Lunch under the chestnut trees

Yesterday I reported on Tuesday’s superb lunch at Le Vieux Logis, a lovely restaurant that’s certainly worthy of its Michelin star. Now let’s have a look at a similar lunch the very next day at another Michelin-starred restaurant, Le Gindreau, about 40 kilometres south of Daglan.

My wife Jan and I were with friends from Toronto, Darlene and Rob, who had been staying with us for a few days; this time, it was just the four of us for lunch. The drive from Daglan to the tiny village of Saint-Médard, in the département of the Lot, runs through beautiful countryside, passing through farmland, forests and picturesque hamlets and villages.

Because the day was warm and sunny, we were able to eat outdoors again, on Le Gindreau’s attractive terrace — what my red Michelin guide for 2013 describes as a “terrasse sous les marronniers,” meaning that it’s under chestnut trees.

Here’s the view from our table, looking down into the valley below Saint-Médard, which is perched on a little limestone hill:

The view from our table on the terrace at Le Gindreau.

The view from our table on the terrace at Le Gindreau.

Above us, the leaves are starting to grow out from a large tree — I assume it’s a chestnut tree, if Michelin is right — over our table.

A large tree over our table on the terrace.

A large tree over our table on the terrace.

And here’s another view, incorporating our friend Darlene as she gazes out from the terrace:

Darlene enjoying the sunshine and the view.

Darlene enjoying the sunshine and the view.

Getting settled took a surprisingly long time, since the maître d’ struggled to provide enough shade for us, first with just a single umbrella, and then with a second umbrella that he dragged to our table from across the terrace. At one point, a gust of wind knocked over one of the umbrellas onto Rob, but no serious damage was done, and we had the wit to order some Champagne to get into the spirit of a fine lunch.

There’s no question that Le Gindreau is a fine restaurant, and the food that you’re about to see is generally quite lovely. But in the views of the four of us, it just wasn’t quite up to the inventiveness and the “fineness” of the dishes at Le Vieux Logis.

As an amuse-bouche to enjoy with our Champagne, we were offered tiny spoons of a delicious mixture of duck meat, as well as small bowls of a creamy soup. The bread sticks that you see on top of the bowls, however, were less than crisp, and not especially tasty. And although I had let the restaurant know in advance that my wife has a gluten allergy, there was no gluten-free alternative for her. (By contrast, Le Vieux Logis had a gluten-free alternative for Jan at every step of the way.)

Our amuse-bouche tray.

Our amuse-bouche tray.

Next came a bowl of creamy soup of small peas and beans — delicious, but an odd choice given that we had just eaten a small bowl of soup as an amuse-bouche. The real surprise were those tiny black spheres that you see sitting on top of a creamy concoction in the bottom-right of the photo; they are “truffle caviar.” (Later, Chef visited our table, and I asked him how he made truffles into caviar. First he laughed and said it was magic; then he said it was a bit of molecular gastronomy, involving an emulsion of truffle. I told him I thought they were superb.) By this point, we had ordered wine, choosing a rosé from Provence, which seemed appropriate on a nice, sunny day.

The highlight was the "caviar" of black truffles.

The highlight was the “caviar” of black truffles.

For my entrée, I ordered the raviolis filled with tails of langoustine. Certainly they tasted fine, but I thought they looked a bit sad, as if they hadn’t been filled sufficiently and weren’t as plump as they ought to be. And I thought that the verrine, or layered concoction, of cucumber and coconut milk, didn’t add much to the dish. Here’s my serving:

A good, but not great, entrée.

A good, but not great, entrée.

Both Jan and Rob chose this as their entrée, and seemed to really enjoy it. It’s a plate of very thinly sliced duck breast, marinated, and served carpaccio style. “It was fantastic,” raved Jan.

An elegant plate of duck carpaccio.

An elegant plate of duck carpaccio.

My main course was a serving of three scallops topped with a green herb coating, and various vegetables. I thought it was good, but not remarkable.

My plat principal was a row of three scallops.

My plat principal was a row of three scallops.

Dessert was another matter. Both Jan and I chose the hot pistachio soufflé, and thought it was both spectacular and delicious. The spectacular part was when our maître d’ split open the top of the dessert, and poured in a nice portion of flaming Liqueur Quercy des Iles. (I know — I had never heard of it either. Turns out it’s a special mixture of the juice of Chasselas, a table raisin from the Quercy area of the Lot, plus rum from Martinique, vanilla from Tahiti, and a pinch of piment d’Espelette, a tasty but not overly hot pepper from southern France. So there.) Here it is:

Pistachio soufflé for dessert.

Pistachio soufflé for dessert.

Finally came the tray of mignardises, the little sweeties to munch along with our coffees. A nice assortment:

A nice selection of sweeties to nibble with our coffees.

A nice selection of sweeties to nibble with our coffees.

So there you have it. Now, can you tell from my quibbles along the way that we preferred our lunch at Le Vieux Logis? Of course the meal at Le Gindreau was very, very good. Lovely terrace, good food, great company and lots of fun chatting (as always).

But we all felt that the food wasn’t as “fine” as at Le Vieux Logis, and there were slight hitches in the service. Our server was a rather sour-faced young woman, and not particularly friendly. The bus boy was nervous and couldn’t remember who should have what silverware. There was certainly not enough attention paid to Jan’s gluten-intolerance. Finally, for some reason the all-in cost at Le Vieux Logis was actually less — it was 85 euros per person, versus 93 euros at Le Gindreau.

Finally, you’ll be relieved to know that we did not eat lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant on Thursday. At about 12:30 p.m., we waved goodbye to Rob and Darlene at the train station, headed for Paris (and more great meals). Just to tide them over, they carried a fabulous picnic, put together at Daglan’s Fabrice le Chef boutique — from charcuterie to a beautiful looking baguette to salads, desserts, and wine. Jan and I figured they would be just fine on the journey to Paris.

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This entry was posted in French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Lot and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lunch under the chestnut trees

  1. Suzanne says:

    Oh dear. Guess were not rushing there to eat.

  2. Loren says:

    You’re right Suzanne — but I hear other places calling our names…

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