Dining at its finest
Not that one needs a particular reason to enjoy any one of life’s many treats, but to me, the delights of a gourmet meal, paired with a stream of select wines, and shared – above all – with that unique someone, are an excellent way to mark a special event.
I don’t believe that I’m particularly fussy when it comes to food in general, (although I’ve earned the designation of „francuski piesek” on occasion*) but if one is going to do things in style – provided the means are available – one might as well go the whole hog.
My husband and I chose to celebrate our wedding anniversary by going to a restaurant we had discovered a little while back and which had made an impression on us both in more than one respect.
* „Francuski piesek”, literally translated ‘French doggy’, means ‘finicky eater’ in Polish.
Set in the small port of Ouistreham (Calvados, Normandy – France), within 10 minutes walking distance from the waterfront, La table d’hôtes has been in existence since 2012.
The place, run by Sylvie – the host – and Yoann – the creative chef – welcomed us in cosy and relaxed premises.
The frame is simple and reasonably sized, the lighting intimate and soft, the service present yet non-intrusive, all in a clean and modern style.
It transpired from a brief conversation with Sylvie, that, just a step away from a Michelin Star, the owners would rather forsake the reward on account of the changes it would entail…
We settled for « le menu convivial », which translates as ‘The Convivial menu’ or ‘Friendly menu’.
It had the advantage of taking us through an array of refined fresh products, ranging from seafood to meat dishes, escorted by unusual and palatable garnishes, all of which had been orchestrated into elegant arrangements, reflecting a taste for inventiveness, originality and detail.
A good feed
As occasion would have it, we kicked off with a glass of Champagne which came with bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. As far as I can recall, these consisted of parsnip cream soup and a handful of tasty morsels that I cannot for the life of me identify from the pictures taken.
Noix de Saint Jacques – pomme – concombre / main de Bouddha
Scallop – apple – cucumber / Buddha’s hand
The Buddha’s hand was a first for us and when asked to enlighten us on this particular ingredient, Sylvie showed up at our table holding the culprit.
Yellow, irregular tentacles spread into what resembles an open hand, hence the name of this large and unusual citrus fruit originated from South Asia.
The contrasting textures composing the dish were extraordinary and the various flavours blended deliciously together as we savoured the first of many courses.
Main dish I
Poisson de nos côtes – girolle / abricot sec / amande
Fish from our waters – chanterelle / dried apricot / almond
If memory serves me correctly, we had turbot.
I’m not unfamiliar with somewhat unlikely combinations of food, yet girolle with apricot turned out to be a beautiful revelation.
Main dish II
Dos marcassin – coing / choux de bruxelles / poire
Young wild boar – quince / brussels sprouts / pear
I’m not much given to game meat and venison but the steak was tender, the garnish fitting, the gravy, juices and spices giving it a pleasant finish and making for a well-balanced dish.
Fourme d’Ambert – confiture de potiron / crêpe soufflée
Fourme d’Ambert cheese – pumpkin jam / souffle pancake
Any French full course dinner worthy of the name cannot unfold without the involvement of cheese! At some point, preferably somewhere between the main course and the dessert, it takes the lead. This time, the stinky offender went on stage for a duo act with a puffed up pancake topped with a spread of pumpkin marmalade.
The latter balanced out the intensity of one of France’s oldest cheeses and made for a very successful combination.
To wash it down
I should mention that under no circumstances were we going to sink into dehydration 😉
While the most part of the meal evolved under the auspices of a Menetou-Salon white wine, we took a swerve when it came to the meat course and allowed ourselves to meander along the ruby banks of a Côtes du Rhônes (Croze Hermitage).
Tuile de sarrasin – diplomate muscovado / figue / raisin
Buckwheat biscuit – muscovado ‘diplomate*’ cake / fig / grape
*dessert made of sponge cake, candied fruit and custard
Crème glacée miel épicé – pomme / mangue / pistache
Spicy honey ice cream – apple / mango / pistachio
What can I say, desserts are not my favourite part of a meal but here, again, the taste buds relished in sophisticated blends, warm-cold contrast and juiciness.
The preparations left nothing to be desired as regards quality. That, in combination with a certain freshness of ideas, was enough to win me over.
The mignardises (dessert or pastry miniatures) are the sweet tidbits that are offered with the coffee ordered as the meal comes to an end.
At this point, one usually feels packed to the gills, yet the inconspicuous panna cotta or bashful fruit jelly, bringing the menu to a satisfactory completion, are always a welcome treat.
Unless, that is, one also opts for an after-dinner liqueur popularly known as a « pousse-café ». Strictly speaking, the beverage is meant to push down the coffee and aid digestion.
Oh well, I suppose any excuse is good when it comes to boozing 😉
Worth a visit
If you find yourself wondering whether this or that ingredient listed on the menu will appeal to your senses, don’t overthink it and go with the flow.
Personally, if given the choice, I would probably have picked something else than spicy honey ice cream, to name just one example. It struck me however that everything we ate ranged from more than decent to exquisite and that takes some doing.
The ability to take something seemingly ordinary – albeit a matter of personal preference – and raise it to the level of an art requires skill.
There is no question about it, la table d’hôtes has much to recommend itself.