Monday, July 19, 2010

Dinner at Brasserie L’Ouest

Having been to one of Paul Bocuse's restaurants, we wanted to try another, especially since it wasn't too far from where we were staying in Lyon. Dressed appropriately this time, we walked along the river to the Brasserie L'Ouest.

I warn you ahead of time though: if you plan on walking like us, please realize that this restaurant is around almost nothing else, except new apartment complexes and construction areas.

Once we arrived, we were seated inside, right in front of the open kitchen, which I was very excited about. During our meal, we got to watch the chefs prepared all the dishes and we were able to see the way that everything was timed. The kitchen was divided into cold food preparation (seen below), which was mostly appetizers, hot food preparation, which was the meats and main courses, and desserts, which interestingly enough, was only place in the kitchen where I saw female chefs.

This place was much more contemporary than the other brasserie, with a large, stylish bar on one side, and a big open dance space (wood floor). There were also four mounted flat screen TVs on the wall above the open kitchen, and one very large, mounted TV screen by the bar (this took up almost the entire wall). But don't worry; the TVs are turned down in volume, so it isn't obnoxious, and when I was there, I believe they had somehow managed to close-caption everything, which was nice. All the TVs do show the same thing, and it ranged, during our meal, from footage of cooking in the kitchen, music videos, and the World Cup game.

A three course meal here will cost you 22€90, that's with an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

We also enjoyed a jambon et melon appetizer that came with the formule. It was simple: sweet cantaloupe and delicious ham.

For our main courses, my mother ate a salmon tartare that she enjoyed very much (a main course, 17€90) and that my sister had a carpaccio de boeuf. The carpaccio came with lettuce and thick cut, fried potato wedges. I ordered a côte d’agneau rôti au thym (26€90), which delicious. The meat was juicy and succulent, and the mashed potatoes and bruschetta were a nice addition. My father order some sort of meat dish, which can be seen at the very top, but I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. My sincerest apologies.

Here you can see the potato wedges, the lamb chops, the unnamed meat dish, and the carpaccio.

While we waited for our desserts, I walked over to the part of the open kitchen where they were making dessert, and watched for a bit. It was amazing to see how organized the chefs are.

This clafoutis de cerise (part of the formule), was not exactly a traditional clafoutis; it was far too cakey. Ignoring the lack of custardiness (not a word, yes I know), it was a fairly good dessert. I was pleased that the level of sweetness was just right. Most desserts fail because they are too sweet. This one did not have that problem; it was just right. The coulis was a nice touch.

All in all, a fun meal.

Brasserie L’Ouest
1 Quai du Commerce
69002 Lyon, France
Tel: 04 37 64 64 64

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dinner at Brasserie Le Nord

While walking around Lyon, my dad saw the Brasserie Le Nord, which is one of the famous Paul Bocuse’s restaurants. Having never eaten at one of his places and knowing that he is old and about to retire, we couldn't pass up this opportunity for a meal. We stepped in to make a reservation for dinner, and then continued our sightseeing for an hour or so before returning.

The restaurant was quite large, with many tables inside on the first floor, private group dining upstairs, and covered outdoor seating. The décor was traditional: long white table cloths, classic paintings on the wall, a nice amount of space between tables, and so on. We felt a little out of place, as the waiters were all dressed in suits while we were fairly casually dressed (we were, after all, just tourists exploring the city). They were polite, however, and what impressed me was this...

I had been wearing shorts and a sleeveless top that day, and the air conditioning in the restaurant made me feel chilly. After a while sitting in the restaurant, my body forgot that it was summer outside. “It’s so cold!” I said shivering at some point, and while I had said this just to my family, and in English, one of the waitstaff who had heard me, went over to the thermostat and changed the setting, then winked at me as he went back to work. It was extremely nice. I did feel a little warmer after that.

That being said, I remember little of this meal, so it's not technically a restaurant review the way I typically do it. Let me tell you what I do recall.

The best crème brûlé ever (6€40). Seriously. I've had many crème brûlés in my life (they're not all that unique), but this one put them all to shame. It was impossibly, silkily smooth and the custard just melted in your mouth. It was the kind of thing that I have to tell you, if you only get to have one more dessert in your life, have this one. Don't brush this off as "just" a crème brûlé. It was so much more than that. It was ambrosia, food for the gods, with a sweet caramelized sugar topping.

That crème brûlé still stands out in my mind. It has been weeks since we ate there (it was June 25th, to be exact). It made so strong of an impression on me that while I know we had a good meal at the brasserie, I cannot for the life of me give you a good description of any of our food.

What do I remember?

We ordered one two course meal for 19€90 (appetizer and main course). Then we ordered one three-course meal, which was was 22€90, and included dessert. We ordered two other plats à la carte.

We did order the famous poulet de bresse à la crème (22€60), which came with rice, and was beautiful present for us tableside. It had a nice, rich sauce, and was good, but not spectacular.

We also ordered an original moussaka (gigot d’agneau en terrine) (16€80), which was interesting, and above average, but also a little one dimensional.

And that is all I have for you.

So now, plan your trip to Lyon so that you can have a taste of the amazing crème brûlé I just told you about.

Brasserie Le Nord
18 rue Neuve
69002 Lyon, France
Tel: 04 72 10 69 69

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dinner at Le Felouque

Eating at this restaurant, Le Felouque, was just a stroke of fate. A very tasty, satisfying, delicious stroke of fate.

On our way from Perpignan to Lyon, we stopped for a night in Le Puys-en-Velay, a very small, quaint town. We went to look at some cathedrals before deciding to eat dinner. On our walk around town (literally, we circled the entire town), we had seen a restaurant that was Michelin rated, and so we thought we would eat there. But when we go to it, it was completely full, even though it was just 7pm or 7:30pm (remember, the French eat dinner late, so often restaurants aren’t full until 8:30pm). Then we walked to a restaurant that had been recommended online. It was closed. We walked to a restaurant recommended by our hostess. The sign on the door listed its hours and the dates that it was open for the summer and it was supposed to be open… but it was dark. No one appeared to be there and the door was locked.

During this time we walked around the town three times, and we kept passing this small restaurant which was fairly busy. Finally, we gave up trying to eat at a recommended restaurant and just sat down in the courtyard in the back of the restaurant. And we ordered ourselves a very satisfying meal.

So, we learned our lesson. 1) Make reservations ahead of time and 2) You can generally trust that a busy restaurant in small French city is good.

We ordered three prix fixe menus for 19€50 each. The formule included an entrée (appetizer), a plat, and a dessert. We knew, upon seeing the menu, that we wanted to order something with lentils, as it is a regional food and speciality, and something with verveine, as the area is known for infusing various things with verveine. (In fact, we ended up trying and buying some delicious Liquor de Verveine, Sirop de Verveine, and Confit de Verveine at a shop while we were in the town.)

The first appetizer was an assiette de jambon et pâté. I liked the two hams we got to try, one of which was very salami-like, and one of which was a dried, cured Serrano-like ham (I don't know if it actually was Serrano). The pâté was nice; it had texture, but wasn't as rough at the typical country-style pâté. The slab of butter was a nice touch, as was the slice of cantaloupe.
[Note: In case you didn't know, most French restaurants give you bread but no butter. That is because bread is not supposed to be eaten alone. It should be enjoyed with the meal.]

The second appetizer was a salade de lentilles, with raw onions, tomato, and fresh canteloupe. It was very good. I had no idea that lentils could taste so wonderful. And cold too! It was a beautiful discovery.

The third appetizer was a salad au bacon. I don't think I need to say more. Very average. No need to try it yourself, unless you have a love affair with bacon.

The first plat was a a gigot d’agneau. The plating was nothing special, and the same thing can be said of the dish. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't amazing. Just lean, juicy lamb on a very large bed of lentils.

The second plat was saucisse aux lentilles, which looked exactly like the gigot (above), except, obviously, with sausage. The lentils in this dish, the gigot dish, and the appetizer were all essentially the exact same thing, except that in the plats, it was served warm. Still very tasty. The sausage was good, but just above average. Nothing wow. I could serve this at home and I don't think anyone would be impressed. Had this been my first taste of lentils, yes I would have been very pleased, but since we'd already tasted the appetizer, the element of surprise was gone. I would be happy to eat those lentils again though. The texture and taste were both very pleasing.

The third plat was a pavé de saumon (only a 5 out of 10) with a terrine de courgettes (very good, 8 out of 10). The fish was dry and not special, but the zucchini terrine was delicious. The flavors were beautiful, summery and delicate. Bravo on all the sides. It is too bad that the headline piece--the salmon--wasn't good.

I ordered an escargots au beurre (9€), the only thing that did not come off the prix fixe menu. It was an entrée (appetizer), so it was small, but very good. I had been craving snails, and this was just what I wanted. The butter/garlic sauce was delicious, the snails were meaty and perfectly cooked.
nd yes, as you can see, the snails did come with those special shell clamps that were made famous by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

This dessert is a glace de verveine, which was a beautiful 9 out of 10. Have you ever tasted verveine? In English it is called verbena (I actually had to look that up to make sure). It's an herbacious plant, comparable to mint in its uses. Its scent in the ice was amazing. We loved it.
Normally, we make a point not to order ice cream as a dessert when we eat out (after all, you can normally buy a carton at the grocery store for cheaper than the price of one or two scoops at a restaurant, and you get a wider choice of flavors and toppings when you do your own shopping), but I'm glad we made an exception to this rule.

This fondant au chocolat was also delicious. The dark chocolate was silky smooth, and I enjoyed having it melt in my mouth with the crème anglais.

This poire à l’hypocras, which I ordered just because it’s name sounded interesting—was very good. I was so glad that I was seduced by that sound of it, because it tasted even better. In fact, it was so good that when we were done eating it, we wipe our plate—our dessert plate—with bread, to soak up every last drop on the delicious sauce. I have to give this a 9.5 out of 10. I’ve never used bread before to get all that I could off a dessert plate. That was a completely new level of enjoyment.

I felt no shame.

Le Felouque

49 rue Raphaël
43000 Le Puy-en-Velay, France
Tel: 04 71 02 34 72

Overall rating for the price: 8 out of 10
(The only reason why I'm giving it so low a score is because the savory food was somewhat normal. But the desserts were phenomenal. I would recommend stopping by if you're ever in this tiny town.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lunch at L’Assiette Catalane

Having read reviews of L'Assiette Catalane, and having being told to eat there by the locals themselves, we set off with high expectations.
We had an early lunch reservation, which was a good idea, since the place filled up quickly, both inside and outside.
After we were seated, as is typically in France, our waiter asked us if we wanted to order un aperatif or a pre-meal drink. There are often house specialties to choose from, and so when I looked on the menu and saw couquitos, which I’d never heard of before, I asked the waiter what that drink was. He told me that it was a mix of whiskey, rum, vodka, fruit juice, and strawberry syrup. That sounded delicious, and since it was only 1€50, I ordered a glass. It was rather lovely, which is not something I usually say of alcoholic drinks. It was light, sweet, and fruity. There was an underlying taste of alcohol, of course, but it didn't assault my throat the way that some drinks do. Quite a nice start to lunch.
Then we ordered.
I ordered La Speciale Tapas (14€), which actually was split into two separate plates. The first was a plate of cold tapas, then came a plate of hot tapas.

The cold tapas included a nice sweet slice of melon, cold roasted pepper, and various hams. A nice, easy dish to eat.

The hot tapas included a variety of seafood, meat, and sausage. This was like another seafood dish that we ordered, only it also included none seafood items and this dish lacked fish. But it was very enjoyable.
My sister ordered the magret de canard au miel aux amandes (14€). While the presentation isn’t gorgeous, it was cute (I liked the little Catalan flag), and the dish itself was a little too sweet, but it was creative, and very good. The duck was perfectly cooked, succulent, and medium rare. The sauce had the flavor of the duck in it, but also the sweetness and fullness of honey and cream, as well as the fragrance of almonds.
My mom ordered the pareillade de poisson a la plancha (17€50), which included a large variety of perfectly cooked, well-seasoned seafood. The aioli that came with the dish was full-bodied and flavorful. There were three different offerings of fish--all delicious, mussels, clams, shrimps, and squid, and that's not all. That's just what I remember. It was all delectable. I loved how the smokiness from la plancha went through all the seafood, yet the grilling did not leave anything dry. An 8.5 out of 10.

This fraginat, which was beef in a tomato and cream sauce, was part of a formule for 16€ which included an appetizer (escargot - as good as we expected it to be) and a dessert. The dish, overall the good, but it was also a little one dimensional. Nothing exceptional.
The dessert, on the other hand, was a monstrosity. I didn't take a picture of it, because it was just a very large bowl of ice cream. I think it was some sort of take on a peach melba, with canned peaches, whipped cream, and three or four large scoops of ice cream. It was just too much. Too sweet, too artificial, too... American. It wasn't anything like the classy, elegant, or traditional desserts we were used to seeing in France, and quite frankly it horrified me the same way that seeing Starbucks in Europe horrifies me. Good, quality food should never be exchanged for average or mediocre cheap, fast, easy food.
Despite the business of the restaurant, our service the entire time was quick and pleasant. I found our waiter to be quite friendly, and later, upon being presented with the bill, I saw that the drink that I had ordered was offert. The waiter had given us the drink for free (it was struck off our bill par his hand, not the owner's).
This kind gesture is actually not a unique occurrence. There were several time in France when our waiters would, without us asking (I would never ask for this), simply give us a glass of wine or an aperatif for free. It is a small move on their part, but it always warmed us to the restaurant a little bit more and made the memory of the experience a little sweeter. A little kindness goes a long way. (And that can be said on both sides of the table.)

L’Assiette Catalane
9 rue de la République
66000 Perpignan, France
Tel: 04 68 34 77 62
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lunch at Le Saint-Jean (Perpignan)

Wow, am I exhausted from all the traveling and writing. I'm sorry if the quality of my reviews has gone down, but I just don't have the energy to write everything down. After all, the idea isn't that you're living vicariously through me, but that you can know where to eat when you go to these places yourself, right?

So let's get down to it: Le Saint-Jean. A cute little restaurant, decorated, on the walls outside, with a painting of Victorian-era people eating. Inside, the décor is contemporary. Unlike some of the other semi-casual restaurants we’d eaten at, this one offered no outside dining, which was fine with us. We like air-conditioning.

Our first dish (un plat) was a carré d’agneau au thyme (21€). While the portion of lamb may look a little small, my dad found it filling, and we all thought the meal was very juicy and tender. Nice crispy home fries. An 8 out of 10.

I ordered a demi lapin au four et son aioli (18€50). While the meat lacked seasoning (read: salt), it was succulent. You can see just how juicy it was from the picture. Clearly this was a very well-fed rabbit. The aoili was amazing (really, we loved it... and it might have explained why the rabbit was a bit under-seasoned, since the aoili provided all the flavor needed); full-bodied, smooth, and creamy. And again, the crispy home fries were very much enjoyed.

This salade folle du St Jean (14€50) came with a dried, cured jambon (somewhat like Serrano, except I can't say that with certainty) and a large slab of delicious foie gras mi-cuit. It was good, although not mind-blowing, and I wouldn't mind ordering it again.

I remember nothing of this magret de canard rôti (18€50). My apologies. It was my sister's dish, but she seemed to enjoy it.
Generally, you can't go wrong with a magret de canard. It seems that everyone in France knows how to do the dish, and they all do it fairly well. If you want a safe bet, duck breast is it. And it's a much more exciting "safe bet" than chicken.

I enjoyed the artful plating of this café gourmand (7€50) so much, I wanted you to see it from different angles so that you could appreciate it too. Remember: people eat with their eyes first.
We liked the variety of desserts that we were able to try--no other restaurant had offered so many tidbits with their
café gourmands--but while everything was good, there was nothing stunning. My two favorites? The blackberry/current fruit mousse (middle on the bottom row) and the tiny little fig tart (very middle). The minature bowl of slightly sweetened whipped cream (house made) was also nice. That was enjoyed with the coffee.

This crème catalane (6€5) was thick and sweet, and not as fragrant as the one we'd had before (at L'Arago). We were disappointed.

This St Pierre (7€50) was a dessert glacé, and so while it was described as a mandarine soufflé, it wasn't a soufflé in the technical baked egg-white sense. This frozen dessert was refreshing, partially because it was cold, and partially due to the taste and fragrance of the citrus.

This fondant au chocolat (7€50) was simple and good. Like a molten chocolate cake, it was melty and liquidy on the inside, and the full flavor of the chocolate was nicely balanced by the whipped cream (house made), ice cream, and raspberry coulis.

We had very sweet service, perhaps because the waitress was also Vietnamese, but the owner, a middle-aged French man who also waited tables, was also very friendly. Everyone who ate there--and I saw this judging from the faces of people at other tables--seemed to enjoy their experience.

Le Bistrot Saint-Jean

1 Impasse de la Cité Bartissol

66000 Perpignan, France

Perpignan, France

Tel: 04 68 51 22 25

Overall rating for the price: 8.5 out of 10