The Loire valley was glorious! Blue skies, and an average of two castles a day, punctuated by visits to local food producers (tapped pears anyone?), degustations in vineyards, ending in wonderful restaurants (except for one evening where the meal was so depressing, we ended up eating cookies in bed in a fit of discontent). A perfect mix of my favorite hobbies ... travel, photography, castle-ing (yes, I count it as a hobby) and of course, wining and dining. Throw in shopping in there and I'd be in heaven. As things go, it was pretty much a perfect holiday.
But you're here for the food. Ok, ok, got it.
First night we had a fabulous dinner in Blois, at a great little restaurant called Le Bistrot du Cuisinier, where you were allowed a choice of 2 courses for approximately 23 euros (I forget exactly, I blame the wine). I started with an absolutely delicious "Terrine de canard et pistaches, oeuf de caille poche sur un moelleux de beaufort, sauce moutardee a l'ancienne". It was fabulous. Other interesting starters included and iced cream of coco beans, smoked duck breast and crushed coconut. As you can see, the chef is not afraid of being adventurous.
My main, I regretted the second I saw my neighbors' huge piece of foie gras with chicken breast. I had ordered the tete de veau en sauce ravigote, seeing as it was the specialty of the house. I really shouldn't have as I think the best was probably the one at the Grand Venise. However, this restaurant is highly recommended if you're doing the Loire Valley this summer. Lovely staff, great salmon rillettes to spread on the bread and a great view of the castle.
The second night was in the village of Chenonceau. Surprisingly lacking in charm, the village is very close to the rail tracks, which can be heard rumbling from time to time. Go to the castle then get the hell out of there. We shall never mention our horrific dinner nor the scathing comments cards we left at the horrific Hotel de Roy restaurant ever again. Simply avoid the restaurant, hotel and all.
After picking up the boy, we had dinner in Tours, the biggest city we visited on the journey. We had to go in order to pick up the boy, who was joining us for the second half of the trip. We chose to eat at the Bistrot de la Tranchee, where I had a fabulous meal for the shockingly low sum of 17 euros for 3 courses. The boy and my friend went for the higher priced market meal at 23 euros, which was still a bargain when we saw the carefully prepared and beautifully plated meal. Our amuse gueule was the most visually pleasing, with its white and black "boudin" or blood sausages, on a vibrant beet sauce which was neither cloying nor soapy.
The next day, we were spending the night in "une des plus beaux village de France", in Candes St. Martin. One of the definite favorites of the villages, the restaurant, Auberge de la Route D'Or was fabulous. In the little square in front of the village church, St. Pierre, the food and service was friendly and absolutely delicious throughout. I had the local specialty of eel, which while not beautiful to look at was thoroughly yummy, without the rubberiness that eel sometimes has, but the subtle delicate flavor of a soft fleshed fish. You will understand how much we enjoyed the food when I tell you that over the next two days, we chased down the "Affineur" for more of the cheese in the cheese plate and visited the vineyard to purchase over 30 bottles of the wine which we enjoyed that evening.
The last restaurant of the trip was a bit of a tourist trap. I knew it going in but wanted to taste "foues", hot little breads which were a specialty of the region, and this restaurant apparently had one of the best. Located in Montreuil Bellay (My absolute favorite village of the trip), La Grange a Dime had costumed gentlemen, a set menu of 23 euros including (a standard swill) wine, rillettes, a cassoulet type dish, salad, goat's cheese, strawberries and a chanting of dirty poems. Ok, not quite dirty poems but very suggestive ones using French play on words.
The foues were.... delicious! Prompting the boy to uncharacteristically say "Keep the little breads coming, French dude!". Exhorted to stuff the hot little pockets with "plein de buerre au fleur de sel", we did just that, burning fingers to shove huge slabs of butter in between, to melt into the hot bread. Arguments over whether it was more like pita or naan raged on over the course of the dinner, which was forgettable besides the bread.
While you might all think it was fun and games, let's not forget that I was made to pay for my greediness by lugging a 63 bottles of wine back to our fourth floor walk up. That's not including the other goodies I collected along the way.
Now go eat and be merry.
Le Bistrot du Cuisinier
20 quai Villebois-Mareuil
Tel: 02 54 78 06 70
Bistrot de la Tranchee
103 avenue de la Tranchee
Tel: 02 47 41 09 08