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Jardin des Plumes, Giverny -- tranquility after the crowds in Monet's Gardens

Jake Dear | Apr 17, 201501:53 AM

We took the train from Saint Lazare to Vernon, transferring with at least 60 other tourists to buses for Giverny. The gardens were even more impressive than we anticipated, but the crowds -- waves of tour groups unloaded from yet more coaches -- were a bit oppressive. Then we walked a few minutes, past the Museum of Impressionism, to Hotel Restaurant Jardin des Plumes, which felt a world away.

We sat in its private park on a terrace with glasses of champagne, accompaniments, and ordered lunch. We were tempted by the carte, but the menu offerings (two choices for entree and plat) sounded very good as well, and they were so reasonable (32 euro for 2, 45 euro for 3, etc) we went for them. We asked our waitress, should we order wine now? She said, oh no, we will consult the som -- and we sure did....

Inside, where the room was only one quarter full, we were initially shown to a table that would have left one of us facing a blank corner wall. We asked, could we sit over here instead (a lovely round table set up with views over the entire room)? Of course -- and from then on, everything was perfect.

But it was really the young som, who later told us his name, Francesco, who set the tone for the entire afternoon. He helped us settle on a distinctive and apparently rare (approximately one hectare) biodynamic chenin from Loire. On tasting we expressed genuine delight, and we were immediately rewarded by wine talk to accompany the amuse -- house smoked salmon with celery root/horseradish purée. (Also by this time on the table there was dark crusty bread with bright yellow Normandy salted butter.) I mentioned our budding interest in wines from the Jura, and that we were on a quest in Paris to find vin jaune. You have no wines from the Jura on your list, I asked? At that point, he explained that 40 percent of his inventory is not listed. He keeps them off in order to provide wines to people who especially share his enthusiasm.

Our entrées were asparagus soup with greens (with extra soup and a small container to pour); mackerel with pinenuts, radishes, and greens (later I'll try to add photos of the carte for the proper descriptions). Both were excellent.

A few minutes after the entrées arrived,
the som returned with four more glasses -- two generous extra pours for each of us. Try these as well, he said with a slight smile. They were very typical from each region -- a Burgundy and an Alsatian -- and his eyebrows raised slightly when I got them both. (I think I will sign up for the diploma program next week!)

The plats: breast of chicken with garden vegetables; and polenta crusted eel. Again, superb. The chicken was the best breast we have ever tasted -- astonishingly succulent and moist, cooked just to the point of done. And later we learned how it was done.

But first, I mentioned to our waiter, we had a problem. Because of the generosity of the som, we had too much good white wine left over. Obviously, we had to order a shared cheese plate before our scheduled dessert. Out came the small trolley, and onto our plate we selected three regional cheeses and a rather delicate bleu from the Jura.

Dessert, chosen from the carte, was a take on a regional specialty -- apples, apple sorbet, and calvados -- followed by coffee and of course more treats. Talking with the head waitress/ room manager at the table after all of this, we expressed our genuine gratitude, and at that point she called out chef Eric Guerin, who happened to be here this day (this is his second restaurant) so we could give our thanks personally, for his entire team's work, with extra special thanks to som Francesco. And we asked him about the chicken. It had been poached for about eight minutes in olive oil.

The tab: 194,50 (one bottled water included). Under the circumstances, this was an incredible deal.

We had just enough woozy energy and time to stop off at the Musee des Impressionnisms and enjoy the current Degas exhibit. We wobbled to the transfer buses, and slept on the train back to Paris.

We are already making plans for a return trip -- Chef Guerin suggested that September and October were better for crowd avoidance at the other gardens -- and we may stay overnight at his upstairs hotel. -- Jake

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