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.
And 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.
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.)