Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Brittany -- Domaine de Rochevilaine

After a week in the southwest of France, we spent a couple of days on the southern coast of Brittany. We had spectacular weather and fully enjoyed our stay at the Domaine de Rochevilaine, a Relais and Chateaux hotel consisting of centuries-old stone buildings located on the Pointe de Pen Lan, about an hour from Nantes.

Our lovely and spacious room was just above the rocks on the shore, and enjoyed an unobstructed view of the Vilaine Estuary and the land on the other side of the inlet. The Michelin-starred restaurant was in a different building; with southern and western exposures, it was bathed with sunlight during the long summer evenings we spent there.

Domaine de Rochevilaine in Brittany
Our room from the outside
Our room from the inside. Sylvie is loving it!
As expected, the food was excellent. Although it was no challenge for the chef, I particularly enjoyed the Penerf oysters, which were quite simply the best I have ever eaten: briny but not too briny, just the right size and tasting as though they had been harvested within minutes of our meal. They were so good that I ordered them again on our second night.

Penerf oysters
Joan's starters did require ccoking: red fruit ravioli and crabmeat, both very successful.

Red fruit ravioli
Crabmeat appetizer
For some reason, I did not photograph our main courses, which were just fine, but I woke up in time for dessert: a Paris-Brest that tasted as good as it looked despite the non-traditional presentation and perfect Crèpes Suzette.

Crèpes Suzette
Given the perfect weather, we took the advice of the person at the desk and drove to the Golfe of Morbihan. A three-minute ferry ride took us to the lovely Île aux Moines, where we lunched on moules frites at a picturesque restaurant overlooking the bay.

Île aux Moines
From there we drove to Vannes, which turns out to have a beautiful old town that is right out of central casting (or the equivalent for a location) for a Breton village.

Half-timbered buildings in Vannes
Symbol of Vannes
This is a great part of the world to spend time in, particularly when the weather is fine.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, July 24, 2016

French Countryside - Michel Trama

In the middle of nowhere in France, about an hour and ten minutes from Toulouse and thirty minutes from Agen - famous for making the best prunes in the world and for nothing else - lies the small hill town of Puymirol. Puymirol is also famous for just one thing: Michel Trama, a two-star restaurant in a lovely Relais and Chateaux hotel.

While it doesn't merit a trip from Paris, if you're in the neighborhood (which we were, since it's not too far from our friends' home in Périgord), Michel Trama is well worth a visit. We had a fine meal in a beautiful setting, helped by a warm clear night, a rarity in France this year.

After champagne and appetizers on the terrace, we entered the semi-enclosed dining room for the meal. Summer truffles are abundant at the moment, and we started with a salad of them with an impossibly thin shallot chip, followed by a cauliflower "risotto" with more summer truffles The latter, with crispy bits of tasty cauliflower, was one of the rare non-rice "risottos" that really worked.

Summer truffle salad with shallot chip
Cauliflower "risotto"
Following were the real starters. Here I decided to indulge myself, and ordered M. Trama's signature papillote de pomme de terre en habit vert à la truffe, a potato stuffed with a real (winter) truffle enrobed with a dense truffle sauce and garnished with slices of summer truffle. I know this is not pretty in the photo, or maybe in real life, but WOW, this is truffle mania!

Michel Trama's renowned potato with lots of truffles
Next up were very nice lamb chops,

Lamb chops with seasonal vegetables
followed by a lovely mixed dessert.

Mixed desserts, with paper-thin apples and sorbet
A very refined meal, well conceived and executed.

The dining courtyard at Michel Trama
M. Trama is an interesting man, who worked with Jacques-Yves Cousteau before deciding to spend his life cooking, opening a bistro in Paris. He is self-taught. He fulfilled his life's dream when he and his wife bought the 13th century building that houses his hotel/restaurant. Subsequently he has expanded and owns several buildings in the town. M Trama spends time at every table, making sure the diners are happy and giving the impression that he really cares. He studied in the US and therefore speaks good English and likes Americans, so our discussion went well beyond merely saying that we enjoyed our meal. 

Just what one wants to find in the French countryside.

Bobby Jay

Friday, July 22, 2016

Périgord -- Girolles

We spent a few days in le Périgord with good friends who have a magnificent home in the heart of the region. This year, a neighbor gave our friends a massive quantity of girolles that he had foraged on his own land. I made a dinner appetizer with half of them, but the really special thing was to make girolle toasts for breakfast. Nothing but an obscene quantity of mushrooms sauteed with a little garlic, lots of thyme, salt and pepper, served on slices of toast made with perfect country bread.

Sauteed girolles on country toast
Easy but hard to beat. All you need is loads of spectacular fresh girolles.

Bobby Jay

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Paris -- Maxim's Museum: A Little-known Treasure

At a friend's suggestion, we recently took a tour of Maxim's and it's attached museum. There were only three of us on the 2:00 tour given in perfect English by an amazingly well-informed and engaging guide, so we could linger over things that particularly caught our attention.

Maxim's, located at 3 rue Royale since the 1890s, is more than an iconic restaurant. It is the spot where everyone who counted in Paris appeared and where the famed courtesans became some of the richest women in France. The décor, which you will recall from Gigi and, more recently, Midnight in Paris, is OVER THE TOP, but in a nice way. Every inch is decorated, and all the period details have been retained.

Seeing Maxim's empty is a treat, as you can see. It is eminently photogenic.

Various views of Maxim's
In addition to the public rooms, upstairs in what used to be the private rooms is a museum containing the very fine Art Nouveau collection of Pierre Cardin, who is the present owner of Maxim's. The presentation of the items in the collection is most interesting, and echoes the period in which the object were created. Here are just a few of them:

Gaudi chairs
Bedroom by Gallé
Rare Tiffany lamp
Bedroom by well, I forget
Pierre Cardin is 94, and owns Maxim's personally. It is not clear what will happen to the place when he dies. While the physical premises are protected, it could become anything, even a clothing boutique. So we are going to go there for dinner on our next trip to Paris, while it still will be Maxim's. The food is apparently competently prepared but in a 1950s time warp. Still, . . ..

Maxim's is not the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay, and thus is not for the first-time (or even second-time) visitor to Paris. However, if you have done the major sites and are looking for a visual ice cream sundae, Maxim's is well worth the trip.

Bobby Jay

Monday, July 18, 2016

Paris -- A Perfect Lunch at Le Cinq

We're just ack from nearly five weeks in France, where I was so busy that I was unable to post to this blog. So I'll be catching up over the next few days.

We ate well throughout this period, at restaurants, at friends' and at home, with the aid of the wonderful produce, meat and fish available in the summer.

Our first noteworthy meal was lunch at Le Cinq. As was the case with our first experience there at Christmas, we had a truly sensational meal: great food beautifully presented, with elegant but not over-the-top service, in a gorgeous room at the George V. We brought a Japanese friend who had thought she didn't like French food; she is now a convert!

The four-course lunch is 145 euros (about $160), including service and tax. Not cheap but for the level of experience, it is a steal. After all, the 3-1/2 hours it takes to enjoy this feast is like dinner and a show, which would cost far more.

Our menu included pre-amuse bouches, amuse-bouches, appetizer, main, dessert, post-desserts (the best possible kouign ammann, far better than the very good ones we had in Brittany) and post-post-desserts (chocolates, madeleines, fruit candies, marshmellows).

I started out by thinking I would not take pictures, but some of the dishes cried out to be photographed. For example, this seasonal white asparagus appetizer:

and this amazing onion appetizer, where the onions are somehow liquefied on the interior creating what amounts to onion profiteroles without the pastry shell,

not to mention the grilled and glazed pigeon with truffles, turnips and olives,

and cherries barely cooked in their own juice, scented with kirsch and served in a pistachio ice cream crust.

I'm ready to head back any time.

Bobby Jay