HAVING AFFORDABLE GOOD MEALS IN FRENCH RESTAURANTS ? YES, IT IS STILL POSSIBLE .
AND, ON THE WHOLE, EATING OUT WAS A VERY PLEASANT EXPERIENCE, EVEN WITH A CHILD IN TOW
A party of 6 including a 2 year-old boy? Better find a restaurant with spacious surroundings.
We were all a bit concerned about eating out in restaurants since our barely 2 year-old grandson was travelling with us during this French vacation. We were wondering how he would react to French food and behave in restaurants where you usually spend more time to eat than in an American family diner or fast-food franchise. And we had no idea how restaurant staff would interact with this young American guest.
We thought that it would be better to go to restaurants with him for lunch than for dinner, at a time when he would be tired and perhaps a bit impatient and fussy. And we tried to locate, as much as we could, restaurants with an outdoor ‘’terrasse’’ or patio, where we could let him walk and play around the table if necessary while we finished our meals. We also tried to choose restaurants that would offer simple dishes that may look edible to a child that age, or would have children’s menus. Obviously we were not going to eat in ‘’restaurants gastronomiques’’, or fancy and sophisticated bistrots, the kind I usuallly prefer when I travel to France by myself or with my wife.
So, when we decided that the 6 of us would go out to eat, we would rather choose ‘’brasseries’’ (restaurants that serve traditional French dishes from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM), small local neighborhood ‘’cafés-restaurants’’, pizzerias that in France can be quite good italian eateries serving much more than pizza, and nice small friendly bistrots. We made only one exception when we ate in a very good gastronomic restaurant in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort, that was specializing in regional cuisine. But we went there for lunch during the week when it was not very busy and reserved a table outside in a charming patio overlooking an enclosed garden where he could run around and come back to the table whenever he wanted. This restaurant provided the best meal of our whole vacation. I will come back to it later.
So many negative and sometimes unjustified comments have been made in the American media and on the web about the difficult experiences that numerous American families had while eating in French restaurants, that I have to make a few personal observations right away:
- In practically every place we went, even in Paris that for a long time suffered from a bad reputation with American diners, we were always treated in a very courteous, and even sometimes friendly manner, and the service was usually efficient. The staff was most of the time patient, knowledgeable, and professional. Only once, in a Parisian bistrot owned by a famous chef, did we get very poor and unprofessional service. Fortunately, that day, we were only 3 adults eating lunch, and not the 6 of us including the child. And the food was good. I will also get back to this restaurant later.
- The prices that were clearly indicated on the menus or on the ‘’ardoise’’ (blackboard) were always the same that we found on the bill.
- American Express is now very often accepted in French restaurants and when I used the card as payment in restaurants the exchange rate that they used when billing me in dollars was quite honest.
- Many menus had an English translation.
- Most restaurants offered children’s menus
- Even though we sometimes took some time to decide what everybody in our party wanted to order, since 3 members of our family did not speak French and we needed time to translate and explain the description of the dishes to them and answer questions, the waiters were always patient and did not push us to order rapidly. Some of them even offered explanations in English spontaneously.
- In most places where we ate, we paid more or less the same amount of money that we would have paid in Chicago or San Francisco for an equivalent quality.
- We found that choosing the various ‘’prix fixe menu-cartes’’ (a prix-fixe menu with several options for each dish) or ‘’formules de déjeuner’’ (usually one apetizer and one main course dish + coffee or one main course dish and one dessert + one coffee) , that are nowadays frequently offered in many French restaurants, was the best economical solution. It allowed better food options for the best price than selecting different dishes ‘’ à la carte’’.
- I have to admit that if you try to translate in dollars the amount that you pay in French restaurants, you will think that prices are higher in France that in the U.S. But it is sort of a false calculation. It is the exchange rate that makes these prices look higher. In fact there were price increases in restaurants since 2005 in the U.S as well as in France. Besides, always remember that in France there are no taxes added and that the service charge (tip) is already included in the price.
These two factors put the cost of French restaurant meals at about the same price level as their American equivalent.
Now, an equivalent lunch in Paris, let’s say at ‘’Café Constant’’ (see my comments on this restaurant later) will cost you approximately 60.00 euros for two. But with no taxes or tip to add, once you translate that amount in dollars (at an exchange rate of 1.37 dollars for 1 euro), you reach a total of 82.20 dollars for 2 persons. That is only less than 2.00 dollars difference per person.
About typical French menus:
The portions there are smaller than in American restaurants but more than sufficent for a normal appetite.
The French, generally speaking, eat more courses during a lunch meal than Americans, but the portions are much smaller. In the ‘’province’’ where people still devote a little more time than Parisians, who are always in a hurry, to their meals, it is not abnormal to have a 4 course lunch.
For example, in a ‘’brasserie’’, the first course (called hors-d’oeuvre or entrée) could include some pâtés or other type of ‘’charcuterie’’, or a hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise and a few leaves of lettuce, or some kind of ‘’crudités’’ with a vinaigrette (cold raw vegetables), or some warm goat cheese on lettuce, or shrimps, or snails, or marinated herrings, or a terrine of leeks, or a carpaccio of beef or duck with shavings of parmesan cheese.
The second course (called Plats) would include a choice of: Steaks, like ‘’faux-filet’ (sirloin steak), ‘’bavette’’ (skirt steak), ‘’entrecôte’’ (rib steak), or ‘’pavé de rumsteak’’ (a thick cut of steak from the rump) garnished with some kind of potatoes (au gratin, fries, sauteed, mashed, steamed, etc.) and one warm cooked vegetable, like zucchini, cauliflower, baked tomatoes, ratatouille, green beens, petits pois. Or a meat stew like ‘’blanquette de veau’’ (veal stew in a white cream sauce)or ‘’ boeuf bouguignon’’ beef stew in a brown red wine sauce. Or a ‘’ steak Tartare’’ (raw ground beef mixed with various spices, chopped onions and parsley, an egg yolk, and Worcester sauce. Or a ‘’ magret de canard’’ (duck breast). Or an ‘’andouillette grillée’’ with pommes frites (a grilled chitterling sausage with fries). Or a ‘’choucroute garnie’’ (an Alsatian specialty made of cooked sauerkraut in Riesling wine with boiled sausages, hams, salt pork, and other types of deli meats). Or ‘’côtes d’agneau’’ (lamb chops). Or some kind of chicken- based dish like roasted chicken (poulet rôti), chicken in the pot (poule au pot), coq-au-vin, etc. And in a brasserie, you always would be able to choose from some kind of organ meat-based dishes like rognons de veau ou d’agneau (veal or lamb kidneys), foie de veau sauté aux oignons (sauteed veal liver with onions), cervelle (brains), boudin noir (pork blood sausage) served with baked apple, ris-de-veau (veal sweetbreads), or tripes.
The main course dish can also be fish or shellfish-based, like roasted or sauteed codfish (morue), bass
(bar), salmon (saumon) , skate (raie au beurre noir) sauteed in ‘’beurre noir’’, scallops (coquilles Saint-Jacques), or large shrimps (scampi). Most often this seafood dish would be served with boiled or steamed small potatoes and fresh cooked vegetables like asparagus, spinach, zucchinis, fennel, or even fresh pasta.
Often, a little side dish of lettuce seasoned with a vinaigrette could be part of the main course.
The third course (fromages) traditionally is made of a single, or 2 or 3, pieces of good AOC cheeses such as Camembert, Brie, Cantal, Roquefort, some kind of Chèvre, Saint Nectaire, Reblochon, Munster, Pont- l’Eveque, to only mention those most frequently served in brasseries. Sometimes you can order a larger selection of several cheeses, from ‘’ Le plateau de fromages’’ (the cheese tray). But this offer is more common in full-service restaurants and good bistrots than in café-restaurants and brasseries.
The cheese course can vary according of the region where you are, where only local cheeses can be served.
The fourth course is dessert. All brasseries offer a choice of fruit tarts, fresh fruits, ‘’flans’’ (custard), crème brulée, mousse au chocolat, sorbets and ice-creams, nougat glaçé, profiteroles. Fruit crumbles have become very popular.
We had a very pleasant meal in such a very traditional brasserie, the Brasserie du Boulingrin in Reims, a city of 200.000 people 90 miles North-east of Paris which is the capital of the Champagne district and has one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in the world where kings of France were crowned.
We were in Reims for a one-day family reunion at my brother’s house, an old 17th century farm located in a small hamlet at the heart of the Champagne vineyards.
This beautiful and very lively art-deco brasserie with is authentic frescoes on the walls, big mirrors, and confotable banquettes (leather seats) has been in the same spot, near the old food market hall, since 1925. When I lived in Reims from 1947 until 1958, I never had a chance to eat there since we did not eat in local restaurants.
The 6 of us just wanted to have a quick lunch on that very grey and rainy day before driving back to Paris, since we had been eating a lot of food and drinking several bottles of champagne and wine the day before. And as in well-managed brasseries, we were promptly seated and, the time to study the menu and to order one main dish each, we were served relatively fast when we told the waiter that we did not have much time. The quality of the 9 oz (265 grammes) faux-filet was very good. It was served as ordered ‘’à point’’ (medium-rare) on a wooden board and served with a roquefort sauce on the side and a very good ‘’gratin dauphinois’ (potatoes au gratin in a cream and cheese sauce) at a cost of 18.50 euros (25.50 dollars).
The ‘’côtelettes d’agneau’’ (lamb shops) were nicely trimmed, meaty and very tender and juicy. At 16 euros ( 22 dollars) for 2 pieces, they were served on an individual wooden board with some ‘’modern’’ ratatouille (meaning reconstructed as a cube made of several slices of vegetables without a sauce), and gratin dauphinois. The ‘’magret de canard et son jus de romarin’’ (duck breast with a natural rosemary jus) was also very attractively presented, very flavorful, and once again was served as ordered (medium-rare) with gratin and ratatouille. A ‘’plat du jour’’, special of the day, was a filet of pike in a champagne sauce with mushrooms and little shrimps. At 17.50 euros (24 dollars) It looked very good but did not pleased my older son too much who was looking with envy at his brother’s steak. I had half a roasted ‘’coquelet’’ in tarragon sauce (cornish hen) that was good but not worth lengthy comments, for 9.50 euros (13 dollars). The last dish, at 16 euros (22 dollars) was a very well cooked filet of bass sauteed in olive oil with tomatoes and herbs.
We ordered some very tasty home made ‘’pommes frites’’ (fries) for my grandson, and he seemed to enjoy this 2 euros treat.
With a bottle of Côtes de Provence and a litter of Vittel water, the total bill for 5 was 103 euros (141 dollars). One might consider that a bill of 28 dollars per person is relatively expensive for just one course lunch with a glass of wine. But it was a nice, well managed and traditional restaurant, not a hamburger joint . In fact the average client was a well-dressed local businessman.
Brasserie du Boulingrin 48 Rue du Champ de Mars 51100 Reims Tel: 03-26-40-96-22
You can find more complete lunches for less money in smaller and little less classy places.
For exemple, the day after our arrival in Sigalas, a Sunday, we decided to find a modest little restaurant in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort where the six of us could have a cheap but substantial lunch. I remembered such a little place with an outside terrasse, near the Temple, this is what a protestant (calvinist) church is called in France. Saint Hippolyte's temple is one of the two largest in France, the other one being in the small town of Anduze, 18 miles away. My father was the minister of this temple from 1937 to 1947. This restaurant is called ‘’Les Cévennes’’, the name of the nearby mountains. We were seated outside and could observe the activities of local young men racing each other and doing acrobatic moves on their noisy small motorbikes. The restaurant, owned by a family, whose customers were mainly local regulars, had "prix fixe menus" at 18 euros that included 3 courses. First they brought some complimentay ''amuses-bouches'' that included a very good home-made tapenade, and some ''popcorn''. As first courses we had various local country pâtés and sausages, warm ‘’Pélardon’’ des Cévennes (goat cheese) on a mesclun of lettuce, and mountain ham. My wife had a very tasty warm dish of eggplant baked in a meat tomatoe sauce. As main courses, we ordered entrecôtes (rib steaks) in a cream sauce, a duck breast in a apricot and pepper sauce, and lamb shops. They were all pretty tasty and garnished with fried eggplant, tomatoes and zuchinis, or fries, or provençal (oven-baked with garlic and thyme) tomatoes and green beans.For the third course we had a choice of either cheese or desserts, that were traditional: pear tart, chocolate mousse, ice-creams and sorbets. With 2 bottles of locally produced good rosé wine, two bottles of mineral water and a glass of milk, the total bill was 120 euros (165 dollars) for 5 (+) persons for full, not gastronomical, but well prepared meals.
Les Cévennes, Boulevard du temple. 30170 Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort
In Paris we had lunch in one of my favorite “café-restaurant”, “A la Tour Eiffel’’, rue du Commerce in the 15 th arrondissement.
I love this place where, when I arrive in Paris usually on a Saturday, I have my first lunch with the friends I stay with. They live in a house rue du Commerce. And before I went to CDG airport to catch my flight back to Chicago, when it was still leaving from Paris in the middle of the afternoon, I used to have a last solid French lunch there too.
It is one of these typical neighborhood cafés, owned of course, like many other bistrots in Paris, by people from the " département'' of Aveyron. They have a traditional zinc counter where local people, shop-keepers, and delivery truck drivers, or tourists, stop by to have a drink, eat a sandwich, or have a quick breakfast in the morning. But it has two small dining areas, one in a sort of low mezzanine with ‘’banquettes’’, and one at street level with the traditional bistro tables covered with white paper cloth, where they serve lunch, mostly to regulars. It is a very lively scene with very busy and friendly waiters and one waitress running back and forth between the kitchen, the bar where they order wine and aperitifs, and the tables of their customers, often zigzaging between coming and going patrons, with their platter full of smoking plates in a precarious balance up on their extended arms. In the summer time the French door-windows open to the street sidewalk where a few tables allow you to have a drink or eat a sandwich in the sun, facing the church. The decor is very simple but quaint, almost provincial, and could be part of the set of a French film, with its old photos of the Eiffer Tower at various stages of its construction on the smoked yellowish walls, an antique radio set, and some old mirrors. The mix of sounds from the conversations of customers s and from the exchange of orders between the staff, the bar, and the kitchen are also very typical and picturesque.
My two sons and I started with traditional ‘’oeufs durs mayonnaise (hard-boiled eggs with mayonaise on lettce), jambon cru d’Auvergne (raw dried ham from Auvergne), and pâté de campagne (country pate). The ladies did not order appetizers, and we ordered some very good frites and haricots verts au beurre (green beans sauteed in butter)for my grandson. Then we had ‘’confit de canard aux pommes sautées à l’ail’’ (a leg of duck confit with potatoes sauteed in duck fat with garlic), entrecôte frites (rib steak with fries), roasted farm-raised chichen with mashed potatoes, and a steak with a peppercorn sauce and fries. For dessert the ladies had a very tasty and smooth mousse au chocolat, and my two sons shared a pear sorbet doused with eau de vie de poire william (bartlett pear brandy). I had a marvelous piece of ‘’entre-deux’’ Cantal cheese . With a bottle + ¼ of a litter of red Marcillac, a wine from Center France, a bottle of Vittel and a glass of milk, we paid 121 euros (65 dollars) for 5 adults and one child.
And it was a very good, simple and almost slightly rustic, Parisian lunch.
I was however very surprised to read on a special blackboard on the wall the geographical origins of the meats served that day in the restaurant: The entrecôte was from Germany, the ‘’onglet’’ from Holland, and the ‘’Pavé’’ and chicken from France. I do not know where these new European rules and regulations are taking us, but I do not feel comfortable with this kind of info. It sort of spoiled my appetite. Let’s return to the nice traditional sources of beef in Charolais or Salers.
A la Tour Eiffel 96 Rue du Commerce 75015 Paris Tel : 01-45-33-77-11
Once, my wife and I decided to go by ourselves to the Camargue,a beautiful wild marshy area in the Rhône delta where this river ends its long run that starts in the mountains of Switzerland, into the Mediterranean sea, near Arles. It is a fabulous landscape full of thousands of wild birds and white horses. You can also see the famous bulls that are raised there to be used in bull races and special events all over South of France. We love this area and the charming little coastal city of Les-Saintes-Maries-de la Mer, which is the site of an annual pilgrimage for Gypsies from all over Europe.
We also wanted to have lunch in the nearby old fortified small town of Aigues-Mortes built in the 13th century where St Louis left for the Crusades. The town is entirely enclosed between high walls dominated by a famous tower, La Tour de Constance, an old state prison where a group of very courageous Huguenot women were imprisoned in the 18th century. Among them, Marie Durand spent 38 years there and engraved the famous ‘’resister’’ (resist) word in the stone of their cell.
It was a sunny and warm day and we had a great lunch, outside on a small patio in the street at ‘’ La Guinguette de la République’’ a modest but very pretty bistrot in the charming Hotel des Templiers, that I recommend to anybody who wants to spend a couple of days in that area. La Guinguette is owned and managed separately . This place, away from the main streets that are packed with tacky tourists at this time of the year, was quiet and restful. The owner, or manager, was obviously the only staff that day, except for the chef of course, and was a very discrete but helpful and gracious host. He was willing to provide interesting pieces of info about the way they prepared some of the delicious, very Mediterranean dishes that were simple but sophisticated from a taste and presentation standpoint. For the first course my wife had a ‘’mandarlate’’, a very colorful and complex dish, that we understood was an old recipe from the Italian family of one of the friends of the restaurant. It was a mix of ‘’confiture d’oignons’’, dry raisins, red peppers, almonds, very slowly cooked for 6 hours and deglazed with balsamic vinegar. The combination of flavors was positively unique and stunning. I had beautiful ‘’aubergines provençales’’, ultra-thin (they used a ham slicer to have them perfectly cut and shaped ) and lengthy slices of eggplant, lightly fried in olive oil, and artistically presented in a small portion of very aromatic pureed tomatoes.
As a main course, She had lamb chops, perfectly grilled and served with an unctuous and very tasty purée de pommes de terre à l’huile d’olive (mashed potatoes in olive oil). I had a spectacular home-made canneloni, that will remain in my memory as one of the tastiest I ever ate.
She had a very well-made apple crumble for dessert, and I drank a fragrant italian expresso.
With a great bottle of Costières de Nimes rosé, nicely priced at 16 euros, the cost of this delicious meal was 62 euros for two. (85 dollars)
I will not hesitate to go back there the next time I travel through this area.
La Guinguette de la République 25 Rue de la République 3022 Aigues Mortes Tel: 04-66-51-66-09
Also in Paris, I wanted to go to a place that I had never tried before during my numerous trips to Paris. So my wife, my younger son Theo, who loves to eat too, headed to Rue Saint Dominique, in the 7th arrondissement, to have lunch at CAFE CONSTANT. Christian Constant is probably one of the most well-known and respected Parisian chefs who has trained some of the most successful young chefs of the new generation that started to open their own restaurants in Paris in the late eighties and mid-nineties, when he was the chef of the famous restaurant of the Hotel Crillon, Les Ambassadeurs. Some of these very successful chefs are Eric Fréchon, at the Bristol, Yves Camdeborde who got famous at La Régalade, Alain Péguret at Laurent.
Constant has now 4 restaurants on the same sidewalk of Rue Saint-Dominique within one or two blocks: The very good Violon d’Ingres, his flagship, Les Fables de la Fontaine, Café Constant, and the latest one that opened in June: Les Cocottes. Café Constant is a simple unpretentious neighborhood café-bistrot with a street-level room that is really lively and populated by regulars, many from the neighborood. It has a traditional ‘’zinc’’ (bar) and some pleasant ‘’banquette’’ seats where you can relax while eating and watching people come and go. The waitress downstairs is very competent and seems to know her regular customers. This is where you should eat if you do not mind the smokers. We went to the small smoke-free room upstairs and that was our mistake. As a waiter, we had a young man, poorly shaved, dressed in a not too clean tacky soccer T-shirt and jeans, who did not know how, or was not willing, to explain anything from the menu that was on a blackboard that he carried around. He did not seem eager to communicate in any way with us, was totally aloof and unconcerned, and was very slow to react. Obviously he had not been trained properly for this job, and we were very surprised by his unprofessional attitude, a rare occurence in a Parisian restaurant owned by a respected professional chef.
As a first course my wife had a ‘’millefeuille de tomates’’ that was in fact just a small mount of a few slices of very good tomatoes sandwiched with 2 or 3 slices of fresh mozarella cheese and toped with two leaves of fresh basil. It was O.K but she expected something more sophisticated with some puff pastry layers and it was not worth its price of 10 euros. The waiter did not explain anything about this dish when we ordered it and asked him about the “millefeuille” component. I had an excellent home-made ‘’terrine de foie gras’’ that was very well prepared, smooth and subtle, that was well worth its 12 euros. My son enjoyed his ‘’salade d’artichauts’’, a very refreshing and nicely seasoned salad of fresh artichoke bottoms and mushrooms that was also priced at 10 euros, an appetizer made from first rate products.
Our main courses were very good: My son and I had very tasty ‘’escalopes de canette’’ (scalopini of youg duck breast), served with two types of young potatoes from Noirmoutiers (an island on the Atlantic coast that is famous for its potatoes): one mashed and very buttery, the other ‘’ rissolées’’ (gently pan-sauteed) priced at 14 euros. I could go back there just for the exciting taste of these potatoes. My wife, as usual, had ordered ‘’côtelettes d’agneau’’ (young lamb chops) served with fresh small green beans, also for 14 euros. The quality of the meat and the ‘’temps de cuisson’’ (cooking time) were perfect.
I had a cheese plate including a delicious and perfectly aged Saint-Nectaire fermier and a very fragrant small chèvre for 7 euros. My wife has a decent sorbet, half mango, half black currant, for 7 euros. And my son’s ‘’profiterolles’’ with a warm chocolate sauce on the side, also at 7 euros, were scrumptious.
With a very good bottle of Bourgueil at 24 euros, half a bottle of an excellent Lalande de Pomerol, and one liter of Thonon mineral water (a very good water, much better in fact than its famous neighbor from Evian), the total bill reached 139 euros for 3. (190 dollars). I found it a tiny bit overpriced for such a modest but good cafe-restaurant, but the meal was very satisfying overall. Perhaps you pay a little extra for the name. We did not see Monsieur Constant but we understand that he comes very often to have a late lunch downstairs. Also I read that most of the warm dishes are prepared in the kitchens of the nearby Violon d’Ingres and brought by a runner to the cafe.
It has a rating of 22 (out of 30 point) in the new 2007-2008 Paris Zagat
Café Constant 139 Rue Saint-Dominique Paris 7 Tel: 01-47-53-73-34
As I said earlier, the best meal we had in France during that trip was the lunch we had in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort in a very charming and excellent restaurant called ‘’ L’AMOURIER’’
The name, in case you wonder, has nothing to do with ‘’amour’’ (love). It is an old occitan word for mûrier (mulberry tree). This type of tree was very common in the area of Saint-Hipolyte du Fort, a town that for two centuries was well-known for its production of natural silk. The silk worms in order to become cocoons had to feed on the leaves of these ‘’murier’’ trees. As a matter of fact, Pasteur lived for a while in Saint-Hippolyte when he was trying to find a way to eradicate a terrible disease, the Pebrine, that affected the silkworms and practically destroyed for a while the silk industry in that area. The production of silk was the main industry of the Cévennes region until the end of the 19th century. Nowadays, you can visit a very informative ‘’ Musée de la Soie’’ (Silk Museum) in Saint-Hippolyte.
You reach the rustic but confortable, very sunny, air-conditioned, main dining room, with high ceilings and wooden beans, nicely appointed with provençal-styled furniture, through a beautiful garden full of interesting trees, plants and flowers. We had reserved a table outside in a shaded patio covered with a ‘’tonnelle’’ that, in the summer time, provides a natural resfreshing shield against the very warm rays of the Southern sun.
The owners, Mr and Mrs Mathis, are very professional and gracious hosts and they did everything they could to be informative and helpful while we ordered as well as during the meal when I asked questions about the way they envision their type of ‘’mission’’ as serious restauarteurs proud of French and regional traditions, about their local suppliers, and about the regional wine producers they buy from.
The chef is very proud of his buying the best products from local farmers and meat and fish suppliers, and the fact that his menus reflect what is available in each of the four seasons. I believe that he forages himself the wild mushrooms and herbs that he uses in his very aromatic cooking.
The restaurant offers 4 different menus from 19 euros (Menu Tradition) to 39 euros (Menu du Chef) + a little children's menu at 12 euros.
We opted for 2 Menus du Terroir at 26 Euros and 3 Menus de Saison at 26 euros. We started with a complimentary colorful amuse-bouche made of three different layers of red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini mousse, served in small antique glasses.
In the Menu du Terroir the first course was a ‘’millefeuille de panisses marseillaises, tapenade, et sauce provençale’’, a Napoleon of fried tiny cakes made of chickpea flour,sandwiched with olive and capers tapenade, with an herb-seasoned provençal sauce based on a tomato-based kind of coulis. Absolutely flavorful.
The Menu de Saison offered, as a first course, a spectacular home-made “foie gras mi-cuit au torchon”, with roasted fresh figs, and black Java Hawai granulated salt. My two sons loved every gram of it.
My daughter-in-law had a ‘’papeton’’, a typical provençal specialty, which is a round molded cake of small fried and pureed eggplant with a tomato coulis and fresh basil. Beautiful to watch and very tasty.
The main course of the Menu de Terroir was a ‘’charlotte d’agneau en habit d’aubergines’’, a ground lamb and eggplant sort of crustless pie, that proved to be full of subttle mediterranean classic flavors.
In the Menu de Saison, my daughter- in- law had an artistically designed “fan” of duck breast surrounded by peaches preserved in Xeres wine. The other choice, enjoyed by my two sons, was roasted leg of lamb encrusted with Java pepper, a very original rendition of this classic lamb preparation.
Both menus offered a plate of cheeses, that were mainly local goat cheeses including the famous ‘’Pelardon’’ des Cévennes.
The dessert in the Menu du Terroir was a custard pie made of very flavorful chesnuts grown in the local Cévennes mountains. I normally hate custardy cakes and do not like chestnuts too much, but eating half of this silky and voluptuous dessert plunged me in some kind of rapture.
An other dessert from the Menu de Saison was a slightly spicy carpaccio and sorbet of fresh pinneaple, with tiny dices of papaya and an etheral foam of coconut. The presentation was beautiful, and this dessert, from what my daughter-in-law told me, had a very original and exciting combination of flavors.
Ther was also a ‘’parfait’’ (a mousse-type of ice-cream) flavored with fresh mint from the restaurant’s garden, with a ‘’coulis’’ of exotic tea, with a touch of chocolate.
Little Sébastien seemed very happy with his macaroni and cheese. (5 euros).
We drank 2 bottles of a very exciting and very aromatic Mas Bruguière rosé, from the nearby AOC of Pic Saint Loup. A pure pleasure and a bargain at 20 euros a bottle. And of course a couple of bottles of Evian.
With a total bill of 199 euros (272 dollars) for the five of us and the child, we left this restaurant with the very happy and comforting feeling that you could still find very satisfying, creative meals, well-crafted by professional chefs who love their art, in French restaurants for a very decent price.
L’ AMOURIER, Route de Monoblet 30170 Saint-Hippolyte du Fort Tel: 04-66-77-26-19
As mentionned earlier, we had a couple of very decent early dinners or late lunches in pizzerias, where the “pizzaiolo” still knows how to make real pizzas from scratch and bake them in wood-burning ovens. They usually also serve good pasta (sometimes fresh) dishes, and offer interesting wines at moderate prices. We recommend without any reluctancy the 2 following restaurants:
5 Rue Thoumayne
Our discovery of the year in Nîmes, 300 yards from my old High School.
Very pleasant staff. We ate outside in a ‘’terrasse’’ literally in the street,with people walking by, but it was very nice and relaxed.
Very good “Reine” pizza with ham, mushrooms and cheese.
They also make a great fettucini with home-made pesto sauce, that both Sebastien and I loved.
Excellent Domaine de Gournier rosé. A vin de pays du Gard that I discovered... in Chicago.
Quite affordable and enjoyable experience.
1 Rue Gozlin
We have have been eating in this modest but much ‘’sympathique’’ pizzeria since my wife and I moved to the Saint- Germain des Prés area in the mid sixties.
And in 2007, 40 years later, the place is owned by the same Italian people who still shake my hand when I come in, even if they did not see me for 2 years.
The pizza is always the same: hand shaped and cooked individually in the same old wood-burning oven that they had in May 1968 when we were running away on nearby Boulevard Saint-Germain from the charges of the CRS (riot police).
It is located practically across the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church.
As before, nothing to write home about, no fancy food or creative dishes. But we still enjoy the good “Quatre saisons”, “ Reine” and plain “Margarita” pizzas.
Good cheap valpolicella.
The check is easy to pay.