Lunches galore, with an anniversary celebration

We’ve just finished a fairly whirlwind three-day visit with my sister Karen and her husband Mark, culminating in a wonderful lunch at Carsac’s O Moulin restaurant, where Jan and I celebrated their anniversary as well as our own. Both anniversaries come before the end of the month, and are just a week apart.

Karen and Mark live in Florida, and are well-travelled to say the least. Their latest jaunt took them to Spain and then Sarlat in the Dordogne (just 30 minutes or so from Daglan), which served as their base for a week-long tour of historic sites around the area. We picked them up on Friday morning, and headed right for our village.

Our first lunch together was that Friday, where we enjoyed a meal at the ever-dependable Tournepique, in Castelnaud. On Saturday, Karen had wanted to visit Château des Milandes, one of our area’s best tourist destinations, which for some reason had not been included in their week-long tour.

Karen and Mark toured the château, which as you may know was the long-time home of Josephine Baker, and then we four had a pleasant outdoor lunch at the château’s very good brasserie. After that came the 3 p.m. showing and demonstration of the château’s birds of prey.

For Sunday’s lunch, we pulled out the stops in celebration of our forthcoming anniversaries, asking our charming hostess Cécile Guerin to bring us a bottle of Taittinger champagne. That went nicely with our amuse-bouches, which included a Mimosa d’oeuf, as Cécile called it. Now I know mimosa as the name for a drink, so this was new to me; it was a warm and foamy concoction in which you could taste the yolk as well as the egg whites. Unusual and very good. Have a look:

This eggy creation was warm and smooth and delicious.

As an entrée, three of us had what’s described on the menu as Gambas façon thaï, sauce homardine et crème de coco — that is, Thai-style large prawns in a savoury lobster sauce with lots of Thai flavours, sprinkled lightly with toasted peanuts. The dish included layer upon layer of flavours, the prawns were perfectly cooked, the sauce was delicious, and we could have eaten serving after serving. Here’s my bowl:

Prawns in a sweet Thai sauce.

For our plat principal, Jan and I had the roast filet of beef with a selection of vegetables and a red wine sauce. Once again, an outstanding dish:

When I made the reservation, I hadn’t mentioned our forthcoming anniversaries, but I did once we were seated. So on that short notice, Chef Nicolas Aujoux came up with candles for each of our desserts, and created small Joyeux Anniversaire badges made of chocolate. Here’s Jan’s dessert — a deconstructed strawberry tarte:

Jan’s deconstructed strawberry tarte.

As for my dessert, well, I’m pretty well unable to order anything other than a chocolate treat, and this dish had all I could possibly want:

Chocolate, chocolate and, well, more chocolate.

The whirlwind continued yesterday morning, as we all had to rise at the crack of dawn to drive Karen and Mark to the Gourdon train station, headed for Paris and ultimately, a flight home to Florida. I think I napped a lot that day.

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A sunny start for Daglan’s new café/bar

This morning the sky is grey and full of rain, but yesterday was beautifully sunny and warm. And it turned out to be a perfect day for the “inauguration” of Fabrice Lemonnier’s new café/bar, L’Annexe.

I introduced you to L’Annexe just a few days ago (May 8) in my posting “At last — an afternoon place with promise.” My summation: “The plan is for L’Annexe to offer a completely casual eating and drinking experience. L’Annexe has been granted a Licence IV, which means it can offer bar service, so that customers will not need to order food. But there will be food on offer — easy dishes like tapas, burgers, pizzas, and ice cream.”

Jan had bumped into Chef Fabrice yesterday morning, who said his new place would be unveiled at 6 p.m. So, naturally, we were there a bit early (to make sure we could get a parking spot), and things just weren’t quite ready. So we waited out front for several minutes, chatting with a French couple who had also arrived ahead of time. And then we were in.

I’ll start with a photo of the inside of the café/bar, which shows the bar itself, with Fabrice in the background (in chef’s whites, of course) and one of his staff members in the centre of the photo. Everyone was focussed on getting the place ready — arranging the trays of hors d’oeuvres, putting bottles of wine into ice water, and so on.

You can see how bright it is, outside the place.

Aside from serving drinks and food, L’Annexe also features a wide number of specialty food products for sale. They include a variety of sauces, mustards, and so on. Here’s a look at the shelves:

A nice variety of products on offer.

After things settled down, Jan and I moved outside to one of the many picnic benches, and joined a group of friends and neighbours. And then the drinks arrived — poured freely, free of charge, which I think are some of the best things you can say for servings of rosé wine. Here’s our table, being served:

Olives were for munching along with the wine.

As time went on, two more good things happened: The servers started bringing out trays of complimentary snacks, including (my favourite) little paper trays holding pieces of char-grilled sausage with crispy fries; and more and more people arrived. By the time Jan and I said our good-byes, around 7:30, it looked like every table was filled:

The crowd of people kept the servers busy.

Last night’s event was actually just the “inauguration” or “dry run” of L’Annexe, rather than the “official opening.” That is still a few days away, as chef Fabrice awaits some last pieces of equipment for the kitchen. Then he plans to start serving food, as well as beer and wine. To us, it looks like L’Annexe got off to a good start, and should act as a magnet for cyclists and other tourist, as well as locals, as the summer season arrives.

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At last — an afternoon place with promise

For far too long, Daglan has had no café or bar — a place where bicycle riders and other tourists, not to mention villagers, could order a drink without having to buy food. We have two restaurants, but they are required to provide meals with any alcoholic drinks that customers order. But the situation is about to change.

In the past, Daglan had Le Thé Vert at the south end of the village (in the direction of St. Pompon), which offered meals but also a terrace where you could order a coffee or cold drink or ice cream. But the tea room closed when owners Judith and Paul moved to Scotland; their large renovated home is now, once again, a home.

When Jan and I bought our Daglan home in 2004, L’Auberge de Céou (almost straight across the road from Le Thé Vert) was still operating as a hotel, restaurant and bar; but it soon closed. Then there was a succession of owners, none very successful. At its peak, the Café de la Fleur (as it came to be called) served not-very-good food but at least offered a terrace where people could gather and enjoy an afternoon drink. The building has been vacant for quite some time — a particular shame, since it’s one of the first things you see as you enter Daglan on the main road that crosses the Céou River.

Now comes Fabrice Lemonnier, the chef whose La Cantine operates in the very centre of the village, just metres from the Mayor’s office. I last wrote about the restaurant on April 5, in the posting “A nice surprise at Daglan’s La Cantine.”

Planned to open this week is Chef Lemonnier’s new venture, L’Annexe. It’s located roughly in-between the locations of Le Thé Vert and Café de la Fleur, in a disused building.

The plan is for L’Annexe to offer a completely casual eating and drinking experience. L’Annexe has been granted a Licence IV, which means it can offer bar service, so that customers will not need to order food. But there will be food on offer — easy dishes like tapas, burgers, pizzas, and ice cream.

Here’s a look at the front of the café, on the main road that eventually leads to St. Pompon:

The view from the main street.

At the back of the café is a large area fitted with picnic tables, some on gravel, and some on grass. The idea is that customers can carry their refreshments out of the café and plunk down at a table. In the sunshine (which we’re getting a lot of), this should be fairly delightful. Fingers are crossed that all goes well.

Just a few of the picnic tables at the back.

In other food news: Loyal readers of Radio Free Daglan will know at least two things about me: I spent most of my life in Toronto, and my wife and I love fine dining. In fact, the word “Michelin” may be one of the most common company names in all my postings.

And now we’ve learned that the Michelin guide is being launched in Canada for the first time, with a guide to the restaurants of Toronto. The official announcement is planned for Tuesday, with celebrity chef Daniel Boulud (owner of a starred restaurant) taking part in the ceremony. My friend Dave in Toronto has predicted that two of his favourite restaurants, Alo and George, are well positioned to be given a star. We shall see!

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The right vine does the right thing

This is the time of year in the Greater Daglan Area when I can count on at least two things: incredibly variable weather (today happens to be sunny, but just wait) and the chance to write about the vines at the front of our house.

Here’s how I began a posting in 2021 (March 22): “Pretty much each spring I provide a report on our two glycine — that would be wisteria vines, in English — to indicate not only how the vines themselves are growing, but to give you a snapshot of our weather.”

Earlier this year, we had both vines professionally pruned. Our gardening friend Mick did a careful and calculated job of pruning each vine at exactly the right spot. So we were hopeful that this kind of treatment would encourage the reluctant vine on the left (as you face our house) to blossom beautifully.

Well, that didn’t work. The vine on the left is now fully covered in abundant branches of green leaves, but no flowers. (My wife Jan believes it will flower next year.) However, the far better behaved vine on the right has continued its record of doing the right thing — namely, sprouting long hanging trails of purple flowers. And here’s a look:

Not outstanding, but a decent performance.

There are wisteria at various homes and businesses near us that produce far more abundant crops of flowers, but at least one of our vines is doing its best.

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A (very) fresh take on slipperies

Slipperies. That’s what our Toronto friends tend to call oysters (for obvious reasons), and slipperies are something they order fairly regularly. Since Jan and I are fans of oysters as well, we also order fresh slipperies (served on the half shell, with a squirt of lemon) when we get the chance. But during a recent lunch at O Moulin, in Carsac, I got quite a surprise when I chose oysters for my entrée.

For this lunch, we were with good friends Elisabeth and Gerhard. After ordering a kir to begin, we four chatted away about the choices on the 49-euro menu. I think I spent most of my decision-making capacity trying to choose between the roast lamb and the fish as my main course (I went with the lamb).

But for me, picking the entrée was easy: I saw the words Huitres fines de Claire No. 2, and stopped thinking. I had noted quickly on the menu that there was some mention of a sauce, but I figured that the sauce would be something poured over the half-dozen oysters I was expecting.

Wrong.

What was set down before me looked like a small tidal pool, nestled in a bowl. There was a foamy sauce surrounding the food at the centre, and the scene was dotted with small orange pieces of coral, which were actually made of crispy pastry. Here it is:

Poached oysters at the centre of a sea scene.

When I later went back to check the restaurant’s online menu, I found that after Huitres fines de Claire No.2 came the words … servies tiède. Sauce Monbazillac et viandes des grisons séchées. That is, the oysters were served warm (having been poached), and the sauce was made with the sweet Monbazillac wine from the Bergerac area. Also on the dish were tiny pieces of grisons, a cured, air-dried beef product made in Switzerland.

It was delightful and delicious, as well as surprising. And it just confirmed, once again, that Nicolas Aujoux is one terrifically creative, and artistic, chef.

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A nice surprise at Daglan’s La Cantine

Jan and I were planning to have lunch last Saturday with our friend Joanne, but we were a bit stumped when it came to choosing the right spot. Joanne and I had been to O Moulin (on Thursday), and Jan and Joanne had eaten at Sawadee (on Friday). For Saturday, we wanted someplace nearby, and so somewhat reluctantly we settled on La Cantine, the casual restaurant of Fabrice Lemonnier, adjacent to the Mayor’s office in the centre of Daglan.

I say “reluctantly” because we had thought that the menu would be the somewhat ordinary weekday menu, which costs only 16 euros and features what I would call fairly “plain” food — like a menu ouvrier. As it turned out, we were in for a nice surprise.

First of all, it turns out that the menu changes completely for the weekend (and evenings), and the cost of a meal goes up to 29 euros. But there was a nice range of choices for each course, and so we stayed put. And were glad that we did.

We began with a kir while we considered the menu choices, written on a large blackboard. And then the food started arriving — beginning with this amuse bouche:

A nice combination of flavours.

The small bowl contained an amazingly hot, creamy velouté of potimarron (a type of chestnut-flavoured winter squash, popular in France) spiced with cumin, with a dollop of dark green arugula oil on top. The oil added a surprising and unusual flavour.

Then came our entrées: six oysters for Jan, and a serving of foie gras mi-cuit for Joanne and me. The foie was served with some spicy accompaniments and a small salad that had been tossed with a sweet balsamic dressing. Here’s my plate:

Foie gras with accompaniments.

For the plat principal, Jan ordered a steak with blue cheese sauce (and loved the tender meat), while Joanne and I each had the croustillant d’agneau — a generous piece of tender, slow-cooked lamb with a rich gravy and small pieces of carrot, encased in brick pastry (similar to phyllo pastry) The meat sat on top of creamy whipped potatoes. Here’s my serving:

Pretty much the star of the show.

For dessert, Jan and Joanne had the spiced poached pear; both women were quite happy. I generally can’t resist chocolate, so I had this fondant au chocolat-– a small cake from which melted chocolate flowed wonderfully, just as it should:

I love when the molten chocolate oozes out.

After our coffees, we headed home, to rest, and digest — well satisfied indeed.

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Touches of spring, glimpses of fine dining

One of the surest signs of spring’s arrival is the sudden profusion of tulips — my favourite flower. They have been showing up all over, not just in nurseries and florist shops but also as cut flowers in supermarkets.

Recently Jan bought these beauties at Daglan’s own convenience store, which will always be known to us at the 8 à Huit (despite being renamed with the simply awful Proxi). And to brighten your day, here’s a look at the collection on our dining table:

Bursts of colour on our dining table.

On an un-related but equally pleasant note, we have been able to start indulging in the fine dining that we love so much. Yesterday it was lunch at the much-heralded O Moulin (certainly much-heralded by me), in the nearby village of Carsac. My companion yesterday was our good friend Joanne, as Jan was feeling a bit under the weather. And here are some glimpses of the artistry that the chef at O Moulin brings to his food.

First of all, we were served a tray of small amuses bouche. There were small pastry cups filled with a mousse of foie gras, and thin slices of toast that were topped with a stripe of puréed red peppers, among others. Then came this interesting presentation, a nest of cones flavoured by beets and filled with a sweet confit of red onions at the base, and topped with a mousse of goat cheese:

Crunchy cones, with creamy fillings.

For some reason I neglected to photograph my plat principal, a pavé of salmon that was roasted and then served on a small bed of cabbage that had been cooked with smoked lard, plus tender baby carrots, and a Noilly Prat sauce. Trust me: It looked and tasted great.

I did photograph the entrée that both Joanne and I chose: Something called a Baluchon d’oeuf poché à la pancetta, crème de comté affiné12 mois. My translation would be something like “A package of poached egg with tiny shreds of pancetta and a creamy sauce of 12-month old Comté cheese.” Of course the egg was soft-boiled, so that the yellow yolk flowed out as a delicious sauce when you cut into it. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the tiny bits of pancetta were incorporated into the outer layer of the egg — but I was glad they were there. The whole dish was delicious:

A savoury, creamy start to our lunch.

We closed out the lunch with different desserts — Joanne having chosen the profiteroles, while I had the cheesecake with a déclinaison of pear. The individual cheesecake (at the left in this photo) was lightly coated with an icing; the cylinder in the centre was the pear; and the quenelle on the right was made of a delicious vanilla ice cream:

A study in creamy colours.

We each had a kir to begin, shared a bottle of Sancerre with the meal, and had coffees afterwards. The total cost per person was 65 euros, which I think was more than fair for such a delicious meal in such a pleasant environment.

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Ah! Comfort food from Thailand, once more

Spring brings many joyous changes — from flowers popping out of the ground. to more flowers lighting up shrubs and trees, to a welcome rise in temperatures. (Today we hit the magic mark of 20 degrees Celsius, with lots of sunshine.) But there’s another spring event that Jan and I always await anxiously: The re-opening of the Thai restaurant Sawadee, in nearby Cénac, after its winter shutdown.

So this past Sunday we met up with friends Nancy and Iain at the restaurant, had a great time catching up with the news, and enjoyed our wonderful meals.

For Jan and me, the choice was pretty easy: It just had to be Sawadee’s Pad Thai au poulet, which is about the best I’ve had anywhere. Perfectly cooked bits of chicken and vegetables, mixed throughout the noodles, with a slightly sweet and rich sauce, and sprinkled with chopped peanuts.

I’ve written often about Sawadee, so I won’t go on and on. And I’m pretty sure I’ve shown off photos of this favourite dish on Radio Free Daglan in the past. But what the heck — it’s a great meal, and so here’s my serving:

Delicious? You bet!

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Daglan does it again!

It’s been a busy, and fruitful, time for our little village lately. On Sunday, we had what seemed like a highly successful spring festival (about which, more later). And then yesterday as I drove back into Daglan from an appointment in Sarlat, I saw public confirmation that we had indeed been awarded our third flower (out of a maximum of four) in the nationwide Villes et Villages Fleuris program.

There are Villes et Villages Fleuri signs at each major entrance to Daglan. The one I noticed first was at the bridge that crosses the Céou River. And this is the sign you’ll see as you enter the village from the other direction, coming south from St. Cybranet:

Three flowers acquired — can we get a fourth?

As I’ve written previously, the program is ambitious and all-encompassing. It’s meant to encourage cities and villages to improve conditions for their citizens; it’s not simply about planting lots of flowers. It takes into account all kinds of conditions and services — overall cleanliness, reduction or elimination of the use of pesticides, parking for the handicapped, and much more. As you can see across the bottom of the sign — Le Label National de la Qualité de Vie — the national program is really about “the quality of life.” So again, congratulations to the administration of Daglan, from the Mayor on down, for all their dedication and effort.

A final note on this subject: When I did a bit of research, I found that there are just seven villages in the département of the Dordogne which have earned three flowers, and Daglan is the second smallest, with its 546 inhabitants. The only smaller three-flowered village is Saint-Jean-de-Cole, in the north of the Dordogne, with just 349 citizens.

The big event on Sunday was the Spring Festival, or Fête du printemps. As I wrote in an earlier posting, “I think Daglan’s festival is one of the earliest of the region’s marché aux fleurs. It’s a chance for nurseries and other growers to take over the village streets with their stalls, and sell just about every kind of plant imaginable. Not just flowers, but vines, shrubs, small trees, and vegetables.”

To my eye, it looked like the best attended Spring Festival so far, but I don’t think anyone actually counts visitors. A friend of ours who is a long-time resident of the area told us today that there were fewer vendors than in the festivals held before Covid struck. But it sure seemed busy to me. In any case, I thought this view of a special parking lot — which is basically a little used soccer pitch outside the village, on the other side of the river — tells quite a story:

An awful lot of cars, it seems.

With stalls all through the village, and pedestrians wandering out into the main street, it was quite an ordeal to drive through Daglan on Sunday. But it was just a one-day event, and the visitors seemed to be having a good time — and making a lot of purchases. To close out this posting, here is just one stand of plants, in the centre of the village:

One of the many stands set up to sell plants.
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The blooming begins!

The sun is shining brightly and the sky is a clear blue as I write this on a late Sunday afternoon. Yes, spring is in the air.

Around here, among the first spring blooms we see are on trees and shrubs — forsythia for sure is an early arrival, but there are others. Like this tree in a field just on the outskirts of Daglan:

The flowers are starting to show themselves.

Which brings me to a bit of news: The village’s Spring Festival, or Fête du printemps, is set for two weeks from today, or March 20.

I think Daglan’s festival is one of the earliest of the region’s marché aux fleurs. It’s a chance for nurseries and other growers to take over the village streets with their stalls, and sell just about every kind of plant imaginable. Not just flowers, but vines, shrubs, small trees, and vegetables. If you’re in the area and are planning your garden for this year, it’s worth having a look. You could well get some good ideas, and you may even head home with a carful of plants.

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