It seemed as if it had been ages since my wife Jan and I had eaten at Daglan’s finest restaurant (okay, our village’s only “fine” restaurant) but we weren’t really sure of the date. Having now checked my computerized calendar, I’ve learned that our most recent meal there was a dinner with friends at the end of July 2013. For us, that is a long time, since the restaurant lies just a 90-second walk from our house.
So this past Sunday, for a celebratory birthday lunch, we headed across the square to Le Petit Paris with expectations of an enjoyable meal — but with a few lingering doubts.
Unfortunately, we had heard a fair number of criticisms of the place last summer and autumn. Although some of grumbles were about the food itself, most of the complaints related to inattentive or unfriendly service. Easily the most serious complaint came from friends who made clear to their server that their group included two vegetarians; the vegetarians were then served salads that were each topped with a large slice of seared foie gras. I suppose that a scoop of steak tartare would have been worse, but not by much.
So I’m happy to report that our experience on Sunday was just fine, with a warm welcome at the door, a friendly chat with the hostess, smiling service throughout the two-hour lunch, and delicious food. (Okay, I’ll admit that we may be particularly charming.)
In any case, as an apéritif we began with the restaurant’s Champagne Imperial cocktail, which includes orgeat syrup (almond-flavoured) and Mandarine Napoléon. Highly recommended. To accompany the meal itself, I ordered a bottle of white Sancerre from Château de Sancerre, a favourite of ours. (Wine reminder: The white Sancerre is made from the sauvignon blanc grape, and it’s crisp, dry, and food-friendly. I far prefer it to the sauvignon blanc wines from Australia and New Zealand, where I think the “grassy” taste of the wine is a bit much.)
As an amuse bouche, we were served small glasses of a creamy soup made from white beans, flavoured with thin strips of smoked duck breast, as well as a bowl of rillettes de canard (that’s like a coarse paté made from confit de canard, or preserved duck meat).
Then it was on to the meal itself. As it happened, Jan and I ordered identical dishes, choosing from both the regular menu and the seasonal menu that changes frequently.
Our entrée was what the menu describes as Foie Gras de Canard mi-cuit, pressé à la daube de joue de boeuf. In other words, there was a centre piece of cooked but not seared foie gras, surrounded by a terrine made from beef cheeks. The plate was finished with a small salad and a crunchy toast. With the foie, we each had a glass of Monbazillac, the sweet wine from the Bergerac area that is considered nearly essential with foie gras in the Greater Daglan Area. It was all superb, and here it is:
We chose a plat principal from the seasonal menu — a piece of baked salmon that had been coated with slivered almonds, and then served on top of a flavourful risotto. Jan thought it was perfect, although to my palate the fish was just a bit overcooked. Nevertheless, we agreed the flavours were rich and delicious. Here’s my serving:
For me, the dessert was easily the highlight of the meal, but then I have a sweet tooth. It was a creamy concoction flavoured with tiny bits of prune that had been soaked in Armagnac; then the dessert was topped with a whole prune for good measure. Prunes and Armagnac are a classic combination in southwestern France, but usually are just served as a topping for something simple like a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This version took the concept to another level. Have a look:
With our coffees, there were a couple of additional treats (as if we needed them): a traditional small cake called a cannelé, and some sweet chocolate cream on a cookie, garnished with a raspberry. Here’s my coffee tray:
So, what was the difference between our recent experience and the meals that attracted complaints? It’s a fact of Dordogne life that service in many of the area’s restaurants can suffer in the summer, when a horde of tourists overwhelms them. Maybe that’s what happened at Le Petit Paris last year. But for us, this year, things were looking — and tasting — very good indeed.