French toast

Cancale oysters (1)

Hey Dan,

Isn’t it strange that we should both be travelling at the same time, particularly to these destinations.

Despite the absurd ‘freedom fries’ debacle ten years ago, Americans and the French have more in common than either would like to admit. Unfortunately that includes their ‘cremate it and stew it’ coffee. No wonder the minority of Americans with passports all seem to be in Paris.

You can get a half-decent espresso if you ask nicely, but anything with milk in tends to come with the sense that the coffee grinder was on strike that day.

Funnily enough, it was a decent coffee that lead me to one of my better lunch experiences in Paris. I was walking past a place called Le Pain Quotidien ( at coffee-o’clock and stopped in, and was surprised to get something that tasted like coffee. That they also had some great-looking bread and organic vegetables on the menu – April in France isn’t great for vegetables, as they tend to eat seasonal, and that limits things to asparagus – decided me on coming back for lunch.

I thought it was a real find, but then I discovered that it is a chain that originated in Belgium, and that even has four outlets in Sydney! Still, quality is quality – franchise or not.

The vegetable thing also led me to Le Richer (, a bit of a hipster bistro on Rue Richer in the 9th arrondissement. The menu is limited to three starters, three mains and three deserts, and they don’t take bookings – arriving for a late mid-week lunch we got a table instantly – but the food is actually worth a wait.

My main featured the most tender and succulent rabbit I’ve ever eaten, though the addition of cuttlefish to the sauce seemed unwarranted. Good service and Agent Provocateur Belgian ale on tap, as well as a choice of wines by the glass or up to about €60 per bottle (most are in the €25-40 range), and a pretty decent espresso to finish. What’s not to like?

The eating highlight of this France trip was in Brittany in a little town called Cancale though. At the Port de la Houle there is a row of restaurants facing the water, and at low tide oyster beds are visible at one end of the bay. Tractors towing trailers full of oysters ply the street in front.

The oysters were so good at the casual Au Pied d’Cheval for lunch one day we went back and tried the slightly fancier Le Surcouf the next night, and they were even better. That lovely fresh seaweedy, sweet salt-water flavour and beautiful silky texture – my mouth is watering just thinking about them. Their moules marinières weren’t bad either. All washed down with a 2012 Pouilly Fumé – unlike you, Dan, I prefer my French whites while they’re still in diapers.

All-in-all a memorable experience, and one that reinforces my feeling that really good ingredients don’t need to be messed around with much.

Enjoy the rest of your California sojourn, I hope there’s some more good eating.


California Dreaming


Hey Tone,

So, I’ve been in the US for a little more than a week. It’s taken me this long to figure out that the food here is either quite good or appallingly bad. While the choice of dining venue would, in most other countries, give some sort of indication of what is about to be served, this place seems to be an exception.

Probably the thing that is most curious and disappointing at the same time is the ‘if we increase the serving size, it is better’ mindset. That’s fine if a normal serving size is three scallops; increasing it to four is not something many (other than those with a shellfish allergy) will complain about. But, seriously, who really needs an extra 250g of fries, on top of the huge pile already on the plate.

We might have accidentally happened on the solution at Fish Hopper in Monterey (‎)… order an ‘entrée’ to share. They were nice enough to split the herb crusted albacore tuna onto two plates. Done.

And, where do I start about American coffee. It is hard to call much of what is offered coffee…I think it should be renamed ‘hot caffeinated beverage’ instead. There are a few who are trying… Blue Bottle Coffee Co in San Francisco (‎) for instance. Clearly people want one of these hot caffeinated beverages with some flavour, some character… perhaps even resembling coffee. The queue shows how eager the masses are to get off the gravy train and get on the coffee train.

San Fran has been interesting. More diverse, with emphasis on quality that other stops. But – and this is the big but – stay away from the main tourist precincts. We found a place called Aliment tonight ( and thought the simple, clean menu was just plain nice. A pint of EvilTwins Hipster Ale set up the meal so nicely. The fitout was hipster clean, staff discreetly tattooed, wine list short, but plenty of choice and the scallops were the size of… well, they were huge.

We are off to wine country in the morning. Russian River, Sonoma and Napa. I’d like to think that wine people will embrace good food, without the need to drop $275/person on a meal designed by Thomas Keller’s team…

How was France?