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Lyon, Cavalaire and the South of France


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#1 BCinBC

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Posted 10 August 2005 - 04:24 PM

Hello folks,

Apologies if this has been covered before (as I'm sure it has, I just couldn't find it in a search of the forum)...

My wife and I will be in France for the last two weeks of September. We will be heading in from London, but bypassing Paris straight to Lyon (family friends headquartered there). After a few days, we will be moving onto Cavalaire where we will be spending the rest of the trip. We will have a car, so we'll be able to tour around the south as well.

We both enjoy simpler foods, occasionally ordering the heavy items but not with any regularity. To give an idea, I am usually content to have perhaps a pate or terrine, moules or steak frites, duck confit or cassoulet, cheese plate, creme brulee...

Any suggestions - bistro, brasserie, or must-visit Micheline restaurant - would be much appreciated. Or even if someone could point out another thread that I can read, that would be great as well.

Thanks in advance!
-Brian

#2 menton1

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 08:09 AM

There are about 10 good thread discussions about Lyon here within the past year. Do another search and you should find them. Here is one: http://forums.egulle...c=42870&hl=lyon

As far as the coast, there is Cavalaire-sur-Mer, and Cavalière, which is a nicer choice. CSM is very built up and a bit industrial. Either way, you won't be far from St Tropez with some great restos, but my favorite town in the area is Grimaud, a picture-postcard town in the hills (village perché) with some super restaurants and a gorgeous environment. Great view of the sea in the distance as well. In Grimaud, try Les Santons or La Bretonnerie. They are right in the center, amongst the narrow streets. No Michelin stars, but terrific food and atmosphere there.

#3 BCinBC

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 10:21 AM

Thanks menton1 for the link and the suggestions.

Michelin stars are of course not required, though I would like to try one at least once, to get a sense of context. My feeling is that I would probably prefer a one-star over a three-, where I could focus less on the service being immaculate (with which there is nothing wrong) and enjoy the food in a more "relaxed" atmosphere. Therefore we will almost definitely try at least one of the two restaurants you mentioned in Grimaud.

Also there was a debate a while ago on whether Vancouver's own David Hawksworth of West would or could be a starred chef, so I would like to at least get a sense of the standards of the house - something that has to be experienced I think rather than watched on TV or read about in a guide book.

Cheers!

PS: any more suggestions in the south would be welcome!

#4 Bux

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 10:45 AM

Understand that the difference between a three star restaurant and a one star restaurant is not a matter of service and ambience. The food in 90% of the one star restaurants is unlikely to offer great insight into the food of a three star restaurant. There may be a bigger cutoff between one and two star restaurants than between no star and one star in Michelin terms. For all that, I fully agree that it's best to learn about French food from the ground up -- from bistros to temples of haut cuisine -- but you should recognize that three stars is an absolute classification, while one star is relative to what the restaurant offers compared to others in it's price range or region. A one star in an area packed with good restaurants is apt to be far better than a one star in some out of the way region not known for good food.
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#5 menton1

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 11:08 AM

Thanks menton1 for the link and the suggestions.

Michelin stars are of course not required, though I would like to try one at least once, to get a sense of context. My feeling is that I would probably prefer a one-star over a three-, where I could focus less on the service being immaculate (with which there is nothing wrong) and enjoy the food in a more "relaxed" atmosphere. Therefore we will almost definitely try at least one of the two restaurants you mentioned in Grimaud.

Also there was a debate a while ago on whether Vancouver's own David Hawksworth of West would or could be a starred chef, so I would like to at least get a sense of the standards of the house - something that has to be experienced I think rather than watched on TV or read about in a guide book.

Cheers!

PS: any more suggestions in the south would be welcome!

View Post


Enjoy. For a kick, stop for a quick look at Port Grimaud, not to be mixed up with Grimaud. This was a whimsical project in the late 60s by a French developer who wanted to make a mini-Venice on the Var coast. Well, it ain't Venice, but it is interesting, all the homes are on canals and there are almost no roads. You park outside the development. Do not eat at any of the touristy-restos there, though.
La Pinède in St Trop is a 1-star, and has gotten a lot of good reviews. Personally, I prefer the ambience of Grimaud and the great family-run restaurants up there.

Are you staying in Cavalaire-sur-Mer or Cavalière?

#6 BCinBC

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 12:06 PM

Bux - thanks for the comments. Of course the difference between three- and one star is beyond service levels, and I didn't mean to trivialize it. Ideally (ie with unlimited time and money) I would like to comprehend the spectrum of zero to one to two to three star establishments and what makes them all so. Realistically, this will be an ongoing educational process, but at least I will be able to start it.

What you said about relativity of one-star restaurants in "town" (for lack of a better word) versus rural one-stars is very interesting, and duly noted.

Menton1 - we will be staying in Cavalaire-sur-Mer, but with some mobility we will be able to go east or west (or north). Apparently I need a more detailed map, because I can't find Port Grimaud.

My father-in-law is an Englishman with a love of Provence, and therefore loves the Peter Mayle books. However I've heard from others that, since those books were published, the region has been severely "touristed". FIL loves St Tropez, and of coruse I want to see it, but my hopes are not that high. Having said that, we will most likely try La Pinede and I'm sure will not be disappointed.

A question about reservations: our schedule is "loose". Does this mean that we will have a difficult time getting into certain restaurants, especially those with two or three stars, without reservations? I know it's mostly dependent on the restaurant, but in a general sense, how far in advance should reservations be made?

#7 Bux

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 12:28 PM

One more point about restaurants and stars, particularly one star restaurants, the star may also be relative to the price. Within the same area, a more expensive one star may offer much better food than a less expensive one star. L'Astrance in Paris now has two stars, so it might not be such a good example, but when it had one star, it did offer a glimpse at what one found in two and three star restaurants. As I said, it's all relative. :biggrin:

Dining is an ongoing educational process.The more you understand how far you've come, the more you will appreciate how far you have to go. Enjoy the process, for it can provide a lifetime of pleasure and how close you come to the goal will have little effect on that pleasure.

You'll be arriving well after the height of the tourist season and miss the most notable thing about Provence in summer -- the tourists. That will make it easier to get reservations. My rule of thumb however, is that two and three star restaurants anywhere are best reserved a month in advance, or more if dining there is essential to your trip. That wouldn't stop me from trying anytime right up until the day I wanted the table.

Peter Mayle, who explained Provence to many people, may also be responsible for it's deline. I've heard that Japanese tourists buses stop at the entrace to where he used to live although he's moved on.
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#8 menton1

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 01:15 PM

Menton1 - we will be staying in Cavalaire-sur-Mer, but with some mobility we will be able to go east or west (or north). Apparently I need a more detailed map, because I can't find Port Grimaud.


Use this link, and type in Port Grimaud. Just at the beginning of the St Tropez peninsula. Http://www.viamichelin.com
On the Gulf of St Tropez.

P.S. After a stint in the Hamptons, Peter Mayle has moved on to Lourmarin (Vaucluse).

Edited by menton1, 11 August 2005 - 01:26 PM.


#9 mikeycook

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 01:29 PM

As far as the coast, there is Cavalaire-sur-Mer, and Cavalière, which is a nicer choice.  CSM is very built up and a bit industrial. Either way, you won't be far from St Tropez with some great restos, but my favorite town in the area is Grimaud, a picture-postcard town in the hills (village perché) with some super restaurants and a gorgeous environment.  Great view of the sea in the distance as well.  In Grimaud, try Les Santons or La Bretonnerie.  They are right in the center, amongst the narrow streets.  No Michelin stars, but terrific food and atmosphere there.

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That is not true. Les Santons has one Michelin star. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Aiguebelle at Hotel Les Roches in 2000 and went to Les Santons early in our trip. It was so wonderful that we planned another trip the same week before we left. It is still one of my favorite restaurants and I would highly recommend it.

Edited by mikeycook, 11 August 2005 - 01:30 PM.

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#10 menton1

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 06:44 PM

As far as the coast, there is Cavalaire-sur-Mer, and Cavalière, which is a nicer choice.  CSM is very built up and a bit industrial. Either way, you won't be far from St Tropez with some great restos, but my favorite town in the area is Grimaud, a picture-postcard town in the hills (village perché) with some super restaurants and a gorgeous environment.  Great view of the sea in the distance as well.  In Grimaud, try Les Santons or La Bretonnerie.  They are right in the center, amongst the narrow streets.  No Michelin stars, but terrific food and atmosphere there.

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That is not true. Les Santons has one Michelin star. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Aiguebelle at Hotel Les Roches in 2000 and went to Les Santons early in our trip. It was so wonderful that we planned another trip the same week before we left. It is still one of my favorite restaurants and I would highly recommend it.

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You are probably right. It's really not that important to me, I'm a big disbeliever in Michelin anyway, from their too, too brief reviews to the godlike worship their fans give to it. Michelin was greatly discredited last year as well, they admitted to being short staffed and visiting many restaurants only every 3-5 years. Even in that time span they would never have the time to cover a country the size of France with the breadth of its restaurants, unless maybe they had 1,000 reviewers on staff;

Grimaud is beautiful and Les Santons is good regardless of their "etoiles";

For a much better and more reliable guide, and for great descriptions as well, the Guide Gantié is now online and now in English as well. However, he only covers the SouthEast corner of France. http://www.guidegantie.com

#11 Busboy

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 06:57 PM

anytime right up until the day I wanted the table.

Peter Mayle, who explained Provence to many people, may also be responsible for it's deline. I've heard that Japanese tourists buses stop at the entrace to where he used to live although he's moved on.

View Post


Big difference between St. Trop tourist crowds and crowds in the backcountry that Mayle publized. If you stay out of the obvious tourist spots -- like his former home town of Menerbes, St. Remy and some of the more heavily publicized hillside villages --Vaucluse is far from overrun. And in September, even the tourist spots are likely to be pretty low key. Province is a big place.

Besides, hasn't everybody left Provence for Tuscany? :laugh:

Someone else can maybe confirm, but I've heard that if you turn left at Nice, (towards Italy) it's much calmer than the Nice-Cannes-St.Tropez stretch.

Nice in September is glorious, btw.
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#12 Bux

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Posted 11 August 2005 - 08:30 PM

. . . .
Besides, hasn't everybody left Provence for Tuscany?  :laugh:

. . . .

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Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.

Nice in September is glorious, btw.

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The last time we were in Provence, it was the dead of winter around New Year's to be exact. In fact, New Year's Eve found us in Marseille celebrating by watching the fireworks in the harbor. Provence was very quiet and low key. The one drawback is that the days are very short at that time of year in France and even in the afternoon. Low buidings cast a shadow across squares that bask in the sun in summer. May, late September or October would be when I would want to be there. Many years ago we spent a long weekend in February in Nice. Locals were complaining of the cold -- they had to wear a sweater. I didn't need a sweater, but they stopped complaining when they found out we were from NY. The TV news that day was full of pictures of a huge snowstorm that blanketed NY. Little things like that really help make a trip rewarding. Just not being in NY would have been enough.
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#13 menton1

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 09:40 AM

Big difference between St. Trop tourist crowds and crowds in the backcountry that Mayle publized.  If you stay out of the obvious tourist spots -- like his former home town of Menerbes, St. Remy and some of the more heavily publicized hillside villages --Vaucluse is far from overrun.  And in September, even the tourist spots are likely to be pretty low key. Province is a big place.

Besides, hasn't everybody left Provence for Tuscany?  :laugh:

Someone else can maybe confirm, but I've heard that if you turn left at Nice, (towards Italy) it's much calmer than the Nice-Cannes-St.Tropez stretch.

Nice in September is glorious, btw.

View Post


Yes, we will be in Nice in 4 weeks! And it is super, we always try to go in September or June. More flowers in June, but cooler in Sept.

The 30 mile stretch between Nice and the border is very nice, especially Villefranche and Beaulieu. And my namesake Menton is really beautiful. I do make an exception for Monaco, it is a place we avoid at all costs. Nice to St Tropez is a huge distance, about 120km. It is quite diverse, the Roman ruins in Frejus and St Raphael are along the way. Actually, it's quite calm between Cannes and St Trop. Nice to Cannes is very built up, including Antibes. Actually, the coast west of St Trop, the Var Coast toward Hyeres is quite different. Not as glitzy as the Riviera. That is where the original poster will be, on the Var Coast.

Even quieter than the Vaucluse is the Alpes de Haute Provence department, with Manosque, Moustiers, and the Grand Canyon of Verdon. Ahhhh, only 4 weeks... :smile:

#14 BCinBC

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 11:48 AM

For a much better and more reliable guide, and for great descriptions as well, the Guide Gantié is now online and now in English as well.  However, he only covers the SouthEast corner of France.  http://www.guidegantie.com

View Post

Thanks for the link Menton1. This is quite comprehensive and user-friendly too.

We picked the end of Sept because we could still catch the end of summer, while avoiding for the most part tourist season. Very much looking forward to this...

For the record, I haven't actually read the Mayle books, but I think my wife has read them all.

#15 menton1

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 12:02 PM

Many years ago we spent a long weekend in February in Nice. Locals were complaining of the cold -- they had to wear a sweater. I didn't need a sweater, but they stopped complaining when they found out we were from NY


At the turn of the century, Nice was developed as a winter resort. It became quite popular with the British and the wealthy Russian community; There are a lot of archived photos of folks walking on the Promenade des Anglais in sweaters and coats, and enjoying the warm sunshine. There was a casino built out into the water on a dock. Up until the 1950s, no one would ever DREAM of vacationing on the Cote in the summertime!! How things have changed...

#16 mikeycook

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Posted 12 August 2005 - 12:26 PM

Grimaud is beautiful and Les Santons is good regardless of their "etoiles";

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I wholeheartedly agree. I would consider Les Santons great whether it had stars or not (although I would think even less of Michelin if it didn't).
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#17 BCinBC

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Posted 06 October 2005 - 05:36 PM

Well our time in France has already come and gone! So sad, but we had a great time and a bit of an adventure with the driving (particularly the road from Le Luc to Grimaud, what a twisted deathtrap – it was like a 15 minute insight into 10% of what it must feel like to be an F1 driver).

Anyway, we flew from YVR to Heathrow, spent a few days visiting in-laws in Reading just outside of London, then caught an Air France commuter to Lyon.

Monday, September 19, 2005

My wife N’s family has a very close friendship with another family in Lyon. They are wonderful, warm, generous people – and the daughters C and S put us up (and put up with us) while we were in Lyon. C and S live in Limonest, in a yellow Provinçal-style house with blue shutters. Unfortunately I forgot to snap a photo before we left.

We flew in fairly late the night before, so we slept in a bit. And woke up to a breakfast of croissants, pain-au-chocolate, brioche with praline, coffee and tea. Sorry no pictures, but I’m sure you can image these items. I really enjoyed the brioche, it is one of my favourites at home even though very few bakeries produce it here.

And so we started a walking tour of Lyon…

Here is a photo of the Théâtre Romains de Fourvière.

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This is apparently a venue for the annual Lyon jazz festival. I would love to see that, very cool.

Here’s another touristy shot, of me walking down the stairs from the Basilique de Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière to vieux Lyon.

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The Basilique itself is quite beautiful, I love old European cathedrals – the mosaics, stained glass, just the detailed work on the archways and basically everything else – is visually overwhelming. It is amazing how much money the RC church has. The view from the hilltop is excellent as well. From it I saw my first French nuclear power plant.

Okay, since it was a Monday afternoon, just after 1 PM, there wasn’t much open. However we did manage to find the Café du Soleil open for lunch. C said that Café du Soleil is considered to be quite typical Lyonnais, which is just what I was looking for.

We started with escargots with garlic and pesto:

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The escargots were so tender, garlicky and juicy. They were great. Even N, who is traditionally on the squeamish side, tried them and liked them. Also I loved the springy clamp contraptions they provide to hold the shells while you fish out the snail.

Here is a “group” shot of lunch.

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In the foreground is my salade Soleil with foie, seared duck, gésier, some sort of crawfish (not a St Jacques or a langoustine, can someone help me out with the name?) and saumon fumé. N had quenelles crevettes with the pommes gratin dauphinois (top left and center), while C had the salade Lyonnaise (top right).

My salade was excellent, I was especially pleased with the gizzards. They were rich but not too organ-like, if you know what I mean (not bloody / coppery tasting, not chalky in texture). The gratin dauphinois was a bit too well done, but the taste was still very good as well. Although I can’t see how anyone could eat that for lunch during a work day. In fact after the meal everyone felt like a good lie down, which may have been in part due to the bottle of vin rouge we had with lunch. But after a couple of cafés, we pressed on our walking tour. Oh yeah, the total for lunch was € 64.40.

Restaurant Café du Soleil
2 Rue St Georges
69005 Lyon
Tel: 04.78.37.60.02

Another stop on the tour was at Pignol patisserie.

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We tried a brown toque-shaped cake, which again I’ve forgotten the name of (in the photo it is on the top shelf, approximately 4 items in from the left), the cake 2 items right of that with the large button of chocolate in the middle, and the obligatory lemon tart (bottom shelf, 4 rows from right). The toque-shaped cake was my favourite, very dense but moist.

Other highlights of the tour were Bellecour, the Place des Terreaux, and Rue de la Republic. Oh we also visited Léon de Lyon, but did not eat there.

Another café was had while we sat down to study maps of Beajoulais, to figure out a tour route for the next day. Very quickly on this trip I became addicted to espressos in lieu of the regular drip coffee that I drink at home. I love the purity of the coffee’s flavour.

Dinner that night, after much debate by our hosts, was at Paul Bocuse’s L’Ouest. It struck me as very North American chain restaurant –ish in décor, which I think is what they were going for. I felt as though I could have walked into a new Earl’s, if you’re familiar with the Vancouver-based chain. The food was okay, but no photos again as it was a group / social dinner out.

I started with the jambon Serrano cru, served with pickles and butter. Wow, some of the best tasting ham I have ever had. It just illustrates the difference in food culture: we in N. America have deli-cooked ham which is basically just a source of salvaged protein, versus any item from any charcuterie on any street corner in France.

Wishing to eat light after the big lunch, I then had the pot-au-feu with salmon, red snapper, cod and sea bream. This was only okay; the sea bream was very good, but the dish as a whole was quite salty.

No desert, but yet-another café, and a pear liqueur to complete the evening. Truth be told, I was not that big of a fan of the liqueur, however I am not a sipping-strong-liquor-type of person regularly. C informed me that people tend to dip sugar cubes into the liqueur then eat them, but after N tried it she made clear that she didn’t enjoy it.

Overall I probably wouldn't return to L'Ouest, although I would certainly be curious enough to try one of the other directions. Most importantly the company was excellent (we were joined by C's boyfriend L), and all in all I would say we had a very successful first day in Lyon.

#18 BCinBC

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Posted 07 October 2005 - 12:27 PM

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The next day started out not-that-well, as I woke up feeling the start of a headcold. It is sad to be sick while on vacation, but I was determined to soldier on. With the information we picked up the previous day on the Pays de Beaujolais, we were off with S to do a driving tour of this small but intriguing wine region. But not before a breakfast of more pain-au-chocolate, croissants, coffee and tea.

Wines from Beaujolais are divided into three main categories or families: the Crus or kind of highest end artisan producers mostly (but not exclusively) on the north end of the region; Villages de Beaujolais which are not quite as specialized; and the remainder of Beaujolais, which comprises the bulk of the region mainly to the south but also scattered throughout.

We drove north from Limonest, exiting the A6 at Belleville (I believe – my cold put me in a daze for the most part), and entering the north end of Beajolais.

First of all, the countryside is absolutely beautiful, as seen here:

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It was like a postcard everywhere you looked.

There are 10 Crus: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte-de-Brouilly, Fleury, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint Amour. Unfortunately we were visiting during the dreaded afternoon hours, so many of the towns and vineyards were closed.

However we did manage to do a “tour” and a tasting at Rémy Crozier, of Cru Régnié. I didn’t catch the gentleman’s name who showed us around, but he is the son of the patron of the vineyard. He was very helpful and informative, and even though we had S to translate, with my very rudimentary French skills I was able to understand most of what he was talking about.

The biggest point that he made was that most red wines, especially the New World reds, are aged excessively in oak casks. However, his goal is to emphasize the taste of the fruit over the wood, and thus they only partially age in oak or in many instances do not use oak at all.

Here he is with a batch of spent grapes.

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These apparently are resold to the French government, who then use them to make a higher alcohol content liqueur. This is quite tightly controlled.

After harvest, the grapes are sent whole into a vat for a first-fermentation period of 4-6 days (IIRC). Here they are as the seal is cracked.

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From here, the grapes are pumped into the press.

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I got to try some of the liquor coming out of the press, it is like a cloudy grape juice but with obvious foreshadowing of the wine it will become. What a treat. Afterwards the liquor is sent to the main fermentation vats.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the production numbers for this particular vineyard, but they keep 8,000 bottles a year for the property, and send the rest out for sale.

And here are the three bottles we tasted:

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They are, from left to right, the 2003 vintage, the 2004, and the 2004 with partial oak. The first two were very fruity, the 2004 was especially good I thought (it was my favourite of the three). The partially oaked 2004 was also very good, appealing perhaps to my “new world” tastes. No tasting notes though, sorry. I am a wine neophyte, really familiar only with British Columbian wines. Also I was sick, so my nose was not working that well.

Anyway, this tour was one of the highlights of the trip for me – very very educational.

Rémy Crozier
Les Maisons Neuves
69430 Régnié-Durette
Tel 04.74.04.39.59

We proceeded south, stopping at one of the Villages de Beaujolais. Unfortunately I was taking a nap in the car so I’m not totally sure, but it may have been Vaux-en-Beaujolais. It was one of the bigger villages built on the side of a hill. Here is a photo:

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There were three caves offering tastings where we stopped, so we picked one but it was uneventful. Again, it was around 2:00 PM so most places were closed.

At this point I was feeling really poor, so we cut the tour short and got back onto the A6 to return to Limonest.

After a long nap, during which N and S caught up and hung out, I awoke to find out that we were all going over to C and S’s parents’ house in Villette-de-Vienne for dinner (if I was up for it, which I was).

On our first night in Lyon, C asked if there was anything specific I wanted to do, and I mentioned that I wanted to find a restaurant where I could try Poulet de Bresse. Well with these people, I quickly learned that you do not so much as mention something before it is being handed over to you in one way or another. Super generous. C’s mother had gone out that day to Les Halles to buy a Poulet de Bresse, then looked up a couple recipes, and was preparing it for dinner.

No photos, but we arrived to champagne, olives, pistachios, and dried chevre. These people love champagne. Dinner started with salade with tapenade and saumon fumé, then the Poulet de Bresse with gratin dauphinois, some cheese (camembert, chevre avec ail et herbes and a stinkly runny specialty of Lyon that N loved), and a tarte d’ananas – all with a wine that I did not catch. It was a wonderful home-cooked meal, and another great day despite the cold.

ETA: We also had a wonderfully dense, chewy bread with dinner that I forgot to mention. Which is another thing that astounds me, the difference between bread in France and bread here at home. It's not that we are without good bread, but it is a much rarer find here. We need more artisan bakers!

Edited by BCinBC, 07 October 2005 - 12:34 PM.


#19 Carlsbad

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Posted 07 October 2005 - 07:47 PM

I'm really enjoying your reports and photos. More please.

#20 BCinBC

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 01:50 PM

Thanks Carlsbad, I’m glad someone is reading this!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I woke up feeling better but not great. However the day was beautiful, and damnit I was on vacation, so after more coffee and croissants we left Lyon and headed south.

Our first stop was at one of the “aires” or rest areas on the A7, maybe 100 km or so south of Lyon. We grabbed drinks and snacks at the gift store (there were also fast food style restaurants there, but that didn’t seem quite right). The store, by the way, was packed with nougat! Never before have I seen so much nougat. I guess it’s some sort of regional confection but holy, it literally took up about 25-30% of the floorspace.

Anyway, back on the road, after an unfortunate and unwanted hour-long excursion through Aix-en-Province, we eventually found the Le Luc exit and left the big highway for the next adventure.

If you have ever driven the road from Le Luc to Grimaud, you know what I’m talking about. For that period of time, I really feel like I got a slight insight into what it feels like to be a Formula 1 driver. The road is very windy, very narrow, cut into the side of a cliff, and has no guard rails… And the locals drive it like they’re on a rollercoaster. Basically it’s a massive adrenaline event – fun and yet not fun.

After Grimaud, and many roundabouts later, we finally arrived in Cavalaire-sur-Mer. Feeling quite exhausted, we found our villa, then went back to town for a quick dinner. The first place we found was Le Cigalon, which is a wood-oven pizza place on one of the main strips running in the perpendicular direction to the promenade. **NOTE TO SELF: when the restaurant’s specialty is glaringly obvious, try this first.**

I had some forgettable tagliatella à là carbonara, and N had a salad with tomatoes and mozzarella (also a miss). All the while the pizza smells in the restaurant were amazing (we did return to try the pizza). Pot of house rose, and we were ready for bed.

All in all not a great day, but at least we made it to the Mediterranean!

#21 BCinBC

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 01:56 PM

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cavalaire by day is quite beautiful. It is also obvious why this is such a destination – the town, like many on the Côte d’Azur, is built for tourist traffic. Besides the main road into town, which runs beside the beach promenade, here are two main one-way roads going north and south. Also at the harbour itself, adjacent to the casino there is a cluster of restaurants, bars and cafés.

After a sleep-in, we walked into town and wandered around the promenade for awhile, just absorbing our new surroundings. Every day we were on the coast, it was blue skies and 25°C / 77°F.

For lunch we stopped in one of the restaurants along the promenade. I had moules marinades et frites, N had a salade with lardons, oeufs and croutons, and we shared a pot of rosé. I was a bit surprised that the mussels were not well cleaned (which turned out to be a theme with many of the more casual restaurants in the area). Some still had barnacles on them, and some were gritty with sand. However the salade was good.

In the afternoon, we started to pick up provisions for dinner. At a small grocery store, we got some butter lettuce, carrots, cherry tomatoes and a bottle of the local rosé (which was less than 3 € !!). Aside from the cheap wine, one thing I loved about the grocery stores was the chalkboard signs telling you not only what each piece of produce was and how much it cost, but also the place of origin. We stopped at another store, Casino (kind of like a small supermarket), and picked up some cheese.

Then we headed over to the next street (the one running south) where N spotted this place:

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Au Bec Fin

Here is a view of the patés, terrines, jambon and saucisson, and ready-made salads and veg that they offer.

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And here is the patisserie side:

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We picked up some saucisson sec and paté en croute.

Immediately south of Au Bec Fin, there is a bakery called La Tarte Tropezienne. We ended up at this place fairly often, the baker was very nice and she made some amazing breads and pastries. Today we picked up a pain Provinçale and a few tartes for dessert. So we returned to the villa with a pretty good score.

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view from the villa kitchen window

There are obvious lighting problems with this photo, but this is what we got to look over while working in the kitchen. Actually I kind of like the effect.

And here is what all those bits and pieces turned into.

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Inspired by the salade we had at C and S’s parents’ house, I made a salad dressing with a mixture of black and green olive tapenade, plus some Dijon and olive oil. The bread was excellent – crusty, with a nice chewy flavourful inside. It is an ongoing mystery to me why we cannot reproduce this bread with any consistency here in BC. Or rather, why only a select few local bakeries can reproduce this bread.

Here is the cheese, an okay bleu en Bresse, and a very stinky yet generic camembert.

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And here is dessert.

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The tartelette with strawberries was good, but the other one – with all the other fruit on it – was, like the pain Provinçale, another goooooal! The custard is the type that goes into the regional pastry, coincidentally (or not) called Tarte Tropezienne (image in a later report). It is thick, rich and most likely very bad for you. Wow. Also I loved the red currants, which packed a ton of sour flavour into a small package.

#22 BCinBC

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Posted 14 October 2005 - 03:26 PM

Friday, September 23, 2005

Ah, another day in paradise. Today N and I got up and made our way to Sainte Maxime for the market. Truth be told, it was a bit of a disappointment – it was mostly crafts, clothes and touristy stuff (eg. Provence pottery and tablecloths). I don’t remember if there were any food stands at all.

However, it was all made up for when we discovered this little gallery called Pyramides des Arts where they were proudly displaying this series of prints by Salvador Dali, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. I didn’t even know Dali did this work! It was so cool; I have seen Dalis before, but to be up close and personal with them (ie. touching them), was amazing.

Here are links to my two favourites: Purgatory 33 – Dante purified and Hell 6 – Cerberus. I find both to be quite powerful (especially when viewing the real thing).

Afterwards, we stopped for a coffee at a café near the beach.

edit: I posted a photo, but for some reason I look grumpy so I have removed it. Trust me though, the café near the beach was nice.

Sainte Maxime is quite beautiful. However we had a lunch date to keep, so we drove back to Cavalaire and stopped at Les Trois Pins which is just at the east entrance to town, on the beach. A guy who works there is a friend of C and S’s father, and he invited us down for a local specialty.

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plat du jour: aioli with cod, mussels, whelks and roasted vegetables

The cod and veg were very good, and the aioli was absolutely full of garlic. I especially liked the roasted beets. The whelks, however, were not to my taste. I’m not sure if this is normal, but the part that comes out of the shell was hard, and once again they were quite sandy. But you can’t argue with the view – or the ever-present pot of rosé.

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And here I am enjoying yet another coffee (with another goofy expression, what the hell?).

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The rest of the day was spent lazing on the beach and wandering around town. The Jetski Grand Prix was setting up for the weekend. I did not know there was such a thing.

In the evening we sat at a waterfront bar and had drinks (me Kronenbourg 1664, N rosé) and watched the tourists and jetski fans go by. It was very relaxing. For dinner we swung by Le Cigalon again, this time for a four-cheese pizza. Thin crispy crust, rich cheeses, well done.

Edited by BCinBC, 14 October 2005 - 03:37 PM.


#23 Daddy-A

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Posted 15 October 2005 - 06:20 PM

Here is a view of the patés, terrines, jambon and saucisson, and ready-made salads and veg that they offer.

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And here is the patisserie side:

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We picked up some saucisson sec and paté en croute.


These are my favorite pictures (food-wise) so far Brian! It looks like a Star Trek deli!

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This is my second favorite! :laugh: That is what a meal in the south of France should look like!

Really enjoying this!

A.

#24 bleudauvergne

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 02:54 AM

Really looks great! Next time you come through Lyon be sure to post in the ISO thread! :smile:

#25 Jmahl

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Posted 16 October 2005 - 07:09 PM

When in Lyon - make the side trip to Vienne and experience La Pyramide. Beautiful historic site. Two well earned stars. There is an excellent prix fixe with half bottle per person included. Say hello to Chef Patrick Henrerux -

In old Lyon try the Amphitron - its the real Lyonesse experience also look for little wine shop - George Santos owner. Talk to him if you can find him. He will make your trip.
The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

#26 BCinBC

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Posted 17 October 2005 - 11:25 AM

Jmahl - La Pyramide was at the top of my wish list, but unfortunately time and circumstance didn't allow. However I am assured by C that the next trip will definitely include a visit. Thanks for the tip on Amphitron.

Cheers,
Brian

#27 Mooshmouse

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 11:22 AM

Bravo, Brian... c'est très bien fait! :biggrin:

Like Arne, I love the interior shots of Au Bec Fin. And thank goodness I wasn't looking at your beach photos on our rainy Sunday; otherwise, I would've been cursing you in cooking class last night!

Can't wait to see and read more about your trip. :smile:

Edited by Mooshmouse, 19 October 2005 - 10:07 AM.

Joie Alvaro Kent
"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2,000 of something." ~ Mitch Hedberg

#28 BCinBC

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 04:06 PM

Before I forget, Lucy – I wish I had ISO’ed you for Lyon! We just didn’t know how long we were going to stay there, and what our time commitments would be like. But after your blogs, I would have loved to have met you. Also regretfully I never made it to Les Halles, but a trip with you would have been perfect! Next time…

Saturday, September 24, 2005 (Part 1)

Another day, another marché – this time Saint Tropez. After the experience in Sainte Maxime, I didn’t know what to expect, but obviously I was hoping for more food stalls.

As you drive into town, you skim by the water. It is quite beautiful – and, it is filled with large expensive personal yachts (really, I thought one was a ferry but N insisted (correctly) that it was a yacht. She pointed out the personal helicopter on the stern).

We parked near the market and the center of town, right beside a gorgeous Ferrari, and wandered over. At first we encountered a lot of touristy stalls selling clothes, remote control cars, sunglasses, etc… But I soon found what I was looking for:

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These paella guys were a bit surprised, and quite humoured, that I would ask to take a photo of their stand, so they invited me to join them. Obviously I was enjoying myself – you will note the huge stupid grin on my face. The mussels smelled wonderful, but the paella was a real masterpiece. Chock full of squid, shrimp, crawfish, mussels and chicken – not to mention the saffron rice which was soaked in the juices of the above. I bought a large portion for 6 € - a steal!!!

The next stall along the way was…

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Garlic anyone? The table continues to the left of frame, and it may have contained more garlic than I have ever seen in one place. Alas, I did not buy any because we weren’t doing much cooking. In retrospect I wish I’d bought just one bulb, to roast and spread on a baguette.

A couple of other shots:

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Spice stall

Unfortunately the photo does not quite do justice to the smells, textures, and colours of this stall. Plus I love the chalkboards and the bamboo scoopers.

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Jambon and saucisson guy

Everyone seemed surprised when I asked them if I could take photos of their stalls. The ultra-polite nature of Canadians I guess. Anyway, I would have loved to purchase some of this guy’s jambon cru to bring home, but I didn’t think I could have made it back into the country. Still it was beautiful to watch him slice it!

I did not get a good photograph of any of the produce stalls, but some were excellent. The furious energy of the ladies behind the tables made me smile.

After walking the gamut, I got tired and left N to shop for clothes while I enjoyed a coffee at Le Sporting café. Because of the sheer volume of people in and around the market, I had to wait almost 20 minutes to get a good table outside with a view of the action. It was worth it – some of my favourite espressos were here. The waiter actually forgot to bring me my first one, so he comp’ed me (which was unnecessary but nice – I left him a tip). N joined be a bit later, and she sipped a Perrier while I had another shot. In front of us, all forms of cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters and bicycles rolled by. It was like some sort of industrial ballet.

On the advice of Menton1, we decided to visit Port Grimaud afterwards. (Warning: not a great website.) Filled with restaurants and shops, and closed to all but local motor traffic, it is a curiosity to say the least.

After a bit of wandering, we bought an Orangina and a Diet Coke (or “Coca Cola Light”) and sat down to have some lunch. Here I am using half a mussel shell to scoop some rice from our paella picnic:

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I described the contents above. It was delicious, at that point the highlight of the trip for me. N had also purchased some sandwiches, but we couldn’t even get to them because there was too much paella. (Well maybe exactly enough; I finished it.)

It took very little time to explore the town, so we left after about an hour. On our way out, I noticed a small photocopied sign that said (in French) that picnics were not allowed, obviously to promote eating in one of the many restaurants there. Oops.

Our next stop was in Gassin.

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Gassin from the road below

The drive up to Gassin was like a shorter but much more enjoyable version of the drive from Le Luc to Grimaud. Tiny road laden with switchbacks, sometimes under a canopy of oaks, other times falling away to the vineyards below.

Gassin quickly became the new highlight of the trip! It is a beautiful little medieval town sitting atop a hill, overlooking the Saint Tropez gulf. If you follow the link, you will see many scenes that N and I coincidentally took photos of – it is picturesque literally everywhere you look. Narrow streets, tunnels, nooks and crannies with glimpses of the dramatic views over the hills and the sea... Also, there is a row of restaurants all with patios overlooking a little olive-tree-laden valley. It makes for a beautiful meal – or in our case, a drink! If you are in the area, and can only visit one town, Gassin would be my recommendation.

#29 BCinBC

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Posted 18 October 2005 - 05:38 PM

Saturday, September 24, 2005 (Part 2)

The morning’s explorations left me a little tired (still fighting off illness), so I had to return to Cavalaire for a rest. IIRC N went for a jog, in preparation for the event that night: Dinner reso’s at Les Santons. (The link to Guide Gantie doesn’t appear to be working at this time, but hopefully it gets fixed by the time you read this.)

As per the posts above, Les Santons has one Michelin star and two Guide Gantie “branches”. Also, Bux mentioned above that there is a difference between a one-starred “rural” (my word) restaurant and a one-starred “urban” restaurant, and I think I can see what he meant now.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the restaurant and really enjoyed the experience. The service was excellent, and one of the servers was kind enough to help us out when my poor French ran its limit and we had to switch to the dreaded French-English combo. However, there was a marked difference between dinner here and a lunch we had later in the trip at a restaurant that doesn't even have a star yet (Maison Borie in Lyon). Here the food was quite rustic in presentation; also, while the male servers were in suits, the women were a little more casual - and the guests were in general very casual (no ties for the men, and some late-teenaged kids with their parents were wearing non-plain T-shirts). Coming from Vancouver I don't really have a problem with this, however I was surprised to see it as I was expecting quite different.

Despite this, I was quite reluctant to take photos inside this restaurant. However, once I saw flashes going off at another table in the room, I decided what the hell… (And I’m glad I did, it really helps to remember some of the details of the dishes and of the evening itself.)

And now some food porn…

Okay that was a tease, as I did not actually photograph the amuse or aperitif. Those were fried cheese breadsticks and kir royales, respectively. The breadsticks were very light and delicate, but still heavy with cheese aroma.

And now photos from the 48 € menu:

Entrées:

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La Terrine Maison du Moment au Foie Gras et aux Pistaches, Gelée au Porto et Confiture d’Oignons

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Le Risotto crémeux de Homard

As I said, I was reluctant to take photos at first, so you only get to see this course half-way through. The terrine was good, but the risotto was excellent. However the risotto was also very rich; with lobster and cream (and probably cheese), it was like a meal in itself. Advantage: risotto.

Third choice: La Salade de Saumon marine et les petits artichauts violets en carpaccio

Plat principal:

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Le Civet de Chevruil Grand Veneur aux deux purées

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Les Aiguillettes de Caneton des Dombres aux fruits de Saison

The venison stew was delicious: The sauce was thick, rich and deep with the game, and the accompanying pearl onions provided a wonderful sharp contrast to the richness. The meat was braised very well. The duck was also very rich, especially paired with the figs as it was. I know that duck and figs is a classic combination, but I would have liked to have some sort of good citrus or other acid to cut through the duck a bit. Advantage: venison stew.

Other choices: La Caille des Dombres rôtie aux choux d’automne, marrons et pommes vertes; ou, Le Poisson du jour et sa Garniture

Incidentally, on the 68 € menu one of the mains was La Volaille de Bresse Homardine et ses petits légumes which looked just excellent.

Cheese porn:

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My selection (clockwise from top): ash chèvre, l’Epoisse (vache), another chèvre which I’ve forgotten, and Roquefort

The epoisse was absolutely outstanding, I cannot overstate my enjoyment of this cheese. Obviously it was the first time I’ve had it, but I have since learned that it is carried by a local cheese shop so I will be having more soon! I don’t know what the milk fat level is, but my guess would be close to 50%. I want to describe the flavours, but cannot for fear of remembering something incorrectly. So all I can say is, if you have had this cheese, you know what I mean; if you have not, make a point to seek it out!

As mentioned, the cheeses were very high in fat (much moreso than we’re used to at home) and sadly I could not even finish the four small portions on my plate. But I did finish the Epoisse.

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L’Entremet du Jour et ses petits fours frais faits Maison

This was a vanilla ice cream on a wafer and a three-chocolate mousse on a hazelnut cracker, served with crème anglais with pistachios and strawberries. Petits fours are in the background. The ice cream was unbelievable, I swear there was one whole bean in that one scoop. However the star was the mousse on the hazelnut cracker – such depth of chocolate captured in the mousse, and really an incredible cracker accompaniment. By far the best dessert I had on this trip.

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Café with remaining petits fours, and chocolate truffles

My copy of the menu does not contain the wine list, so unfortunately I do not know exactly what we were drinking. It was a Bordeaux with a blue castle on the label, IIRC. Anyone??

I was so full at this point that I could barely see straight. So in a leisurely fashion, we walked back up the stairs to where the car was parked (instead of taking the street-side elevator! Seriously. Did I mention Grimaud was on a steep hill?), and drove equally leisurely back to Cavalaire.

It was truly an unbelievable day.

#30 bleudauvergne

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Posted 19 October 2005 - 02:37 AM

I am taking a moment this morning to savor your wonderful trip report again, and especially Lyon - you were in my neighborhood and we may have well passed each other on the street! Your stairwell shot was taken on my 'stairmaster'! Do you remember by chance a blonde huffing and puffing her way up? :laugh:

We started with escargots with garlic and pesto:

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The escargots were so tender, garlicky and juicy.  They were great.  Even N, who is traditionally on the squeamish side, tried them and liked them.  Also I loved the springy clamp contraptions they provide to hold the shells while you fish out the snail.


This butter perparation is classic to the snails - it's actually called beurre d'escargots, 'snail butter'. You can get the prepared butter or even the prepared escargots ready to pop in the oven at many of the traiteurs around town or make it yourself, quite easy. Here's a quick recette translated from Paul Bocuse's La Cuisine du Marche, obviously for a whole lot of snails but you can divide as necessary:

Beurre d'Escargots

1 kilo of fine butter
20 grams of sea salt
1 gram of ground pepper (L: I guess you'd say a pinch)
a grate (L: or two) of nutmeg
50 grams of minced garlic
40 grams of minced shallot
50 grams of mild almonds
100 grams of finely minced parsley.

Method: Put the salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic, shallot and almonds into a mortar and mash down until you have a smooth paste. Once that's done, add the parsley and softened butter. With the pestle, mix it gently just until everything is incorporated. This should be kept cool in a ceramic container until ready for use.
(L: It should be noted that not everyone uses the almonds.)

Here is a “group” shot of lunch.

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In the foreground is my salade Soleil with foie, seared duck, gésier, some sort of crawfish (not a St Jacques or a langoustine, can someone help me out with the name?)


Indeed that's a crawfish, called ecrevisse in French which is typically simmered in a vegetable stock with a bouquet and then served cold in a salad like this.

and saumon fumé.  N had quenelles crevettes with the pommes gratin dauphinois (top left and center), while C had the salade Lyonnaise (top right).

My salade was excellent, I was especially pleased with the gizzards.  They were rich but not too organ-like, if you know what I mean (not bloody / coppery tasting, not chalky in texture). 


I also love the gizzards, and we find them everywhere here, confit. The great thing about the confit process is that it lends well to canning and we can keep a few cans for whenever we're in the mood for these. I had a wonderful salad at a friend's house in which she sauteed some potatoes in the poultry fat in which they were preserved, and then served them warm over the potatoes. The first time I tried them I was really pleased too, since the gizzard actually a very flavorful muscle that is constantly worked throughout the life of the bird, it's smooth and meaty and tastes great.

...

Another stop on the tour was at Pignol patisserie.

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We tried a brown toque-shaped cake, which again I’ve forgotten the name of (in the photo it is on the top shelf, approximately 4 items in from the left),

the cake 2 items right of that with the large button of chocolate in the middle, and the obligatory lemon tart (bottom shelf, 4 rows from right).  The toque-shaped cake was my favourite, very dense but moist.


That cake is called a cannelé, a specialty of Bordeaux, actually. A nice dense rich traditionally a rum flavored cake. Pignol is a traiteur local to Lyon, and they do a nice job of things on the whole, and from time to time they have a tendency to call things by one name but not prepare it in the expected way, adding their own little Lyonnais 'twist' to it. It may have been parfumed with another flavor - so did it have any particular flavor? Was it a rum flavored one?