One of the highlights (maybe even the highlight) of my trip to France was a day trip to Bordeaux from Monflanquin (about a two hour drive.) Vince called it "Mini Paris" - and I can't disagree. It's jammed with cafes, shops and similarly beautiful architecture, but missing the crowds that can make Paris feel a bit oppressive. One thing I wanted to do on this trip was eat least one fine dining meal, preferably at a restaurant with a Michelin star. Not that I put so much stock in Michelin stars, but if you are going to eat at a Michelin restaurant might as well do it in France, non?
I researched the fine dining options near Monflanquin and didn't come up with many good prospects. Then the day trip to Bordeaux came up, and the options expanded dramatically. Even so, the runaway favorite was clear - Restaurant Gabriel in Place de la Bourse (pictured above) was at the top of everyone's list. It was also Vince's birthday that day, a great excuse to do it up. We had planned to do the three course menu, but upgraded to the five course "Menu du Marche" when we saw the choices. (Isn't that always the way?) They also offer a nine course "Degustation" topping out at around 95 Euros (about $130.00). Downstairs they also have a "Brasserie" with less formal food and service and presumably lower prices. They offer wine pairings but we did not indulge, for fear we would be incapacitated for the rest of the day (not to mention the drive home.) Instead, we started with aperitifs and shared a bottle of white wine with the meal.
The aperitifs - a glass of champagne for me and a pastis with mint syrup for Vince - were served in the lobby bar with this tray of little amuses. The common theme was potato and we were instructed to eat them from the outside in. The outside one was creamy whipped purple potato puree on a roasted baby potato shell with a purple potato chip. The second one was firm mashed potato with a layer of sausage in the middle, and the middle one was a sweet gelee with chopped bits of potato in it. I enjoyed them exactly in descending order - the first was the fabulous, the second was very good, and the third was.....well, interesting.
When we were seated upstairs we received another amuse bouche - a bite of beet and potato over a layer of apple gelee with a spot of whipped creme fraiche. This was really nice, and was served with fabulous warm cheese rolls and butter. The dining room was beautiful too, with the white walls, tablecloths and chairs accented by plank wood floors and bright details. The service was impeccable - formal but warm and welcoming.
There were two choices for four of the five courses, so we agreed to try one of each. For the first course I received an unusual combination of foie gras pressed with sturgeon and a carrot and celery gelee. I wasn't fond of the foie and sturgeon together, but the foie was fabulous on its own, and it certainly was pretty.
Vince was the clear winner of this round, with his "Oeuf Cocotte" with asparagus and chorizo cream. This dish was divine. The cream had an airy, mousse-like texture and vibrant rich and spicy flavor.
I think I squeaked out a victory on the second course though, with my "Cabillaud Roti" (roast cod) with polenta and white wine sauce. They brought out a small pitcher of the sauce and proceeded to pour a small amount over the fish, leaving the rest on the table. It was one of the best sauces I have ever tasted, and I was tempted to tip up the rest of the pitcher. If I'd been another glass of wine or two in, it just might have happened.
Vince's entree was a "cuit doucement" (sous vide) veal tenderloin with a demi glace-based sauce and a slightly odd cigar-shaped log of orange scented sweet potato. The meat was flavorful and amazingly tender due to the cut and cooking technique and the sauce was a perfect foil. Vince was very happy with it, but I think I might have wished for a more savory accompaniment.
Next came the "fromage" course - a small dollop of a mousse made from Mimolette cheese, topped with tiny croutons and cubes of pear and shaved aged Mimolette. Mimolette is one of my very favorite cheeses and this preparation was entirely new to me, so this dish was a welcome surprise. If you order the Degustation, they bring the cheese cart to your table for you to select an assortment - we saw them doing that for some other diners in the room.
Desserts were next. Mine was a chilled milk chocolate mousse with salted caramel and "praline de cacahuetes" (peanut brittle) served with "glace snickers." It was the perfect combination of all those quintessential candy bar flavors, creamy, sweet and salty. Vince had the fruit dessert, a Savarin with fruit and mousse made from fromage frais. It was fine, but utterly forgettable. So much so, I even forgot to take a picture of it.
Next and last came these beautiful mignardises, based on cherries.
After reviving ourselves with a couple of stiff shots of espresso served after the meal, we toddled out into the bright sunshine to walk to the "Brocante" - the open-air antiques market in the center of town.
On the way we walked over to the Monument au Girondin, a beautiful landmark fountain, and through the antique district, past beautiful store fronts full of decor items like this amazing French encaustic tile.
We stopped to ask directions on the way, so we knew we were close when we saw the Church of St. Louis.
The Brocante is a covered, open air market just on the other side of the Cathedral. Most of the goods seemed to be smaller items - lots of glassware, china, silver, books, etc. The prices were high, but it made for some good browsing. I'm kind of kicking myself that I didn't at least ask how much these 50's Michelin guides were, but based on the fact that the fan behind them was around $100 I am guessing they were out of reach.
This display reminds me of "Midnight in Paris" - I hear the theme music in my head every time I look at it.
This French educational poster was the one thing I bought. These posters were used in schools in France from the 50s to the 70s. The kids were asked to talk about what they saw in the pictures - generally they depict street scenes, neighborhoods and every day activities. Some also depict historical events, and there are larger ones with anatomy and botanical charts. Many are double sided and they are all vibrantly colored. I first saw some of these at an antique store in Los Angeles years ago, but the posters were in bad shape and were priced over $200. Still, I've always regretted not buying one I saw of a neighborhood with children playing in the streets with chickens and animals running around, and mothers in kerchiefs watching over the scene. They didn't have that one at the Brocante, but I was taken with this garden scene - with Grandpere and the kids tending to the family plot. It's even double sided - with quite a dichotomy between this lovely pastoral scene and the other depicting a Bus Stop.) I bought it for 25 Euros, and would have bought more if I could have found another one I loved.
After leaving the antiques market we took a long, winding stroll through town to get back to the car. We walked down Rue St. Catherine, the "High Street" of the town. It was a busy sea of people as far as the eye could see, but not crushingly crowded at least.
It was a hot day in Bordeaux, at least 80 degrees, and as we strolled past Place Camille Jullien (below) I was craving something cool and refreshing. A cone of passionfruit and lemon sorbet hit the spot perfectly. I don't remember the shop's name, but it was a walk-up window just a little further toward the river from this spot.
Eventually we wound our way back to Place de la Bourse - where the "mirror" - a huge area covered by a shallow pool of water on the plaza across the street - was thick with people trying to beat the heat. (This was actually taken earlier in the day - it was much busier in the afternoon.)
Bordeaux is definitely on my list for a longer stay - one day was not nearly enough. It's one of the most famous wine regions of France and we didn't even begin to scratch the surface there. I'd also like to visit Brittany (home of the famous sea salt caramels) and possibly even Normandy though I'm hardly a war buff. And the list grows ever longer!