Mexican? Well, actually, no

Regular readers with good memories may recall that in my last posting, I wrote that my wife Jan and I would be enjoying a Father’s Day lunch today (Sunday) at the new Mexican restaurant that was just opening in Saint-Laurent-la-Vallée.

Well, we didn’t. But it wasn’t our fault.

After receiving written confirmation of our reservation, I received another note from the restaurant (Maria Bonita, shown below) apologizing for not being able to accept us for lunch — because the restaurant had not yet received official approval to serve food. So initially, only the bar would be open to the public.

This is where we didn’t go for lunch.

We still wanted to have lunch at a nice restaurant, and so I made a reservation for today at Chez les Filles, the restaurant part of the hotel-restaurant La Traverse, in neighbouring Cénac. And it all went very well.

For one thing, service is prompt and friendly. We were quickly served the kir we ordered, and then received an amuse-bouche of mousse flavoured with beets and tiny chunks of cucumber.

Jan skipped the special menu and went directly for a steak served with frites as her plat principal (no entrée), and pronounced the steak very tasty and the frites nice and hot and crispy. I chose from the special menu, La Folie des Chefs, with three courses.

My entrée was this attractive plate of gravlax, served with lots of fresh dill and a crunchy fennel salad in a sweet-and-sour dressing:

As good as it was good-looking.

My plat was a serving of lieu noir (a fish similar to cod) served with a sauce vierge (olive oil, lemon juice and chopped tomato and basil), some very fine ratatouille, and a small pot of wild rice. It was all delicious, and looked good too, as you can see:

A very good mix of flavours.

For dessert, Jan had a serving of crème brùlée, while I had three profiteroles, filled with vanilla ice cream, and accompanied by a pot of warm chocolate sauce. Yummy.

And the price? My three-course meal was just 24 euros. And for everything — the amuse-bouches, two kirs, a bottle of rosé wine plus two extra glasses of rosé, my special-menu meal, and Jan’s steak plus dessert, and then two coffees to finish things off — the total came in at just under 100 euros. So this is a place to add to your list of go-to regulars.

 

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And now for something completely different

The Greater Daglan Area — like much of Europe — tends to favour local flavours. In other words, you won’t have much luck finding German, Italian, Spanish or Chinese restaurants in rural France. (Okay, there are a lot of pizza places, but not full-blown Italian restaurants.)

It’s not completely impossible, of course. As regular readers will know, my wife Jan and I are particularly fond of the authentic Thai restaurant Sawadee, in neighbouring Cénac. So are many of our friends and visitors.

Still, you can imagine that I was somewhat incredulous when I learned that a Mexican restaurant would be opening in the small village of Saint-Laurent-la-Vallée, about 10 kilometres from Daglan. Mexican? In little Saint-Laurent?

But it seems to be true, as we discovered when we drove by the restaurant that was previously Lou Cigalou, which featured traditional southwest-France fare. Here’s the front of the building, with its new sign — Maria Bonita, Le Bistrot:

Hola! It’s opening soon.

It’s opening soon (this coming Friday), and Jan and I have already reserved there for Sunday lunch. Stayed tuned for our report.

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A tale of two (very different) lunches

Regular readers of Radio Free Daglan will certainly know by now that it’s possible to eat very, very well in the Greater Daglan Area. Our experiences over the past few days have confirmed that truism at both ends of the price-per-meal spectrum. Let’s have a look.

I’ll begin with the casual lunch that my wife Jan and I had with great friends Keith and Kathy, visiting from Toronto, at Le Tournepique, the Basque restaurant in Castelnaud, about 10 kilometres north of Daglan. (I’ve written about the place quite often, so I won’t go into details here.)

As their main course, Keith, Kathy and Jan shared a serving of la potence de bœuf (beef gallows), which consists of pieces of grilled steak, hanging from a special holder, and flamed at the table. Here’s the spectacle:

Steak that’s hot, hot, hot.

As for me, I had one of my favourite dishes at the restaurant — a Basque omelette, filled with a delicious sauce made with onions, peppers and tomatoes. It’s as large as it is good, as you can see:

Perfectly made, in the Basque style.

Why is Le Tournepique one of our regular, go-to places? The food is terrific; there’s lots of choice on the menu; the place is spotless and comfortable; there’s a great view of the Dordogne River; and the service is both friendly and professional.

At the other (high-priced) end of the restaurant spectrum is Le Gindreau, which has (quite rightly) earned two Michelin stars. It’s in the hamlet of Saint-Médard in the Lot, the département south of the Dordogne. That’s a 45-minute drive from downtown Daglan, and we were there last Sunday, again with Keith and Kathy.

Because I’ve written about this restaurant often as well, I won’t go into great detail, nor show off each dish (of many). But here are some highlights to illustrate the lengths that a two-Michelin-starred restaurant will go to dazzle its clients.

We begin with a look at the creation that was brought to our table holding a selection of delicate, unusual and delicious amuse-bouches:

Quite the selection — and serving piece.

After munching our way through the amuse-bouches, we all had a complimentary bowl of soup. Then I had a complex entrée featuring, among other things, crisp pork belly and smoked fish, and then a rich dish of veal liver as my plat principal. The soup, starter and main course were all incredibly rich and delicious, but didn’t photograph well, as they were all quite dark. Instead, I’ll show off the dessert that both Keith and I ordered:

Crunchy, creamy, and full of chocolate.

As you can probably tell, it was a chocolate-lover’s delight. And then, just to drive home the point about the delights of chocolate, we received a serving tray of mignardises, with a large ball of chocolate in the centre. In this photo, I managed to capture the moment that our server’s wooden mallet was just about to hit the top of the chocolate ball (is there any chance for the Action Photographer of the Year Award?):

Down comes the wooden mallet.

And when the chocolate ball was broken, see what was inside — candied orange peel!

Choice chocolate chunks.

We left Le Gindreau a bit lighter in our wallets, but definitely happy. As my great-grandmother would have said, in her understated way: “Well, if we never eat any worse than this, we’ll be okay.”

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Restaurants in the Lot | 4 Comments

Our new truffle market — Part II

Yesterday my wife Jan made scrambled eggs for breakfast, and they were particularly delicious. How so? Because she had grated lots and lots of summer truffle into the egg mixture — from a truffle we had bought the day before.

And it looks as if  Daglan’s first summer truffle market (held on Sunday morning) has started a fine new weekly tradition for the village.

To the surprise of some, the truffle market was located a bit off- piste, in the courtyard of Daglan’s primary school, rather than in the main square (where the regular Sunday market was in full swing). It’s easy enough to find, but some locals still weren’t sure. To orient you, here’s the entrance to the school yard, immediately next to the village Mairie:

 

The schoolyard entrance.

The market consisted of two long tables — on the left, the truffle vendors with their baskets and weigh scales, and on the right a table bearing various snacks and drinks. Here’s how it looked on Sunday morning:

Vendors on the left, snacks on the right.

And here’s a closer look at some of the truffle vendors,  chatting amongst themselves:

Tables of truffles — and scales.

I went to the market first, and was quite pleased to buy a reasonably large truffle for just 10 euros — something like a quarter of what I had expected to pay. When Jan found out how reasonable the prices were, she went to the market for herself and bought an even larger truffle, for 13 euros.

And what do you do with summer truffles? Well, you can slice them thinly over just about any dish you like — scrambled eggs, pasta, and so on. You can also make truffle butter, like the mixture shown below, which was spread onto slices of baguette and offered for free at the truffle market snack table:

Bread and (very special) butter.

Jan’s method of making (and preserving) truffle butter starts with softening a good amount of butter in a bowl. When it’s easy to mix with a fork, you start grating the truffle over the butter (she uses a Microplane, to get really small flecks), and then stirring it in.

Keep grating and mixing until the butter is clearly showing lots and lots of dark flecks. Then roll the butter into a log shape, wrap it in waxed paper or cling film, and freeze it.

That way, you can store it for a long time, and simply slice off just the right amount to finish your mashed potatoes, or green beans, or grilled steaks — in other words, just about anything that would work well with the mild taste of summer truffle. And enjoy!

 

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Our new truffle market — Part I

Daglan is about to launch a new market — one featuring the summer truffle, or tuber aestivum, also known as the burgundy truffle. (Evidently the summer truffle and burgundy truffle are somewhat different looking, with different growing seasons, but science has proven that they are, deep down, the same species.) In fact, the start for our market is tomorrow (Sunday, June 3) at 11 a.m.

Here’s a bit of background on the summer truffle, which I’ve lifted from Wikipedia:

The flavor, size and color of summer truffles …  is similar to that of burgundy truffles, but their aroma is less intense and the flesh … is a paler hazel color.

As their name suggests, summer truffles are harvested earlier than burgundy truffles, from May to August. They are most often found in the southern part of the distribution area of the species, notably in the Mediterranean climate area of France, Italy and Spain.

To publicize the new event, the village has put up this large sign above a parking area just as you enter Daglan, after crossing the Pont Neuf:

The sign as you enter Daglan.

And this sign was hung high above the Place de la Liberté, our main square. It points out that the actual market will be held in the courtyard of our elementary school, which lies between the Mairie (Mayor’s Office) and La Cantine, the restaurant of Fabrice (Le Chef) Lemonnier. We intend to be there, and will report on how the launch went. We will also, on a day to be determined, be making truffle butter. More on that later as well.


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Restaurant Eléonore, take 2

A couple of weeks ago, I described an enjoyable journey that we took from Daglan to Monpazier (“A lovely market-day lunch,” May 14). I went on to suggest that if you were looking for a good place to visit on a Thursday, Monpazier would be it — offering a double treat. Here’s how I put it:

Treat No. 1 is that Thursday is market day in Monpazier, and the central square is always filled with stalls — with vendors offering everything from vegetables to jewellery.

Treat No. 2 is that you could try the special lunch (served only on Thursdays) at Restaurant Eléonore in the Hôtel Edward 1, a charming hotel named for the English king who founded Monpazier in 1284.

Today we did it again, with great friends Keith and Kathy from Toronto, and all of us agreed that Restaurant Eléonore is a most pleasant lunch destination.

The four of us began with cocktails in the bar, and then went in to the dining room itself. The menu is set, although Chef did alter some dishes to provide a completely gluten-free meal for my wife Jan. The entrée was oeufs en mimosa, which consisted of a hard-boiled egg, drizzled with a green herbal sauce and placed atop a nice selection of garden herbs. Here’s my plate:

Egg with herbs — fresh!

The main course, or plat principal, was a pavé or square of merlu (hake, a member of the cod family), stacked with a variety of vegetables and napped with a beurre blanc sauce. Here’s my serving:

A stacked seafood creation.

With these courses we enjoyed a well-chilled Sancerre, and then finished our meal with large servings of tiramisu with lots of dark chocolate, and coffees.

Price for the three courses is just 24.50 euros, and so this is a lunch that’s as reasonable as it is enjoyable. Do give it a try!

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A relaxed luncheon to end anniversary week

A little more than a week ago (Monday, May 21) we marked our 30th wedding anniversary (thank you, thank you very much) and I wrote about our celebratory lunch that kicked off the week. This was at the Michelin-starred Le Grand Bleu in Sarlat, and I described the lunch in my last posting, “Dish du jour — 20-05-2018.”

This past Sunday, we concluded our anniversary week with a meal of a different sort. It was a casual lunch of oysters, accompanied by a nice bottle of Chablis, at La Cantine, the restaurant of Fabrice (Le Chef) Lemonnier. La Cantine is located on Daglan’s main street, next to the Mairie.

Of particular note is that our lunch treat was an anniversary gift — a bottle of vino and two dozen oysters, arranged with Fabrice long-distance by a wonderful group of close friends in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake, the old stomping grounds for my wife Jan and me.

So what do two dozen oysters look like? Well, pretty much like this:

What two dozen look like.

More importantly, how did the oysters taste? Well, they were wonderful — deliciously fresh, full of the flavour of the sea. Oyster lovers may want to know that they were Charente-Maritime No. 3s, from a producer on the Ile d’Oléron. (Oléron, just off the Atlantic coast, is France’s second largest island, after Corsica. Just thought you’d want to know.)

Then, to finish off the meal, we shared a cheese plate (well, I had most of the cheeses) and then had coffees. Here’s the cheese selection:

Cheeses? How French!

We ate outside the restaurant, which would have been more pleasant if it hadn’t been raining. But then, we are having quite a rainy time of it these days. I can see my skin getting darker, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a tan — I think it’s rust.

 

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