And so it begins (with a brunch)

May 1 is the traditional opening day for Le Thé Vert in Daglan, and that’s about as close as we get to an official start of The Season. From now until the first of October, our village will be packed with tourists, particularly in the months of July and August.

With the tea room-cum-restaurant opening yesterday, it was only natural that my wife Jan and I be among the first clients — and so we enjoyed coffees there with friends Richard, Rosemary and Tish. But for me, today was the main event.

First, a look at Le Thé Vert, as I approached it this morning. The day had started a bit cool and damp, and so the front patio was free of customers; but there are days in the summer when it’s packed to over-flowing, often with cyclists, because the Greater Daglan Area is prime cycling country. Here it is:

The front patio of Le Thé Vert in Daglan.

The front patio of Le Thé Vert in Daglan.

I had come with a mission, which was to order the brunch, or full English breakfast. In preparation, I had begun the day at home with just a small yoghurt, half an orange, and coffee. By 10 a.m., when the tea room opens for business, I was ready for the brunch. (I should point out that the brunch is available only on weekend mornings. I should also point out that while Le Thé Vert is open six days a week only from May 1 to October 1, it does offer special events through the year, such as curry nights.)

For nine and a half euros, Le Brunch Anglais (as it’s called on the menu) includes a large glass of orange juice, two slices of toast with jam, scrambled eggs, baked beans (yes!), two slices of bacon, two grilled tomato halves, and coffee.  Here’s my serving:

Now that's what  I call a breakfast.

Now that’s what I call a breakfast.

It was, in a word,  yummy. And while I’m a hot-breakfast kind of guy, there’s also a Continental version of Le Brunch: tea or coffee, orange juice, two kinds of ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg, cucumber and tomato slices, and a baguette.

So let The Season begin. We’re ready for it.

Back to the wisteria. In my last blog posting before I took a two-week break (which included a trip back to Canada for the wedding of No. 1 Son Michael and the lovely Vanessa), I introduced you to the flower-laden vines at the front of our house. That posting was “Our wisteria wall — Interim report,” on April 13; in it, I promised another look, “once the flowers hit full maturity.”

Unfortunately, I left the photography a little too long, and the flowers have already started to lose their petals. For what it’s worth, here they are, a couple of days ago:

The wisteria hanging over our cave door.

The wisteria hanging over our cave door.

Much of the flowery show is over. But as you can see, the leaves are fully out, and there are new shoots climbing everywhere. It’s about time to get out the clippers, before the vines start trying to break into the house.

Posted in Life in southwest France, Bicycling in the Dordogne, Restaurants in France, Tourist attractions, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Cafés in France, Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our wisteria wall — Interim report

Previously on Radio Free Daglan, I reported with great glee on the development of a large number of blossoms on the two wisteria vines on the front wall of our house in Daglan. (Last year, we had exactly one flower.) I called my April 1st posting “Wisteria hysteria,” and offered this photographic evidence:

Those strange growths are the beginnings of our wisteria flowers.

Those strange growths are the beginnings of our wisteria flowers.

And now, almost two weeks later, with a bit of rain and some nice sunny days, we have progress. Here’s a photo, taken yesterday, of the array of still-developing flowers on the vine that’s on the right side of our front steps:

A host of blossoms are growing here.

A host of blossoms are growing here.

In the interest of fairness, here’s the vine on the left side of the front steps, above our garage:

Not as many blooms, but not bad either.

Not as many blooms, but not bad either.

Clearly these vines have more to offer, so this is only an interim report. I’ll post again once the flowers hit full maturity — in a week or two or three. In the meantime…

A break from blogging. I’ve just finished my busiest season of professional writing (for clients in Canada) and so I plan to take a bit of a break from Radio Free Daglan. I’ll be back in full swing, after an appropriate rest. Until then, all best wishes from the RFD team.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Easter dining — in a bistro

An argument can be made that one shouldn’t bother driving nearly an hour to eat Easter lunch in a bistro, when the identical drive will take you to a Michelin-starred restaurant that’s literally across the street from the bistro. Makes sense, up to a point.

But when the bistro in question is Le Bistrot de la Place in Trémolat, west of our village of Daglan, we think the food is worthy of the trip. Yesterday for Easter lunch, we confirmed that with friends Joanne and Chris, and their children James and Eleanor.

My wife Jan and I have eaten at the bistro many times over the years, and have always had a good experience — especially with the big, fat, crispy-on-the-outside-but-soft-inside frites, which are cooked in duck fat. Yum.

But the immediate idea to have lunch there yesterday came from Joanne, who had read an article in a U.K. newspaper about where famous chefs in London like to go to “chill.” It turns out that Hélène Darroze, who has a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris (where we have, of course, eaten) and another starred restaurant at London’s Connaught Hotel, visits  the bistro in Trémolat, when she’s back in southwest France. That settled it.

Let’s start with a look at the front of the restaurant. Whenever we can, Jan and I like to get a table in the front room, so we can look out these windows and watch life in the village drift past. Here’s the front window:

Here's the front of the bistro in Trémolat.

Here’s the front of the bistro in Trémolat.

To orient you a bit more, the bistro is kitty-corner from the Mairie of Trémolat. In warmer weather, there are tables set on the small terrace you can see here, with shade provided by that rolled-up awning:

Looking from the bistro towards the Mairie of Trémolat.

Looking from the bistro towards the Mairie of Trémolat.

Once we were inside, the four adults ordered apéritifs, and we all settled into making our choices for lunch (including that trusty goes-with-most-things wine, a rosé from the nearby Bergerac area).

To begin, three of us cleverly chose the daily special entrée of a salad made with the season’s first white asparagus (hurrah!) and a soft-boiled egg. This earned rave reviews from Jan, Joanne and me; here it is:

The yolk pours out to act as a sauce for the beautiful asparagus.

The yolk pours out to act as a sauce for the beautiful, tender asparagus.

Reactions to our main courses ranged from happy to delirious. Eleanor loved her duck breast (bien cuit, as requested) with a rich sauce and roast potatoes. Here’s her plate:

A rich plate of duck breast and sauce.

A rich plate of duck breast and sauce.

Meanwhile, Jan, Joanne and I were in ecstasy  over our navarin d’agneau, the classic spring dish. This one featured incredibly tender and tasty pieces of slow-cooked lamb in a lovely sauce with perfect spring vegetables. Not shown with my navarin are the frites that I piled on my plate from the huge bowl of frites that was set on our table. (I have omitted the photo of the potatoes as a public service, because seeing them might cause some readers to have a fit of frites raptures.)

Three rave reviews for this lamb dish.

Three rave reviews for this lamb dish.

And then it was on to dessert (a freshly baked individual apple tart for Chris, James and me, made with incredibly thinly sliced apples and served with a scoop of ice cream). And then a glass of Armagnac for James and me. And then coffees.

But the afternoon wasn’t over. Part-way through our lunch, the owner of Le Vieux Logis — which has the Michelin-starred restaurant across the street, and which also owns the bistro — had stopped at our table to chat. (The elderly gentleman was pretty puzzled about my taking photos of the food, and the answer that I write a “blog” didn’t seem to explain much.)

Then the charming maitre d’ from the restaurant at Le Vieux Logis’s wandered into the bistro, recognized Jan and me, and stopped at our table to say hello and welcome us for complimentary coffees.

So of course we accepted the invitation, and wound up in the cozy lobby of the inn for more coffees (and delicious chocolates) before our drive back to Daglan. All in all, a pretty good Easter lunch.

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

Wisteria hysteria

We’re in hysterics! Well, almost. At least we’re giggling happily.

Here’s why: About a year ago, I wrote with a fair bit of excitement about the single, incredibly long cluster of flowers that had developed on one of the wisteria vines in front of our house in Daglan. Why the excitement? Because it was the very first flower cluster to appear since I planted the wisteria (glycine, in French) in the spring of 2011.

I first wrote about our new pride and joy in the posting “A first flower, featured,” on April 5, 2014. But the flower cluster kept right on growing, so I provided an updated photo in my posting of April 13 — when the cluster had extended to almost three-quarters of a metre. Here’s what it looked like, with my wife Jan using a measuring tape on it:

It's at 72 centimetres, and may have more to go.

At this point, it had grown to 72 centimetres.

Now, in April 2015, we’re all set for our second crop — and it looks like it’s going to be a  real winner.

I discovered this just the other day, while standing in front of our house. When I happened to look up at the vine on the right side of our front steps, I was puzzled about some strange growths on it. What in the world were they?

Finally  I realized that the vine was dotted all over with long buds that looked like thin pine cones, although there were hardly any signs of leaves on the vines. In any case, I believe we’re virtually guaranteed a bumper crop of flower clusters to come.

And here’s what they look like now, as the flowers develop on the right-hand vine:

Those strange growths are the beginnings of our wisteria flowers.

Those strange growths are the beginnings of our wisteria flowers.

And then yesterday afternoon, I thought I had better pay some attention to the vine at the left of the stairs. And lo and behold — it’s started budding its first crop of flowers. Here it is:

The vine on the left is trying to catch up.

The vine on the left is trying to catch up.

It may take a week or two for everything to come out in full bloom, but you can bet I’ll be showing off the wisteria when the time is right. Ah, joy!

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Phew! The Basque place still has what it takes

We have been fans of Le Tournepique for a long time. That’s the Basque restaurant in Castelnaud, about 10 kilometres north of Daglan.

Obviously it’s not our “favourite” restaurant (hello? …  no Michelin stars!). But for my wife Jan and me, it’s been one of our go-to places for a comfortable, tasty, and not-too-expensive lunch.

Starting last year, we began to be worried.

We had known that the silver-haired owner (and chef) was hoping to retire and sell his restaurant, and then learned that he had indeed sold. What would happen? Would the delicious Basque food remain?

On Wednesday, we got our answer, and it was all good.

First, a quick visual reminder of the restaurant. It’s located right on the Castelnaud side of the bridge that spans the Dordogne River, so it’s easy to find. Here’s a look:

Le Tournepique is right at the end of the bridge.

Le Tournepique is right at the end of the bridge.

When we first arrived on Wednesday, Jan and I were a bit concerned: We were the only patrons, and it was well past noon. Uh oh. Then, as time went on, more and more people arrived, until the place was just about packed. So that’s a good turnout on a cool day in March, well before the real start of the tourist season.

As for the menu, I’d say it’s actually improved, because now it includes both the popular Basque dishes we’ve enjoyed, as well as a good number of classic dishes from this area (including, of course, a good number of duck treats, like confit de canard).

And the cooking was just as good, and sometimes even better, than the previous chef-owner had managed.

What did we have, I can almost hear you asking, and how much did it cost?

Well, we each had a kir (white wine with cassis syrup), followed by a bottle of Spanish rosé wine to go with our meal.

For Jan, lunch was a large bowl of sweet mussels, and a generous serving of absolutely delicious French fries. (Trust me, I know.)

For me, an entrée of tapas, which included Serrano ham, chorizo, red peppers with garlic, anchovies, and more.  As my plat principal, I actually had three small dishes, such as a tasty piperade (peppers, tomatoes, onions) served with more ham. All three dishes were delicious, and wonderfully hot (temperature, not spiciness). Then came my dessert — a slice of Basque cake — followed by coffees for both of us.

Total? Sixty-five euros, which we thought was just fine.

So, phew! All is well at the Basque place. Which is actually now the Basque-and-Périgord place.

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sunshine makes the difference

We’re now officially done with winter, and frankly we can’t complain too much about it. The season was relatively mild, there was no snow to shovel, and my wife Jan and I did have that Moroccan holiday at the end of February. But a Daglan winter is generally grey and a bit rainy, and so when the sun made an appearance this morning, things took on a new, spring-like look.

I’ve actually avoided taking photos around the village for a while, simply because of the gloomy weather. But now, in the sunshine, I can show off some of what’s going on.

First to come are the flowers and flowering shrubs — like the forsythia in front of our house:

Another spring for our trusty forsythia.

Another spring for our trusty forsythia.

One of our neighbours has placed these pots with bright yellow flowers beside the main road that runs through Daglan:

Yellow flowers brighten up the side of this house.

Yellow flowers brighten up the side of this house.

Another neighbour regularly puts out several pots of flowers each spring, beside her front door. And here’s her latest collection:

A growing collection of flower pots.

A growing collection of flower pots.

There’s also a bit more activity in terms of business. The shop of Fabrice le Chef has opened for the season, and now has an awning so that patrons can enjoy a coffee or something to eat on the patio beside the shop, regardless of the weather. And there are more merchants taking part in Daglan’s Sunday market now, including the woman who sells plants and flowers, and the sausage vendor. Here’s the market as it looked this morning at around 11:30:

The Sunday market in Daglan's main square.

The Sunday market in Daglan’s main square.

Outside the village, the trees and shrubs are bursting into bloom — like this shrub with a cloud of white flowers, growing on the hillside on the left as you leave Daglan for St. Cybranet:

A cloud of white flowers.

A cloud of white flowers.

The flowers may be out, but as you can see, the trees are still lacking their leaves:

The flowers are out, but not the leaves.

The flowers are out, but not the leaves.

So we still have a ways to go before we’re into the full bloom of spring. But we are getting there, and we’re all pretty pleased about that.

Posted in Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Our express (two-hour) lunch

Life is returning to the Greater Daglan Area, after a typically grey and quiet-as-a-mouse winter. Flowering trees are bursting into bloom, fields are being plowed and readied for planting, and — perhaps most welcome — establishments are opening for “the season.” And that includes Daglan’s prize restaurant, Le Petit Paris.

So today we were off to Le Petit Paris to try something new: its economical 17-euro menu, just unveiled.

To remind you of what the restaurant looks like, here it is — parked behind the village’s war memorial, and with its terrace just waiting for somewhat warmer weather:

The face of Le Petit Paris, in the heart of Daglan.

The face of Le Petit Paris, in the heart of Daglan.

Out front is the chalkboard heralding the 17-euro menu, which consists of an amuse bouche or small appetizer, a plat principal or main course, and dessert (the famous café gourmand). Here’s the sign:

The blackboard out front announces the new 17-euro menu.

The blackboard out front announces the new 17-euro menu.

There were four of us for lunch: my wife Jan and I were joined by friends Rosemary and Richard. Once we had settled and ordered an apéritif (the restaurant’s Champagne Imperial cocktail), we talked with Madame Guilbot (the gracious hostess and wife of Chef Sylvain) about the new menu; she described it as the “express” menu for people in a hurry. (Ha!)

Today’s dishes included rillettes (a coarse paté, usually containing shreds of meat) of pork and duck, plus small glasses of split-pea soup, served cold; then confit of duck (the whole leg of the duck, cooked slowly in melted fat); and finally a café gourmand, or espresso served with a selection of small desserts. To accompany the meal, we chose a bottle of Château Sancerre rouge. And here’s our amuse bouche tray:

Our amuse bouche tray, for four.

Our amuse bouche tray, for four.

And here’s the plat principal, served with what seemed to be light “fritters” made with potatoes, plus some greens:

Cuisse de canard? Quelle surprise!

Cuisse de canard? Quelle surprise!

And then came dessert, the café gourmand, consisting of an espresso plus a nice blob of chocolate mousse, a bit of cake with fruit, and a (very good) ice cream, which Richard thought included almonds and I thought included pistachios (could have been both). Here it is:

Coffee and some small desserts.

Coffee and some small desserts.

So, when it was all over, what did we think? The total bill for each couple was 71 euros, which didn’t seem too much given that we’d begun with Champagne cocktails, had a nice bottle of wine, and two extra coffees.

And the food? It was just fine. The rillettes were as good as always (although a bit more garlicky), the cuisse de canard was very moist and tender (although the skin wasn’t as crispy as we would have liked), and the café gourmand was tasty.

Will it earn Le Petit Paris a coveted Michelin star? Not likely. But it seemed good value, and was an enjoyable lunch.

As for the “express” aspect, we took a good two hours to enjoy our lunch. But Jan and I were with good friends, it was a comfortable spot, and there was no rush. So, no complaints. But as I’m sure you would expect, we were the last to leave the restaurant.

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Weather in the Dordogne, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments