Yesterday we were off to Périgueux, capital of the département of the Dordogne, for some shopping and errands. Périgueux lies about 90 kilometres (or 55 miles) north and west of Daglan, and getting there is a lovely drive, through gently hilly and forested country.
But of course, since we are who we are, we also had our minds focused on where we might be eating lunch. The obvious answer was l’Essentiel, the only restaurant in Périgueux to have earned a Michelin star. I wrote about l’Essentiel some two years ago, in “A (much) brighter day in the Dordogne’s capital city,” posted February 9, 2011. At the time, I raved about the place.
However, since we weren’t sure of our timing for the drive and our errands, we hadn’t made a reservation. And when we arrived at l’Essentiel, the hostess told us there was no room at the inn (without a reservation), so we asked her to recommend a restaurant. Her answer was a place called Le Grain de Sel, which my wife Jan had already noticed in our 2013 edition of Michelin’s hotel and restaurant guide. (It’s a book we often check before leaving the house.)
The hostess at l’Essentiel then proceeded to give us the elaborate directions for finding Le Grain de Sel: up the street here, turn left, turn right, look for a real estate office, turn left, then turn right.
And here’s how it all turned out.
Michelin’s view. Our Michelin guide rates Le Grain de Sel with two sets of “couverts” for comfort (each couvert is a crossed knife and fork, and the maximum is five couverts) as well as a Bib Gourmand symbol, for “good food at moderate prices.” (This is exactly the same rating that Michelin gives to Daglan’s own Le Petit Paris.) The guide says that Le Grain de Sel’s chef moved to Périgueux from St-Emilion, and adds that it’s a place où les produits de la mer sont à l’honneur — that is, where seafood is honoured.
Location. The restaurant was not terribly easy to find, but we managed. It’s on rue des Farges in old Périgueux, on a cobbled street that’s little more than an alleyway. The good news (I suppose) is that it’s fairly near some nice clothing shops, if you’re interested in extra-curricular activities. Here’s a look at the restaurant’s exterior:
Inside. Once we were in the door, we liked the restaurant immediately. This is a small, intimate restaurant, but with a decent amount of breathing room between tables. The décor is a nice mix of old and new, and the tone is sophisticated. They do play music, but at a nice low level (old jazz, Louis Armstrong, that sort of thing). You can hear yourself think, you can hear your partner talking, no need to shout. Bless them. Here’s a look at the restaurant from our table, before the place started to fill in:
The look. Here’s a picture of the simple, easy-to-follow menu, whose cover intermingles the name of the restaurant with the name of the chef, Alain Banier. I think it shows some elegant typographic touches:
The amuse bouche. As we enjoyed our kirs, before ordering lunch, we were served a small dish of particularly smooth rillettes, along with some small toasts. Once we had ordered — Jan and I each chose the 31-euro menu, which includes the usual three courses — we were given an amuse bouche. These were small bowls of a delicious and rich creamy soup made of fennel, in which floated a small piece of poached merlu, or hake. Perfect. Here’s my serving:
My entrée. My first “real” course was duck foie gras, cooked in a terrine at the restaurant, and served with house-made fig bread, lightly toasted. Just before it arrived, I called over our server and had just said “Je veux…” (“I want…”) when he finished my sentence for me: “…un verre de Monbazillac.” Exactly — he was a mind-reader! A glass of that sweet wine from the Bergerac area is traditional with foie gras, and this particular foie was so rich that the relatively small serving was more than enough. Have a look:
Jan’s entrée. Meanwhile, Jan was definitely in a seafood mood, so she chose a fish dish for both her appetizer and her main course. Her starter was a square of cod from Brittany, served with tomatoes prepared two ways, as a purée and as a kind of mini-salad or salsa on top:
The plat principal. Each of us chose a fish dish as our main course — the maigre de petit bateau. Maigre is the French name for giant sea bass or croaker, and it’s a very tasty denizen of the deep, as the saying goes. It was served on top of artichokes, with steamed potatoes from the island of Noirmoutier (just south of Brittany) on a skewer. Here’s my plate:
Jan’s dessert. To wind up our lunch, Jan chose a panna cotta, made with rice as if it were a rice pudding, and decorated all over with thin slices of strawberry — like this:
My dessert. To end my meal, I had the presque une tarte au citron, or “almost” a lemon tart. In other words, it was a deconstructed lemon tart, served in a glass bowl with a wonderfully tangy lemon custard base, topped with cream and a small twirl of meringue, accompanied by a lime-flavoured sablé, or shortbread-type cookie. Here it is:
So what does all this glorious food (and drink) cost? As I mentioned earlier, our three-course meal cost 31 euros each, plus a two-euro supplement for my foie gras starter. So that’s 64 euros in total. Then came seven euros for our kirs, 5.50 euros for the generous glass of Monbazillac with my foie gras, 30 euros for a bottle of Sancerre (the one disappointment — I found this one a bit odd-tasting), and five euros for our coffees after lunch. So the total was 111.50 euros.
Uh oh. I’ve just realized, when I totaled the costs, based on our bill, that our server forgot to charge us for the bottle of fizzy water (Chateldon) that we had with our meal. Ah well, I did leave a tip.
And one more point: Jan and I agreed that while Le Grain de Sel gets the same Michelin rating as Le Petit Paris, we would give a slight edge to the restaurant in Périgueux, because the food was just that little bit finer. A definite discovery for foodies.