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Biarritz and and the Basque Country


Margaret Pilgrim
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There is an annual fair celebrating the Veritable Jambon de Bayonne every year on the three days preceeding Easter, this year the 27th through 29th of March. On exhibit and for sale are the products of dozens of certified ham makers, charcutiers, confits of all kinds, wild game, as well as stalls selling the region's famous Espelette pepper. Bayonne is roughly a 5 hour train ride from Paris, and a hub from which to visit a handful of charming inland villages as well as the attractions of the coastal villages to the south.  

For more information on the area, the event and the Bayonne ham, see "Take 5000 Eggs" by Paul Strang (Kyle Cathie Limited), and "The Basque Kitchen" by Gerald Hirigoyen (Harper Collins).

eGullet member #80.

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Bayonne is a neat town with a neat outdoor market on, I believe, Saturday morning. I remember tables full of cepes. You can buy excellent versions of gateau basque in the adjacent covered market. The Moulin de Basilour (I think that's the correct name) has a stall there. There seems to be some argument as to whether the cherry jam or cream fillings is most traditional. It's got to be the black cherry jam. Artisanal black cherry jam is one of the great local products worth purchasing. Nothing like it with some local sheep yogurt. Bayonne and neighboring Biarritz is also a center of some pretty good chocolate, courtesy of the Spanish Inquisition. Chocolatiers fled Spain. On the whole the makers and eaters of ham had no reason to flee Spain at the time and on the whole, I think Spain's hams are better than Bayonne's although I recall an article in a GaultMillau magazine about one fine ham maker in Bayonne. With the common market, the European Economic Community and European Union, you're seeing many more Spanish products for sale in France and in the Basque country, the border is disappearing as a cultural divide. The French Basque shops selling local products will even have wines from Navarra displayed as regional. Nevertheless the local ham is worth celebrating.

Robert Buxbaum

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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.

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I first discovered the charm of Bayonne on a side trip from Biarritz, its glitzier neighbor. On later trips, I've only passed through. As I've never had time for a meal there, it should be clear that I couldn't have had time to go to a museum either.

;)

There is the Musée Bonnat, which is rated two stars by Michelin. It shows the work of Bonnat (1833-1922) and his own collection which he left to the city. The collection contains work from the 14th century through his contemporaries, but I don't see Zurbaran mentioned in the green Michelin guide.

There is reference to a pathetic Job by Bonnat. It's not entirely clear if that's a pathetic painting of Job, or a painting of a pathetic Job. I'm almost tempted to add that any Job worth doing, is worth doing well.

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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Bux, I just got off the phone with my  brother. Also you beat me to the punch about the Musee Bonnat, which he said is a good provincial  museum, but not quite on the level of Lyon. There is no Zurbaran there. I got confused because last year my brother went to the really good museum in Castres to look at a Ribera. Castres is a stop worth making, he said, with several good Spanish pictures including Goya's masterpiece.

(Edited by robert brown at 11:22 am on Jan. 11, 2002)

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  • 3 months later...

We usually visit France during the last several weeks of March.  So when I read about that there was a major Ham Fair in Bayonne during the three days before Easter, and also that La Table des Freres Ibarboure had added rooms last summer, I saw an invitation to visit the Pays Basques that we couldn’t refuse.  

Plotting our course, we would take the TGV to Bayonne, pick up a car, drive south the few km inland from the Bidart-Guethery border to the Ibarboure complex.  I had faxed Mde Ibarboure requesting that she pick us a pretty room; she didn’t disappoint.  Although she quoted close to the bottom of their price listing, the room she showed us to was their premium room, the coral and creme confection shown on their website.  This room, number 4, is roughly 20’x20’ with a ceiling that peaks at around 18’.  It has two balconies, allowing you to take the sun or not, is built out over a canyon so that you have the feeling you are in a tree house, looking out into trees growing up from the canyon floor.  The bathroom is enormous, has a glassed in shower with multiple jets, a huge jaccusi, thick terry robes and slippers.  

We had sadly arrived south in a state of satiety, and were already worried about how we were going to cope during a week planned around eating.  This ennui shows up most glaringly in my very sketchy notes on menues, plates and wine during this trip.  And so we faced dinner.  We were first served a trio of small Chinese cups each with several beautifully seasoned "quenelles": wild mushroom mousse, salmon mousse/rillettes, and stuffed encornets (I could have been very happy with an entire course of this latest).  We both ordered off the carte, Chuck starting with marinated scallops (raw) garnished with tiny dice of apples, artichoke hearts, thyme, kiss of garlic.  I opted for a plate of sweetbreads and langoustines with mesclun.  The main plates were enormous, as they were to be throughout this region.  We chose veal filets (3) with chorizo and cheese, tiede tomato and asperagus, and wild turbot over sauce basquaise with snow peas and carrot mousse with fennel foam respectively.  Everything was excellent; my only complaint, again, is that the servings were very large by our standards.  We were drinking a ‘97 Bouscasse Madiran.  By this time, I had faded completely, and simply asked Mde Ibarboure to find us something light for dessert.  She sent plates of sorbet: mango, banana, fruits rouges, citron, beautifully garnished with tuilles, etc.  When she returned and noticed that we had barely touched the generous multiple-plateau of pre-desserts, she snatched them from the table and said that she would have them packaged for our room.  She returned to say that she had sent a boy to our room with them.  (We found that they had even filled in what we had eaten at table and added housemade chocolates.)  This is the kind of graceful hospitality that we received at Ibarboure from the moment of our arrival.  Every conceivable convenience and comfort was anticipated and addressed.

Breakfast served in our room on a clothed table was also perfect: towers of fresh orange juice, a huge thermal pot of coffee, jug of steamed milk and of hot water, a dozen assorted housemade breads/pastries in a basket, yogurts, pots of fermier butter and housemade jams, local honey, and in the event that you needed something else, tiny teacups holding blanc mange with raspberry coulis, warm molten chocolate cake, and in Chinese porcelain spoons, wee servings of creme brulee.  At this point, my husband who had questioned me regarding the rate for this sumptious room said, “If they charge us rack rate, I won’t say a word.”  (By the way, the charges at check-out for one night, dinner and breakfast for two was...300 euros!)

We were sorry that we had commitments for the rest of the week, because we could easily have stayed here and been spoiled for life.  We will definitely return for at least another overnight stay.  Mde Ibarboure mentioned to us that one can easily take the train to Biarritz or St. Jean and then a cab to the restaurant.  It is only a matter of a few km, and a car really isn’t necessary for a short visit.

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Margaret,

thanks for an excellent post.  Next time I am in the region, I will be sure to pay Mde Ibarboure a visit.

I would like some further detail on your sweetbread dish.  Is it common to serve sweetbreads with langoustines?  I would think that this combination would simply be too rich, and perhaps heavy.  There would undoubtely be some interesting textural stuff happenin.  I'd appreciate some more info on this dish, and what you thought of it.  Did it work?

Do other members have any experience with the pairing of sweetbreads and langoustines, or shellfish in general?

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I believe langoustines and/or ecrevisses and riz de veau are a classic combination. It's rich, but no richer than just a larger portion of either one. It's richer yet when served with a cream sauce.

 :wink:

I've had cold terrine of foie gras and langoustines. I thought it was decadent.

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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Ajay, as this was a very simple presentation, the combination was not at all heavy or too rich.  Served as spokes of a wheel on a bed of mesclun, there was mostly the textural contrast between the two that you suggeested. No cream sauce. :sad:  

I believe that Bux very recently wrote that his wife had the same combination, and probably in a more complex treatment.  Can you get a description for us, Bux?

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I thought I had posted on that meal, but I can't seem to find the post. It was last November at l'Huîtière in Lille. Here is what we noted at the time.

"... ecrivisses et ris de veau in a rich deeply flavored seafood cream sauce.

... exceptional and quite old fashioned without excuses.

... far more richly flavored and rewarding than a contemporary restrained crayfish dish (elsewhere) the day before."

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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  • 6 months later...

I had some very good time in Biarritz :cool:

I didn't eat at Les Platanes nor La Villa Eugénie ( Au Palais)

Both of them seem a very good choice but, I would add a third choice :shock:

La Café de Paris. The 2 chefs are both from Guérard. The view is spectacular and the cuisine seems very interesting.

They have a second restaurant, also in the same hotel, Le Bistro Bellevue.

I had a good meal there.

Patrice Demers

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Cabrales,

Many years ago we ate at Galupe in Urt and it was wonderful - the salmon is a must dish. We were driving from Bordeaux to Biarritz and it was not a short drive. On the same trip, we also went to Bayonne and took a long taxi drive. I don't remember the meal all that well as we had a long lunch at the one star Bakea, right on the border, that lasted longer than we had anticipated.

The chef at Cafe de Paris used to be extraordinary, but all current reviews are not very good.

You might think of one of your "quickies" to Eugenie les Bains. It is still a 3 star experience and Guerard is still active.

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lizziee -- I appreciate Guerard's place might also be close by, but I was targetting Biarritz because it's closer to San Sebastian. :laugh: Have you stayed at Huchet (I have not), and do you know if rooms there are somehow bundled with those at other Guerard facilities? I have put in an inquiry to Pres to ask about Huchet, including its location. :blink:

I am going to have to learn to drive manual cars ASAP. Some smaller French towns don't have automatic models available for rental. :hmmm:

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La Café de Paris.  The 2 chefs are both from Guérard.  The view is spectacular and the cuisine seems very interesting.

They  have a second restaurant, also in the same hotel, Le Bistro Bellevue.

I had a good meal there.

Patrice, how long ago were you there. We ate at Bistro Bellvue and enjoyed it very much. We had reservations at Cafe de Paris and had to cancel twice. We never got to eat there and I was sad, on the basis of my meal at Bistro Bellvue, not to also eat at the upscale Cafe de Paris. I had been led to believe that the two chefs who were cooking there then, are now at Le Dauphin, a little bistro on the rue St. Honoré in Paris, but I see the same two names listed for cafe de Paris over the past few years in Michelin, although it appears that they have also had, or may have, some connection with the bistro in Paris as well.

La Galupe in Urt is excellent and has what is reported to be the best boudin noir in all the Basque Country if not the world. It may also be the place I almost ate myself to death. It was not just that I risked bursting from the sheer quantity, but that I drove away from the restaurant after too much food and wine. Fortunately we were quickly aware I could barely stay awake and we pulled over for a nap. Yes, that salmon, they brought around a beautiful salmon for show and tell. We rejected it in favor of the blood sausage and some good old southwestern cooking--foie gras and duck, but after placing our order, I had second thoughts and called the waiter back to see if we could split an order of the salmon and add it to our lunch.

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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Cabrales, I really hate for you to go to that area and not sample the extraordinary hospitality of the Table des Freres Ibarboure in Bidart, only several km away from Biaritz. We stayed there in March and loved every minute of our stay. Marie-Claude Ibarboure, wife of one of the brothers, manages the 8 lovely rooms which they finished only last summer. She also choreographed our excellent dinner. While we did have a car, she told us that it was only an inexpensive 15 minute taxi ride from the Biaritz station. We would return in a heartbeat, and in fact may do so next spring. The room she gave us is the coral one shown on the home page.

http://www.freresibarboure.com/hten/Page1.html

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  • 10 months later...

Bux, what is your itinerary in Pays Basques? Or would you rather keep it under wraps until you return? Should you go to St. Jean Pied du Port, don't miss the wonderful wine and eau de vie shop. Worth packing a checkable box! Also, do taste the black cherry preserves before you buy. On several visits we brought home what were reportedly the best producers' stuff, only to be disappointed when we opened them.

Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

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No secret on the French side. Just no plan. It's a seven hour ride on the TGV from Paris to Biarritz. We thought about flying, but with getting to the airport and everything we decided we'd just relax on the train and lose the day. We have lunch reservations at Mugaritz the next day, but it's only a couple of hours from Biarritz to Donostia, so we'll probably stay on the French side of the Pyrenees that night, but haven't decided how well we want to eat. I had a wonderful Basque "cassoulet" in Ainhoa and Esilda distinctly remembers feeling a bit off that night and ordering a light meal. That she still feels the envy she felt that night might well dictate a return visit. I also had the best brandade stuffed piquillo peppers there. We had thought of heading for Bidarray because Christian Parra, ex of la Galoupe in Urt and now retired, has an interest in a cafe/bistro there along in association with Alain Ducasse. Parra's boudin noir is legendary, but Gault Millau was not very flattering towards the operation. It's a Thursday night and October is off season. I'm not worried about making late reservations. I recall you had a recommendation for where to stay in the area and now that you mention it, I'll ask rather than search.

I don't think we'll get as far inland as St. Jean Pied de Port, but I recall a particular wine and spirits shop there from a past trip. It was actually a winery shop and they only carried their own marque. The wines were very good and the eaux de vie exceptional. I've been racking my brains and searchin the web for a clue to the name and I think it's Brana.

I recall buying some black cherry jam at a market and later finding some I could taste that were better, although the first was still quite good.

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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