In the past, we have pretty much struck out in Périgueux, which is the capital city or administrative centre of the Dordogne. We would get mired in traffic, temporarily lost, or stuck eating second-rate food in a second-rate restaurant. But mostly, we got rained on. It always seemed that we were seeing the city at its worst. But not today.
With the weather glorious, we left Sarlat around 11:30 this morning (after my every-three-weeks haircut) and headed north for Périgueux, which lies about 90 kilometres north and a bit west of Daglan. Cleverly, we had previously consulted our 2010 edition of Michelin’s Guide rouge, which rates hotels and restaurants, and had learned that there was only one (French: un), (Dutch: einenzweiduchen) restaurant in the city with a Michelin star. After a horrendous time finding a parking spot, we got settled in a decent underground parking lot, headed out wandering through old Périgueux, and found — guess what? L’Essentiel, the only restaurant in town to have earned a Michelin star.
Here is the restaurant:
We didn’t have a reservation, of course, but we were greeted graciously and given our choice of two tables. We chose one near the back of the restaurant, and settled in. Here is the view towards the front of the restaurant, from our table:
We began with kirs vin blanc (I know — what a surprise!), and chose the 25-euro menu, which provides a main course (plat principal) and a dessert (French: dessert) (British: pudding), (Dutch: kugelmitsucchertortekemplemeister). We also chose to drink a Viognier by the glass. Then we settled back, enjoying the kirs and the peace and quiet, and some of the elegant touches around the restaurant — like this serving table:
I should point out that the 25-euro menu was really just a starting point. As it turned out, there was a 12-euro “supplement” for my main course, and a 19-euro (yikes!) “supplement” for my wife’s main course. On the plus side, there were nice extras. Delicious black olives as well as toasts with a Greek-style spread, to accompany our apéritifs, and then surprisingly original (and delicious) amuses bouches. To wit: a crème brulée of foie gras (yes! amazing! More, please!) and incredibly smooth, whipped violet potatoes. Like this:
Then, on to the main courses. My wife had chosen line-caught bar (sea bass), which she described as impeccable. (Side note: “Impeccable” seems to be the coolest way to say “Really, really good” in French.) As for me, I couldn’t resist the lure of black truffles — and creamy risotto. So here it is — a perfectly-sized bowl of risotto, flecked throughout with bits of black truffle, covered with slices of black truffle, and capped off with a single egg that had been cooked at a very low temperature (I am thinking a sous vide egg, folks) so that it wasn’t so much soft-boiled as turned into a new creature: The Perfect Egg).
For dessert, I had a nicely composed plate of various treats, including a ball of delicious ice cream and a layered concoction featuring a cream of spiced and sweetened potiron (something like pumpkin), plus a snifter of Armagnac, thusly:
With coffees, we were served an attractive tray of mignardises, ranging from candied grapefruit peel to homemade marshmallows:
Then we headed out into the sunshine for some air, some shopping, and some time to digest the meal and the wine. Old Périgueux (minus the rain we had faced in the past) turned out to be surprisingly attractive.
By now, it was around 3 p.m., which seems to be the peak of the day for temperature, and the café crowd was out in full force, wearing everything from jackets with scarves to tee shirts. Here’s one busy café in front of Périgueux’s austere cathedral:
To conclude the afternoon, we stopped at a café ourselves, did some window shopping, and bought a few DVDs. By 4 p.m., we were headed home — where we almost ran into a home. Just north of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac (a must-see destination in the Dordogne that’s known as the Capital of the Prehistoric World), we had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting a house that was being towed. At this underpass, the truck driver wisely stopped to see if the house would have enough clearance, and then (with much waving and pointing and double-checking) he drove slowly through. Don’t you love these happy endings?