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4 days in Aquitaine


zeitoun
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It’s been close to one week almost since my wife and I returned from our two week trip to France sightseeing and visiting friends and family. In the course of this trip we also planned to venture into Northern Spain (San Sebastian and La Rioja) for a few days and spend a few days in Geneva visiting my sister. Even though San Sebastian was going to be the highlight of this trip, we decided to fly through Paris first to visit my parents. We thought that the region of Bordeaux would be a pleasant stopover on our way to Spain. It is a region that I do not know well since I think the last time I was there I was about 16 years old. No food memories to keep from this trip obviously since at that age I was more concerned with dating girls and getting stoned than eating good food or drinking good wine.

I wish I had taken notes and pictures in Paris since we spent close to 2 days there checking out some of our favorite food spots: dinner at L’Arpege one night, dinner at Le Troquet another night, for lunch falafel sandwich at Noura and Merguez frites in Barbes, food shopping at La Grande Epicerie; Pierre Herme, Jean Paul Hevin, La Duree, Sadaharu Aoki for sweets; Barthelemy and Quattrehomme for cheese, Poujaurand for viennoiseries.

Despite two days of insatiable gourmandise on our part, we were still were ready for more…(To serve as an introduction to the region of Aquitaine, this is a cool website that gives a brief summary of each sub region’s various specialties.

Following a 3 hour ride to Bordeaux en Train a Grande Vitesse , we rented a car in the city and started making our way to Puymirol near Agen for a one night stay at Les Loges de L’Aubergade. This was my wife’s first time in the TGV and Japanese that she is, she naturally had to brag about the TGV’s Japanese cousin, the Shinkansen. She thought the TGV looked very “retro” in comparison, a little like what the Shinkansen looked like 20 years ago. No offense to the French but I personally think she’s right on this one. I remember taking the TGV 20 years ago as a kid and it hasn’t changed much since then, just the color really, from orange to blue. Since the drive to Agen was short of two hours, we decided to make a stop on our way there in Sauternes to have lunch and laze around a little bit. In the village itself we found a charming little restaurant called Le Sapien. I picked the place solely on account of the Bib Gourmand it was awarded by Michelin. The food was great and the view form the patio overlooking the vineyards was just breathtaking.

Here are a few pictures of Sauternes:

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Lovely views from the patio overlooking the vineyards

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Stuffed peppers w/crab

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Eel “en salade” with herbs and zucchini. Eel was outstanding.

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Halibut with wild rice

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Sweetbreads, carrots, endives in a curry sauce

After lunch we walked around the village and stopped by a small wine shop to buy a bottle of Sauternes. The village itself is quite tranquil, it doesn’t look like it gets very crowded even in the summer time. I’d say it makes for a pleasant lunch stop at most if visiting the region.

We arrived in Puymirol later in the afternoon. As noted in a previous report, Puymirol is a bastide like village (500 inhabitants) perched on a hill just outside of Agen. Just to get a sense of how small it is, the staff at L’Aubergade recommends every guest to walk around the village (literally, following a path that encircles the outside walls of the village). The walk took us about 45 minutes at a very slow pace. Since we were the only hotel guests that night, we were of course upgraded to a bigger room located by the courtyard pool.

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Main square in Puymirol

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Les Loges is on the main street on the right

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Views as we were walking around the village.

Musical interlude from Charles Trenet: "Douu-ce Frannnn-ce, douce france de mon enfannnnn-ce..." That song stuck in my head for two days after that walk...

Diner was set for 8 o’clock. Fortunately, the weather was beautiful that day so we were told dinner would be served outside in the cloister. Yippeee!

Amuse Gueules:

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La Variation de Legumes

4 quenelles consisting of zucchini and tomato sorbet; squash and eggplant mousse. Each quenelle was topped with a crispy / paper thin shaving of each vegetable.

A nice and refreshing way to begin this meal. **As you may have noticed we were almost done with the dish when I remembered to snap a photo**

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La Grosse Crevette aux Asperges Vertes a l’Huile d’Argan

This dish consisted of one whole shrimp cooked on a skewer and one single crusted asparagus sprig on skewer. It was my first time trying some Huile D’Argan, there is some interesting information about it on this website. From what I remember it was very nutty in flavor, somewhat reminiscent of hazelnut oil. A nice presentation overall but nothing to go crazy for.

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La Raviole de Homard a la Noix de Coco

Fines Lamelles de Pomme Vertes et Coriandre

Lobster meat folded in one single layer of pasta served in a coriander scented light coconut broth with green apple shavings on top. This was one of our favorite dishes. I am not too fond of sauces that have coconut milk as a base but this was absolutely delicious.

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Estofinado de Morue “Nouvelle Version”

Cod mousse and potato crisps. This would have been fantastic had it been served as an amuse gueule. Both my wife and I thought it was too much mousse for one single dish, despite the two sauces (which I do not remember unfortunately) this dish became boring very quickly.

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Papillotte de Pomme de Terre a la Truffe

One single Bonnotte de Noirmoutiers wrapped “en papillotte” in what I think was a spinach leaf in a truffle sauce topped with truffle shavings. If you like truffles you’ll get a kick out of this. Although truffle is the star here, this single potato does not beat the potato I had at L’Arpege a few days prior (a steamed Bonnotte with Choux Blanc and Sauce au Vin Jaune). I think I’ll remember this potato from L’Arpege for the rest of my life…

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Le Chou Fleur Preparé Comme un Risotto

Exactly what it is, a chunky cauliflower cream that had the appearance and texture of a risotto (but with no rice of course). Morel mushrooms on top served with a morel sauce as a base. Nice, simple and succulent.

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Le Fois Gras Chaud Poelé, Caramel de Carottes

Some darn good foie gras I have to say (this was expected given the region we were in) resting on top of perfectly caramelized carrots. I do not remember what the green sauce was though.

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Le Pigeonneau Roti aux Epices

Spiced Squab with a red wine reduction. My wife liked this very much, and as far as I can remember it was probably the best squab I ever tasted.

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L’Epaule d’Agneau Confite Parfumée au Thym, Pommes de Terres Fondantes

Thyme scented Lamb Shoulder “Confit”, another example of how versatile Michel Trama’s cuisine is, the lamb was meltingly tender and nicely complimented by the potatoes, crispy on the outside and silky on the inside.

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L’assiette de Tous les Sens

Not sure how you would translate that. Plate of all the senses? Sounds prettier in French..

- Chunky green apple sorbet with green apple chips

- Triple layered dessert in a cup: Framboise with honey gelee, light crème patisserie, coulis of fruits rouges (berries)

- Chocolate cake - Ganache covered by thin layer of chocolate with crème anglaise

- Chocolate “cigar” - Chocolate tuile filled with nougat (cigar shaped) and more tuile in the middle

And to drink you might ask: A bottle of Pomerol, La Fugue de Nenin, 1999, quite good for a second wine and not too harmful on the wallet.

Overall, we were extremely happy with the experience, the staff was friendly and really helped make our short stay an enjoyable one. Trama’s food is worth the detour if anyone ever visits the region. I would certainly go again if given the opportunity, but there are too many other restaurants on my list!!!

On the following day we headed towards San Sebastian and decided to dine in Saint Jean de Luz on our way there, just across the border from Spain. After a quick stroll through town where we bought a 2 pound piece of Jambon de Bayonne (which I preciously hid in my backpack), we found a seafood restaurant called Chez Oskar which served grilled gambas and cuttlefish that were to die for.

After a four day sojourn into Spain which I will report on soon in the Spain forum, we drove back to France after spending one night in Biarritz where we again refilled on deliciously fresh seafood and headed towards St. Emilion for the day. Out of all the regions of the Bordelais we picked St. Emilion because we were told that compared to other regions of the Bordelais, it was more amenable to tourism. Plus, St Emilion is home to some of my favorite wines, Figeac, Ausone, L’Arrosee, Pavie, Trottevielle just to name a few. Most of the important chateaux in St Emilion are located at a walking distance from each other (expect for Cheval Blanc which curiously stands apart more towards the valley) and a few minutes outside of the village of St Emilion itself. Our goal upon arrival was to find a chateau that would accommodate us for a short visit. Luckily, we managed to get an appointment at Chateau Belair after lunch. Figeac, which I really wanted to see and does open its doors to random visitors was unfortunately closed for the day (sniff).

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Views of St Emilion from the vineyards of Chateau Ausone

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St Emilion main square views

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Chateau Belair vineyards, bottom right Chateau Pavie, bottom left Chateau La Gaffeliere

My wife and I fell in love with St Emilion the minute we set foot into town. Wine shops abound around town obviously but we were even more happy to see that there was close to half a dozen shops that sold another Bordeaux staple: Canneles!!

Wine shops in the region are a good way to taste and discover the lesser known wines produced in the area. Least is to say that we did quite a lot of tasting which might be the reason why we ended up purchasing close to 8 bottles in one day. We wanted to limit ourselves to 4 or 5 since we had already purchased quite a few bottles in Spain. I think that after a few drinks I started forgetting that all this wine had to make the trip back to New York…

A few souvenirs from Aquitaine which will keep us busy in our Brooklyn kitchen for a while:

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After close to one week of eating from 3 star Michelin restaurants to lovely countryside restaurants in Southwestern France and Spain where we filled our stomachs with sumptuous southwestern food, we both felt the sudden urge to eat something drastically different for our last night in Bordeaux. For some reason we both had a craving for couscous that night. Fortunately, we were able to find a dozen restaurants to choose from near a square (the name escapes me) located not too far from our hotel.

We took the TGV back the following morning to Paris well fed and our minds filled with beautiful memories of southwestern food, wine and couscous.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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Zeitoun: this is an absolutely fabulous report. And the pictures are wonderful.

Edited by Wolfert (log)

“C’est dans les vieux pots, qu’on fait la bonne soupe!”, or ‘it is in old pots that good soup is made’.

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Is it me or does everyone else get tears in their eyes when they see and read a trip report like this? HOw wonderful for you and thank you for sharing it with us.

Paris is a mood...a longing you didn't know you had, until it was answered.

-An American in Paris

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Is it me or does everyone else get tears in their eyes when they see and read a trip report like this? HOw wonderful for you and thank you for sharing it with us.

Ditto>>>I love France and it looks so great in these photos. The food (including the boring cod mousse dish) looks compelling. Thanks so much for the invitation.

Emma Peel

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Get me there, please.

Personally, I don't know if there is such a thing as too much salt cod. On the other hand, I don't care much for sweets but what I've read of canneles sounds intriguing--I've yet to taste one.

Thanks for letting us live vicariously!


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Beautiful report Zeitoun. Enjoy such trips before you have kids!

Glad you enjoyed the couscous. Speaking of, Clifford Wright in The Mediterranean Feast writes that Jean-Jacques Bouchard wrote in 1630 of eating courcoussou (couscous) in Toulon. Seems like it's been in France for a long time.

Also Charles de Clairambault a naval commissioner writes in a letter dated 1699 that the Moroccan Ambassador brought their own flour and made couscoussou with dates for Ramadan in Brittany. No doubt they were there to talk a little business about the spice trade. This book is must reading for anyone serious about food writing. I rarely say things like that and can't stand when people say things like that. But Mr Wright's book has a wealth of valuable information that contemporary food writing would do well to be informed by. my tuppence.

Now back to Zeitouns trip. Thank you for posting!

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Those photographs take me right to France. Trama seems to be doing exceptional work and the bib gourmand in Sauternes doesn't appear to be too shabby either. I remember when food like that at the bib gourmande was as good as it gets. Perhaps in a way it still is, although I'm going to pay for those little frills à la Trama from time to time. It's great that you were able to dine at both levels. I think they each have their own rewards. I eagerly look forward to your report on Spain. I hope it was as successful a visit.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Thanks all for your kind comments, I hope to report on the rest of this trip as soon as as I can.

Since my return unfortunately, i've been buried in paperwork trying to catch up :angry:

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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  • 1 year later...
Planning a trip to southwest FR for a week and then continuing down to Spain. Where to eat in Aquitaine? I was in Beaune last year and had wonderful meals at Ma Cuisine, Ciboulette, Tontons. I'm looking for these kinds of places. Any suggestions?

I don't want to stop your getting suggestions from members but in addition, you may want to check out compendia of existing threads on the Aquitaine, Basque country and Pyrenees.

Edited by John Talbott (log)

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Planning a trip to southwest FR for a week and then continuing down to Spain. Where to eat in Aquitaine? I was in Beaune last year and had wonderful meals at Ma Cuisine, Ciboulette, Tontons. I'm looking for these kinds of places. Any suggestions?

I don't want to stop your getting suggestions from members but in addition, you may want to check out compendia of existing threads on the Aquitaine, Basque country and Pyrenees.

Peter

See my post to Judith today. Will report on both Chez Ruffet & Hotel Chilo upon our return next week.

There's good stuff in the compendia & there must be posts on Bordeaux.

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