A wet fête turns sunny

For a few days, I had been worried about today’s Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival (Sunday, March 18). Why? Simply because of the weather forecast, which was calling for quite chilly and wet (or at least overcast) conditions. Sadly, the forecast was correct, at first.

This was Daglan’s third such festival, which has included a variety of activities (including a lunch) but which is primarily a chance for gardeners to stock up on this spring’s flowers, trees, flowering trees, shrubs and other plants.

Around noon today, I went up to our main square, the Place de la Liberté, for a look around, and as I walked out our front door, a bit of drizzle started coming down. Still, there were some lovely flowers for sale, like this row of plants, placed in front of the village church:

A good selection of bright flowers.

In several locations through the village, there were stalls selling shrubs and small trees, like this collection:

On offer, ornamental shrubs and plants.

And despite the somewhat gloomy weather, there were a fair number of buyers around, checking the merchandise:

There’s buyers under those umbrellas.

The really good news is that as the afternoon wore on, the gloomy weather wore off. Eventually we were all bathed in sunshine, and it looked to my wife Jan and me that the Spring Festival had again been a success.

All along the village’s main road, families were strolling and checking out the wide variety of merchandise available — not just plants, but wine, home-baked breads, dried fruits, leather purses, cotton candy, honey, and much more. Cars were parked all over the place, and the restaurant of Fabrice le Chef seemed to be packed, both inside and out.

This looks like an event worth keeping.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Springing (at last) into Spring

It’s been anything but a typical GDA winter, as we endured some brutally cold weather (although, thankfully, no snow).  But the Greater Daglan Area is now starting to shake all that off, and spring into spring.

As is usually the case, forsythia shrubs provide the first clear signs that warmer weather is on its way. Here’s how one particularly good forsythia (it’s in a nicely sheltered location) looked today:

It’s quite a big specimen.

The weather has been typically spring-like for quite a few days — alternating between bright sunshine and rain, sometimes with gusts of wind, other times with completely still air. On the plus side, the mix of rain and sunshine means that things are shaping up for a lot of green in the forests and fields around us.

We’re also approaching Daglan’s third annual spring festival, or La Fête du Printemps, which will take place on Sunday. There are lots of activities, but the main emphasis is on the sale of flowers, shrubs, flowering trees, vines, and so on. You can read more about the festival if you go to “Flower power, 2nd edition,” posted in March 2017.


Posted in Festivals in France, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where to lunch on a birthday (in Paris)

When last we met (on Monday, March 5, in my posting “I love Paris in the winter…”), I concluded some comments on lunch at Bofinger by writing: “This may not be fine dining, but it’s certainly dining well. We’ll save the fine dining for my next posting.” And so here we go with that next posting, to show off some very fine dining indeed at one of the French capital’s most iconic restaurants.

I confess I have “a thing” about La Tour d’Argent in Paris. My fascination or mini-obsession began years and years ago, when I discovered the venerable restaurant in some sort of thriller-type book I was reading.

As I recall, the hero of the book was chasing the bad guy through the restaurant. Seems improbable, in retrospect. In any case, there was something romantic and exciting and intriguing about the whole event, and the author’s descriptions of the restaurant itself. I can’t remember exactly why, but I do recall thinking that I had to go there one day.

The main point of this posting is to describe our birthday-celebration lunch on Saturday, February 24, for which my wife Jan and I had travelled to Paris from Daglan. But first I’ll provide some background and history.

In September 1998, Jan and I were in Paris before heading south for our bicycle trip in the Dordogne and Lot départements of southwest France. I was chatting with Tim Johnston, the noted wine-and-food expert who ran  the wine bar/café Juveniles, where we spent a rainy afternoon. He said that the best way to experience La Tour d’Argent would be at Sunday lunch.

Sadly, we didn’t have a free Sunday in Paris on that trip. So for our first meal at La Tour, we had to wait until 2000 — Sunday, September 3, 2000 to be exact. I can pinpoint this because on the bedroom wall over my night table I have a gold-framed set of mementos — a photo of me at the restaurant’s front door, a beautiful colour postcard showing the interior of the restaurant, including the view from its huge windows, and the certificate showing the number of “our” duck — the duck we had ordered for our lunch.

It was in 1890 that La Tour began giving diners the number of the duck they had ordered. In 2000, our certificate says, we had No. 918,885 — which, if you’re keeping score, came 806,734 ducks after the one served to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

It was at that first meal at La Tour that I had the chance to shake hands with Claude Terrail, the then-owner, who was walking from table to table.  M. Terrail was a tall, handsome and impeccably dressed man, who died in 2006 aged 88. His son now owns and manages the restaurant.

A couple of final notes before my actual lunch review. For years, the restaurant had three Michelin stars (the highest rating). This was lowered to two stars in 1996, and then one star in 2006, as the restaurant was seeming a bit tired, with less-than-up-to-date food. Another noteworthy point is La Tour’s brilliant location, overlooking the River Seine and the Île de la Cité. Finally, for some reason the restaurant is no longer open on Sundays. (Kind of weird, for France.)

At our recent lunch, Jan and I were with her charming cousin David and his wonderful wife Christine, and we were placed right beside one of the windows. Here’s a photo I took through the window, to show you a rather well known cathedral, to our left:

A room with a view.

And to give you a sense of the glitter and glamour of the room, and the pride of place given to ducks, here’s a view of our table setting:

A Murano glass duck is on each table.

We began our meal with a selection of amuse-bouches, all of which were very good — but I thought that one in particular was sensational: light as a feather, but somehow full of flavour. We recall it was a sort of meringue drop, flavoured with beet juice, and with a creamy filling inside.

I liked it so much that when our waiter arrived to take our food order, I pointed at the one remaining amuse and said, jokingly, “I’ll just have 100 of those.”

And sure enough, before our meal started being served, he arrived with this tray, containing four of the little gems:

Not quite 100, but a good start.

As it happens, all four of us had ordered the Autour du Déjeuner, a 105-euro lunch of three courses, but with a limited choice of dishes  (two, in fact) for each course.

At several previous meals at La Tour, I had begun  with the quenelle de brochet — a creation of finely minced pike, mixed with egg whites, formed into a quenelle (egg-like) shape and poached, and served in a rich sauce mousseline. I loved how savoury it was.

But the restaurant’s new chef, Philippe Labbé, has dramatically changed the dish, adding a fleurette sauce and smoked eggs of pike, among other things, and even changing the shape of the “quenelle.” Here’s my entrée, which I admit was very good, but which looks (to me) almost like a dessert:

A really different take on a classic.

For the plat principal, the choices were skate wing or roast duck, and all four of us naturally chose the duck. The two pieces were served with a variety of spices on top, and were completely tender and delicious. Here’s my plate:

Duck, glorious duck.

Dessert was another great treat. Mine was a sort of miniature tarte tatin — caramelized apple with crunchy wafers, served with ice cream. Here’s my plate:

A sweet and delicious combination on a plate.

Of course, we concluded lunch with a lovely selection of mignardises, the little sweet creations that are enjoyed with coffee or tea. Here’s our tray:

Sweeties for the coffee course.

And the bottom line? Well, all four of us loved it — the setting, the scenery, the service, and the food. But as our friend Keith would say, “This is not a cheap date.” The flat 105 euros for the lunch itself isn’t too bad for such a high-quality, Michelin-starred restaurant. However, the cost of the extras really mounted fast — with nosebleed prices (a cup of espresso: 12 euros!).

Oh yes — we did get small cards with the numbers of our ducks. Let the record show that for Jan and me, the count is now 1,161,618 and 1,161,620.


Posted in Food, French food, Paris restaurants, Restaurants in France | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

I love Paris in the winter…

In his famous song, Cole Porter  writes: “I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles.” Well, it wasn’t drizzling a couple of weekends ago (Feb. 23-26), when my wife Jan and I were in that wonderful city: it was absolutely freezing cold.

On the plus side, we had bright sunshine every day of our four-day get-away (to celebrate my birthday); we were accompanied by Jan’s witty and warm cousin David and his lovely and lively wife Christine; and our stay was, well, swell!

If you haven’t been to Paris, maybe a few of the following thoughts will inspire you to go. (You really should, you know.) If you’ve been, maybe you’ll recognize at least some of the reasons I love it so much, and perhaps even agree with them.

So here goes.

I love the views. Just about everywhere you look in the heart of Paris, there are wonderful views — gracious apartment buildings, lovely trees and lawns and parks, monuments and more. Because the city is laid out so well and organized so sensibly and beautifully, you are often looking at vistas along wide boulevards. Here is a view you’ll probably recognize — it’s a relatively famous tower — taken from the street-level café in our hotel, as night began to fall.

Recognize the tall structure in the centre?

I love arriving by train. On the Friday of our four-day journey, we left Daglan and travelled by train from Gourdon, as usual, and the train was (a) on time and (b) clean. As a bonus, the young couple across the aisle from us (I suspect they were university students) were well-dressed, with no visible tattoos, pleasant, and quiet spoken. So Jan and I were quite happy for several stops. Unfortunately, a young woman came aboard at a later station and sat next to Jan; the unfortunate part is that she brought a somewhat strange scent to our area — I’d say a mix of body odour and boiled turnips. But one adjusts, and in any case, we still had a pleasant trip; we drank wine and ate our picnic lunches; read our books; enjoyed the French scenery for five hours; and arrived at the increasingly bustling Gare d’Austerlitz more or less on time.

I love the intersections. This may sound goofy to anyone who has complained about traffic chaos in Paris, but I actually find the complicated intersections, with vehicles coming and going and stopping and turning and sliding past each other with bare centimetres to spare, rather amazing. Typically, we are in a taxi, so I don’t have to worry much, but traffic does make a certain amount of sense. So does the parking. (And if you’ve ever been to Rome, you’ll think that traffic in Paris is like a quiet day in a country village.)

I love the Seine. One of my favourite travel events is leaving our Paris hotel early on a Sunday morning by taxi, and heading either for the airport or the train station by starting with a drive along the Seine. I can’t think of another city that takes such glorious advantage of a river running through it.

I love the people-watching. We like staying in the 7th — the arrondissement that contains, among other things, the Tour Eiffel, the Musée Rodin, and the Musée d’Orsay — and in the evenings we will sit for hours sipping wine and munching nibblies at a café right on la place de l’École-Militaire. On cold winter evenings the terrace of the café is heated, the service is efficient, and the people-watching is just about perfect. Lots of passers-by, but not crowded up against you.

I love the food. This probably goes without saying, but the food in Paris is a major draw. At a simple level, I’ve never had better croissants than in Paris hotels and cafés. At a Michelin-starred level, well — it’s hard to beat. On this latest trip, we had a wonderful Saturday lunch at one of my favourite restaurants, but I’ll save that for a later blog posting. I’ll just highlight our Sunday lunch at one of the largest and most famous of Paris brasseries, Bofinger. Here’s a look inside:

Cosy, traditional and bustling.

Bofinger is known for both seafood and Alsatian cuisine. I’m one of those people who loves choucroute garnie — sauerkraut and boiled potatoes with a variety of sausages and other pork products — so I had to order the restaurant’s own Choucroute Bofinger. The sauerkraut was probably the best I’ve ever had — perfect texture, and pleasantly mild. Here’s my plate (but showing only a few of the meats):

Not elegant, but yummy.

This may not be fine dining, but it’s certainly dining well. We’ll save the fine dining for my next posting.


Posted in Cafés in France, Food, French food, Holidays in France, Paris restaurants, Restaurants in France, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Follow-up: The Wreck

You just might remember that on June 9 of last year (yes, that would be 2017) I posted a saucy little number that I called “The Wreck.” It was about a car that had been in an accident; then placed in a staging area for roadworks just a few kilometres from Daglan; and then seemingly abandoned.

As the weeks went by, the poor thing got more and more beat up — body bashed, windows broken. Still, it just remained. And then, finally, somebody who had either very strong arms or a big earth-moving vehicle pushed it into the woods. Here’s how it looked:

You can certainly see why I called my posting “The Wreck.”

Now, in this follow-up report, I can reveal that the ruined car has finally been taken away. I don’t know where, but here’s how its previous resting place looked this morning:

The former resting place of The Wreck.

Who took it away? The gendarmes? A salvage company? An auto enthusiast who enjoys restoring old vehicles? I doubt if we’ll ever know.


Posted in Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Back to LPP (and let the blogging begin!)

Today we return to blogging, after a lengthy winter break. And today, at lunch, my wife Jan and I returned to Le Petit Paris.

At lunch, we realized that this coming September will mark a 20-year history with Le Petit Paris, the well known restaurant at the heart of Daglan.

It was in September 1998 that six of us Canadians rode into Daglan on our bikes, on what was the last full day of our bicycle journey in the Dordogne and the Lot départements, and had lunch on the terrace of Le Petit Paris (the LPP of today’s title). Different owners back then, but a very enjoyable meal. And the village itself struck Jan and me as so lovely that, eventually, we bought a home here.

As for today, it was back to LPP for our first lunch there in a long time, and I have to say it was a great success. The reason? We chose the Menu Truffes de Daglan (or Truffle Menu) for 52 euros. Our impression of the five-course meal? Zowie!

With our opening cocktails, we were given two small but delicious amuse-bouches, including (in the glass) a foam made with (of all things) boudin noir, or black pudding. Here’s my plate:

Mousse on toast, mousse in a small glass.

The first course then arrived, and we both loved it. It was a beautiful bowl of an intense oxtail consommé, with lots of shaved black truffle, and with small breaded balls of foie gras floating at the centre. Here’s my bowl:

The flavour of the deep, dark soup was truly intense.

The seafood course came next, and it was a lovely dish of seared scallops, once again covered in shavings of black truffle, and served on a bed of salsify pieces and  napped with a rich brown sauce. Here’s my plate:

Scallops and truffles on a bed of salsify and a sauce Périgueux.

For our main courses, Jan and I both chose the turbot. Once again, it was delicious — perfectly cooked fish, covered in black truffle slices, and seated atop small pieces of a South American root vegetable (a yacon, or Peruvian ground apple) that the French call poire de terre, since it has a slightly sweet taste like pears. Here’s my serving:

The main course was turbot-charged. (Haw!)

By this point in the meal, Jan had become so full that she declined the next course — a smoothly whipped concoction of Cabécou (the well known regional goat cheese), decorated with walnut pieces and croutons and, of course, slices of black truffle. As for me, I loved my serving:

I couldn’t resist saying “Cheese, please!”

We’re almost at the end — listed on the menu as a Mojito en vacherin glacé, which made me think of some sort of rum cocktail creation, perhaps with a ball of ice cream. But a vacherin is made with meringue, and our desserts certainly had their share of meringue, and lot of frozen goodies. Have a look:

This was a lot of dessert. And delicious.

Of course we did conclude our lunch with coffees, but decided not to touch the mignardises that were served along with the coffee. By this point, both of us were too stuffed to eat much of anything.  As you can see, however, the mignardises did look tempting:

We left the sweeties untouched.

Before we leave, just a couple of extra notes. Every table was full, and as always the room was pleasantly quiet. Our hostess, Madame Guilbot (Chef’s wife) was gracious as always, and remembered with no prompting that Jan has a gluten allergy. And the young man who served us (formerly a next-door neighbour of ours) was friendly, fast and efficient. Hurray for professionalism!

So let’s add it all up. To drink, two cocktails to begin, and then a bottle of Sancerre, followed by a half bottle of Chablis. To eat: Amuse-bouches, mignardises, a five-course meal rich in black truffles.  Finally, the coffees. Total price: 175.50 euros. And I’d say,  worth every centime.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

‘Tis the season

We are slipping and sliding into winter, with frosted windows on our cars in the morning, and a fire roaring away in the living room log-burner every day. Vacationers have left, as have people who own holiday homes in the region. So in the Greater Daglan Area, ’tis the season to be shutting down.

The campgrounds have long been closed, more and more restaurants are shuttered for a month or more, and our village convenience store, the 8 à Huit, is no longer open on Mondays.

One sure sign of approaching winter is the huge amount of pruning that takes place in late autumn in the GDA, as trees are pollarded. An example is the large tree that stands in front of the restaurant Le Petit Paris, and beside the village’s war memorial. All of its smaller, longer, leaf-covered branches were chopped off recently, leaving only the nubs at the ends of main branches. Here’s a look:

A tree grows in Daglan.

In keeping with the situation, I’ve decided to take a winter break from blogging as well. So this will be my last posting until sometime next year (unless something really dramatic happens, of course).

I leave you with a final holiday-season touch, which is a look at our village’s Christmas tree, installed and decorated in the past couple of days. I think it looks just fine; how about you?

All decorated for the holidays.

And with that, there is little more to be said than “Merry Christmas! And a very Happy New Year!” Best wishes to all our readers.


Posted in Flora and fauna, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments