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6 Places

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Brittany, December 2019 Trip Report

Gman | Jan 9, 202010:28 AM     6

My husband Bob and I stayed in Cherrueix, between Mt. Saint-Michel and Cancale, for a few days last year and liked it so much we decided to go back for a longer visit.

ISTRENN, Hirel
Had gone last year at Parnassien’s suggestion and liked it a lot so was happy for a re-visit. Amuse buche was again a small wooden board of good Breton butter and a few slices of Andouille de Guéméné, the regional specialty made from pork, chitterlings, pepper, onions and spices. I started with a Cassolette of St. Jacques et cèpes and Bob had Lasagnette de champignons, émulsion au cidre. Both were terrific and we washed them down with a glass of Cheverny. Bob had the Cotriade de la baie, pot-au-feu marin aux herbes ( a Breton fish stew, which thankfully, is customarily made without shellfish; Bob’s allergic) and I went once more for the Agneau AOP pré-salé. It was a very different presentation than last year, this time featuring roasted potatoes and vegetables and an intriguing puddle of a mustard-cream sauce. Bob had the Coing roti, financier noisette, caramel beurre salé and I went for the cheese, as is my habit. This is made easier cause he usually saves me a bite of dessert. Had a bottle of St. Nicolas Bourgueil (€31) and the bill totaled €111. Would happily go back.

BREIZH CAFÉ, Cancale
Had gone last year and remembered it as one of the best meals we had in our three weeks in France. For the uninitiated, it’s hard to say how the humble gallette or crepe can become so divine, but in their hands, it does. We started with one of their rolls, which is a crepe rolled and sliced like a Japanese omelet. Ours had smoked saumon, œuf miroir, and chive cream. Next I had the Binicase, which was Noix de St. Jacques, fondue de poireau, crème fraiche de ferme. I caught myself involuntarily making noises as I ate this. It was so tasty. Bob had the Complet champignons, which was both shitaké and Paris Rose with œuf brouille, jambon et fromage. We shared a sweet crepe they called a Kouign Breizh which had toasted pistachios and cashews (charred, actually, and surprisingly yummy) and maple syrup. Had a very nice bottle of cidre from Leguer (€15), two coffees, and our total was €73. Seriously, this place has ruined other crêperies for me…

L’AUBERGE DU CHATEAU, Fougères
Eager to see parts of Brittany we had not seen before we headed off to Fougeres, to see the Château, purportedly the oldest médiéval château in all of Europe. It being a Sunday, and having done no research, just hoping to wing it, we once again fumbled (when will we learn) ! The first three places we tried to walk into all had signs on the door saying they were complet. It’s now the dreaded 1pm when we know some places start turning people away and I start frantic goggling and we find a place that, according to their website, serves lunch as late as 2:30 (!) and is nearby. It’s in a very charming little stone building right next to the moat of the château, and the host was very pleasant, but that’s kinda where it ends. We each started with Veloute de legumes (fine) and Bob had duck confit with frites and I had possibly the worst entrecôte of my life; there just wasn’t much viable viande and eventually I gave up. The frites were a soggy mess and I left them as well (it seems to me there is no point at all to eating lousy frites in a country where it is possible to have terrific ones). A bottle of Brouilly (€20) and we were out of there for €65. Lesson, once again, learned…

CHEZ MANU, Lancieux
Following a mention from Parigi about the charming seaside town of St. Briac sur Mer we decided to head that way. It is charming, indeed, but it being a Monday, almost entirely closed up. We meandered around for a while trying to find a restaurant, finally found a few contenders but it was still a bit early so we crossed a small bridge into Lancieux and looked around. We passed Chez Manu, which appeared open, but more importantly, the ardoise out front said Chou Farci was one of the plats du jour. The other thing we found slightly encouraging was a few workmen leaving small vans nearby and walking in for lunch. We have, several times, followed a trail of workmen to an affordable lunch place: in our experience, the line-up of trucks and vans seems to correspond to decent grub and good prices. Today did not disappoint. Very reminiscent of another place we visited in Burgundy popular with workmen, the first course here was a copious buffet of entrées. When I saw that the œufs dur were properly cooked (no green ring on the yolks) I was greatly encouraged. There were pates, terrines, rillettes, numerous crudite, carotte râpée, and a passel of fish dishes to boot. All the things we sampled were quite good, and as the place, indeed, filled up with workmen, they were not shy at the buffet. I had the Chou Farci, which was a solid B. Lousy frites again doused in brown gravy (Maggi… is that you ?) but better than yesterday. Bob had Merguez which he very much enjoyed. The room was empty at noon, and was filled, entirely, with workmen by 12:20. At one point, the lights flashed off, and the couple beside us, which included the only other woman, besides the hostess, in this room of 35 men quipped how fortunate we were that there were so many electricians nearby. The lights were back on in a trice. Meals included a small carafe of wine of your choice, cheese (back on the buffet) and an enormous tray of desserts to pick from. Bob had a crepe gateau layered with pastry creme and I had a tart au pomme, both of which were good. With coffees, we were out of there for around €30. I’d never make a special trip, but if you’re in the hood on a Monday at lunchtime… you could do worse…

LE GALOPIN, Rennes
Tried to make it here and ran smack into a thousand grévistes and their flares and flags… damn. Ended up at an ordinary crêperie on our way back to the coast in Pleugueneuc. Aux Délices des Sens. Seemed like the only game in town, and Madame was good and mad at the waitress who agreed to give us the sole remaining table as the church clock en face was ringing 1pm, but she eventually got over it and fed us lunch. Yikes.

LE MOULIN DE JEAN, Cuves
With the hopes that Wednesday would not likely have manifs in the countryside, and still game to amble about in new directions, we found a few recommendations from Houndies for this very rural spot, not far from Avranches. Beautiful countryside (if you ignore the big garbage dump you inexplicably pass on your way in what otherwise feels like paradise). Indeed, in an old mill, and for a Tuesday afternoon and its remote location completely full. As one reviewer had said, very welcoming and friendly staff. Begun in 1998, with Jean-Christophe Novelli as a partner, I believe many of the current kitchen studied with him. For lunch there is a 3 course menu for €23. We started with nice amuses of a small pastry (pig in a blanket) with boudin noir, a mousse of foie gras on toast, and a mousse made from cod eggs, all good. Next up was the entrée du jour, a Potimarron soupe with chorizo (diced and crispy) a swirl of chive oil ( ?) and shavings of gruyère or emmanteler. This dish got my Coco Chanel award (“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”). In this case, it was the cheese I wished were left out: not needed with the chorizo there and actually made it hard to eat as it melted off the spoon. But otherwise, very tasty. Our plat (choice of 3) was Bœuf à la bière, risotto de sarrasin. The bœuf was very tender and tasty, and most of the accompanying root vegetables à point, but the sole Brussel sprout was oddly, barely cooked at all and inedible. The risotto was quite satisfying. Café Gourmande included a small choux pastry with a citrusy mousse and a small chocolate torte. Had a bottle of Saumur Champigny (€30) and our bill was €76. Mostly excellent service, though there was a long wait for the plats which seemed odd as the braise was surely made ahead, but there were several office holiday parties going on at larger tables and maybe that threw them off a bit. Would go back.

FERME AUBERGE DE MESAUBOIN, Billé
Following a few mentions from Parigi about this place we were happy to reserve and go. Madame on the phone wanted to make sure we knew where they were located and I assured her I did. I’d sufficiently researched it on Google Maps and even looked at the satellite to make sure I knew where we were headed. At this point in our trip, the GPS in the car had twice sent us down dead-end roads, one, ending at a railroad track with no crossing, the road narrow, and deep ditches on both sides and nowhere to turn around. This time we found the place without incident. It is in a very rural place, and is itself, at the end of a dead-end road. Several stone buildings are stitched together with a stone tower. We were escorted into the main dining room which is a large room with a timber-beamed ceiling and a large hearth that had a fire going. There were several tables around the room and one large one in the center, and the room decorated with old posters, copper pots and intriguing bits of farm tools and baskets. As we were there in Décembre, this was augmented by many cheery Christmas decorations. There was a very large private party going on in another room (another office Christmas party) and it was a while before anyone came to greet us but we were unconcerned and felt immediately right at home. Eventually the hostess emerged from the salle des fetes and greeted us warmly and seated us near the fireplace. As with most Ferme Auberge places, there is not so much a menu, per se, but rather, whatever they are serving that day. Here, it is basically chicken or duck, both raised on the farm. And indeed, Madame had to check that duck was indeed available that day, which we were glad it was so we could try both. Apparently, some days these are cooked on a rôtisserie, but today we only had the option of simmered with cidre. I started with a galette avec fondue des poireaux et petite St. Jacques (not quite as refined as the one I had a Breizh, but a close second) and Bob had Soupe au Potimaron et Poireux. Accompanying the chicken and duck, for each of us, were delicious potatoes roasted in butter, a mix of carrots and white beans and garlic, and a specialty of the house, Gratin Fougèrais (we’re not far from Fougères) which was layers of potatoes, mushrooms and leeks cooked in cidre. Everything was delicious. Dessert was chocolate mousse tarte in crème anglaise for Bob and I had the cheese course. It was interesting comparing it with yesterday’s rural outing where they were aspiring for a much higher level of refinement. And yet, here, the simplicity of each dish sang so clearly. This soupe was truly memorable, and so straightforward. It was lovely knowing that so many ingredients were from there on the farm. We were never joined by anyone else in the dining room, which was likely just as well, as they had their hands full with the raucous group of 30 in the other room, but we felt comfy and happy and sated and Madame was attentive and warm throughout. I know I’ll remember this place for a long time, and will make a point to return when we’re nearby again. Thanks, Parigi. €60, included an €11 carafe of the house red and coffees.

Was heading for ST BRIEUC which we had never visited before, and had a few notes of places to take a look at once we got there. We were sailing down the N12 when suddenly the GPS showed the now familiar red line of a bouchon ahead, a bit odd at this mid-morning hour, until in the opposite direction we passed a slow moving parade a grévistes, cars decked out with banners and flags, moving about 5km an hour, and then we realized our lunch plans were foiled once more. Fortunately, we weren’t far from the next exit and got off the highway and just headed for the small coastal road and started heading back from whence we came, though on a quite lovely route as the sea popped in and out of view. We pledged that wherever we found ourselves at noon we would start looking for lunch and if we hadn’t landed anywhere by 12:30 we would stop at the NEXT place we saw, even, gasp and horrors, if it was a McDo. (Though I doubt I could have gotten myself to do that…) Around 12:15, as a sudden rain storm swept in, we entered the charming seaside village of Erquy and there were several spots on the quai that appeared open. We picked the one that looked like it had the most patrons and went in.

LA TABLE DE JEANNE, Erquy
They brought a small amuse of tuna and tomato rillette with little toasts which was tasty. I started with a Blanquette de Saint Jacques which had cream and leeks and I’d say at least a stick of butter. I should have stopped there but went on to tagliatelle that was tossed with Saint-Jacques and crevettes and a parsley garlic oil. Bob had Pièce de bœuf grillée au feu de bois with a pepper sauce and frites which he enjoyed. It being our last day in Brittany, and having not yet had the signature sweet, I opt for a Kouign-Amaan and Bob has Riz au Lait avec caramel beurre salé, natch. Coffees, and a bottle of Rose (€26) and our bill was €98. Continuing our theme, there was a table of twenty nearby having their office Christmas party. The room was attractive and comfortable, overlooked the bay, and the staff were friendly and efficient. The food was fine. Certainly, steps ahead of the last grève interrupted lunch adventure.

Only as we were leaving, and the sun came out, and I looked at the view across the bay did I realize that we had been here once before, in 2007, when we were staying nearby in St. Malo. It seems somehow comforting that we ended up in the same place again.

Paris notes to follow…

La Table Breizh Café (restaurant étoilé)
L'Auberge du Château
Chez Manu
Le Galopin
Le Moulin de Jean
Hôtel-Restaurant La Table de Jeanne
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