Truffle heaven

The Greater Daglan Area, or GDA, is known for producing excellent black truffles. And the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Gindreau is known for producing excellent dishes with them.

And so it was that on this past Thursday — when my wife Jan and our friend Joanne and I lunched at Le Gindreau — that I decided to throw caution to the winds and order one of the all-truffle menus.

It cost 99 euros for an amuse, a main course, a small cheese course, and a massive dessert. As it turned out, it was a good idea.

Before I go further with my delight at truffle-heaven-on-a-plate, here’s just a bit of what I wrote about the restaurant in the posting “A well-deserved upgrade” on February 12th of this year, soon after Le Gindreau had been awarded its second Michelin star:

I have been raving about Le Gindreau, the restaurant in Saint-Médard, for quite a while. The food, the service, the atmosphere — they are impressive and have seemed to keep on improving.

As a refresher, the restaurant is less than an hour’s drive south of Daglan, and is located in a former schoolhouse. Since Chef Pascal Bardet and his wife Sandrine bought the place from the previous chef, it’s been renovated and refreshed.

Our lunch began with glasses of Champagne and a wonderful assortment of amuse-bouches. Then came the first of my truffle-laden dishes — a single layer of macaroni, stuffed with foie gras and black truffles and then gratinéed, and served with mushrooms and a sauce made with Jura wine.

For my main course, I received veal sweetbreads, garnished with artichokes and slices of black truffles — over which Sandrine then grated a fresh black truffle. That may have been gilding the lily, but it was superb, and here’s how it looked:

Sweetbreads smothered in truffles.

The so-called cheese course was another truffle-laden concoction. It consisted of layers of thin, crunchy biscuits with mounds of a soft, buttery, salty cheese, and then garnished with generous slices of black truffle:

Truffles galore.

Finally came the massive dessert, which is designed for two diners (Jan and me, in this case). It’s a black truffle soufflé that looked as large as a head. Here it is, being served:

Truffles in the dessert.

To finish the serving, our portions were flamed with dry Maraschino liqueur, like this:

The final, flaming touch.

So it was all wonderful. And to finish things off, we had an enjoyable few minutes talking with Chef Pascal Bardet, a charming and unassuming man who told us in detail about how he learned of his second Michelin star, how he informed his team, and his sudden trip to Paris to be recognized. As I wrote back in February, star No. 2 was “a well-deserved upgrade.”

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Lot | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A dedication ceremony, in photos

As I wrote on Saturday, March 18, Daglan was to hold a ceremony on Sunday (March 19) to dedicate a peace monument. Here’s what I wrote:

… taking place tomorrow, at the side of the village church, will be the inauguration of our new Stèle de la Paix, a small  peace monument dedicated to the memory of the combatants and the victims of the battles in North Africa and Indochina (Viet Nam) in the years 1946 – 1962.

Now here’s a look at how the quiet, respectful and well-attended ceremony unfolded:

Dignitaries and villagers assemble.

Our Mayor and an officer place flowers on the monument.

A smart salute, after the flowers are placed.

Our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, reads his  speech.

Posted in French government and politics, History in France, Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Fresh fish and barbed wire

The story behind this very international posting begins with our friend Keith in Toronto. Knowing that my wife Jan and I were travelling from Daglan to Lisbon in late February, he sent me a link to a blog about Portugal.

It’s a very attractive blog called “Salt of Portugal,” with the sub-title “all that is glorious about Portugal.” And what should I discover when I checked it out? I read about a place called Ultimo Porto (the Last Harbour) — whose very existence “as one of Lisbon’s best fish restaurants has been a closely guarded secret for more than half a century.”

Music to our ears! Lisbon is known for seafood, so one of its best fish restaurants must be very good indeed.

So on a Thursday in late February, Jan and I headed out of our hotel for lunch. On the way, I asked the concierge if he knew the restaurant; he did not. Seemed strange.

When we climbed into our taxi, it turned out that the driver also had never heard of the restaurant, and in fact wasn’t sure if he could find it  — as its address is Estaçao Maritima Da Rocha Conde d’Obidos, evidently on a dock at the end of one of Lisbon’s harbours. He promised that if he couldn’t find it, he would turn off his meter and take us back to the hotel without additional charge.

However, with some luck and the help of Google Maps, he did eventually get us to Ultimo Porto — tucked away at the end of a long concrete wharf, surrounded by what we assumed were warehouses.

Questions immediately popped into our minds: It seemed a bit rough and ready, so did we really want to stay? Would a taxi be able to find us, to return us to our hotel? Helpfully, our driver went into the restaurant and asked the staff if they could call a cab for us when we were finished with lunch. No problem, they said, and so we stayed.

And here is Jan at our table, located outdoors, and as you can see “informal” pretty much sums up the restaurant’s style:

Jan gets settled at our table.

The main event at this restaurant is grilled fish — a good assortment of very fresh fish, grilled outdoors. (Our server brought us a tray of fish, so we could see what was available, and make our choices.) Here is one of the staff, standing guard over the grill:

Checking out his smartphone while watching the grill.

And here’s a close-up view of the grill itself, so you can see the fish being cooked:

Fish on the grill.

What was most strange about the restaurant is that we didn’t really have a view of Lisbon’s river, or indeed anything very attractive or nautical.

Instead, we were treated to a lot of industrial action, with various cranes moving the huge cargo containers stacked in neighbouring yards. To complete the effect, the metal fences were topped with barbed wire (to keep people out of the container yards, I imagine, rather than to keep people in the restaurant). You can probably make out the rolled barbed wire at the top of the fencing:

An overall look at the cooking area.

And here’s another photo, showing off the stacked cargo containers, as well as several tables of diners:

A romantic back-drop?

And by the way, the place was packed by the time that Jan and I finished the last of our lunches, and asked our waiter to call a taxi. (It came quite quickly, in fact.)

So, what was all the fuss about? Well, the grilled fish — served simply with potatoes and greens — was indeed very good. (The total bill for Jan and me, including a bottle of fresh white wine, was just under 54 euros. Very reasonable.) Here’s my plate of grilled grouper:

Fish, she is very fresh.

The all important question: Would we return? We probably would, if we lived in Lisbon, fairly near the harbour, and had a car to get us to the restaurant. But we’ll probably always remember Ultimo Porto more for the surroundings than the fish.

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Two meals in Lisbon

Yes, I realize that I have not been awfully diligent in posting about our trip to Lisbon near the end of February. Among other things, I’ve had technical troubles with photographs (okay, probably Operator Error). As well, I’ve been rather occupied with writing for some corporate clients in Canada, who actually pay money for my written words, and thus deserve priority.

But just for now, I will let you know that I will shortly be posting accounts of two very different meals in the capital of Portugal. One meal was one of the strangest lunches we’ve ever had, while the other was possibly the best meal ever.  (And I mean ever.)

Stay tuned for “Fresh fish and barbed wire.” Coming soon. In the meantime, here is some fresh fish, from that very lunch.

Fish? Fresh. Venue? Strange.

Posted in Food, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Flower power, 2nd edition

Just about a year ago (March 20, 2016, to be precise) I posted “Flower power” to herald Daglan’s first Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival.  And now my wife Jan and I are busily getting prepared for the second edition of the Fête, which takes place in our village tomorrow (Sunday, March 19).

(Okay, we’re not actually “busily getting prepared.” But we have talked about it, and do plan to buy some flowers and other plants for the front of our house.)

The festival is pretty much a village-wide flower and plant market, with stalls all over the place. There will also be some displays, and a lunch of stuffed chicken in the village’s Salle des fêtes. (The lunch costs 20 euros for adults, and 10 euros for children. To reserve, call 05 – 53 – 28 – 41 – 16.)

Here are just a couple of photos from the 2016 edition to show you the kinds of offerings that will be available:

Plants, flowers, shrubs — you name it.

For sale, trees and shrubs.

Also taking place tomorrow, at the side of the village church, will be the inauguration of our new Stèle de la Paix, a small  peace monument dedicated to the memory of the combatants and the victims of the battles in North Africa and Indochina (Viet Nam) in the years 1946 – 1962.

The ceremony starts at 11:30, and will be followed (of course) by a vin d’honneur at the Salle des fêtes. [Late news: A notice for this event said it begins at 11:30, but an email newsletter from our Mayor’s office said it will start at 11. Go figure.]

And now, as the saying goes: “It’s time to watch some rugby.” (The Six Nations tournament ends today.)


Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Festivals in France, Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The super market (Lisbon style)

As I wrote in my last blog posting, in Lisbon we discovered a “stunning market-cum-restaurant that other cities should copy immediately.” Today I’ll serve it up.

On a Saturday morning, my wife Jan and I had hired a guide with a three-wheeled vehicle to drive us up and down through hilly old Lisbon, checking out churches, street markets, and look-out points. Like this, for instance:

A statue near Lisbon's old cathedral.

A statue near Lisbon’s old cathedral.

Sometime before noon, he dropped us off at the market that friends had recommended — the Mercado de Ribeira (or Mercado 24 de Julho, if you prefer), which is Lisbon’s main market and is located in the centre of the city, on the riverfront.

Our guide explained that when we entered the main door, we could turn to our right for the traditional market, and then proceed to the other half of the building for the Food Court. And off we went.

The traditional market — fruit, vegetables, seafood and so on — was immense, and loaded with goodies. Here’s an overall view:

Long rows of fruit and vegetables, all looking good and fresh.

Long rows of fruit and vegetables.

And here’s  Jan near the end of one of the rows:

No, we weren't actually buying vegetables.

No, we weren’t actually buying vegetables.

Since Lisbon is Seafood City, naturally there were several stalls offering fresh fish, like this:

Lots of fish on offer.

Lots of fish on offer.

And then shrimp, of course:

Shrimp keeping cool on ice.

Shrimp keeping cool on ice.

But for us, of course, the main event was the Food Court, and it didn’t take us long to get there. And what an amazing place it is — have a look:

Long rows of high-quality tables and chairs.

Long rows of high-quality tables and chairs.

What amazed both of us was the quality of the place — the wooden tables and chairs were solid and clean and well-made; the food stalls around the perimeter of the court were well marked, with bold and modern typography on their signs, and there were wine bars and cocktail bars down the centre of the court. (I can imagine how a place like this could be a disaster in many cities — with cheap plastic furniture and a mish-mash of signs, like most of the airport food courts you’ve probably seen.)

Since we were there before noon, when things were just getting going, we had time to be served a glass of wine by a polite young man at this wine bar, who then  gave us some good advice about how and where to order food:

Nothing like a nearby wine bar.

Nothing like a nearby wine bar.

Choosing what to eat is the hard part here — many of Lisbon’s top chefs have mini-restaurants around the Food Court, offering all sorts of goodies. But ordering is easy: Once you’ve decided what you want, you pay for it, and then are given an electronic device that will signal you when your food is ready to be picked up. Here’s the device I was given:

It flashes like crazy when your order is ready.

It flashes  when your order is ready.

And here’s what I got for nine and a half euros — a plate of absolutely delicious, perfectly tender, crispy-skinned pork belly pieces, accompanied by a pea purée and charred bok choy. Wonderful:

The pork was perfect.

The pork was perfect.

Seafood-loving Jan had two dishes — a single giant shrimp that cost 12 and a half euros (yikes!) but was worth it (yes, I got a taste) and this seafood salad, which she loved:

Jan;s delicious seafood salad.

Jan’s delicious seafood salad.

So, what’s the secret of this place? Once we returned to Daglan, I did some Internet searching and learned that the traditional market had been running for years and years — but that the Food Court was opened in May 2014, when the management of Time Out Lisbon magazine bought the place. Aha! It was as I suspected — it takes strong management, with a commitment to quality, to make a place like this work.

Aside from the food and wine, by the way, we had a lot of fun. Our table-mates kept changing as the lunch proceeded, and eventually we got into quite a good discussion with (on my side of the table) a mature English woman who is a textile designer and whose charming daughter is a designer for Aquascutum, and then (on Jan’s side of the table) two young Japanese women who turned out to be bankers — and who (naturally) had to take photos of all of us. (At one point, I told them that Jan was Lady Gaga, which made them laugh, and caused one of them to start humming a Lady Gaga tune. Very cute.)

Finally, a few tips, if you ever get to this place:

Don’t go solo. If you can, go with at least one other person, so that you can take turns ordering and picking up your food, without losing your place at the table.

Don’t go late. Because we arrived early (before noon), we had lots of time to look around, and lots of choice for a place to sit. Later on, the place gets quite busy, like this:

By 2 p.m., it's packed.

By 2 p.m., it’s packed.

Jan and I had the same reaction: If it’s this busy on a Saturday afternoon in February, what in the world would it be like in July or August?

Finally, I’m not suggesting that you travel all the way to Lisbon from wherever you are just to eat in this market. But if you are planning a business or pleasure trip to Lisbon, be sure not to miss this.


Posted in Food, Travels in and out of France, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Memories, and current events (March 2017)

We are back home in Daglan after a wonderful trip to Lisbon, our first visit to Portugal. We came back with some lovely memories, which I will be writing about more fully in the coming days.

But for now, suffice it to say that our memories include: our first meal at a restaurant trimmed with barbed wire; possibly our best meal ever (at a quite different restaurant); a stunning market-cum-restaurant that other cities should copy immediately; a twisting, winding trip up and down the hilly streets of old Lisbon, with some amazing views; and the re-discovery of how much I like Negroni cocktails.

Just for a quick taste, here is one photo we took as we looked out over Lisbon on a somewhat misty morning:

Looking down on Lisbon's tiled roofs.

Looking down on Lisbon’s tiled roofs.

As always, there were some things about Daglan that we missed while we were away, despite the fact that we were ensconced in a quite wonderful five-star hotel.

Interestingly (perhaps) my wife Jan and I agreed that what we missed most was hearing the church bells that go off near our Daglan home every hour on the hour, and every half hour too. We’re not exactly sure why, but it’s somewhat comforting to hear them in the morning, if you happen to wake up early. Here’s a view of the church tower that you can see from our front steps (the photo obviously was taken a while ago, when the weather allows tourists to take flight in hot air balloons):

Our bells are in the church tower.

Our bells are in the church tower.

But now for a few current events:

Flower patrol: This morning I saw a forsythia bush in full bloom, tucked away in a quiet corner near the déchetterie that’s next to the village cemetery. I failed to take a photo because it was raining cats and dogs at the time. In any case, it means that we’ve got a nice early start on spring budding and flowering.

Restaurant patrol: Daglan’s Le Petit Paris has been open for a while, and the new Café de la Fleur seems to be going strong (and getting good reviews). Next up is La Cantine, the restaurant of Chef Fabrice Lemonnier; it opens for the season this coming Wednesday. That’s all good stuff.

Meanwhile, Jan and I are keeping a watchful eye on Sawadee, the Thai restaurant in nearby Cénac that we like — a lot. Closed for the winter, but due to open soon. Yum.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment