Disappointment at a starred restaurant

We had been very much looking forward to dining this past Tuesday (September 7) at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris, chosen by my wife Jan because the specialty was seafood, and Tuesday was to be her special birthday lunch, with our great friends Keith and Kathy, visiting from Toronto.

As it turned out, I am sorry to say, our lunch at Divellec, on the rue Fabert, not far from Les Invalides, was a disappointment. Not bad, and rather pleasant as a gathering of friends, but disappointing nevertheless. There were a few reasons why.

Let’s start with Michelin’s own description of the restaurant, which in some measure led us to choose it: “The famous restaurant of Jacques Le Divellec has treated itself to a makeover. At the helm is the starred chef Mathieu Pacaud (Hexagone and Histoires in Paris), who channels his considerable talent into impeccable fish and seafood cuisine. The delicacies come thick and fast. Le Divellec is back with a vengeance.” Well, that sounds promising, yes?

We began by toasting Jan’s birthday with a bottle of Champagne. Then we placed our orders and sat back, waiting to be dazzled. What we received was a single amuse-bouche, which was a small bowl containing a piece of grilled octopus sitting atop some bean paste (which I wrongly thought was hummus).

Now the octopus-and-bean-paste was fine — but frankly not much better than I would expect as an appetizer at one of the Greek restaurants on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Contrast that with what I wrote about Le Petit Léon (September 1): “We began with a generous selection of amuse-bouches, including minced fresh oysters served on the half-shell with a tart sauce. The variety and number of the little taste treats were so stunning that I forgot to take any photos of the dishes!”

Then, at Divellec, came our entrées. For Jan, it was a tuna tartare, served in a bowl, with an accompaniment of mashed avocado. Once again, it was fine — but certainly not particularly creative. Have a look:

Tasty, but not really exceptional.

The one “creative” dish of our meal, in my view, was my entrée — a “carbonara” with thinly sliced squid rings instead of pasta, topped with an egg yolk. It was delicious, although in all honesty the creamy pasta I had enjoyed at Romantica Caffé was better, simply because the squid has a more firm texture than pasta, and so was somehow less satisfying. Again, however, I give the Divellec creation full marks for being creative and also yummy. Here’s my serving:

The pasta was, well, not pasta. Pretty yummy.

And now we come to the real heart of the problem: the main course. Jan, Kathy and I had all ordered the sole — cooked with butter in the classic way for Kathy and me, and grilled for Jan. (Keith, ever seeking la différence, even in a seafood restaurant, had Bresse chicken.)

And when the fish arrived, and was de-boned (skillfully) by our waiter, we were stunned. The only word I can use for our portions was “huge.” In each case, we had a whole fish, and while all three of us are reasonably hearty eaters, this was simply too much. I’m not sure the following photo will really convey the size of each serving:

Well prepared, well cooked, quite delicious — but huge.

My sole was perfectly cooked. The butter sauce was delicious. So was the fish itself. But I could eat only about a third or a half of it. The same problem was faced by Jan and Kathy. So when we were “finished,” the waiter returned, took away our plates, and that was that. No question, such as “Didn’t you enjoy your sole?” or “Was there something wrong with the fish?” Nothing, as if it was completely normal that diners would return half or two-thirds of their main course to be dumped in the garbage.

And then, just to be finished, we had coffee and some not-very-inspiring mignardise, of which I had none. No dessert — just please order a taxi for us.

When we returned home, we received an email from the restaurant, asking us to complete a questionnaire regarding our experience. And that I did, with the same sort of tone I’ve used for this review. But, obviously, my comments and ratings were pretty unfavourable.

Follow-up: Another day passed, and we received a phone message from the manager of Divellec, asking us to phone — which I did. We had a rather long conversation, in which I again spelled out why we were disappointed in our lunch. In a nice way, he apologized, expressed surprise that we were taken aback by the size of our fish portions, and said to call him personally if we wanted to return. He also acknowledged that, given our reaction, we probably wouldn’t be returning. And of course he was right.

Final thought: Although it’s not stated on the menu, the manager told me that the restaurant sometimes offers sole to be shared. I could be wrong on this, but I think the three of us may have been served — each — a fish that was meant to be shared between at least two people. We’ll probably never know.

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A few tastes of Paris

Paris is our feel-good city, so Jan and I were feeling good when we headed off by train for the City of Light last Saturday. We were travelling there to celebrate Jan’s birthday, to enjoy some culinary delights, and to spend time with great friends from Toronto, Keith and Kathy, who had braved the transatlantic crossing for some biking and sight-seeing in France.

With this post, I’m just going to show off some of the dishes we really enjoyed — even if they weren’t always in fine-dining restaurants.

One dish that may seem surprising for a Paris restaurant is the lobster roll. Yes, it’s the New England classic that consists of cold chunks of lobster in a mayonnaise, served on a sprinkling of crisp chopped lettuce and placed in a soft roll. (This being Paris, the bun is a delicious brioche.)

Jan and I each had the lobster-roll-and-fries special, at 32 euros each, at the Café Tourville, a short walk from our hotel. In fact, we had this meal twice — once on the Saturday afternoon of our arrival, and once on the day we left. It’s absolutely wonderful, which you might tell from this photo:

Cool lobster, hot fries — an absolute favourite.

The Café Tourville has been one of our favourite haunts in Paris for years, and so has the Romantica Caffé, an authentic Italian restaurant where we’ve lunched many times. On this trip, we enjoyed lunch at Romantica on Monday, when Jan had pasta with clams, and I had a creamy pasta that had been stirred in a large, hollowed-out wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. Have a look:

Jan’s clam-and-pasta dish, and my creamy, cheesy spaghetti.

In addition to the high quality of the food and the friendly service, the location of Romantica Caffé is also a plus. The restaurant is located on the Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg, right across from Les Invalides, the impressive building that houses Napoleon’s tomb. Here’s a view from our table:

From our table, a view of the top of the Invalides.

Our friends enjoy oysters as much as we do, and so on Monday night we all repaired to Huitrerie Regis in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. This restaurant specializes in oysters (quite obviously) and is also notable for being incredibly tiny. At our table for four, it seemed as if we were taking up most of the restaurant’s inside space. Here’s our tray of slipperies:

Oysters at perhaps the smallest restaurant in Paris.

We did have two disappointments on the lunchtime front. First, we were looking forward to Sunday lunch at an Indian restaurant that Jan and I know and love (Chez Raja, on the rue Surcouf) and had our reservation confirmed by an online service. However, the online service had missed the rather important fact that the restaurant would be closed on Sunday, and so when we arrived we were greeted by a locked front door. (We ate at a not-very-special café around the corner.)

The other disappointment was Tuesday’s lunch (for Jan’s birthday) at a Michelin-starred restaurant. I’ll cover that in a future post.

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More Kiwi magic in France — up a notch

It had been two years since we enjoyed lunch at Le Petit Léon, a restaurant in the secluded village of Saint-Leon-sur-Vézère. Although the place itself is fairly casual, the food is definitely in the fine-dining category — and this past Friday, we discovered that the chef and his team have moved the dishes (and the prices) even further upscale.

My initial review of the restaurant was called “Kiwi magic in a lovely French village” (posted August 15, 2019). What makes this place particularly interesting is that the chef is from New Zealand (where he is, evidently, a well known celebrity) and he flies his entire team to France for the summer, to operate this seasonal restaurant.

When Jan and I ate at Le Petit Léon in 2019, we were offered a three-course menu, with four choices for each course, at 30 euros. When we ate there on Friday with friends Helen and Roy, we were surprised to find that the menu had changed dramatically — with a four-course lunch for 50 euros, and a seven-course meal for 65 euros. If you opted for wine pairings, your bill would go up by 35 euros for five glasses and 50 euros for seven glasses.

Four courses seemed like more than enough, and seven courses seemed a bit over the top. What was also striking was that there were virtually no choices — the dishes for the four-course lunch were all set, and it was almost impossible to choose one of the other dishes, which were destined for the seven-course lunch. (Although I did talk my way into getting one change.)

In any case, all four of us agreed that the quality of the food was exceptional, and the quantity more than sufficient. We began with a generous selection of amuse-bouches, including minced fresh oysters served on the half-shell with a tart sauce. The variety and number of the little taste treats were so stunning that I forgot to take any photos of the dishes!

With the amuse-bouches polished off, it was time for our entrées, which included small pieces of trout, a saffron sauce, a slice of smoked tomato, and pine nuts, all topped with a rice cracker — into which some sort of designs were baked, with finely powdered charcoal. Here’s my serving:

The trout entrée with a rice cracker on top.

As he served the entrées, our waiter noted that the designs in the crackers had been modeled on the pre-historic animals that are painted on the famous caves at Lascaux; but he conceded that they were hard to make out because the crackers had curled while being baked. However, the animal designs on Helen’s cracker were fairly easy to see, and she kindly let me photograph it. Have a look:

Animal figures like the cave paintings at Lascaux.

Then came my first plat principal, a delicious dish of tender beef cheek with a poached langoustine, thinly sliced truffle, and a sauce périgourdine. This was the dish I was technically not supposed to have, because it was part of the seven-course menu, but I talked my way into it — finally declaring that I had an allergy to the type of fish they were serving as part of the four-course lunch! The simple fact was that I didn’t want to eat a main course of fish immediately after a trout entrée. Anyway, the beef-cheek dish was as delicious as it was visually appealing, as you can see:

A delicious, rich main course.

Then came the second plat principal (the dish was part of the four-course menu). I have to say that it was particularly clever, because it was listed on the menu simply as pintade (guinea fowl) with black garlic and a jus. The guinea fowl consisted of two rolls of white meat, generously sauced and decorated. Behold:

So good that I did manage to eat it.

The dessert on the four-course menu was listed as banoffee (traditionally, a pie made with a caramel and slices of banana), but of course this version was deconstructed. Again, I think I was too surprised by the non-traditional presentation to photograph it. However, I had regained my wits by the time our waiter brought our table a large selection of treats (as the menu described them) or mignardises. The photo below shows only a few of the choices; the “blackberries” were actually jellies, and the walnuts were not just lightly glazed with chocolate but actually had quite thick coatings of dark chocolate. Have a look:

Finally, just to give you an idea of the place, here is a photo of the front entrance; I copied it from my 2019 posting:

The front of the restaurant.

When we first lunched at Le Petit Léon, in 2019, rainy weather at the start of our meal meant that we had to eat indoors, and we wound up at a fairly cramped table. This time, the weather was great, and we were seated outdoors. Quite the lovely meal, all in all.

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Our stealth festival

In the past, Daglan’s annual summer festival — known officially as the Fetes de la Saint-Louis, but known in this blog as The Festival of Heat and Noise — was advertised well in advance. For several weeks ahead of the festival’s start, for instance, pennants would be hung all through the village, celebrating the themes of previous festival parades.

This year, the festival has sneaked up on us, appearing out of the clear blue sky like a huge stealth bomber (okay, that’s probably a bit excessive).

Anyway, for some time, Jan and I had heard from some particularly well plugged-in friends in Daglan that yes, the festival would take place. But there was literally no publicity — even the email newsletters we receive regularly from the Mayor never mentioned it. So we were skeptical.

Then yesterday (Saturday), I finally saw a poster for the event, located at the quite busy intersection where the road from Daglan joins the road to Bouzic. Frankly, a busy intersection is not a great place for cars to slow down and read the details. Not even as I drove into the village did I see a single other poster.

Then, thankfully, I found a poster on the front window of the convenience store on the main street through the village, and was able to get a photo. And here it is:

Well, well — it starts this coming Friday.

It turns out that most of the events will be concerts of one sort or another, starting this coming Friday. Then there will be a fireworks show late on the evening of Sunday.

The biggest news is that there will be no Sunday parade this year, and it was the parade that we felt was the true highlight of the festival. So we’re less than impressed. And we’ll be downright irritated if the dodge-em car ride is set up in the village’s main square, because it would mean that Jan and I would be subjected to loud music late into the night. We shall see.

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Dish du Jour — July 16, 2021

Yesterday we enjoyed yet another wonderful lunch on the terrace of O Moulin, the fine-dining restaurant in Carsac, less than 30 minutes from Daglan. This time it was with good friends Helen and Roy, who were celebrating a special anniversary.

Since I’ve gone on (and on) so often about O Moulin, I’ll keep this posting to a minimum. (If you ever want to read earlier reviews, just type O Moulin into the Search box at the top right of the page.)

To kick off our celebration, we each had a Kir Royale. Then it was on to the meal, which we accompanied with a couple of bottles of Tavel rosé.

My entrée was an incredibly fresh salad comprising small chunks of varied tomatoes, served with a herb-infused dressing and with a mound of creamy Burrata cheese in the centre. My meal ended with something called at Fraicheur Limoncello, which consisted of a light, lemon-flavoured mousse surrounding a scoop of lemon sorbet. A splash of Limoncello finished the dessert.

But for me, the real star of my lunch was the plat principal, what the menu described as Croustillant de canard confit, légumes de saison et jus aux épices tandoori. Have a look:

Small but surprisingly satisfying.

The confit of duck had been shredded, and was resting on a pastry bed. The vegetables included carrots and mushrooms, as well as the three swaths of puréed carrots you see on the left of the plate. It wasn’t a large serving, but it was surprisingly satisfying — and rich. I loved it!

Chef, you’ve done it again!

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Our big meal in a small French village

At one point during our lunch this past Sunday, Jan looked up from her plate and said to me: “This is a big meal!” No, we weren’t eating a Big Meal at a McDonald’s outlet, but at a rustic spot called Hostellerie de Goujounac. And she meant it was a really BIG meal.

The Hostellerie de Goujounac is a small hotel, with a restaurant and bar. It’s located in the village of (you guessed it!) Goujounac, which lies south of Cazals in the département of the Lot. It takes about 30 minutes to drive there from Daglan.

We had eaten there several years ago, and now there are new owners. What lured us to the restaurant was the promise of enjoying some spit-roasted pork; this special had been highlighted in a promotional email I received from the restaurant. Sounded great, and so off we went.

Despite the weather being quite cool and damp, we sat on the front terrace (wishing we had worn sweaters or jackets), and began our meal with one of our favourite cocktails, the Aperol Spritz (which we thought were just a touch weak). When it came to order, I was surprised that there was quite a full menu, with lots of choices, as well as the pork. The three-course meal was priced at 30 euros, which seemed reasonably fair to us.

Jan’s entrée will give you an idea of why we thought our lunch was so large. It was a plate of seared foie gras, surprisingly thick. And as you can see, on one side of Jan’s plate was a pile of sauteed girolle mushrooms, and on the other were darkened strips of confit de canard:

Foie gras — and then some.

My entrée was also generous: It was a thick slice of pâté en croute, accompanied by a fresh salad and a small dish of chutney. Very good.

My entrée was good — and generous.

For her main course, Jan swerved away from the spit-roast pork and went for slices of magret de canard (duck breast), served with mashed potatoes and a variety of vegetables. Here’s her plate:

Jan’s main course was magret de canard — roast duck breast.

And now we come to my main course — and the only disappointment of the meal. I had been looking forward to a few slices of spit-roast pork, tender and juicy, with a nice crisp crust. Instead, I was served a pile of strips of dried-out pork, sitting on top of a serving of potatoes dauphinois, and several vegetables.

The pork was so dry and unappetizing that I didn’t finish it. And after our meal, I chatted with a man at the next table who had ordered the pork and also found it unacceptably dry. It turned out that the man lives in the village, and said he would be speaking with the chef. Anyway, here’s my plate:

The pork was simply too dry to enjoy.

The dryness of the pork was almost made up for by my dessert, a creamy and light bavarois. Here’s my dish:

My dessert — nice and light.

With the pork fiasco in mind, we probably won’t be rushing back. Still, it’s a pleasant place, and the drive from Daglan takes you through some beautiful forested countryside. So if you’re in the area, it could be worth a try.

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Dish du Jour — June 29, 2021

On Tuesday (June 29), Jan and I met friends Roy, Helen and Sara for a lunch that would introduce them to Delicatessens, where Jan and I had eaten once before. The restaurant is located at the Domaine de Berthiol, just outside Gourdon.

I reviewed the place thoroughly in my posting of May 28, if you’d like to check back for details.

When Jan and I first lunched there, it was a nice, sunny day, and we were able to eat outdoors on the shaded terrace. But the weather this past Tuesday was cool and rainy, and no one was being served on the terrace. That was a shame, but the inside of the restaurant is attractive, and the five of us were seated comfortably and then served promptly and professionally.

In this posting, I’m featuring just one dish — my entrée. The dish was a tarte that featured ingredients that I wouldn’t have thought to combine, but the result was delicious. Sitting on the pastry base was a layer of soft, sweet, slow-cooked onion rings. On top there were small pieces of octopus, plus cherry tomatoes. Have a look:

An unusual combination — and I liked it!
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Doing our bit for another flower

Tuesday was Judgment Day in Daglan — when a group from the Villes et Villages Fleuris program were to visit our village and evaluate it, not just for beauty, but also for quality of life features. Our village council is quite keen to earn a third flower in the program (the maximum is four; Daglan had one flower when Jan and I moved here, and the village has since moved up to two).

There are now attractive Villes et Villages Fleuris signs posted at each of the three main entrances to the village, and the hope is that before too long, they will be replaced by three-flower versions.

As it happens, our house doesn’t have a conventional garden adjacent to it. We are currently having a garden created for us, on a large plot of land about 50 metres away, but the only flowers at our house are either on it or immediately next to it.

Still, we have been doing our best to keep Daglan beautiful. On Tuesday, all of us who live around the Place de la Fontaine were directed to park our cars elsewhere, so the judges could see the Place in all its glory. And Jan and I have been doing our bit to help Daglan rise up in the world of Villes et Villages Fleuris. What follows is a look at some of our own flowers.

Flowers planted in a bed where a wisteria vine has its roots.
A Rose of Sharon shrub grows beside the house.
Two bags of mixed flowers hang on our garage doors.
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The descent of the woolly mowers

Daglan’s commitment to ecological mowing was outlined in my post “Putting our sheep to work,” on April 15. But Jan and I were never able to spot any sheep on the hill beside the village cemetery — until this morning.

We had been reliably informed that, yes, several sheep were indeed in the newly fenced off area, but they chose to spend nearly all of their time avoiding the heat of the day, by sheltering under the trees at the top of the hill, and well out of view. We made several trips to the spot, but never got even a glimpse of the woolly mowers.

And then this morning, we saw them munching away happily on the grass and weeds that had sprouted up. And here they are, in action:

Enjoying an early lunch.
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The uber-clean village and our “civilized” lunch

At times I feel as if we are living in a public-policy experiment to answer one question: Just how clean, pretty and eco-friendly can one village get?

On Monday, for instance, a company of professional cleaners was blasting away at the water fountain at the front edge of the village square, Place de la Liberté. Normally the cleaning jobs here are performed by the village workers, but the fountain had been looking a bit grubby, and I suppose that the Mayor’s office wanted this visible feature to be good and clean — just in case the judges from the Villes et Villages Fleuri program should wander past. Here’s how the fountain looked this morning:

The stone is good and clean.

Today was also volunteer day (as I wrote last week), when the Mayor’s office had asked for residents to pitch in and help weed some of the planted areas around the village. Jan was one of those to volunteer, and she put in several hours of pulling weeds before her legs became too tired and she came home.

Before lunch we then drove over to the cemetery, because Jan had heard that sheep had been brought down to “mow” a grassy area next to the cemetery (another topic I covered previously). Sadly, no sheep were present, and the grass was actually getting a bit out of control. We will investigate further.

Meanwhile, Jan said I should take a photo of the newly mulched flower beds — in another eco-friendly move, the village is using crushed walnut shells as the mulch. (In case you didn’t know it, walnuts are a major crop in the Greater Daglan Area, or GDA.) Here’s what one flower bed looks like:

A neat bed of crushed walnut shells.

Our “civilized” lunch. Last Friday, Jan and I drove to the village of Belvès, parked up in the top market square, and strolled down the pedestrian street (full of shops, real estate agencies, cafés and bars) for lunch at Planches & Plonk, the wine-and-cheese café I’ve described previously.

We ordered a bottle of Chablis, and then made our selection of cheeses and charcuterie for the medium-size platter (at 21 euros). All the cheeses and meats were very good, but the runaway star was a brie with morsels of truffle in the centre.

It was truly outstanding, and we both thought that the cheese had the most truffle flavour of any food we’ve ever had (and we’ve had a lot). In the picture below, the pieces of brie are at the top left, next to a round cheese and just above the bowl of (delicious) chutney:

The brie with truffles was the star of the platter.

In all, we had the bottle of Chablis, two more glasses of white wine (for Jan, because I had ordered two scoops of ice cream from the shop next door), the meat-and-cheese platter, and two espressos. Total bill: 73.80 euros.

At one point, Jan happily exclaimed: “This is so civilized!” And I had to agree — not only was the food and wine good, the service friendly and polished, but it was wonderful to be outside again and saying “Bonjour” to people as they walked by. Just imagine: almost normalcy.

We liked our civilized lunch so much that in fact we are going back for an encore this Friday. For sure the brie with truffles will be ordered again.

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