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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Brittany in the Rain - Part 2

I'm (still) in Brittany and it's raining.  Well, at least that's the theme, part 2, but now I'm writing from an even rainier Paris.  Does ...it...ever...end?  Yet my memory lingers back to last week, and picking up where I left off in part 1, imagine being shuttled 35k north of Rennes to Parigne to the Chateau du Bois Guy, a tiny berg in the middle of nowhere.  Just key 48 26 20 latitude and 2 47 30 longitude into your GPS and you'll be there in no time, or at least what seems like a quick 18 hours.

The only reason anyone would want to go to Parigne is to visit the hotel/restaurant/conference center Chateau du Bois-Guy.  Upon entry, you will be smothered in champagne and guided to a non-descript room where your party will be subject to a performance of traditional Breton singing and dancing (the good part) and an otherwise forgettable meal (the bad part).  But it's a chateau and you're in France, so why complain?  Below is the main dish, tuna, and it looks a lot tastier in the photo than it turned out to be in real life.

One last stop in Rennes before heading westward to Josselin, a satisfying, leisurely lunch not far from the Place Saint-Anne in the city center, Cafe des Bains.  Two small dining rooms and a bar comprise this cosy Rennes find, with bathrooms fully equipped with showers, reinforcing the 'baths' motif in homage to a famous bathhouse from times of yore in the cafe's environs.

Clicking on the menu to the right, you'll notice a few inexpensive menu options.  Co. and I splurged with the three-course 'trio' (entree, plat, dessert), along with a 1/2 bottle of Syrah red.  We split the sabayon de moules safrane and crostini de chevre a la confiture d'oignons et raisins entrees, both of which adequately did the job without anything spectacular.

For my main plate, I went with the rather pedestrian choice of emince de poulet 'a la plancha,' potato et chutney aux fruits de saison; Co. opted for the piece de boucher 'a la plancha' sauce au riz rouge ecrasee de pomme de terre.  Sorry for the blurry boucher.

For some reason, I didn't bother to photograph the desserts, which is too bad, because Co. is still talking about her craquissimo au caramel de beurre sale (+1€ supplement) - crunchy, smooth, savory, salty, sweet, all those good things you expect from a dessert that hits the spot.  Less to say about my cafe gourmand (+2€).  Total for two 'trio' menus, including the supplements and half pot of wine came to 46.70€.  The verdict is clear: if you are in the center of Rennes and looking for the near-perfect lunch without the gastronomic bells and whistles, then Cafe des Bains is the place.

To finish up the Breton excursion, 24 hours in Josselin, the quaint little town about 50k west of Rennes.  As this is Bretagne, it won't surprise you to learn that what Josselin has going for it is a castle, and the main thing our hotel - Hotel Restaurant du Chateau - had going for it was a view of the castle.

Given the rare one-night closing of our first choice for dinner, La Table d'O (see my previous entry), we weren't left with many choices, so the hotel restaurant was it.  Entering the nearly empty spacious room, we were informed that we couldn't be seated next to the windows looking out to the chateau because the tables were reserved, but no big deal.  (It was a bigger deal for the unassuming breakfast buffet, when the supposedly reserved tables again went unused. What's the deal with that?).  The dinner - the three-course menu of 26.90€ per person - was mediocre and not to be recommended.  I had the impression that the chef wanted to be special, but unfortunately had gone to the wrong restaurant school.  A couple of images below, nothing much to say.

It's not that the meal was bad, it just didn't hit any of the usual cylinders, and when you can't be flexible with a simple seating request, it just adds insult to injury.  Then again, there is that chateau, and there is something to be said about dining by castle light.  Total for dinner: 79.50€, no supplement for the castle.  And with that, dear reader, we bid adieu to rainy Brittany.

Route de Melle F-35133 Parigne
tel: 02 99 97 34 50
website: www.bois-guy.fr

36-38 rue St Georges
35000 Rennes
tel. 02 23 20 35 64
no website

1, rue du General de Gaulle
56120 Josselin
tel: 02 97 22 20 11
website: www.hotel-chateau.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brittany in the Rain - Part 1

One of my favorite garage band songs is The Outcasts' "I'm in Pittsburgh and it's Raining", covered magnificently by The Vibes. Is there a more a propos song title to sum up a city than that one? I had that song going through my mind repeatedly during my recent sojourn in Brittany, otherwise known in France as Bretagne. Bretange is not exactly famous for its temperate weather, with its blustery winds and rains blowing in from the Atlantic, and this was my first visit there that truly lived down to expectations. What's that expression, if you don't like the weather, wait two minutes and it will change? That about sums it up for Bretagne - looking out my hotel window and seeing that the skies had cleared, by the time I made it out the door, it was pouring. Well, this isn't a meteorological blog, and weather or not, one has to eat. I hardly profess to be an expert on Breton cuisine, but if I had to wager, I would say that your best restaurant bet in that region is one of the thousands of creperies scattered from Fougeres in the far east to Brest in the far west. My recent visit only spanned from Rennes to Josselin and, not being a strong admirer of the simple crepe, I ventured elsewhere to sample the local cuisine. My aspirations were humble - no Michelin-starred venues for this trip. The closest Co. and I came to what promised to be an inspiring gastronomic experience, La Table d'O had a little sign on the door when we went to reserve that the restaurant was closed 'exceptionnellement' the Saturday evening we were in town.

Starting off solo in Rennes, I had a couple of addresses that I culled from Le Fooding, L'Arsouille and Le Cours Des Lices, but I opted for one that would require less walking in the rain and the possibility of ordering one of my favorite traditional French dishes, chaucroute de la mer, Le Galopin.

Entering Le Galopin, which had the look of a mid-level brasserie, I received a warm welcome from the owner and was promptly seated in a quiet part of the restaurant, but in full view of the evening's festivities. As the tables filled, I had the impression I was the only non-regular in the place, with the staff shuttling back and forth with handshakes, bottles of champagne, and fresh lobsters, slaughtered directly out of the restaurant's aquarium. Le Galopin appears to be something of a Rennes institution, which may say more about the other options in town than the quality of the brasserie's fare. The only way to get the chaucroute was to order the inexpensive 'menu voyage,' a 22€ bargain from which I also selected the poellee d'encornets entree and a slice of boring chocolate gateau for dessert.
The chauroute was pretty standard, consisting of a mound of sauerkraut topped by three pieces of fish, salmon, lotte, haddock, and plenty of salt, and I mean plenty. Following up on the bowl of salt accompanied by encornets entree, I whipped through my half bottle of Chinon rouge (13.50€) with room to spare. My verdict: if you want an excellent chaucroute de la mer, go to Bofinger's in Paris. The upsides: a pretty diverse range of menu options and the comfort of loners - by the meal's end, two other tables were occupied by a single male patron.

Next up for dinner was a group event at L'Amiral, an even closer walk from my hotel in Rennes' center.

 This one was dinner gratis, meaning I didn't get to select and I didn't get to pay.  More of a chic Art Deco interior than Le Galopin, L'Amiral, a traditional seafood restaurant was roomier and classier.  The croustillant de chèvre au miel et aux noix entree (11€) was terrific, despite the copious morsels of sausage that I had to shunt off to the side, not being a sausage eater myself.  This was followed by a not so shabby main plate of dorade grise grillée aux petits légumes, sauce beurre blanc and some sort of pineapple caramel concoction for dessert.  A satisfying meal overall, though not particularly gastronomically memorable. Photos of the dorade and dessert follow:

I think the message is clear - if you have to choose between Le Galopin and L'Amiral, go with the latter, unless you're a Le Galopin regular, which means you'll go there whatever I tell you.

21 av. Jean Janvier 35000 Rennes 
Tél.: 02 99 31 55 96

2, Boulevard La Tour d'Auvergne, 35000 RENNES
Tél. 02 99 35 03 91

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