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