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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
These are not startling events, but we are now quite close to two showdowns — one political, the other somewhat cultural.
First the political: the regional elections in France, which were to take place in March 2021, but were delayed to this month because of the pandemic. Round one takes place June 20 (this coming Sunday), and round two (to tidy up any really close voting results) will be held on June 27.
What’s at stake? There are seats for 18 regional presidencies up for grabs, and almost 1,760 regional councillors. In previous postings, I have noted the “tidiness” of France’s process for putting up political posters; instead of having posters glued all over the place, candidates have to place their posters on specified boards. Here’s a look at the one in Daglan, just outside our community hall:
For several weeks, we’ve been receiving printed material that extols the virtues of the various candidates in our area; however, neither Jan nor I can vote. I’m a Canadian citizen, and Jan is a citizen of both Canada and the U.K. (In case you missed the explosion of news about Brexit, the U.K. is no longer a member of the European Union, and so British citizens can’t vote here.)
Other than the flurry of printed materials, I don’t think there has been an awful lot of fuss about these elections. But just wait until next year — that’s when French President Macron has to go to the electorate. A French political commentator that I follow is predicting a rough-and-ready presidential election. And who am I to disagree?
Seeking Number 3. The other showdown is when Daglan — the community — faces the judgment of the people behind the Villes et Villages Fleuris movement, as our village leaders are hoping to add a third flower to the signs you see as you enter our village. Here’s a look at where we stand now:
If you’re not up to speed on this program, here are some excerpts from a previous posting in the ever-educational Radio Free Daglan:
… the Villes etVillages Fleuris competition is a national program created in 1959. Over the years, the program has evolved. While the name suggests that villages like Daglan should be full of flowers — which is true — it also signifies that the village is generally trying to improve the local environment and encourage a high quality of life for residents. Places for handicapped parking; recreational facilities; general cleanliness, and so on.
Cities and villages which qualify can be awarded from one to four flowers, which are displayed on signs as you enter the community. When Daglan was first recognized, we had one flower on our signs. And now, we have two flowers on each of the signs posted at the three main entrances to the village.
Next Wednesday is your chance to boost our chances for Flower No. 3. The office of the Mayor has called for volunteers to show up at the salle des fêtes or community hall on June 23 at 9 a.m. to help give a final boost to our chances (for “notre 3ème fleur“). What to do? Just bring your gloves and gardening gear, and spend some time tidying up the planters around Daglan, pulling weeds, and trimming plants. My wife Jan will, of course, be there. I, of the bad back, will remain at home, cheering silently.
My wife Jan asked that question yesterday afternoon, as we drove home under a cloudless sky. And when she answered “We’re very, very happy,” it wasn’t just the weather she was admiring. We were feeling quite good after having enjoyed a wonderful lunch at O Moulin in Carsac, for the first time in many months.
Restaurants in France have been emerging from the restrictions of the Covid pandemic lockdown. First they could offer take-out food; then they could serve customers outdoors, on patios and terraces; and now they can accept customers indoors. But there was special poignancy in O Moulin’s opening, because it had been completely shut down because of a major flood (which I described in “Fine dining: tasty treats, and a sad tale,” posted on April 25).
As it happens, we ate outdoors on the restaurant’s shaded terrace, because the weather was so pleasant. I’m happy to say that the terrace was full of diners, and we saw at least three couples turned away because they showed up without a reservation. (When in France, don’t think you can just pop into a restaurant, especially a very good one, and expect to be served a meal.)
Since we felt like celebrating, we began with a glass of Taittinger Champagne (delicious), and went on to choose our meals. I chose from the 35-euro Menu L’énéa, while Jan made her selection from the 47-euro menu. We were then served several amuse-bouches, including this bowl holding a roll of delicate smoked trout, filled with soft, creamy cheese, and sitting in a pool of an intense asparagus sauce:
For her entrée, Jan chose a dish of tuna tataki (barely cooked tuna), while I had a serving of small ravioli, filled with fresh chèvre cheese, sitting in a pool of creamy sauce scattered with slivers of chorizo sausage.
Jan’s main course was a filet of Limousin beef, served with a mix of young vegetables and girolle mushrooms; she said the beef was perfectly cooked and wonderfully tender. My plat principal was a filet of Borrèze trout, served with new carrots and small pasta shells. Here’s my plate:
Jan’s dessert was listed on the menu simply as “Comme une tarte au fraise,” but her serving was gluten-free (no pastry), with fresh strawberries and a quenelle of ice cream, circled around a swirl of whipped cream. Here’s her plate:
My dessert was described as a “mousse au chocolat Dulcey, creme glacée de riz au lait etconfiture de lait,” which as you can see from my plate featured a large oval made of white chocolate, served with a quenelle of ice cream, and pieces of fresh strawberry:
It was a truly memorable meal, in lovely surroundings, and it won’t be long before we head back.
Loyal and alert readers with good memories (and you know who you are), will recall that on Tuesday, Jan and I had our first meal at a restaurant in a long, long time — not just take-out food from a restaurant, but a lunch enjoyed while sitting on the actual terrace of an actual restaurant. This event was captured in “A scrumptious return to the near-normal” (May 26). And then we went and did it again in the same week.
Having heard lots from friends about a relatively new fine-dining restaurant near Gourdon, we decided to try it for lunch yesterday. It’s at the Domaine de Berthiol, and it has the unlikely name of Delicatessens.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I see the word delicatessen, I think of a small market or shop that specializes in Jewish foods (bagels, smoked salmon), Italian foods (sausages, cheeses) or German foods (sauerbraten, bratwurst). But this Delicatessens (yes, it’s plural) is something quite different — and very enjoyable.
We arrived pretty much on time for our 12:30 reservation, and were surprised to find that the parking lot was full of cars and most of the tables were already occupied. This was something of a surprise, since our traditional lunch starting time of 12:30 is relatively early by French standards. It seems that those who know the restaurant want to be sure to get a place. The company was nice, but it also meant that the servers were a bit rushed — and so it took a while to order our almost mandatory kirs.
We wound up with a nice table for two in the centre of the terrace. I took the following photo as Jan and I were leaving, so many of the customers had already finished. At its busiest, I think every table was occupied. Here’s a look:
The restaurant is in the country, a bit south and east of Gourdon, and the views of surrounding trees and fields are quite pleasant. Here’s one view:
From the start of our meal, Jan and I both felt that the chef at Delicatessens has the same kind of touch and imaginative flair as the much-beloved chef at O Moulin in Carsac. Here’s Jan’s entrée, which was a terrine made of confit of pork with herbs, and nicely decorated. On top of the terrine was a tiny spoonful of mustard, razor-thin radish slices, and four balls of herbed mousse:
I had a small taste of Jan’s terrine, and thought it was quite good. But for visual appeal (and a wonderful taste) I think my entrée was on top. It was an “ingot” made of peas that had been pureed, and topped with a mousse of fresh chèvre and young sprouts, and then decorated with razor-thin slices of radish, and edible flowers. To enhance the texture, the “ingot” contained a number of whole peas, and had been placed on a crunchy biscuit, like a sablé. Here’s my dish:
For our main course, Jan and I both ordered the tataki of beef (a piece of beef filet or tenderloin that is barely cooked, and then marinated), accompanied by polenta and served on a sweet mousseline of carrots. We both thought the beef tasted fine, but was tough and chewy — an unfortunate characteristic of a lot of French beef. Actually, my favourite parts of the dish were the mousseline and the “ingot” of polenta, which must have been deep-fried, because it had a crunchy coating. Here’s my dish:
I also loved my dessert, which was a wedge of chestnut crème encased in a crisp coating of dark chocolate with tiny bits of hazelnut, and topped with wedges of small pears. Here it is:
Domaine du Berthiol is now operated by the team of Benoît and Justine Mouly. He is listed on the restaurant’s website as Chef de cuisine, while she looks after special events (the place is a natural for weddings, celebrations, and similar events) and is also listed as the Designer culinaire.
We found the meal to be exceptionally good value, and the service — after a slow start — was friendly, prompt and professional. Our lunch included a kir for each of us, a bottle of Chablis, the three-course meal, and an espresso each. And for all that, the total bill was 95 euros.
Delicatessens is about 21 kilometres from Daglan, so you can drive there in less than half an hour. I’m sure we’ll be heading there again. The telephone number is 05 – 65 – 32 – 70 – 56, and the website is http://www.delicatessens.fr
With the worst of the pandemic seeming to fade, restaurants in France recently were allowed to receive customers — but only on their outdoor terraces; to be seated inside a restaurant, we will have to wait until June 9. But yesterday, Jan and I, with friends Rosemary and Richard, got our first taste of the new near-normal — that is, lunch on a terrace.
The occasion was another trip to Toulouse for my afternoon medical appointment, for a quick check-up. The timing allowed us to have lunch beforehand, and so Jan had reserved a place for the four of us at noon on the sidewalk outside Chez Jeannot — certainly our favourite seafood restaurant.
I first wrote about Chez Jeannot in a posting of June 18, 2020 (when we could still eat indoors), and here’s a quote from that piece: “Jan had eaten at Chez Jeannot several times, but this was a first for me. Right from the start, I knew why she had raved about it: A warm welcome at the door, a clean and sophisticated decor, and professional service.”
And just a bit more from last June: “I wish more restaurants could be like this: Specializing in one type of food and doing it very well. Having well-qualified, friendly and professional staff … And sporting a smart, well-lighted décor.”
And now back to yesterday’s lunch, outdoors. Jan and I were greeted warmly at the door, and given our choice of tables, while we waited for Richard and Rosemary to park the car. From the start, our server was upbeat, friendly and professional. We chose a table, and ordered some pre-lunch drinks. Here’s a view of our table setting, with a look along the sidewalk:
The weather wasn’t perfect by any means. It was a bit breezy, the temperature was cool, and later on in the lunch there were some sprinkles of rain. But it was great to be outside, sitting at a restaurant, and trying to choose our dishes from the huge array of fresh seafood on offer.
In the end, Richard chose a grilled white fish; Jan and Rosemary had the grilled gambas, or large shrimp; and at Jan’s suggestion, I chose the seafood risotto. Jan had ordered the risotto previously, and said it was delicious — but when my plate arrived, she was as surprised as I was. Jan said it was quite different from the dish she was served; as for me, I had expected a bowl of risotto with pieces of seafood mixed in. Instead, this is what I received:
What an abundance! Grilled gambas, grilled octopus and squid, mussels, clams and — yes, somewhere below all the seafood — a small but delicious serving of a reasonably authentic risotto. It was quite wonderful, helped along by our bottle of Sancerre.
At the end of our lunch, I was the only one to choose dessert, while Jan and Rosemary opted for an extra glass of white wine. As you can imagine, I loved the dessert, which looked like this:
In the centre was a moist chocolate cake with a melted chocolate centre, and around it were a scoop of ice cream, a large portion of whipped cream, and — as one of the day’s five servings of fruit and vegetables — a raspberry.
As I told a friend in Daglan this morning, if the restaurant were an hour’s drive closer, rather than the rather tedious two-hour drive to Toulouse, Jan and I would probably eat at Chez Jeannot once a week.
Yesterday was our wedding anniversary — the 33rd, in fact — and in “normal”, pre-pandemic times, we would have tried to celebrate with a lavish lunch in a fine-dining restaurant. But restaurants in France remain closed (for indoor dining), and the weather seemed a bit cool and wet for us to enjoy a meal on a terrace. So we opted for lunch at home with a nice bottle of bubbly and some delicious Thai food brought home from Sawadee, in neighbouring Cénac.
As I’m sure I’ve written in the past, Sawadee’s food is known for coming in generous (some would say huge) servings, and so we struggled with what to order. Because it was a special day, we felt that we should have more than just a main course. So we decided to share a soup, knowing that a full serving of soup for each of us would simply be too much, if it were followed by a main course.
What we chose was something called Tom Kha Kai, which means a chicken soup with lots of spices and flavoured further with coconut milk. Warning: Do not, repeat not, order this if you’re the kind of person who says “I don’t really like spicy food.” The soup was truly delicious, but pretty much in the blow-your-head-off category, at least for me. (Jan can tolerate spicy heat more than I can.)
Aside from the peppery heat, the only other criticism of the soup is that there were lots of little bits to fish out, because they were inedible — like tiny tubes of hard-to-chew lemongrass. In any case, we enjoyed this as an entrée, and thought the small pieces of chicken and the numerous slices of mushrooms were yummy. Here’s my bowl:
For my main course, I had Sawadee’s Pad taï (note the impressive use of French here), which was as good as always. I’m not including a photo, because I’ve shown off the dish before. But I will show Jan’s main course — Vermicelles de soja, which is made up of soy noodles and fresh shrimp, with flavours including coriander and green pepper. Here’s her serving:
Having finished the rich soup (and remember, we split one portion) we both found the main courses simply too much. So before we got too far along with the mains, we decided to save the remainder in our refrigerator for lunch today (Saturday), and that’s exactly what we did. Still good on Day Two.
Future dining treats. While Jan and I have been having take-out food from local restaurants, France has finally been making enough progress against the Covid pandemic that the rules are being eased up. So on Tuesday, when we motor down to Toulouse for a medical appointment, we will have a wonderful lunch (I’m pretty confident) at the marvelous seafood restaurant I’ve praised before — Chez Jeannot. The only hitch is that our meal will be served on the terrace, so we’re hoping for the weather to improve a bit.
And there is even more good news ahead.
It turns out that O Moulin, the terrific fine-dining restaurant in Carsac, has been restored from the damages it suffered in a flood earlier this year, and will be re-opening in June. Are we excited, or what? Well, we have already confirmed our reservation for a Sunday lunch. Indoors!
For the second week in a row, our Sunday lunch was the 26-euro take-out special from the excellent restaurant Le Grand Bleu. On Friday I had telephoned the chef, Maxime Lebrun, to place our order, and yesterday Jan drove to Sarlat to pick up our meals, at a “chalet” across the street from the post office. (Le Grand Bleu itself remains closed, other than for take-out meals, because of the pandemic.)
Obviously anyone calling himself or herself a chef must be able to cook well, and particularly the foods of their region or culture; but a really good chef also knows what combinations of flavour, texture and colour can be added to the dish to increase the diner’s enjoyment; Chef Lebrun is one of those.
Our entrée was, in my view, not the most appealing looking dish I’ve ever had, but it was certainly tasty. My first course — slices of marinated trout with two sauces — nori and passion fruit, is shown below:
The main course was, I thought, more visually appealing, and even more delicious. It featured meltingly tender roast loin of veal and a “piperade” sauce made with mint, accompanied by some perfectly cooked white and green asparagus. Have a look:
Our desserts really showed off Chef’s ability to put unusual flavour combinations to good effect. The starting point was a black olive macaron, filled with a whipped green cream and fresh strawberries. Jan and I both loved the cream, but couldn’t quite identify the taste. So I double-checked the menu: it turned out to be a crème d’asperge verte au basilic, meaning that Chef is making full use of the seasonal vegetable. More importantly, it really was delicious. Here’s my dessert:
For the previous Sunday lunch, Jan and I rated it as 8 out of a possible 10. But yesterday’s meal scored a perfect 10. Had the dishes been a bit less dainty — which is to say a bit more generous — it could have scored an 11.
You may remember that in “Putting our sheep to work” (April 15), I described a request from our Mayor for volunteers to gather on April 22 to help build a fence on a hill next to Daglan’s cemetery. The goal was to create an enclosure so that sheep could be put to occasional use as living lawn mowers. Here’s how I began that posting:
Éco-pâturage, as I’m sure you know, refers to the practice of employing grazing animals for mowing, which of course saves time and resources, reduces the hard work of maintenance, and respects biodiversity. Okay, I didn’t know what it meant either. But it turns out that we in Daglan are very much in favour of éco-pâturage, and in fact are being asked to help implement it.
So last Thursday, the volunteer program was completed, and I’m pleased to say that Jan played an important role in the fence-building, by ensuring that each fence post was kept truly vertical as it was being driven into the ground. Now here’s a quick photographic review, starting with an overview of the volunteers on the hill:
The turn-out of volunteers was good (many hands make light work, you know), and so most of the fence-post planting was done in the morning, while the wire fencing was stapled into place later in the day. Here’s a look at the fence, from the cemetery side of the hill:
Of course all work and no play is a drag, and so the volunteers were able to take a well-earned break for coffee. Here’s the group:
What I haven’t seen yet are the sheep, and I’m not sure how often they will be needed for mowing. (They will be brought into the village by a young local sheep breeder.) But if I get a glimpse of them, you can be sure I’ll record the sight for blog posterity.
Another catastrophe for the GDA. In another recent posting, I described how a major flood had shut down one of the best restaurants in the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA), the charming O Moulin in Carsac. This past weekend, our area suffered another disaster, which Jan and I learned about on Monday morning. This time the cause was fire.
We had begun the week knowing that a company called Inova Cuisine would be installing a fitted kitchen for friends, and were anxious to know how quickly the work could be done — and what the finished kitchen would look like. But when Jan checked out the daily journal Sud–Ouest on her computer, she said to me — “Well, they won’t be getting their kitchen this week.”
What had happened over the weekend was a truly major fire, one that was fought by nearly 60 firefighters from all over the area. The fire devoured 2,000 square metres of Inova’s buildings, and we later learned that the destruction represented about half of the company’s products. And wouldn’t you know it, but our friends’ kitchen cabinets had been stored in the building that burned.
Jan and I know Inova well, and are impressed with it. It’s located in the hamlet of Campagnac-lès-Quercy, just about nine kilometres south of Daglan. We visited the company some years ago, intending to look at new tops for our kitchen counters — and wound up buying a completely new kitchen. Inova designed it, supplied all the appliances, and built and installed all the cabinet work. That was in the summer of 2013 (yikes — that’s eight years ago!). Here’s a view of the Inova truck that was parked in front of our house while the installation was taking place:
On the plus side, the people at Inova have been working like crazy to catch up with their projects, and have brought in additional workers. And today our friends learned that their new kitchen will be ready for installation next Wednesday. Pretty impressive.
This posting includes two tales: A description of today’s tasty take-out lunch from Le Grand Bleu, our favourite restaurant in Sarlat, and the sad story of a catastrophe at O Moulin, the wonderful restaurant in Carsac that I’ve raved about many times in the past. First, today’s lunch.
Our entrée was a roll of cold poached chicken breast, wrapped around a morsel of red pepper, and accompanied by a confit of red pepper and (oddly, I thought) a few slices of smoked sturgeon. Here’s my serving, as it appeared on the take-out plate from Le Grand Bleu. (By the way, the talented chef, Maxime Lebrun, proudly told Jan this morning that all his containers are recyclable. Hurrah!)
The chicken was tender, and went well with the red pepper confit. But neither Jan nor I cared for the smoked sturgeon. The taste was fine, but the thin slices were surprisingly tough, and we finally reverted to steak knives to cut smaller pieces; then came a lot of chewing.
We fared better with the main course — steamed cod served on a bed of (French) risotto, and accompanied by a few pieces of white asparagus from our region. Here’s my plate:
You may have noticed that I wrote “French” risotto, because the French seem to think (unlike the Italians, who originated the dish) that cream should be added. So it tastes fine, but is a bit “gloopy,” to use a sophisticated cooking term. I enjoyed my dish, but Jan complained that her rice was a bit under-done; the grains of rice were a bit hard in the centre.
We did quite well on desserts. Because Jan is allergic to gluten, Chef substituted a (wheat-free) macaron as her dessert, served with fresh fruit and a mango mousse. Here it is:
Jan’s dessert certainly came first in the visual department, but my rather modest-looking tarte au citron vert (key lime pie) served with an Italian meringue topping, and seated on a chocolate cookie, was ab-fab. As I said to Jan when I finished it: “Well, I could five more of those.” Here’s my dessert:
The take-out menu from Le Grand Bleu is available on order, and the dishes can be picked up at the central square in Sarlat (across from the post office) rather than at the restaurant. The cost is a reasonable 26 euros for three courses. For today’s meal, Jan and I agreed it deserved a Radio Free Daglan Score (or RFDS) of 8 out of 10; the mark-downs were for the chewy sturgeon and the not-so-authentic risotto. But I’m sure we’ll be ordering from Le Grand Bleu again.
The sad tale of O Moulin. For quite a while, we had missed the take-out menu from O Moulin, and wondered just what was going on. Had they given up because of the pandemic, or what? The restaurant’s Facebook page referred to a flood, but I figured that would be a minimal problem.
After all, take a look at this photo, of the restaurant’s front entrance:
In the foreground, by the trees, you can see a depression — which is where a relatively small stream flows, making its way into the Dordogne River. In fact, the stream actually runs under the restaurant, and is quite attractive. But it seemed to me that it would be nearly impossible for the stream to flood enough to shut down the restaurant.
Finally, this past Friday Jan and I were shopping in Sarlat, which is not far from Carsac, and so we decided to drive to O Moulin and see what we could see. Well, the first view wasn’t promising — the menus had been taken down from the display case beside the path into the restaurant, and replaced by a “closed” sign, and there was a chain across the little bridge over the stream.
Nevertheless, Jan went under the chain and spoke to both the chef and his partner, and learned that the restaurant had truly suffered a major flood — it seems a dam far up the river broke, sending a torrent of water down from the hills. The result? The water actually washed away the wooden terrace at the front of the restaurant; destroyed all the kitchen equipment; and flooded the whole restaurant to a depth of 80 centimetres.
As you can imagine, the restaurateurs are working hard to bring the place back to life — but it involves a lot of negotiations about insurance, and a lot of plain hard work, including getting rid of the ruined equipment and then re-painting the walls. So far, no date has been set for completion. What a shame.