Monday, May 22, 2006

Trip to Paris and the Dordogne

Jardin des Tuileries - Paris May 2006

For a short two week trip we packed in quite a bit of traveling from San Francisco to Paris, off to Bordeaux where we picked up a car, then drove through the Dordogne with a brief one day excursion into the Lot River Valley. October is our preferred month for travel, but May certainly has it's charms with all the Spring flowers just waiting to give us these photo opps!

Chez Paul
13 rue de Charonne - 75001 Paris
Telephone 01 47 00 34 57

The menu conveniently lists house specialties underlined in red, so I made a point of trying three of them during our stay in Paris. The rabbit leg stuffed with goat cheese and mint, then covered in a goat cheese sauce was outstanding. Most meat dishes came with fried, chrispy, thick rounds of potatoes, but the staff was kind enough to allow me to order mine with their gratin Dauphinois, a very rich, thinly sliced potato dish layered with cream and butter.

Their braised lamb shank was also rich and hearty, traditional bistro fare. The chateaubriand and entrecote (rib eye steak) were excellent cuts of beef. Portions were large and well worth the 14-22 euro price for main courses. My last meal was the poulet with foie gras sauce, an inspired dish with moist tender chicken atop green beans, carrots and delicate pea pods.

Foie Gras starters were either served in a salad for 11 euro or twice as much was served with toasted brioche for 17 euro. Their 13 euro charcuterie plate was more than enough for two people to share as was their 15 euro steak tartare.

For dessert the poached pear in red wine with prunes, apricots, and vanilla ice cream was divine, as was the tarte tatin served with creme fraiche. An order of profiteroles was walked by our table and they will be tried in the future. Three large cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce will be hard to resist. I also noticed a lovely stuffed vegetable plate that will be another must try. Whether it was strictly vegetarian is unknown but the plate was brimming with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and there was a small salad in the middle if my memory doesn't fail me.

Although most people travel with travel guides (and I admit I use several) I find I have three favorites: Knopf City Guides that are excellent for maps especially, Rick Steves', and the new E>>Guides; my favorite resources are more often becoming cookbooks.

For this trip I consulted the following books to build my own trip itinerary:

Paris Boulangerie - Patisserie by Linda Dannenberg

The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells

Paris in a Basket by Nicole Aimee Meyer & Amanda Pilar Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Macarons in St Emillion / Attitude in Paris

On our way to the Dordogne, we stopped by the little village of St Emillion and found this lovely bakery. The prices seemed a bit high at 7 euro per bag of macarons, until I started pricing them elsewhere, however, these were not filled.

This town has a worldwide reputation for fine sparkling wine and tastings were available everywhere. Since we were driving further that day, to our final destination of the Dordogne, we had to pass on the sampling. The owner was kind enough to let us photograph his bakery; very small but efficient. Delightful.

Somewhat less delightful was our experience at La Truffiere (4 rue Blainville - 75005 Paris 33146332982) Their food was superb, the wait staff exceptional, prices were of the "splurge" (very big splurge) level, the room with vaulted ceilings, beautiful. So what was the problem you ask? My one word answer (two if you count the article) the sommelier. He literally grilled me when I said we did not want to order wine. It was not sufficient to refuse, a reason was required.
Since we were already paying 192 euros for 2 starters, 2 main courses and two glasses of champagne, the primary reason was cost, which one might surmise, but this was not sufficient for him. He insisted on an answer, so I told him the second reason. I found most wine to be too acidic for my taste. After a long discourse on fine wine, he finally left our table, but not soon enough to have avoided ruining our evening. Still the food was superb, as is evidenced by the above photo of Parmentier de Canard aux Truffes Moires et Foie Gras leg stew with mashed potatoes, black truffle and sauteed foie gras!

Another main course we ordered was roast lamb. The artfully "painted" pureed eggplant was not quite a teaspoonful, but looked nice on the plate. The vegetable offering was a combination of carrots and zucchini layered between two sheets of pasta with Comte cheese (very nutty tasting) and mushrooms. This had to be the most tender and "gamey" lamb I have ever eaten, so I believe it was prime grade, just luscious. The restaurant is located between the Pantheon and the Place de la Contrescarpe, a very village like setting on a hill in the Left Bank.Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Beynac on the Dordogne May 2006

Beynac on the Dordogne may be one of the most photographed villages in France. It seemed to be in the majority of postcards from the region. And it's designation as one of the most beautiful villages in France is truly earned. We discovered it on our way to La Roque and this photo was taken from the large parking lot that is used by tourists or day trippers who come here to take 1 1/2 hour boat tours.

Hotel Belle Etoile in La Roque-Gageac May 2006

Hotel Belle Etoile is going on my list of all time favorites. It is just across the road from the Dordogne river, up the road from Beynac, and within 10 kilometers of Sarlat and the exciting "marche" (open air market, so typical of European culture) held on Saturdays all year long. Cenac, a neighboring village across the river, has a scaled down marche on Sundays. This two star hotel rents rooms for 55 - 75 euro per night for doubles, and also provides a room and board offer (room, breakfast, and dinner for 75 euros per person, double occupancy). The 75 euro rooms have views that face the river. Two floors of them can be seen in this photo, to the right of the grape arbor that covers a terrace in front of the hotel's more formal dining room. The amenities were just as nice as those in many three star hotels I've stayed in, but there is no elevator. The 55-60 euro rooms had smaller baths and faced the back of the building.

The second of the two dining rooms is fitted with a sophisticated country decor and river views. The menu was divided into three price ranges, 24 euro for a three course meal with a broad range of courses, then another broad range of more elaborate courses that were priced at 29 euros for two courses and 39 euros for three courses. One does not come up short on the 24 euros menu, everything was delicious and beautifully presented. Half board is also available for guests staying three days or more.
Hotel Belle Etoile 24250 La Roque-Gageac Tel 05 53 29 51 44, FAX 05 53 29 45 63Posted by Picasa

Interior of Hotel Belle Etoile

Every evening as we walked up the stairs toward our 2nd floor room, we could peer into a small interior window that looked down upon this lovely and seldom used lounge at the hotel. I found it so charming I decided to write my travel notes here, using the small table while sitting on the setee in front of the window .

On Sunday afternoon, we thought it might be good to compare another hotel restaurant with that of Hotel Belle Etoile; it was a mistake. We paid more for a three course lunch of inferior quality in a much less charming restaurant, and I learned (the hard way) the value of using a menu translator. Ris au Veau is sweetbreads, not a rice dish I believed I had ordered. A valiant effort was made to finish the sweetbreads, but it was a losing proposition.

Posted by Picasa

View From Hotel Belle Etoile

On the second day of our three day stay in La Roque we enquired about changing rooms. Our top floor room was very nice but because the weather was becoming very warm, we would prefer a north facing room. We had only booked for three nights so we did not have high hopes that the hotel would allow a change. They showed us the available room and we decided to extend our stay by another two days. It was a smaller 50 euros room "without a view ". Not by my standards. As we looked down, we could also enjoy a small shaded garden. I should note here that room #16 (with this view), in contrast to all other rooms, had no television, but that made little difference to us. I had been admiring the mini chateau each time I saw it, so finding it outside my window was a delightful experience.Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Dordogne As Seen From La Roque-Gageac

Upon our arrival to La Roque-Gageac we snapped this photo of one of the many boat tours available in the area. Kayaking is another option for visitors to the area, as well as renting canoes. The pace of the river is slow and relaxed, and you might find your thoughts meandering as does the river.

As part of Perigord, the Dordogne is riddled with restaurants serving foie gras, truffles and walnuts. Besides restaurants, many culinary options present themselves to tourists and locals alike, including street markets, specialty stores, and farms. We delighted in trying dried sausages made from ducks as well as geese, or pork that included either olives or walnuts.

Wonderful products such as walnut oil, morel, truffle or chantrelle flavored olive oils; walnut or truffle flavored mustards, and aged (hard) cheeses make wonderful momentos of your trip or gifts for friends. Please do not consider bringing back any meat or poultry products at this time if you are returning to the U.S.

I had an interesting conversation with a customs agent that saw fit to confiscate all the foie gras, rillettes and goose fat I was carrying. Bird flu seems to be a big concern of the agriculture department. My big question is, if it's so potentially hazardess, why can I still buy French foie gras (at a much inflated price) over the internet?

Domme, Foie Gras Heaven

This has to be the perfect Dordogne town, nestled on it's airy perch above the river, overlooking the valley. The view from the Esplanade is something to behold. We found ourselves gravitating to this town again and again. Going back for a longer visit would be a pleasure. Domme also has the designation of "most beautiful village", along with its neighbors, Beynac and La Roque- Gageac.

Walking along the Esplanade was so lovely and there was a small restaurant along the edge for refreshments. A salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and honey is typical of the area, as the Perigord region is where walnuts are grown. It would be a given that honey bees were in abundance in this agricultural area.

The main street is dominated by shops geared toward tourists, but since the dominant product of the area is foie gras, most of the shops were gourmet Wonderlands and I was a content Alice on my way down the Rabbit Hole. Again I must urge you to keep up with current U.S. Agricultural regulations before planning on bringing poultry or meat products into the U.S.

If you miss the Saturday market in Sarlat, the small town of Ceynac, just below Domme has a Sunday Market that is worthwhile to visit. We bought a Comte cheese there that had been aged far longer than most commercial products. It had a remarkable nutty taste.

Sarlot, Off to Le Marche

Every Saturday morning, Sarlat, the capitol of the Perigord hosts Le Marche, a grand produce market filled with everything good that the Dordogne has to offer in the way of culinary delights. This beautifully quaint, Medieval city is a delight in itself, with its honey colored stone buildings and charming alleyways.

These photos were taken in the old town center that is surrounded by much more modern city so they do not give an accurate picture of Sarlat, but a romantic one. Vive la romance! Market day is filled with typical hustle and bustle, so get there early to find parking or you may discover more of the modern city than you would like.

Whether it was being intimidated by the cheese monger who yelled at me for daring to take a photo of his "wares", even though I was not interfering with business, or bad photography, I have only the above photos to share. The first shows the breadth of variety offered on the market with red, yellow and white onions of every shape and size along with 5 varieties of dried legumes. The second is my favorite; it documents the flavored oils I brought back from this trip. The Perigord is famous for walnuts and foie gras, so I couldn't possibly pass up walnut oil. In an old building at the foot of the market I discovered a vendor selling sunflower oils flavored with chantrelles, truffles and morel mushrooms, that certainly deserved to be purchased. The market was lush with produce, cheeses and charcuterie and well worth a trip.