Thursday, April 9, 2009
La Mare Au Diable – Devil Made Me Do It
Seen any good movies lately? Just kidding. Just that I’m not sure how much of the lunch at La Mare Au Diable from a few weekends back I can remember. You know, long ride with Co. at the wheel, lazy Sunday afternoon with a belly full of wine and traditional French cooking, what more to do than conk out for a few hours when you should be typing away at the computer?
No this isn’t a review of the famous George Sand pastoral novel (The Devil’s Pool) written in 1846 – there, who said you don’t learn anything cultural here—but the pastoral restaurant in the French countryside in Reau (just next door to Melun), which was named after George’s novel. If you have a look at the image of the restaurant and its adjoining pool if begins to make sense, and once you look at the prices on the menu—but only the man can do that, remember this is French tradition
(in this case, at its worst)—you understand the Devil part. Poor George, that forward thinking, cross-dressing, cigar-smoking novelist, wouldn’t have a clue what the price of her deer plate was had she eaten at La Mare, which she probably could have done because the restaurant has been there since before forever. We were seated in the 15th C. room. I know that because there was a plaque on the wall that displayed the large Roman numerals XVeme. One of our server’s conjectured that maybe it’s the thought that counts, after we cynically inquired, ‘15th C? Come on, you can tell us.’ Anyway, getting back to the idea of not putting the prices on the girl’s menu, I must admit, I always liked that sexist strategy when I went on dates. You know, when the girl would coo something like, ‘Ohmygod, that filet de bœuf aux échalotes confites et romarin [34€ at La Mare] sounds absolutely yummy,’ you could always delicately imply how some recent cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease had been detected in the very region of the restaurant, and then casually mention how La Mare’s chef is internationally famous for the rarely-on-any-menu feuilleté d’encornets sauce homardine [a mere 14€ at La Mare]. Or if you wanted to be a bit more diplomatic, you could always compromise and steer her towards the pavé du cerf-biche, chutney de poires à la vanille, figue rôtie, jus à l’armagnac dish [at 23€ at La Mare], which really sounds good, plus you get the armagnac, which is always a good thing, and you still save 11€ compared to her yummy first choice. I think I digress, so let’s get to the actual dishes we did order.
For starters, after a tasty jump start provided by a crème brule with foie gras mis en bouche, I had chef Laurent Asset’s terrine de haddock (15€) and Co. had the raviolis de langoustines (18€), both of which got the lunch off to an even nicer start. I feared some sort of jellied concoction with the terrine, but instead was happy to receive a multi-layered dish with large chunks of haddock. Very good. You’ll never guess what Co. took for her plate. If you guessed the pavé du cerf-biche, I commend you for your finely honed acumen, but it’s not what you are thinking. First, Co. really likes deer, and second, she ripped the menu with the prices out of my hands before we ordered because she too is a forward-looking girl who doesn’t like to be kept in the dark about things like prices, even if I am paying. Third, it was a special occasion, so I told her from the start, money is no object. I took the assiette de poissons, which consisted of three lightly grilled fish—daurade grise, groudin, and viveneux (18€). We both enjoyed this stage even if our socks weren’t knocked off in the process. For dessert, we both ordered the assiette de dessert (25€), a combination plate of various concoctions that I can’t remember at all, and by that point, I had stopped taking notes. Capped off by coffee (4€ each), the bill totaled 131€, not nearly as outrageous as I suggested at the outset, just a little pricy for a lunch. This included a bottle of Chateau Maine-Bonnet (25€) and a ½ bottle of San Pelegrino (4€).
Eating at La Mare is an experience that goes beyond the food. The restaurant is very secluded (good luck finding it, by the way), the setting is, you guessed right again, pastoral (and idyllic, I might add), and with the little 15th-17th century inspired rooms, you get the impression you are eating in a little chateau. Our waitress/hostess was rather chatty and seemed stimulated by our questions about George Sand, the rumored hotel complex to come in the area, and assorted other topics.
Before reserving, I counsel you to check La Mare’s website to have a look at the various rooms – you can then request the ambiance that suits your desire, including a nice terrace during warm weather months.
Don’t be waylaid by the online reviews that mark the food as disappointing, and don’t let your expectations soar after reading the extremely positive online reviews that are also out there. If you want to get out of the city (about 30 km southeast of Paris) to a decent countryside restaurant with plenty of parking outside, La Mare au Diable is a good choice. My guess is that once the hotel complex is completed, this will be the ideal conference dinner site. And don’t be afraid, I didn’t see any traces of Satan—no doubt he was kicking up his heels 20 minutes down the road at Disneyland Paris.
LA MARE AU DIABLE
Parc du Plessis Picard Reau, D306
tel: 01 64 10 20 90