We continue to discover more about the fine restaurants in and around the Greater Daglan Area (or GDA), and have now enjoyed two relatively nearby restaurants that have each earned a Michelin star: Le Gindreau, that I reviewed in yesterday’s post, and Le Grand Bleu, where we recently ate for the third time. As I promised yesterday, today I’m providing a head-to-head comparison.
I’m doing this, in case you’re wondering, only as a guide. If you have the time, the money and the interest, I’d certainly suggest you try them both. If you want to try just one, this column (combined with yesterday’s) may help you choose.
By way of background, earning one or more Michelin stars is considered a big deal in the restaurant world. My wife Jan and I have had great dining experiences in restaurants with three, two and one stars, and a couple of notable disasters (even in a three-star place). Overall, I think the rating system is useful.
In Michelin’s wonderfully understated language, a one-star restaurant simply means “A very good restaurant,” while two stars suggest that the place offers “Excellent cooking, worth a detour,” and the ultimate three-star rating signifies “Exceptional cooking, worth a special journey.”
In yesterday’s post, I described the lunch we had on Saturday, July 2, at Le Gindreau, located about 45 minutes south of Daglan in the hamlet of Saint-Médard. The bottom line was “Pretty much perfect,” although a major reason was our location on a shaded terrace, enjoying splendid weather.
As for Le Grand Bleu, it’s located about 25 minutes north of Daglan, near the train station in Sarlat. For our lunch on Thursday, June 23, we were joined by our great friends from Florida, Larry and Alix. Most of us chose the 75-euro menu, and we were all offered a cold soup before our entrées arrived — a purée of peas, touched with foam on top, and holding a small scoop of ice cream made with savory (the herb). Here it is:
The entrées that my wife and I chose were quite wonderful — chilled French lobster, cut into pieces that were alternated with slices of blood orange, and served with a coulis of argula and a small scoop of seafood (yes — seafood!) ice cream. It managed to be both delicate and yet very flavourful at the same time:
For my wife’s main course, she had the turbot with girolle mushrooms, served on a beautifully decorated plate, like this:
Both Larry and I chose the leg of lamb stuffed with foie gras for our main courses. Served with creamy mashed potatoes that were full of chopped herbs, the dish was rich, savoury and delicious. Here is the serving:
Then came dessert. My wife and I both chose the coconut macaron — a playful variation on the typically smaller macaron cookie, served with fresh strawberries, an avocado cream, and a coconut-mango sorbet:
Finally, we were served a tray of mignardises, the little bite-sized treats, to enjoy with coffee:
And now, for the comparisons:
Food. It’s fashionable to criticize the use of foams and unusual ice creams as being overdone or clichéd, but I think the chef at Le Grand Bleu has a deft touch. I find the cuisine at Le Grand Bleu more inventive and even challenging, and for that reason I think it wins this battle with Le Gindreau. But make no mistake: Le Gindreau has a fine chef, albeit a more traditional one.
Ambience. It would be impossible not to favour Le Gindreau, given that we enjoyed magnificent weather on its lovely terrace. By contrast, the dining room at Le Grand Bleu is surprisingly cosy (for a Michelin-starred restaurant) and a touch ordinary. In fairness, we haven’t eaten inside Le Gindreau, and its dining room looked traditional and somewhat unimaginative. But both restaurants are pleasant places to spend several hours.
Service. Here, a slight edge goes to Le Gindreau, if only because our server was attractive and friendly, and she positively lit up when we started discussing a favourite restaurant in Provence — which is her home. The reception at Le Grand Bleu can seem a bit cool, even chilly. But if you’re not entirely comfortable with French menus, the staff at Sarlat’s Le Grand Bleu is quite competent in English.
Wine list. Hand’s down winner is Le Gindreau, for its thick but manageable “wine book,” a list that is both large and well organized, and seems well chosen. But I have no real complaints about Le Grand Bleu’s list either. It’s just that Le Gindreau’s selection is a bit more comprehensive.
Price. Neither of these restaurants is a cheap date. Choosing from one of the “standard” menus, it’s not hard to run up a bill of 400 euros for lunch for four people, with an apéritif each, a couple of bottles of decent (but not exorbitant) wines, a bottle or two of fizzy water, and coffees. So clearly, this is Foodie Country.
Overall. Once again, I don’t want to steer you away from one of these restaurants and towards the other. A beautiful summer day? It would be hard not to choose the terrace at Le Gindreau. Feeling like having a bit of a foodie adventure? Visit Le Grand Bleu. But whatever you do, don’t show up without a reservation.