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 (http://www.lepainquotidien.com) 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 (http://bit.ly/1lHGTE2), 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.