Wednesday, August 23, 2017

France -- Good Eating in the Country

Paris-Couze at Au Fil d'Eau
Joan and I spent the first two weeks of August visiting friends in Périgord, followed by a stay in Provence bracketed by nights in Toulouse and Dijon. We had numerous really good meals, one that was great and one that was off the charts. This post will deal with some of the surprises we found, while the sublime, multi-star experiences will be covered in later posts.

Our best meal out in Périgord, apart from le Vieux Logis (to be covered in my next post), was at Au Fil d'Eau, in Couze-et-Saint-Front (population c. 800), which presents updated and artfully presented versions of regional and other classics, including the Paris-Couze (a play on Paris-Brest) pictured above and the  cooked foie gras with lemon ice cream, shrimp with fruits and  foie gras terrine with summer truffles.

Cooked foie gras with lemon ice cream at Au Fil d'Eau
Shrimp and fruit at Au Fil d'Eau
Foie gras with summer truffles at Au Fil d'Eau
While in Périgord, we made day trips to some local villages and towns, and ate well in addition to seeing the local sites.

In Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, there's a fine Romanesque church and a lovely chateau, among other things.

There is also a restaurant in a garden where I had an extraordinary cassolette de gésiers de canard (duck gizzards): incredibly tender slow-cooked gizzards, a local specialty, baked beneath a very thin cheesebread topping. The best pot pie ever! Sorry, no picture.

From Périgord we traveled to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence by way of Toulouse, where we spent a night. Since it was August, the more illustrious restaurants were closed, but we ate at a stunning brasserie, le Bibent, on the magnificent Place du Capitole.

Place du Capitole, Toulouse
Owned by famed Parisian restaurateur Christian Constant, it is not surprising that tradition meets with modern cuisine at le Bibent. After our starter -- creative oyster, sea bass and salmon tartare with ginger and lime, and crispy sea prawns with basil --

Oyster, sea bass and salmon tartare at le Bibent
Cirspy prawns with basil at le Bibent
I had a wonderfully authentic cassoulet Montalbanaise and Joan a very nice sea bass à la plancha.

We next arrived at one of our favorite hotels, le Châteaux des Alpilles in Saint-Rémy de Provence.

Le Château des Alpilles
We had two perfectly lovely meals there, and enjoyed cocktails and breakfasts in the area in front of the château, but it is not notable for its gastronomy.

During our stay in Saint-Rémy, we went to the famed l"Oustau de Baumanière, which is just 15 minutes away, for a great meal that I will cover in detail in a later post. At the recommendation of the owner, we also went to a little bistro in the amazingly scenic Camargue, near the pink salt flats,

Camargue salt flats
for what proved to be an exciting meal. The tiny restaurant, La Telline, specializes in seafood, and we were served tellines, the tiniest ever clams, and picturesque and delicious sea snails, like bulots but more delicate, followed by fish main courses. This lunch was one of those unexpected experiences that make rural travel so much fun.

Tellines and sea snails at La Trelline
From Saint-Rémy, we went to Valence to spend a night at the famed Maison Pic -- which will get its own post -- and from there to Dijon. We were there on a Sunday, so the famous places were closed, but our concierge recommended le Sauvage, which cooks most everything over a wood grill, including previously slow-cooked lamb and marrow bones, and had a wonderful time. A perfect counterpoint to the extravaganza with Anne Sophie Pic.

Grilled noisettes of slow-cooked lamb at le Sauvage
Grilled marrow bones at le Sauvage
And finally back to Paris, somewhat travel weary but very very content. France is a spectacular place in which to travel: great scenery, wonderful cities and towns and, most of all, interesting and varied cuisine.

Bobby Jay

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