A chef who keeps upping his game

My wife Jan said it soon after our first dish was served at lunch last Friday: “I think Chef has upped his game.” Then she said it several more times during the meal, and again, later that afternoon. This is pretty high praise, and I agree.

Our lunch was at La Table du Marché, a restaurant in Bergerac I’ve reviewed often. While I don’t want to keep going over old topics, this is a restaurant with a chef who  deserves attention.

To refresh you, here’s a quick description, taken from my posting of April 14, 2013, “Simply superb in Bergerac:”

La Table du Marché is a relatively small restaurant, just across the street from the covered market (hence the marché) in the centre of vieux Bergerac. The style is contemporary, but comfortable. The chef and owner is a Parisian, Stéphane Cuzin, who learned his craft at starred restaurants in France and Belgium — and learned it very well. His food is clever, creative, fresh, and delicious.

This most recent visit was with friends Elisabeth and Gerhard, who had just flown in from England. The timing was perfect, as we picked them up at the Bergerac airport and then whisked ourselves off to the restaurant in Old Bergerac. It was a hot and sticky August day, but we decided to sit outside because the tables were in the shade, and our lunch was actually quite comfortable. Here’s a look back at the restaurant from our spot (we ate relatively late, so the other diners were gone by the time I took this photograph):

The view from our table, outside the restaurant.

The view from our table, outside the restaurant.

Before the meal, we each had a glass of Champagne, sipping it while munching on several tasty treats (including gluten-free alternatives for Jan), and then ordered a nice Sancerre to have with our lunch.

Surprising combinations and artful presentations are a particular feature of the food at La Table du Marché, and here’s an example — our main amuse bouche of finely minced, refreshing zucchinis (courgettes), topped with cold marinated mussels, and then a creamy mousse:

Our cool, refreshing and clever amuse bouche.

Our cool, refreshing and clever amuse bouche.

The entrée of foie gras that both Gerhard and I ordered was another great example of combinations that really worked. The walnut bread sticks looked as if they would be dry and crunchy, but in fact were moist and delicious. Inside the slice of black truffle was a quarter of an artichoke heart. And the little puddle of sweet fruit sauce was perfect with the foie itself:

A delicious garnished serving of foie gras.

A delicious garnished serving of foie gras.

Perhaps the star of the meal was the entrée ordered by Elisabeth, which was (nominally) a serving of tomatoes and mozzarella. Usually the classic Italian dish consists of alternating slices of ripe red tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese. Instead, this entrée included a creamy sauce, slices of green tomato, and more. Here it is:

This dish probably took the prize for sheer inventiveness.

This dish probably took the prize for sheer inventiveness.

For our main dishes, both Gerhard and I ordered — and were delighted with — roast Iberico pork on a bed of puréed peas. Have a look:

Very happy to put this pork on my fork.

Very happy to put this pork on my fork.

My dessert was built around four poached apricot halves, topped with ice cream — refreshing and delicious:

A fresh, sweet dessert based on apricots.

A fresh, sweet dessert based on apricots.

Even the mignardises — the little sweets served with the coffee — are clever. Chef’s version included house-made marshmallow squares and little cakes, served on a bed of popcorn. The cannelés (a traditional little cake from the Bordeaux area) were as good as ever, but the real hit was the surprisingly intense blueberry flavour of the marshmallows. Here’s our serving:

The house-made marshmallows had surprisingly intense flavour.

The house-made marshmallows had surprisingly intense flavour.

And yes, of course we’re headed back to the restaurant. Jan’s birthday is coming soon, and La Table du Marché was her pick for a celebratory lunch. It’s a drive of about an hour and a quarter from Daglan, and the food is well worth the trip.

 

Posted in French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sarlat Test, and a sad sign of our times

We are now over the hump — which is to say the peak of the Tourist Season, which in the Greater Daglan Area (GDA) runs roughly from mid-July to mid-August. You can see the cars heading back to other parts of France, the Netherlands and Great Britain, loaded to their roofs with all the possessions they hauled here a few weeks earlier.  And besides, I’ve confirmed this with the Sarlat Test.

The Sarlat Test is a simple way to measure the intensity of the Tourist Season in the GDA, and it works like this: If you can drive into Sarlat without going numb, as you inch forward in traffic, the worst is over. If you need to take a bedroll and food supplies to survive the traffic jam, the Season is still at its peak. The test is well proven (Liebstein and Stevenson, Oxford University, 2003), and our personal experience once again confirms it.

A few days ago, my wife Jan and I were foolish enough to venture into Sarlat for some shopping, and wound up having to inch forward in a traffic jam that stretched for what seemed like kilometres. But yesterday afternoon, when I drove into the town for an appointment, it was a relative breeze. So, the worst is over for 2016.

A sad sign of our times: I’m sure you’re aware of the kinds of signs that are plastered on the walls of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s waiting rooms, whether in France or elsewhere. Generally they run to the benign and more-or-less informative: The need to keep your hands scrupulously clean; the need to cover your mouth if you cough; the need for getting your flu vaccine; and so on. But in Toulouse earlier this week, I came across a sign that was actually fairly troubling.

My wife and I were in the fourth floor waiting room of a well known (and excellent) clinic, waiting  to meet the (excellent) surgeon who had operated on Jan’s hand a few weeks earlier. (It all went well; she’s fine; thanks for asking.) But as I wandered around, I found a sign that I’d not seen before — with step-by-step advice on how to deal with a terrorist attack.

It seemed pretty sensible: Run away if you can; take cover if you can’t run away safely; call the police; raise your hands in the air to show you’re unarmed when the police arrive, and so on.

All very good. But quite troubling that in a civilized country, we need to be concerned with such things. Then again, not everyone here — and in much of this troubled world — is actually civilized.

 

Posted in Life in southwest France, News about France, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Civilization(s) on parade — with yet more wackiness

It’s not as exciting as running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It doesn’t have the high seriousness of a religious procession (or a funeral march) in Italy. And it certainly doesn’t have the polished professionalism of a North American event like the Rose Bowl parade in California.

But the Sunday parade in Daglan is unique, wacky, involving and fun — certainly the highlight of our annual four-day Fête de la Saint Louis.  Much of the community is involved behind the scenes, and the parade attracts not only the locals but tourists from all over. A Belgian couple we met this past weekend said they had never seen anything like it, anywhere in Europe.

So here’s a look at some of the entries in this year’s parade, where the theme was les civilisations.

I begin with the obvious — the marching band at the front of the parade:

Every parade needs at least one marching band.

Every parade needs at least one marching band.

I suspected that at least one entry would feature the Roman Empire, and of course that entry appeared near the front of the parade, like this:

Trying to look the part of Roman Senators.

Trying to look the part of Roman Senators.

A small African village scene was part of the action, and perhaps the best part of this float were the two chickens that were pecking away in front of the mud hut (it appeared that no poultry was harmed in the making of this float):

Including the live chickens was a nice touch.

Including the live chickens was a nice touch.

As the African entry passed, I spotted a leopard up in the tree at the rear of the float. I’m confident it was just a stuffed toy, but take a close look:

Check out the leopard perched in the tree.

Check out the leopard perched in the tree.

The Chinese float was notable because of the young people on it, who busily sprayed the crowd with water. Ancient Chinese tradition? Not sure, but here’s the float:

Photo taken after the float passed, to avoid the water guns.

Photo taken after the float passed, to avoid the water guns.

My favourite entry in the parade was this Viking ship:

This impressive Viking ship represented an awful lot of work.

This impressive Viking ship represented an awful lot of work.

And here’s a closer look at some of the Vikings in the boat:

These guys managed to look fairly authentic.

These guys managed to look fairly authentic.

The Native American civilization was another group represented, and here’s that entry:

Just standing around, in front of their teepee.

Just standing around, in front of their teepee.

La Gaul was another entry, representing the region that has become the France we know and love. Here’s one of the Gauloise (or is that a cigarette?) on the float:

Visitors from the long-ago land that became France.

Visitors from the long-ago land that became France.

Aside from the Roman Empire, Ancient Egypt simply had to be part of our parade, and of course it was. Here comes the Egyptian entry, pulled by slaves (including one who looked a fair bit like Dustin Hoffman) and led by a credible Pharaoh:

And now .... Ancient Egypt arrives.

And now …. Ancient Egypt arrives.

On closer inspection, Pharaoh turned out to be Pascal Dussol, Daglan’s popular Mayor. (Last year, he was the Michelin Man in the parade, when the theme was the history of the automobile.) Here he is with a couple of Daglanaise, including my wife Jan, in the striped shirt:

Mr. Mayor, as a Pharaoh, shares a few stares with some Daglan residents.

Mr. Mayor, as a Pharaoh, shares a few chuckles with Daglan residents.

It is notable that the parade actually makes two passes through the village on Sunday afternoon — one time going north (towards St. Cybranet) and the other returning to the south (towards St. Pompon). The difference seems to be a slight increase in the wackiness quotient, possibly caused by the ingestion of beer along the way. As just one example, here’s a Viking who has decided to ride on the front of the tractor pulling his boat:

Wait a minute -- there's a Viking on the tractor!

Wait a minute — there’s a Viking on the tractor!

How can the parade organizers possibly come up with a grander theme than Civilization? I have no idea. But just wait until next year.

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Festivals in France, Life in southwest France, Tourist attractions | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Civilization on parade — a first look

Daglan’s four-day  Fête de la Saint Louis is not over yet — as I write this, the thumping music from the bumper-car ride up in the square has started thumping away — but it’s time to look back at what we think is the highlight of the festival, yesterday’s parade.

Alert readers will remember that the theme of the Sunday parade was les civilisations, and you can probably guess at least some of the civilizations that were represented in the parade — the Roman Empire, ancient Africa, the Vikings, and so on.

But we’ll start with Ancient Egypt, and an undertaking that was not actually a float in the parade, but the clever creation of the people at Le Thé Vert, Daglan’s tea room and café.

Le Thé Vert is directed by our friend Judith Thomason, and her concept was to decorate the café as the Oasis of Nefertiti. Naturally, a model of the Great Sphinx was called for, and it turns out that the family’s visiting friend from Chile, a talented young man named Ignacio, built it — using a mix of recycled materials, including plastic bottles. Here it is, in back of Le Thé Vert, as it was being created:

The Great Sphinx, under construction.

The Great Sphinx, under construction.

And here’s how it looked on Sunday, at the front of the tea room, along with models of the famous pyramids of Egypt:

The Sphinx, with pyramids, all set to greet visitors.

The Sphinx, with pyramids, all set to greet visitors.

And this is how the front of the tea room looked from the street, as guests were being served by costumed staff members — including Judith’s son David, shown smiling at the camera:

Those ancient Egyptians really had style.

Those ancient Egyptians really had style.

And to give full credit to the designer and maker of the sphinx, here’s Ignacio, also showing off that complete  Egyptian look:

Flash-back to the ancient culture of Egypt.

Flash-back to the ancient culture of Egypt.

Another server at the tea room who got completely into the spirit of the occasion was one of our neighbours, Heidi. Here she is:

Showing off that complete Ancient Egypt look.

Showing off that complete Ancient Egypt look.

Finally, here’s a look at the person behind the whole concept — Nefertiti herself! Of course I mean Judith, on the left, with another of her loyal staff members, Julie:

Nefertiti herself, rightly pleased with the whole affair.

Nefertiti herself, rightly pleased with the whole affair.

Tomorrow I’ll start providing a look at the sometimes clever, sometimes wacky entries in the parade itself. But for now, let’s give some Radio Free Daglan applause to the people of Le Thé Vert, who certainly demonstrate what community spirit is all about.

Posted in Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Holidays in France, Festivals in France, Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our festival, at the midway point (phew!)

As I write this, Daglan’s annual four-day Fête de la Saint Louis is halfway over. Loyal readers will know that my wife Jan and I have a love/hate relationship with the affair, which I refer to as The Festival of Heat and Noise. So here’s my report so far, on the good, the bad and the ugly, in reverse order.

I’ll start with the ugly: the noise. For a reason that will soon become clear, it’s not actually bothering Jan and me awfully much this year. However, that isn’t true for some of our neighbours, particularly those who live anywhere near the bumper-car ride, which dominates Daglan’s main square during the festival and blasts out loud music from raised speakers. Jan chatted with one such neighbour this morning, who reported that she is at her wit’s end, because she simply can’t sleep until the bumper-car ride shuts down — at nearly 2 in the morning.

The bad is that this year’s festival seems diminished. There are far fewer stalls (such as snack stalls and games for children), and the bicycle race that normally takes place on Monday has vanished from the schedule. Poor organization? Lack of interest on the part of vendors and games operators? We’re not sure, but the fête is definitely smaller.

The good is that Jan and I have spent the past two nights away from the festival (we return home during the day) at a wonderful spot called La Tour de Cause, located about eight kilometres north of Daglan, in the hamlet of Pont de Cause.

La Tour is a large, old,  solid-limestone house and barn complex that was converted some years ago into a chambre d’hôte, or bed and breakfast, by a couple from California who subsequently became friends of ours. Recently, they sold La Tour de Cause to two talented and charming guys from Belgium, who have long experience in the restaurant business. They now offer breakfast each morning, and also prepare dinners after discussion with the guests.

Here’s a look down at the main level of La Tour from the upper level of the grounds:

Down the stairs, and you're at the ground level of La Tour de Cause.

Down the stairs, and you’re at the ground level of La Tour de Cause.

Last night was particularly enjoyable. We returned to La Tour from Daglan by 7:30, in time for apéritifs on the back terrace, before dinner was served. Here’s the setting:

Tables are all set for a lovely dinner.

Tables are all set for a lovely dinner.

Everything about the place seems “just so” — colours are co-ordinated, fresh flowers are everywhere, rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable and practical, and the food is well chosen and very well prepared. As just one example, here’s our entrée from last night’s dinner — homemade ravioli stuffed with a mixture of slow-cooked lamb, peas and mint, decorated with sage leaves and garnished with Parmesan shavings:

A nice serving of lamb-stuffed ravioli.

A nice serving of lamb-stuffed ravioli.

By the end of our main course (Thai-style mussels with almond-flecked basmati rice), the evening was turning cool, so the guests went into the large kitchen/dining area with our hosts, for the cheese and then the dessert courses. And this turned out to be a real highlight.

Aside from our Belgian hosts, the guests included a Canadian couple (us), another couple from Belgium, a couple from Holland, and a couple from Spain. We all got along well, and the discussions went on until midnight — covering everything from the U.K.’s Brexit vote to local cultural differences to a comparison of Romance languages, and more. It’s one of the things I love about living here — the chance to meet and talk with visitors from other parts of Europe.

If you’re interested in more information about La Tour de Cause, here’s what Trip Advisor has to say: https://www.tripadvisor.fr/Hotel_Review-g672395-d671218-Reviews-La_Tour_de_Cause_B_B-Castelnaud_la_Chapelle_Dordogne_Aquitaine.html

Which brings us to today’s highlight of the Daglan festival: the Sunday parade. We will be out with our camera, because this is the one event we don’t want to miss. This year’s theme for the parade is Civilization, which seems broad to enough to cover, well, pretty much everything.

 

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A small village, thinking big

The days are getting pretty toasty, and so it’s time for Daglan to start preparing for its annual Fête de la Saint Louis, which I have taken to calling The Festival of Heat and Noise.

The four-day extravaganza takes place when the weather is about as hot as it gets here (which is pretty darn hot), and features (among other things) some amusement rides placed smack-dab in the middle of the main village square. These are equipped with huge speakers, perfectly positioned to blast out music at all hours, usually up until about 2 a.m. (Even “Girls Just Gotta Have Fun” gets a bit tiresome around 2 a.m.)

The event goes like this: Friday night, there’s a meal and a concert; Saturday night, more or less the same thing (different food, different bands, but the same idea); Sunday, a parade in the afternoon and then fireworks at night; and Monday, a bicycle race. Meanwhile, throughout the village there are stands with games for kids and yet more rides and lots of things for sale, including candies and various snacks. The actual dates are August 19, 20, 21 and 22.

As a keen (although not always enthusiastic) observer of the events, I’ve often written about the Sunday parade, and featured a great many photographs. Notably, the parade always has a theme — which in recent years has included the Liberation of France  (which was apparently achieved by the French themselves, with just some modest input from the U.S.) and the world of automobiles.

What about this year? Well, apparently the organizers have really stretched themselves. One of our neighbours, who sits on the village council, suggested  that a sensible theme would have been the world of insects, since Daglan is now decorated with a great many large models of insects, made as part of a school project. To refresh your memory, here’s a photo of a giant praying mantis, featured in my blog posting of July 23:

Climbing up a stone wall.

Climbing up a stone wall.

But no, she told my wife Jan and me. It’s to be Civilisation. In French, according to the posters now tacked up around the village, that would be les civilisations. Yes, we’re thinking big.

I can hardly wait to see the variety of floats and costumes that will be paraded through Daglan on Sunday, August 21. One thing is almost certain: There will be a great many men in the parade dressed in drag. (It’s a Daglan-in-August thing.) But I’m sure they’ll be very civilized.

 

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A belated look at the truffle dog

It’s been a fairly hectic week (that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it), including a trip that included two nights in Toulouse (very pleasant, thank you). So I am only now writing about the special gourmet market in the centre of Daglan last Sunday, July 31.

This is an annual event, and it doesn’t change much from year to year. There are the usual Sunday-market stalls (honey, wine, strawberries, vegetables), and several more (Champagne, melons, cheeses, sausages) plus places to buy beer and cooked sausages. Since the event takes place pretty much at the absolute peak of the tourist season, our square tends to be packed. Temporary traffic signals are even set up at either end of the main street, so that cars have to take turns snaking their way through the village.

Here’s a look at the crowd milling about Daglan’s main square, la Place de la Liberté:

Mingling among the food stalls.

Mingling among the food stalls.

And here’s a look at the throngs crowded around the cookers where the sausages were being served:

The guys behind the stoves were kept hopping.

The guys behind the stoves were kept hopping.

One of the things you can pretty much count on is that this special market will feature a demonstration of a truffle-hunting dog in action. (Our département, the Dordogne, is famous for its black truffles.) Earlier in the week, construction begins on a sort of miniature truffle field, bounded in by large timbers and dotted with shrubs. Here’s how it looked last Sunday, just before the demonstrations began:

This where the truffles have been hidden.

This where the truffles have been hidden.

As the time approached noon, we were treated to one of the day’s truffle-sniffing exhibitions, with the owner following along behind his dog. A small crowd gathered around the truffle field:

The truffle-hunting dog goes sniffing for you-know-what.

The truffle-hunting dog goes sniffing for you-know-what.

This goes on for quite a while, with the dog occasionally wandering out of the enclosure to sniff something else — perhaps a child holding a sausage sandwich, perhaps another dog. But eventually, the hunter manages to find one or more of the hidden truffles. Here’s another look as it appears to be closing in:

Our shaggy truffle hunter is closing in.

Our shaggy truffle hunter is closing in.

In all honesty, this isn’t the most exciting thing you could be watching, and it often seems like the dog’s owner is doing an awful lot of guiding the truffle hunt — virtually pointing at the truffle that’s buried just below the surface of the soil. Still, if seeing a truffle dog in action is on your bucket list, this is a place where you can tick that box.

Posted in Festivals in France, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments