Royalty? Rock star? Or just rich?

If you’re a member of a royal family, or you’re a world famous rock star, or you’re simply a very rich person, you may stop reading now.

You have no special need to learn about Epicure, the restaurant bearing three Michelin stars that’s located in Le Bristol Paris, the  hotel on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré. No doubt you receive Epicure-style treatment all the time.

But suppose you’re not in one of those categories, and you’d like to experience the kind of service and attention that the royals and the rock stars and the rich receive regularly — then Epicure could be for you.

My wife Jan and I treated ourselves to a Sunday lunch at Epicure just one week ago, during the trip to Paris and Normandy that I’ve been describing over the past several postings. The food was excellent, the surroundings beautiful, and the service — well, if one could possibly imagine a higher level of service, it would have to include being carried to our table in sedan chairs. At each step, we were accompanied by uniformed serving staff, gently welcoming and guiding us, and then introducing us to the next station on our journey to culinary heaven. As for serving staff at our table, including the sommelier and the maitre d‘, I lost count.

Jan and I began with a glass of Champagne in the garden courtyard at the centre of Le Bristol. The day was sunny and pleasant, and the Champagne just fine. After half an hour or so, we were directed to our table in the main dining room, where we looked out at the garden we had just left. Here it is:

The courtyard garden at the Bristol, as seen from our table.

The courtyard garden at the Bristol, as seen from our table.

Confronting the menu was, frankly, a bit of a daunting experience, even for a couple of foodies who have eaten many times at Michelin-starred restaurants, including a couple with the top level of three stars. Prices are high (for example, the least expensive glass of Champagne costs 25 euros), so selecting items à la carte would be a good way to commit financial suicide. Instead, we chose the seasonal menu, which includes an entrée, a main course, a cheese course, and desserts. It goes for 135 euros. (Meanwhile, a main course of turbot alone, if chosen à la carte, would set you back 110 euros.)

For our lunch, the amuse-bouche included a clever little ball of a whipped confection — possibly salmon-based? — perched on a stick and studded with tiny bits of what I figured must be nori, the Japanese seaweed. Whatever it was, it was delicious as well as visually appealing. Here’s my plate:

A beautifully presented amuse-bouche.

A beautifully presented amuse-bouche.

For my entrée, I ordered a dish that was described as tzatziki– the Greek sauce of yoghurt and cucumbers. Of course, my dish bore no comparison to the traditional recipe, and was incredibly refreshing. The menu says it includes “homemade curdled cow’s milk, lemon and olive oil, grated cucumber and frost of fresh mint.”

Jan’s entrée was this marvelous dish of three different kinds of heirloom tomatoes and creamy burrata cheese, which she thought was superb:

Now this is what you call a serious tomato salad.

Now this is what you call a serious tomato salad.

For our plat principal, Jan and I both chose the blue lobster — poached and served as part of  a sort of deconstructed Caesar salad:

Blue lobster, on a special plate.

Blue lobster, on a special plate.

As a palate cleanser, we each received this small but wonderful dish of citrus sorbet, orange sections and a dark-fruit jelly, with a small baton of what seemed to be flavoured meringue:

A series of fresh, surprising tastes.

A series of fresh, surprising tastes.

By the time we reached the fromage course, our appetites were flagging, so we each chose miniscule portions of cheese. And then it was on to our desserts, which included these delicate spoons of jelly filled with an intense strawberry mixture, and topped with flecks of gold leaf:

For each of us, a spoonful of intense strawberry flavour.

For each of us, a spoonful of intense strawberry flavour.

Jan’s main dessert was this amusing plate of apricots sitting in a pool of almond custard with finely chopped almonds, looking for all the world like a plate of eggs cooked sunny side up:

Two eggs? No, that's Jan's apricot dessert.

Two eggs? No, that’s Jan’s apricot dessert.

Sadly, the photo of my dessert was not in focus, and so it’s not worth showing. But the dessert itself was absolutely superb — a thin base of cake, topped with an intense sauce of blueberries, and coated with a rich layer of chocolate ganache.

And with that, a few final comments on our meal at Epicure:

The three stars. Epicure is a place that, at least in my view, has fully earned its three Michelin stars, for the quality and inventiveness of its food; the beauty of the surroundings; and the level of service it provides.

The staff. Head Chef of Epicure is Eric Frechon, and the Pastry Chef is Laurent Jeannin. Obviously they are excellent. All the anonymous staff who served us were inevitably pleasant and helpful, to a fault. At times the level of service was just a bit over the top, with one server in particular apologizing profusely for the most minor of slips.

Thoughtfulness. As I’ve written before, Jan is allergic to gluten, and we always make a point of noting her allergy when making a reservation. At Epicure, this was taken into account completely, and throughout the meal the servers continued to bring Jan pieces of fresh, hot gluten-free baguette.

Value. I realize that for many people, even those who are comfortable financially, paying 25 euros for a single glass of Champagne and 135 euros for a single meal (excluding wine and any other extras) simply doesn’t make sense. But for us, it happens to be the kind of extravagance we enjoy, just as others pay large sums to play golf or sail their boats. Obviously it’s not an everyday event, but a  memorable meal at a place like Epicure is a real treat.

Comparisons. I’d say that overall, this was the best experience we’ve ever had at a three-star restaurant. However, I’d also say that the food itself was not really any better than what we’ve eaten at Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat, or Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat, both of which are in the Greater Daglan Area, and both of which have just one Michelin star. What pushes Epicure into the top, three-star range are its opulent surroundings and its level of staffing and service.

A final note on the food during our trip. While the meal at Epicure was the obvious culinary highlight of our four-day trip to Paris and Normandy, we did eat awfully well on all four days. Among the highlights: the veal kidneys in mustard sauce that I had for lunch on Friday, when we were with my sister Karen and her husband Mark; the cheeseburgers, lobster rolls and crab salads at Le Tourville on Place de l’Ecole-Militaire; and the pasta at Romantica Caffé. And finally, I have to pay a special homage to the dozen oysters I had as a light lunch on Saturday at Le Carlotta in Caen. They were wonderfully fresh-tasting, with almost no hint of brine, and they were served quite properly, as you’ll see here:

A dozen oysters served at Le Carlotta in Caen.

A dozen oysters served at Le Carlotta in Caen.

At Le Carlotta, the Champagne was a mere 11 euros a glass, and the dozen huitres cost just 24 euros. What a deal!

Posted in Food, French food, Paris restaurants, Restaurants in France, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Triumph and tragedy: A visit to Juno Beach

For several years, my wife Jan and I had wanted to visit Juno Beach — the code name for the long stretch of coastline in Normandy where Canadian troops landed on D-Day in World War II. Last weekend, as part of our stay in Paris, we finally made it happen, with a day trip by train from Gare St. Lazare to Caen.

That landing in 1944 was of course both a triumph and a tragedy. Eventually the Allies  fought their way off the beaches of Normandy, and started inland to defeat the Nazi forces. But the cost in human lives was staggering. (At the end of this post, I’ll have some brief historical refreshers, if you’re interested.)

To begin our recent visit, the train journey from Paris was pleasant and relatively quick, about two hours. As we disembarked at the station in Caen, we came face to face with images of World War II, the D-Day invasion, and its aftermath.

All along the platform were large posters featuring photos from that time — including this look at Canadian soldiers inspecting a train at the Caen station itself. You can sense, and fully appreciate, the soldier’s apprehension as his partner checks out the rail car.

One of the photos at the railway station in Caen -- showing Canadian soldiers at Caen.

One of the photos at Caen’s railway station — showing Canadian soldiers at Caen.

Before we left Daglan on our trip to Paris, I had tried to join an organized tour of the Juno Beach area, but the timing didn’t work for us, and so we tried a do-it-yourself approach to our  excursion.

In front of the Caen station, we simply asked a taxi driver to take us to Courseulles-sur-Mer, the village which was the centre for the Canadians’ landing on June 6, 1944. The ride took just 25 minutes or so (for about 45 euros), and then we were at the Juno Beach Centre.

We began our visit by walking along the beach itself. Among the sights was this plaque, installed by the Comité Juno Canada Normandie, for the Voie du Souvenir or Remembrance Way. The walk stretches along the whole length of the beaches assigned to Canadian troops.

A plaque for the Remembrance Way.

A plaque for the Remembrance Way.

On either side of the plaque are the flags of France and of Canada. Here they are, with Jan in the foreground:

The flags of France and Canada wave over the beach.

The flags of France and Canada wave over the beach.

Also on the windswept beach is a German bunker. When we visited, a group of Scouts from England were sitting on it, before riding their bikes off along Remembrance Way. Here they are:

Scouts sitting on top of a former German bunker.

Scouts sitting on top of a former German bunker.

The Juno Beach Centre itself is an impressive modern structure, designed by Brian K. Chamberlain. The Visitor’s Guide we bought says that its “building lines reflect the pentagon shape of the Order of Canada and the outline of the maple leaf, the national symbol.” Here it is:

The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003.

The Juno Beach Centre, opened in 2003.

Just outside the Centre building is the statue “Remembrance and Renewal,” created by Colin Gibson, featuring five soldiers joined together. Here it is:

The statue "Remembrance and Renewal" at the centre.

The statue “Remembrance and Renewal” at the centre.

Inside the centre, visitors walk in a large circle through several rooms full of exhibits — posters, flags, uniforms and countless other items, along with well-written descriptions in both English and French. The tour starts with a short, impressionistic film that you watch while standing in a simulated landing craft. Later, you learn about the political climate in Canada; the beginnings of the war in Europe; and the military operations throughout the war, culminating in the Normandy invasion by the Allied forces.

Outside the centre is this breath-taking construction. It consists of wooden posts, each of which is topped by a plaque providing the name and other details of a Canadian soldier killed on the very first day of the landing. In total, there are 359 posts, representing each of the Canadians killed on Juno Beach on that first day alone.

Each post represents a Canadian who died on that first day.

Each post represents a Canadian who died on that first day.

Probably the greatest emotional impact came at the end of our tour inside the centre, with a 12-minute film called “They Walk with You.”  Using archival film as well as recreations, the film does a brilliant job of describing the roles, and the sacrifices, made by Canadian soldiers in helping to free France, and ultimately all of Europe. At the film’s end, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the studio.

A few historical highlights: These are just some of the key facts, from a Canadian perspective, about the Normandy invasion, as a refresher for you.

The beaches. The Normandy coast was divided by the Allies into five sectors. Running from west to east, they were Utah (American troops), Omaha (also American), Gold (British), Juno (Canadian) and Sword (also British).

The landing. The June 6th landing of troops on the five Normandy beaches was called Operation Neptune, although it may be better known as D-Day. The overall battle for Normandy was code-named Operation Overlord.

The troops. Some 150,000 Allied troops were involved in Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion. Of them, 14,000 were Canadian.

The campaign. The battle for Normandy lasted 10 weeks, and more than 5,000 Canadian soldiers were killed in that campaign.

Posted in History in France, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Carnaval: The fête parade we never saw

You are about to witness some of the madness that was last Sunday’s parade in Daglan, a key event in our village’s four-day Fête de la St. Louis. These pictures are only possible because of the kindness of friends with cameras, because my wife Jan and I were in Paris on Sunday and completely missed seeing the parade.

Actually, if there is one part of the Daglan summer festival that I enjoy (and to be honest it’s the only one) it’s the Sunday parade. It’s a pretty wacky, homemade sort of affair, and everyone who takes part seems to enjoy the fun.

The crowds along the way join in, usually accepting with good grace the water that’s sprayed on them and the confetti that’s tossed everywhere.

For this year’s parade, the weather was less steamy than usual, although the sky was overcast (as you’ll see in the photos). The parade theme was Carnaval, so you can imagine that riotous colours and general goofiness were the orders of the day. Even villagers not in the actual parade got in on the action — for example, here’s the team at Daglan’s popular tea room, Le Thé Vert, in full costume, with a neighbouring man joining them in celebration (photo courtesy of Judith Thomason):

The woman with the green accented costume is Judith, the tea room's owner.

The woman with the green accented costume is Judith, the tea room’s owner.

As for the parade itself, all the following photos were provided exclusively to Radio Free Daglan by Alex Colquhoun, a young woman who will be returning to university in Scotland shortly, after spending the summer as an au pair with a Daglan family. (Many thanks, Alex!)

We’ll start with the float representing a carnival in Mexico:

The Mexican float heads into Daglan.

The Mexican float heads into Daglan.

You’ll note that the guy in the lower left of the photo has made time for a siesta, so it’s probably a fairly authentic Mexican float:

There's always time for a siesta.

There’s always time for a siesta.

It seems that an entry with a Chinese theme was another hit of the parade. Here’s the float being pulled up from the staging area and onto the main road into Daglan:

The Chinese float is pulled into the parade.

The Chinese float is pulled into the parade.

This photo will give you a better idea of how elaborate the float was:

A full-on look at the Chinese pagoda.

A full-on look at the Chinese pagoda.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese celebration without the traditional paper dragon, which was carried in front of the pagoda on the float:

The traditional dragon leads the way.

The traditional dragon leads the way.

And here’s the dragon in the centre of the village, being waved right into the rows of onlookers:

Getting up close with the dragon.

Getting up close with the dragon.

Any good parade needs at least one marching band, and here’s the band that starred in Sunday’s celebration. They’re shown in front of La Petite Minoche, the popular shop in the centre of the village that sells all sorts of hats, featuring chapeaux made by the shop’s owner:

Here comes the marching band.

Here comes the marching band.

This next entry appears to represent Italy’s most famous carnival (the Carnevale de Venezia):

And now, representing Venice...

And now, representing Venice…

In this year when the World Cup was held in Brazil, it was inevitable that a float representing the fun and games of that huge country would be part of the Daglan parade. And here it is:

The Brazilian carnival float enters the parade.

The Brazilian carnival float enters the parade.

As you can see, there was a lot of activity around the float:

The Brazilian float in full swing.

The Brazilian float in full swing.

And this costumed guy on top of the float naturally attracted a lot of attention:

The centre of attention in the Brazilian float was this guy.

The centre of attention in the Brazilian float was this guy.

For a final look at the parade, here’s a decorated car moving through the centre of Daglan, with handfuls of confetti being flung around:

Flinging confetti at the onlookers.

Flinging confetti at the onlookers.

So far, all the reports on the fête and the parade have been positive, and I’m almost sorry we missed it. Now — where can we go next summer?

Posted in Festivals in France, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Paris in celebration mode (again)

There were several good reasons for our trip to Paris this past weekend, not that we ever need much encouragement to visit our favourite city.

In any case, our reasons this time included the chance to socialize with my sister Karen and her husband Mark, who were visiting from Florida; a day trip to see the Normandy coast where Canadian troops came ashore as part of D-Day in June 1944; missing Daglan’s overly long and loud fête; and some brilliant culinary experiences.

More on all that in later posts. But just for today, here are a few glimpses of how Paris has been celebrating its liberation from the Nazis in August 1944 — with World War II vehicles parading through the streets.

The following photos were taken by Radio Free Daglan’s Chief Staff Photographer, my wife Jan, near our favourite café for people-watching, Le Tourville on the Place l’Ecole-Militaire. For some time yesterday (Monday), we watched a steady stream of vehicles pouring out of the military school’s gates and heading out into the city.

Here’s one of them:

A tank leaves the military school.

A small armed vehicle leaves the military school.

And another:

Another army vehicle moves out.

Another army vehicle moves out.

And another:

Heading out into the streets of Paris.

Heading out into the streets of Paris.

And one last photo:

Netting covers this personnel carrier.

Netting covers this personnel carrier.

It was good to see that a small group of people — Parisians? visitors? — had gathered on the sidewalk in front of our café to cheer on the vehicles. Celebrating, and remembering.

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All set to go!

It’s that time of the year again, and our village is all set to go. The sky is blue, the weather is good (pleasant and not too hot), and les Daglanais are as prepared as they’ll ever be.

For some time, Daglan has been kicking into full fun mode for the annual four-day end-of-summer festival. The posters are up, all over the village, like this one on the outside of the 8 à Huit, our convenience store and unofficial centre for news dissemination:

The poster provides the days for the festival -- all four of them.

The poster provides the days for the festival — all four of them.

Yes, it’s the Fête de la St. Louis (and no, I don’t understand why it’s “la” St. Louis, so if you understand the grammar, please share your thoughts with a Comment at the end of this posting). And this year, things seem much better organized than they were last year. One indication is that there are yellow banners hanging throughout the village, unlike the scene last year when publicity went into a sink hole. The banners indicate the theme of the Sunday fête parade over the years — like this banner for 1991:

The parade theme in 1991? The Bounty.

The parade theme in 1991? The Bounty.

And as of this evening, the stands and stalls and rides were pretty much all in place — like the huge bumper-car ride that dominates La Place de la Liberté, Daglan’s main square. Here it is, just behind that black car moving along the street:

A ride in the main square of Daglan, France, as part of the summer festival, August 2014.

The bumper cars are all set to go.

Aside from the rides (and the noise from the speakers attached to the rides, which play all night long), what’s involved?

Well, on Friday (Aug. 22), there’s the “festive meal” starting at 8 p.m., followed by a musical show. Then on Saturday, there’s an afternoon pétanque tournament; games for children; a dinner; and then a rock concert starting at 10 p.m. On Sunday, there’s the afternoon parade, which I consider the best part of the whole festival, since it’s typically a wacky affair; as an example, here’s a photo from last year’s parade, showing Daglan’s main street covered in foam from one of the floats:

A foamy coating on Daglan's main street.

A foamy coating on Daglan’s main street.

Late on Sunday evening there’s a pretty good fireworks show, and on Monday the whole festival concludes with a bike race (that draws scant attention) and a final dance (a Bal Musette) in the evening.

This year’s parade theme promises to encourage full-blown, over-the-top wackiness. It’s Carnaval. Yikes!

A final, personal note: My wife Jan and I are “all set to go” as well. We’re off to Paris and Normandy tomorrow morning, very early. So we’ll be missing the festival. (Drat.) But we’re sure to get a full report from the young woman who’s looking after our house, and our cat Scooter, while we’re away.

 

Posted in Festivals in France, French food, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Busy market, big haul

After a spell of rainy weather, today turned out to be sunny — and so of course Daglan’s Sunday market was packed. At this point in August, it’s fair to say that we’re at the absolute peak of the tourist season.

Here’s a look at the market action, in Place de la Liberté, at about 11 this morning:

Daglan's weekly market in action.

Here’s another look at the market, where the focus is on food products — from cheeses to honey to fruits and vegetables and sausages:

Another view of the market action.

Another view of the market action.

Earlier in the morning, my wife Jan returned from a short shopping trip to report that the melon man from the Lot, the département just south of us, also was selling green beans grown in his own garden.  Here’s his table:

The melon man from the Lot.

The melon man from the Lot.

However, Jan wasn’t allowed to buy just enough beans for the two of us at one meal — the melon man’s  rule was that you had to buy a whole kilogram of the beans. So she did, impressed that the price was just 2.5 euros for the whole bag. At the same time, she also bought a melon, and a small basket of strawberries. Here’s the haul:

That's a full kilo of garden-fresh green beans.

That’s a full kilo of garden-fresh green beans.

And the disposition of all this? First, we had a good serving of green beans with today’s lunch of roast magret (duck breast) with blueberry sauce and whipped potatoes; the beans were delicious. (Jan gave the remainder of the beans to our neighbour Françoise, who is currently hosting several family members.) Next, we had the strawberries with a serving of Jan’s own semifreddo for dessert. As for the melon, I suspect it will show up at breakfast tomorrow morning.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Name this insect!

In case you missed the news, Daglan now has another nice spot where you can relax with a coffee or cold drink, or enjoy a light lunch.

At one end of the village, there’s Le Thé Vert, the popular tearoom that’s been operating for some years. And now in the centre of the village, across from the post office, there’s the patio beside the boutique of Fabrice le Chef. The shop itself is a year-round venture run by Fabrice and his wife Samantha, but the patio is available for just the two top months of our tourist season, July and August.

In any case, my wife Jan and I were having coffee recently on Fabrice le Chef’s patio when we spotted an unusual, and apparently quite friendly, visitor: a metallic-blue insect that kept flying around near us, even landing on my hand.

Our first thought is that it was a type of dragonfly. But having done a bit of Internet research, I suspect it could have been a damselfly. Perhaps a male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)? Or maybe a Common Blue Damselfly?

Here he is, seated with wings tightly folded, on a red-leafed plant beside our table. You be the judge:

The little blue fellow is seated on a red leaf.

The little blue fellow is seated on a red leaf.

If you recognize him, let us all know by leaving a note in Comments (below). But sorry, no prizes available.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments