Things don’t always turn out as you’d planned (in case you hadn’t noticed). Yesterday, for example, we drove off to Bergerac for some serious shopping, and wound up doing some serious lunching. You’re surprised?
Admittedly, we had planned to lunch at La Table du Marché, which is just across the street from Bergerac’s covered market (le Marché Couvert). But we figured we’d have a very quick lunch, and then go shopping — to buy a bunch of fresh seafood in the covered market, plus a new swimming suit for me, plus a number of clothing items for my wife Jan. But by the time we reached the market and walked through it to the restaurant, it was 12:30 p.m., and the seafood counter at the market was looking a bit limp. So we just settled in for a nice lunch at the restaurant, and relaxed with a kir.
I should explain that this was only our second time at the restaurant. Our first visit came at the end of last December, when we had driven to Bergerac to pick up our friends Rob and Darlene (from Toronto), who were staying with Rob’s aunt and uncle (who live near Bergerac.) Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ian, plus Rob, Darlene, Jan and I, had a very enjoyable meal, but of course we were caught up in chattering with each other, and had no time to really document our (excellent) meal.
But yesterday was different, so here is our report on a very worthy restaurant in Bergerac. Let’s start with the exterior:
And now for M. Le Chef, Stéphane Cuzin, who is a native of Paris and who obviously loves showing off not only local products of the Périgord but also his creativity — including the deconstruction of some classic dishes. Yesterday he was having a great time chatting with the locals (while his sous chefs did the work), and I didn’t want to interrupt him for a photo — so here’s a photograph of him in the City Book tourist publication that features his restaurant:
Now, what do Jan and I like so much about this restaurant? Let us count the ways:
For starters, it’s calm, cool and peaceful. (North American restaurants should seriously consider the no-music rule; it allows diners to enjoy their meals without having to shout at each other.) It’s small — at its peak yesterday, there were 20 diners having lunch (including us), out of a maximum of 28 places on the first floor. The food is clever and inventive. (A starter of foie gras was served with a cloud of spun sugar — that is, cotton candy — suspended on a stick above the plate.) The prices are reasonable (for this level of quality). With each course, you can order a glass of wine that the chef has chosen to accompany the dish. And it’s got a wonderfully modern, shiny, glittering style. For example, consider this view of the place setting in front of me:
With our kirs, we nibbled on the dry-roasted peanuts, which are served in glass test tubes (at the far right in the photo above). Jan and I each ordered the three-course menu. Then, to begin, we were offered amuses bouches of cucumber-and-crème fraiche soup, with fine slices of mint leaves, like this:
As our entrée, each of us had ordered the onion soup — and that is when the serious lesson in deconstruction began. Our waiter put in front of us a white bowl with a small wedge, almost a sliver, of cooked onion at the bottom. And then, from a glass beaker, he poured the soup over the bit of onion. My serving included a thin slice of toasted bread, with cheese melted into it (as Jan needs a gluten-free diet, her serving did not include the bread). Here’s mine, with the beaker of soup just behind and to the left of my bowl:
For her plat principal, Jan had chosen roast biche (venison), and again was rewarded with a lovely plate. Here it is, with the pieces of roast venison separated by small dollops of puréed cauliflower, napped with reduced sangria (how about that for a sauce?):
In contrast, my main course was the opposite of deconstruction; it was a large lamb shank cooked with every Middle Eastern spice known to mankind (okay, I may exaggerate). Honestly, I think it was the tenderest lamb I’ve ever eaten, beautifully spiced, and almost large enough for two:
And now we reach the dessert course. After much discussion with the waiter, Jan had chosen a “crunchy” chocolate dessert, not knowing exactly what it was. Our worry was that the “crunchy” part would be something she couldn’t eat, like cookies; but the waiter assured us that the dessert was indeed gluten-free, and that the “crunch” was provided by the chocolate. As it turned out, it was quite a (gluten-free) concoction, including bits of banana, a jelly, a cream, and (indeed) crunchy pieces of chocolate. Here it is:
My dessert was another example of deconstruction and re-interpretation. It was billed on the menu as a re-invented lemon tart, and that is indeed what it was — with no crust, but with a deliciously strong lemon custard on top of a glass of cream, served with a healthy dollop of rich chocolate ice cream. Here it is:
Even our coffees were served with a unique twist, including small cakes and a dish of orange slices and passion fruit:
So, the bottom line. Would we return? Absolutely. This is a true Radio Free Daglan recommendation. What does Michelin say? My 2011 Guide Rouge gives La Table du Marché one couvert plus a Bib Gourmand (“good cooking at moderate prices”); Daglan’s Le Petit Paris gets a Bib plus two couverts, but Jan and I think that La Table wins the battle on creativity. Reservations? Yes, at 05-53-22-49-46.
Now you’re probably wondering about our shopping after lunch. Jan tried on a few things, but didn’t buy. I managed to find a new swimming suit. And we hit the big time at a huge Carrefour supermarket, with veal shanks and seafood (among other things) that kept me cooking all morning today. But more of that tomorrow.