, tan Aubracs, and russet Salers, up to St. Urcize. We stayed at Fontaine de Gregoire, which is the chambre d’hote associated with the Hotel Remise, run by Isabelle and Fred, and their daughter and son in law.

                    Again we were a bit apprehensive about dining at Remise after reading recent cautionary reviews here (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854933). But we are glad we went, although the food is quite simple and there are no choices. We dined two nights at the hotel’s very informal restaurant/cafe on the ground floor adjacent to the bar. Fred brought us a terrine of hot leek potato soup; aligot with sausage; cheeses; and flan. All with a pleasant Marcillac (rouge). And a glass of prune eau de vie. On the second night we had grilled thick beef — sweet and tasty, with slightly overcooked carrots. Only the plat and its accompanying dish changed over the two consecutive dinners. Also on the second night we (well, I) finished with a glass of Avèze, made from the local plant, la gentiane. About 63€ each night, pas mal. There is also a nice (white tableclothed) upstairs dining room, which seemed to be used for organized groups of hikers one night, and motor bikers another. By the way, Fred told us that they are remodeling the rooms in the hotel, enlarging them and reducing their number from 16 to 10.

                    1. Breakfast at Fontaine de Gregoire, St. Urcize: The chamber d’hote down the hill from the hotel/restaurant Remise is comprised of five luxe and spacious bedrooms. It was so beautiful and peaceful to wake that first morning to bright sun and early morning crisp fog. Again Fred served, and on the second day, there being no other guests, he sat down and chatted. And drew maps of recommended sites, including a local and hard to find (we finally did) ancient Roman road. One of the highlights of breakfast was the local “fougasse” (or “fouace” in Laguiole?) brioche — see the long sugar-topped slices on the right of this photo, to the right of the croissants. Great with butter or, better — the other highlight of our meal, and also in a photo: house made green tomato jam, wow.

                      1. Restaurant de la Domerie, in 12470 Aubrac (Aveyron): We suddenly had an urge to take a look at and try to book lunch at Michel Bras for the next day. We drove over to his nearby sleek hilltop perch and put our names on a waiting list. No success, but Fred recommended Domerie, also somewhat nearby www.hoteldomerie.com :

                        In a very pleasant room on a Sunday afternoon we enjoyed two 23€ menus (looking back at my bill I wonder if they undercharged us): Assiette de crudités variées, salade de gésiers (lovely!), tete de veau sauce gribiche, truite meunière, poire pochée au vin sur lit de caramel with a boule de vanilla, verrine poire et caramel. Deux kirs, 1 chateldon, a demi of local Entraygues blanc, 2 cafes, total: 71€.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jake Dear

                          You remind us, Jake, that France presents a problem to visitors: ever so many new places for one to explore and as many old friends one hopes to revisit. Thanks for Remise memories and a new address in the neighborhood...in addition to Bras if one really needs an excuse.

                        2. Restaurant La Source du Pêcher, in 48400 Florac (Lozère). It was a Monday, and we had few choices. We ended up on an idyllic tree-shaded terrace overlooking a babbling brook, the village, and mountains. This was quite good, but a lot more expensive than other lunches and not all that much better. We had a pichet of local white, amuse (gespacho), bisque d’ecrevisses et sa rouille, tartine de pelardon des cevennes (nice), truite arc-en-ceil, tripes de l’aveyon (quite nice), moelleux à la châtaigne (ditto), sorbet, and deux express. 117 €. Good thing we were not in a hurry, the service was incredibly slow. But such a nice setting in which to wait. PS, no credit cards accepted.

                          Next: Barjac (Gard), La Petite Auberge, in 07150 Labastide de Virac (Ardèche) & L’Auberge des Granges, 07150 Bessas (Ardèche).

                          1. In 30430 Barjac (northern Gard), we tried to dine at Les Délices de l’Esplanade, in part because it was only a few steps from our apartment (Maison Anila, http://www.maisonanila.com ), but despite saying otherwise on its website, it was closed on Monday. No great loss, we’ve heard. By default we ended up at La Renaissance, a restaurant-pizzeria-creperie, not bad under the circumstances, dining outside at night on the terrace. We had an okay gizzard salad, a good pizza, and also a veal dish that reminded me somewhat of “Zürcher Geschnetzeltes” — but cost a quarter of what it would in or near Zürich.

                            1. La Petite Auberge, in 07150 Labastide de Virac (Ardèche), www.lapetiteaubergelabastide.com . We remember lunch in this quiet hillside village in part for the three rather loud babies around us. The proprietor (she runs the front; her husband is the chef) was not pleased with their parents. But more memorable: The Veloté Crémeux de Châtaigne d’Ardèche — see before and after photos. Among the other dishes, the pieds et paquets, which, after quickly consulting Patricia Wells, we learned is mutton tripe rolled and cooked with sheep’s feet, white wine, and tomatoes — was very nice. Our other plat, filets of rouget in a red pepper sauce with a scallop, was excellent. Both plats came with very similar but fine vegies. Finally, sorbet, and “Dessert Galcé à la Châtaigne et Calvados,” two cafés, a demi of white and a bottle of natural gazeuse, Vals. 82€.

                              1. L’Auberge des Granges, 07150 Bessas (Ardèche). On a Tuesday night with our choice in Barjac again closed, our apartment proprietor suggested this place, saying she’d heard good things but had not been. http://www.aubergedesgranges.com/rest... . It was a wonderful find. (Later we saw that our apartment proprietor was not the only one to notice this place: http://www.pourcel-chefs-blog.com/blo... .)
                                We completely enjoyed the ancient vaulted room and the young husband-wife team proprietors. As seems often the case in places we enjoy most, he’s the chef, and she runs the front very efficiently and professionally. Four menus, 19.50, 36, 46€, and degustation (at about 60€ I think?) We chose the 36 and 46. After the local ham and chevre amuse, we had foie gras de canard (et accompanying things de jour with balsamic); croustillants de gambas with vinaigrette aux fruits exotiques; boeuf with pommes; le pigeon royal fermier rôti et son jus relevé à l’huile de truffe; a plate of three distinctive local chevres; desserts (they allowed us to each “trade up” to the next higher menu) were coque chocolate, un coeur de mousse de Joël Patouillard, and carpaccio d’ananas poché dans un bouillon aux épices et sorbet du moment (strawberry). Plus a nice Pic Saint Loup, bottled water, two cafes. And great bread. One problem: Where we were first seated, one of us had a view of the always ajar door leading to the kitchen. Not normally a big issue, and sometimes a plus, but the harsh florescent light emanating was unpleasant in this otherwise smart and elegant space, and so we changed tables. After dinner, the chef commented that they plan to revise that door and design. Check out the petrified sink in the W.C. A deal at 120€.

                                Next: North into central Ardèche, including La Mas de la Madeleine, in 07110 Largentiere.

                                1. Hotel Restaurant Le Carmel, www.le-carmel.com , in 07140 Les Vans (Ardèche). We had a good lunch under the beautiful terrace awnings. Apéritifs and petite mise en bouche, then: Salad de chèvre chaud; fricassée de ceps (very nice); parmentier de joue et queue de boeuf sauce brune (excellent); cote de veau sauce poivre vert; a demi of white, two desserts, and express. 87€.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Jake Dear

                                    I very strong, Bwanna. Husband even stronger. We carry your bags for places at table. Very reasonable proposition. We not eat much....

                                    1. re: mangeur

                                      Actually, we owe you and others places at our table, for all the recs and help previously and generously given. The least I can do now is to report back and show some pics -- and I hope, encourage a few others to explore these fine off-the-path areas. Paris is great, but ahhh, the countryside . . . . -- Jake

                                  2. La Mas de la Madeleine, in 07110 Largentiere — actually, up a the hill about 500 meters on a narrow single lane chemin. http://www.masdelamadeleine.com/ We knew that Parigi considers this an excellent ferme-auberge, and it lived up to and surpassed our expectations. Geneviève et Gérard Guillemin & fils (he’s the chef) are fine hosts. We enjoyed, and would happily return to, chambre “Capucine,” with a private balcony overlooking the valley. We dined on site three straight nights and had most of the carte — there were four selections for each course.

                                    Entrées: Terrine maison à la châtaigne, et sa compote d’oignons rouges, cerises au vinaigre, croustillant de sésame et salade vert (no photo); veloté de châtaigne au lard fumée et celeri perpétual, espuma de cépes (lovely); foie gras maison au torchon, reduction de vinaigre balsamique et sa tarte tatin à la fleur de sel. Plats: Cuisse de poulet rotie a l’ail et a la sauge sur sa crème d’ail, figues et riz noir (this may have been our favorite dish); filet de truite rose de haute Ardèche caisson vapeur a la crème d’estragon du jardin, petit épeautre du Ventoux; épaule d’agneau mijotée aux citrons confits et aux “Picholinrs frites de patates douces” (very nice). The cheese plate changed daily with three different Ardèche affinés each evening. Desserts: L’assiette de sorbets maison et son petit gâteau du jour (very nice); mi-cuit chocolat Guayaquil sur crème de pistache et salade d’orange; and express. Each night we had apperos, usually kir châtaigne (along with an olive tapenade), bottled waters, and over the three days at least five fine local wines. Dinner averages (all boissons included) were 95€.

                                    Breakfast, which is included, was served on the upper outdoor terrace overlooking the valley (where dinner is served weather permitting). There were excellent home-made preserves and different hot baked items each day from the kitchen. The interior dining room is homey and somewhat elegant (especially the two tables by the windows).

                                    1. Hotel-Restaurant Les Clos des Oliviers, http://www.hotel-ardeche-sud.com/ , in 07700 Bourg-Saint-Andéol (southeastern Ardèche). We drove from the Gorges de Tarn north to visit the Musée de Lavende, just outside the isolated village of St-Remise (www.ardechelavandes.com), and then on to Bourg-St-Andéol for lunch. After two “kir Ardèchois” (vin blanc and crème de châtaigne), we split an entrée, trilogie méditerranéenne (papetons d’aubergine et sa tartine de ricotta au poivrons confits, verrine de gaspacho). Our plats: Filet de dorade royale rôtie (very nice) with a light sauce pistou; suprême de volaille rôti, sauce aux cèpes (lovely); desserts: Faisselle au coulis de fruits rouges, and a “coupe Ardéchoise à la liqueur de châtaigne.” (I was ordering all available châtaigne on every carte.) Boissons: A demi of Vinsobre rouge (we later saw the winery nearby), a bottle of the Vals, and 2 express. 74,60 €, pas mal, and it came with a nice stroll around town afterward, including a fine Eglise Romane, IXth century.

                                      1. Auberge de La Tour Brisson, in 07110 Sanilhac, www.belinbrison.com. We had a nice lunch in a newish alpine-feeling room overlooking the valley (the other more formal dining room is across the sleepy road inside the hotel). If not for La Mas de la Madeleine being so close, we’d be tempted to stay here, or in one of their gites. Again I forgot to take a picture of the carte, and so we will guess at what we had. The entrée (we split it) was a house specialty, a sausage ball of some kind en croute with sesame seeds, and the most by far the most interesting dish; distinctive and excellent. Plats were rustically good: a light Quenelle-like fish dish; and a small bird in a brown mushroom sauce. Desserts: a fromage blanc à la crème, and one “pâtisseries maison” — they brought three huge dishes for self-serving, I took only tiny tranches of each. With a bottle of Vals, a 50 ml. Chatus, 2 express, two apperos maison (kir châtigne, natch), it was 81,30€.

                                        Next: North to Hotel Restaurant Faurie, in 07320 Saint-Agreve.

                                        1. Hotel Restaurant Le Provençal, in 07160 Le Cheylard, www.hotelrestaurantleprovencal.com , quite near St.-Agreve. A fine stop on our drive north from Largentiere. Like many of our favourite spots in the countryside, this is run by a husband-wife team, she in the front and he in the kitchen. We had a surprisingly fine lunch in the narrow 1980s-feeling room to the right as you enter. We felt we were trespassing a bit on the outing of two older local couples. We dislike loud conversations that intrude on a room, but this was at times painfully opposite, as our unwitting companions seemed to go to lengths not only to refrain from conversation, but even to make any noise with their forks and knives. This led to a few little giggling episodes between us as we enjoyed our apperos with olives and sausage en croute, a very fine filet de bar (one of the best lunch fish dishes in our three weeks) with a side of vegetables, pigeon (leg in a crust, and breast, excellent) with a side dish of broiled potatoes and cheese (what was that? — very nice), a 10€ pichet of viogner, pear in red wine for dessert to split, and 2 express with a basket of cookies, etc. 50€, what a deal.

                                          Apres lunch, a nice walk in the pleasant town, where we found free wifi at the square. And then, returning to our car, we found a serious pétanque match going on in the parking lot, prompting much good-natured commentary and gesticulating by the participants as we attempted to exit without endangering their game. What a nice visit.

                                          1. Hotel Restaurant Faurie, 07320 Saint-Agreve, 36 Avenue Cévennes. www.hotelfaurie.fr/ This was a great dinner in a classy/quirky-kitchy-gothy/enigmatic and ultimately endearing small hotel.

                                            First, for some perspective, the hotel: I believe there are 7 rooms. We are used to minimal lighting in French hotels, but this place makes dark part of the design. My wife found the interior hallways with minimal (red) illumination eerie. Our room, however, was comparatively bright, and featured a remote-controlled red velvet curtain that covered a floor-to-ceiling glass wall behind which gleamed an enclosure of dual showers and, barely hidden, a toilet protruding from the wall. This bright green tiled multi-purpose room was accented in a corner with a short smiling plastic gnome holding a faux-wood table top. A corresponding floor-to-ceiling green tiled glassed-in chamber with dual sinks (and another smiling plastic gnome table) was on the other side of the room, sans curtains.

                                            We found the downstairs dining area quite spare, but with some pleasant features — beautiful old wooden floors and fine hutches. There are two rooms, with a single table in each: a larger front room with a rectangular table under a stained-glass window; and, between that and the kitchen, a smaller room with a round table, right next to two large floor-to-ceiling cases holding hundreds of cooking books, alphabetical by author, 99.91 percent French. (There is another larger room across the hallway, which was in a state of remodeling, apparently the result of water damage from frozen pipes earlier in the year; so maybe they can serve in that room as well if they need/want to — but it did not look like they’d done so or were planning on that for some time . . . .)

                                            These dining spaces are like none other we’ve seen in any French restaurant. It very much felt like we were at a table d’hote/ private club in their home. And because of this setting I felt rather self-conscious at the prospect of taking even furtive iphone photos, so I did not.

                                            Philippe & Sofie Brisseau are the proprietors; he’s a Michelin-starred chef; she, with a somewhat minxy smile, covers the front, runs the hotel, and apparently designed it. They serve dining guests as a team — after he cooks and plates, he carries a large serving tray from the kitchen, deftly maneuvering it sideways thru narrowish doorways, to present the dishes and briefly describe each with a slight and shy bow. His description is no more than was already printed on the small menu that we found at our settings: “Le bigorneau, le cèpe at l’artichaut”; “L’œuf, les girolles et parmesan”; “Le Saint-Pierre, L’oignon et le concombre”; “Le pigeon”; “Le fromage”; “Et le dessert.” (There is no choice for any course.)

                                            On a Saturday night, it was just the two of us in the small room, and five more (French speaking Swiss, based on their car plates) at the large table under in the front room. From her seat, my wife could often see chef Philippe, and I could hear him — the gentle sounds of stirring, whisking, slicing, opening and closing ovens, sautéing. And sometimes we could smell the whiff of a cig break (the cuisine opens to a back courtyard/ rustico parking area.)

                                            The wine list is short and well-selected. The plates were great at every course; I especially loved the egg, girolles and parmesan dish; for my wife, pigeon was the standout. We felt in the hands of a master. After, Philippe handed us a bottle of local sparking water to, as he said, take to our room “for digestion.”

                                            Breakfast the next morning was amazing and too much. From our same table, after being served more than the standard quantity and quality of breads, brioche, butter, jams, juice, coffee, grapes, and prosciutto-like slices, as well as a local yogurt-fromage blanc-like dish, we heard much sizzling in the kitchen. I confidently assured my wife that Philippe was simply prepping for Sunday lunch. But no, out he kept coming with his tray — three more times — presenting a delicately fried regional potato dish, and then a crusty fried rectangular sausage-like patty. It was incredible, but we were groaning. I motioned to Sofi and asked her if another course was yet to come. Yes, she smiled. Could we please not have it, we asked? Of course. Turned out to be slices of gorgeous marinated tomatoes — as we saw on the tray destined for the Swiss folks — but we were just too sated even for that.

                                            We asked Sofi how many covers they’d have for lunch and dinner that night. She said they had a party of 7 at lunch, but only us for dinner. We don’t enjoy being the only diners in a room, and we also felt reluctant to force them to gear up for us only. We gently expressed those thoughts and asked if they could recommend another place and without hesitation she said yes, just outside of St.-Agreve, Hotel Restaurant Domaine de Rilhac, telling us it was not like theirs, but good. We accepted her offer to make a reservation for us. On reflection, I’m a bit sorry we didn’t dine with then a second night . . . .

                                            Dinner was 85€ each, plus 2 coupes, and a 46€ lesser-appellation Burgogne (we were hoping for wine pairings but that was not offered and we did not ask), for a total of 240 € — hardly cheap, but well worth it. Breakfast was stated to be 25€ each, but looking back at the hand-written bill (idiosyncratically on graph paper), it seems Sofi knocked it down to 20 each, reflecting our whimping out on the tomatoes. What a place, what nice people.

                                            Below is a photo of the rather stark-looking exterior of the hotel, which is across the street from the shuttered gare. When we asked, Sofi explained that the top image is Philippe’s grandfather, who built the hotel/restaurant; the bottom is his grandmother. The middle image — who knows? Someone else can go and ask . . . .

                                            1. Hotel Restaurant Le Châtaignier Fleuri, in 07570 Desaignes www.chataignierfleuri.com , near St.-Agreve. This was one of our least enjoyable lunches, although we’d not call it bad. A large multi-generation family was having a Sunday outing next to us, and that made the room pleasant. We had two slightly overcooked but still tasty stuffed trouts, a replacement pichet of local white (the original was oxidixed in an unintentional an undrinkable way), three boules of very good ice cream to split, a small bottle water, and two decent express, 44,20€.

                                              The highlight of this nice little quiet hillside village was its Château-Musée Marie, with an especially interesting room dedicated to the resistance. And I’m sorry we didn’t have our express in the “Bar Le Penalty” down the street from the hotel/restaurant.

                                              1. Hotel Restaurant Domaine de Rilhac, just outside St.-Agreve, www.domaine-de-rilhac.com . We dined here on a Sunday night at the recommendation of Sofi at nearby Hotel Restaurant Faurie. It’s a secluded place outside St.-Agreve, and we are tempted some day to stay at this hotel. Dinner after Faurie was a let-down, but still quite good. We had the 29 and 54€ menus: a very nice lightly cured mushroom starter; a gespacho with, for some reason, chicken that did not quite work; foie gras with artichoke that tasted rather bland; a nice light lamb stew; a good carpaccio of boeuf in red wine sauce that had been put on a hot plate for minimal heating (not very pretty, but tasty) with a nice side of cèpes; very nice cheeses from the trolly; macarons, strawberry soup, and then a creamy-filled raspberry pastry. With expensive câtaigne apperos (served in the nice anteroom because we arrived a bit before our 20:00 res), a 54€ 2007 Crozes Hermitage A. Graillot, a bottle of Ventadour, and one express, the total was 160€.

                                                And the price included dinner theater. First, the lighted mature trees were dancing in a windstorm outside the large windows on both sides of the dining room. Second, one couple of five in the room apparently had disputes about a dish or service or both (I heard him assert that something was not “correctement”), and then made a bit of scene, culminating in a 10-minute discussion in the lobby (and in our view) with the chef, whose arms were crossed across his chest. No handshakes at the end. Whatever it was, we thought the service quite good, and made sure to tell the chef so on departure. After his little ordeal he was glad to hear that and as we said our au revoirs he made clear that he knew we’d been referred by Faurie.

                                                The next day we collected picnic fixings in “downtown” St.-Agreve at, among other places, Magasin Teyssier, as recommended by Sofi, and with some butter provided by her and Philippe, we drove to the Valence TGV station to catch the train back to Paris. Looking back at this entire trip, we agree that every day was simply excellent, and we will happily return. Ahhh, the pleasures to be found in France just beyond the peripherie of Paris. — Jake

                                                1. I think you deserve a medal for eating (so far) 22 restaurant meals in two weeks without bursting, or going off eating out for life ... I physically couldn't do it, and would just feel jaded after three or four days of it! What's your technique?

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Theresa

                                                    Let me out the Dears. Mme Dear is one of the slimmest persons I know.

                                                    1. re: Parigi

                                                      They walk. And walk. And walk. And walk.

                                                      1. re: mangeur

                                                        Walking is a good occupation for a chowhound - it's my only salvation - but I'd have to climb Everest weekly to be able to shift that much food :o)

                                                        1. re: Theresa

                                                          Mangeur is right -- lots of walking works for us, both in Paris and in the countryside. Rarely do we gain any weight, and in the process we usually revive any flagging appetite.

                                                          I like this quote from A.J. Liebling: “Pedestrianism was always my balance for voracity; they were countervailing joys. Walking, I consumed what I had eaten, built up an appetite for more, had noble thoughts, and spotted likely-looking restaurants.” (Between Meals — An Appetite for Paris (1959).)