Was determined this trip to make it to the Chateau after being turned away at the gate a few years ago. A few Houndies had mentioned the Auberge du Bon Laboureur so we booked it. Their website offered a special that included dinner and breakfast, and since we knew we wanted to try the resto we booked the package. Then our schedule was thrown several monkey wrenches and we ended up moving around much more than we intended and opted to arrive a day early, in the hopes that we could be in one spot for two nights. “Pas de probleme”, they assured us when I showed up at the desk and they showed us to our comfy rooms – it was a suite even though we were paying the lowest room rate. We settled, had a glass of Vouvray in the lobby, and then inquired if the next night, the night of our original booking, if we could have dinner in the dining room at 8. “Pas de probleme”, they said – and off we went to Tours in search of supper.
TOURS. I’d poked around on the web and found a place called “Les Linottes Gourmandes” close to the pedestrianized area, and a few blocks from the Loire. The menu seemed serious, the website slightly whimsical, and the prices reasonable (a combo I liked) so we booked it. Small place run by a couple, he at the stove, she out front. Started with a couple of Kirs and then were brought a small rectangular plate of amuses. Next came a small shot glass of something that had the consistency of thick cream but tasted the absolute essence of scallop. It was incredibly delicious. When they learned of my partner’s shellfish allergy they quickly replaced his with a small portion of foie gras, one piece seared, the other chilled. I started with Gambas jumbo, espuma et carpaccio chou fleur, bouillon réglisse, (large grilled shrimp atop a bed of puffy, foamy cauliflower with shaved bits of cauliflower and a fennel broth). It was as delicious as it was odd looking. Partner started with a ravioli stuffed with mushroom and chestnut, with lardon and a sauce topinambour (Jerusalem Artichoke). Next he had a Beouf Parmentier and I had filet de Bar on a bed of sautéed savoy cabbage and accompanied by some kind of foam, which I will confess, tasted the same to me as every foam, which is of nothing… but perhaps that’s my course palate. A small plate of regional cheeses, and then a very uninteresting chocolate tarte, possibly made with wonton wrappers-- really, the only off note in the whole affair. Lovely, friendly, even somewhat refined service, and a very comfortable slightly elegant and modern interior. Would go back. Had a nice Samur (around 35€) 94€
The little package of info on the desk in our room explained that the carpark and courtyard closed at midnight (when the watch dogs were released…. Um…. Where are we????.......) so we thought we were safe getting back when we did, at 11:35. Found the gates all closed and locked. Walked into the lobby and Madame was quite agitated – said she had been very worried when we didn’t show up at dinner, was sure we were in a car accident, and called our number in the US (my cell phone, in fact, which was in my pocket but on mute so I never saw her call) trying to find us!!!! Indeed, she looked surprisingly distressed. I explained that we had gone to dinner in Tours, had no idea they were expecting us for dinner this night, asked her why they didn’t mention it when I reserved for the following night? “pas de probleme”, she said, she was just relieved we weren’t dead…. Um……. WHAT?????
Once back in our room, on the back of the door, in the tiniest print, in a dark part of the room where there are no lamps, and only visible using a flashlight, we found the conflicting report of the hour of the car park’s closing. All pretty odd.
Had our petite-dejeuner at the hotel as a part of our package. Very nice spread of all the ususal suspects (breads, pastries, cereals, cheese, ham, hard cooked eggs) in a very cozy but slightly austere room. Coffee and juice were both good and refilled upon request. Only one other family while we were there, though obviously others had come and gone. Snagged a few umbrellas and headed off to the Chateau.
AMBOISE. After touring the spectacular Chenoceau, we headed into Amboise hoping to find one of the Chowhound mentioned places open. No such luck, it being December, and getting close to the Holidays. We land at Restaurant Le Lion d’Or on the Quai Charles Guinot. Nice enough looking baronial dining room with a large fireplace. Lunch was fine, but I think overall we decided it was no better than average, maybe slightly below. We both had the menu du jour: he started with terrine de lapin, I had oeuf en meurette and then we each had the porc parmentiere and some dessert, and a demi of some Touraine white. None of it stuck. 63€
CHENANCEAUX. Finally, our appointed hour arrives, and after the mishap of the night before we’re not much looking forward to dinner but as we already paid for it, and absent any better plan…. The dining room was attractive, elegant, and very well lit, by which I mean dimmer than most, which is preferable. Especially since there were only two tables booked that night. An amuse of poached quail egg atop some warm vicysoisse was brought to the table. We started with St. Jacques for me and Foie for my partner and then we each had the gigot d’agneau avec haricots coco. The lamb was quite good, the beans a bit tough. The cheese course consisted of a piece of toasted baguette spread with melted Fourme D’Ambert, a splash of salad, and a scoop of Roquefort ice cream. I found it odd, especially so for having two cheeses so similar. Next up, a dessert amuse which we hoped was dessert, but was just a teaser. Lemon meringue pie in a small square vessel. Next came something that I guess was a sort of ice-cream cake, cause all my notes say is “Bisquit-Chat…Cookie Puss”. Had a bottle of Samur Champigny Vielle Vignes (51€) 141€
Overall, the food was fine. The service… awkward and formal. Maybe a small bit of the frisson was the misunderstanding from the night before, but I think only a small portion. There MUST have been other nights when only two tables were full in this place… is the answer really to stand there, at attention, three astride, staring at the guests. Part of this seemed to be wanting to be ready to attend to any need that arises – swoop in to fold the napkin, refill the water, pour the wine, but it was all a bit much, and uncomfortable. Seriously, Good Laborers… next time pop some Django Rheinhardt on the cd player and relax just a bit. It will make for a much better experience for your guests. The next morning, once we knew the hounds were tucked back inside we loaded the car and were relieved to leave.
CHARTRES – Houndies had mentioned La Vielle Maison, which is indeed just down a narrow alley from the Cathedral. We had the place entirely to ourselves, but sat next to a roaring fire and had a lovely lunch. Started with a volute lentille avec jambon fume and oeuf poche. Partner had Blanquette de Veau and I had Chou Farci. All was pretty tasty. Followed by a decent tarte tatin, and enjoyed with a demi of Pouilly Fume. (23€) 97 €. On to Paris…