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Bordeaux/Dordogne/Paris recap

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Will try to see if I can remember it all through the haze of duck, walnuts and vin rouge.

Arrived in Bordeaux (city) on Saturday afternoon. (Related, how great is it to be able to take TGV right from CDG to Bordeaux? Great!). Got some wine, ate at Petit Commerce, thanks to the recs from this board. Also, knowing we were heading to meat country, wanted to fortify ourselves with seafood. It was pretty bonkers on Saturday night, but we landed a table for 10PM and got a pretty decent plateau de fruits de mer and some very good sauteed razor clams. Finished with baba au rhum which was pretty awful due to the cheap rum. I think it took the enamel off my teeth, ha.

The next morning was warm, clear and sunny, and we spent the late morning/early afternoon at Marché des Quais, which was pretty awesome. It's a market right on the river, which offers about an equal mix of prepared foods to eat there and produce and meat and the like. We got some fried shrimp, oysters and pastries. We really, really enjoyed it. There's not tons to see in Bordeaux, but it was a great place to spend 24 hours. We visited the public gardens, the CPAC museum and the opera house with the weird trompe l'oeil decor.

Off to Dordogne. We ate the first night at our hotel, Les Glycines in Les Eyzies. It wasn't a terribly good meal, and annoyingly expensive. Learned the very important lesson that when we want tender duck, we should order it blue, not pink, otherwise we get brown.

The next day was the first day of 5 bicycling through the region and our first stop was lunch at La Vieux Logis in Tremolat. It was one of the best meals we've ever had, and crazy reasonably priced at 46EURO a person with similar nice prices for wine and cocktails. We lunched in the garden and the staff was extremely gracious to 2 spandexed Americans without reservations. We've tried to remember everything we ate, which I think was: amuse -- walnut and ham cake, fried pigeon with mustard, clams with olives (the only amuse clunker), foie gras creme brulee (holy Jesus) and foie on a cracker.
Starters -- duck tartare with young olive (YES), a raw salmon preparation, mushroom soup with creme (excellent).
Mains -- John Dory (great), chicken/beef. I let the waiter know at the beginning of the meal that I don't eat beef, and at this point, we were each served veal. When I protested, the waitress said "but it's little beef!" which I found pretty hilarious. At this point there was little room in my stomach, but I was promptly served chicken which was perfectly cooked. I was secretly hoping I would get a pass.
Desserts -- a parmesan cheese mousse with fruit and nuts, grapefruit gelee with rosemary ice cream (just stupidly good), a chocolate and caramel mousse that tasted like a Heath bar and a chai chocolate smoothie. Finally, done. All prepared to perfection.
After that, a hazy fat ride to Cadouin and jambon sec for dinner.
The next day we had an awful-ish lunch at La Bastide in Monpazier, a town with seemingly no good restaurant options. However, we had a great regional dinner at Restaurant de l'Abbaye in Cadouin. A lovely potager of potatoes and garlic, some really well cooked fatty duck, a terrific cheese plate and perfect pomme tarte. Extremely reasonable, too. Not a destination spot, but when in Cadouin!
Days 3 and 4 we had dinner at our hotel La Belle Etoile in La Roque Gageac (very little else was open thanks to the season being mostly over). There we got our perfect pink duck, a delicious egg in cocotte with crawfish tails, morels and cream, some wonderful desserts and wine and really lovely service. Skip the fish there if you can though. (I know, I know, I just needed a break from meat). We had lunch in Sarlat, but arrived in the town at 1:56PM, which is the death knell for lunch. Dordogners are really serious about the 12:30-2PM lunch time. So we had a chicken sandwich at a dessert shop, which was still great -- thanks to the nice, fatty dark meat that the French use in sandwiches (versus the terrible factory-farmed, water-injected bland white mean in the ones over here). Sarlat was probably once fairly magical, but now just seems rather functional.
Day 5 lunch was in a nice cafe called Sesame in St Cyprien. My husband got the beef borgogne and I had a savoyard tart with lardons and potatoes. Both excellent. No light eating in this region, no siree. Our dinner was just awful tourist dreck at Au Coup de Silex in Les Eyzies. I felt like we were eating at the French equivalent of Denny's. My Americano cocktail was served with a large bendy straw and it was all downhill from there.
Day 6 was meant to be visiting all the prehistoric caves, but it was pouring rain and 40 degrees, which is about as awful cycling weather as it gets. Our consolation prize was 24 hours in Paris, so no complaints whatsoever.
We arrived in Paris late Saturday afternoon and stayed at the corner of Richard Lenoir and Oberkampf, which was a perfect location for where we wanted to go. Hoped to run into Parnassien, but alas, avatars. Booked a table at Ober-Sale after reading good things here.
Began the night at Mary-Celeste for a cocktail, but felt exactly like we were back in Brooklyn with the Brooklyn beer, half-decent wine and bearded, heritaged hipster kin, so left after 30 minutes. Cruised by Ober-Sale which looked to have a very good menu, but realized we just couldn't stomach another serious French meal, so cancelled our reservation and booked it to Le Dauphin. Drank some pretty decent foreign wine at La Cave and then got seated in the second seating at Le Dauphin. Nary a word of French was spoken in that room, but I really loved the decor and the service was great. And the food!! Exactly what we needed. The real standouts were the squid ink risotto, the smoked aubergine, the tandoori octopus and the dehydrated peaches under a light cream. We ate at Le Chateaubriand 2 years ago, and while I loved the creativity, found the food hit or miss. The food was all hits at Le Dauphin.
My husband is all about beer these days, so we wandered to La Fine Mousse. Or rather, what we thought was La Fine Mousse, but was actually a secret bar on the roof of a building just around the corner. A super cool mix-up, but not with the high-alcohol content beer we were looking for. So we made our way over and though my blood was about 50% wine at that point, we each had one heavy beer. The selection was great and the place was bumpin', so a win for all.
Woke up earlier than our demographic on that Sunday morning and hoofed it to Marche Richard Lenoir, which was truly spectacular. There is simply no excuse to eat poorly in France with product as good as that, and I can say with some certainty that it far surpasses any market in the US. So jealous. Then went to Gerard Mulot, which was either ransacked or sold out of anything decent, so waited in line at 28 Boulangerie on Beaumarchais. The pastries from there were good not great, but who cares if they are the size of a small dinner plate and you eat them in Place des Vosges?
Marched over the Pompidou to see the very excellent Pierre Huyghe show and then to lunch at Breizh Cafe. The host/bouncer let us know the place was complet complet complet, but how fortuitous that you can eat from the same menu at their epicerie just next door? We waited 20 minutes and scored some seats. Whilst waiting for our excellent concalaise and Provençal crepes, we just marveled at a couple of our fellow countrymen who bought the place out of Bordier yuzu butter. I mean, REALLY, what do you do with all that yuzu butter?!
Grabbed some velib and rode to the Tuilieries where we got to see all the extremely attractive and fashionable Parisian families enjoying their Sunday passeggiatas. Walked back to the Haut Marais for our suitcases, and it was back to NYC for us.
An extremely wonderful and rapid trip and I am now in holiday withdrawal.
A few miscellaneous thoughts: the Dordogne was terrific, and most spectacular near Beynac/Castelnaud/Domme etc. However, we were there the 2nd week of October and as it really is the end of the tourist season, I would not visit any later in the year. (What no leaf-peeping season like us East Coasters?). And, our last 3 trips have been to Paris in December and January, and I think there are literally 90% fewer tourists then. Our minds were blown by the amount of English, Japanese, Swedish etc we heard. Sorry to overrun your city, dudes.

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  1. Lovely report. And I think your reactions lead to couple of points .
    1) The new wave of cocktail bars/ bars à vins/ tapas bars, although much liked by us locals, will remind some visitors of places back home. Some are indeed modelled after their American counterparts. I for one argue that such imports do nevertheless almost immediately acquire a certain Frenchness. My preference is for a mix of types: The trad cafés (like Le Progrès or Le Charlot in the Haut-Marais, Le Rostand in the 5th, and Le Select on the bd Montparnasse) with their terraces, conspiratorial salles, peoplewatching, varied clientèle, and reflection of this or that quartier remains a valued part of my heritage (and a joy for most visitors if the choices are careful); bars à vins (like Le Barav in the Haut-Marais) with plates of charcuterie and cheese and one or two specials of the day for noshing while sipping wine and chatting with friends; the very historic icons like the Piano Bar at the Closerie des Lilas (my perfect bar!), Le Rosebud, etc where I can dress up a bit, join the the more elegant members of the chattering classes, and commune with the spirits of time and place; and the new and very trendy cocktail bars like L'Experimental, Le Démon, L'Entrée des Artistes, etc where I can celebrate my modernity and "branchitude".
    2) Foodwise, the provinces are not all they are cracked up to be. Certainly, you can find excellent cuisine outside of Paris but not in every village or small town. If you insist that every meal should be good, be prepared to drive 10, 20, 30 or 50 km to find it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Parnassien

      Thanks so much, P. We're planning to return over the holidays, and will be sure to check out your spots.

      And we were mostly quite pleased with dining in the Dordogne; you really cannot get that much duck anywhere in the US and La Vieux Logis really was fantastic.

      1. re: Parnassien

        Agree with the comment about French provinces and Michelin is your friend in this area - not the starred places - but the bib recommendations can be lifesavers - you do need to travel though as it's rare to find an idyllic country village with more than one place and many don't have restaurants/cafés. So careful planning is essential.

      2. Love your report!! Am just now thinking of our summer plans to visit Dordogne/Paris (from Brooklyn!) and your descriptions are really helpful (a straw in your Americano??). Thanks for taking the time to post this.

        1. don't know why I am just seeing this review now, but glad I did. It's wonderful! Making me wish I were in France this minute. Thanks.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ChefJune

            Oh thanks guys! It was a really wonderful trip and sold us on the bicycle tour as vacation. It is so much easier to bicycle in rural areas of France than it is in the US; we'd gladly do it again in another part of the country.

          2. Thank you for taking the time to write such a funny and informative report.
            Your eating itinerary seems to include good preparation and some spectacular no preparation.
            But it seems you always enjoyed yourself. Bravo.
            Couple of points:
            1. The closing of restaurants at 2pm is not a Sarlat thing. It is a general thing all over France. Restaurants are not open between meals.
            2. "amuse" , "foie on a cracker". Excuse me, by foie do you mean liver ? Or do you mean foie gras ?
            I understand that each country has its own slang for food that may look like French but is not French. I guess it is like the French calling basketball shoes les baskets. -- No, we don't eat them.
            If you say foie, outside of your country, others think you mean liver. This international board with global wimps like me would be grateful if you specified foie gras or liver .
            Same thing re "amuse". "Amuse" just means "amuse". If it doesn't tire you too much to write out amuse-gueule or amuse-bouche, I bow in gratitude. Amuse-walnuts and amuse-clunkers look as though you were tickling nuts, or harder-core erotic practices.
            Just something to remember next time you want to order an Amuse-foie-latte here. :)
            Thank you again.