May 15, 2010

Gourmet et Gourmand à Niort - May 14

We went to Niort today, but it seems the entire day revolved around food. Well, what could be better! Breakfast before leaving home consisted of juice, fruit salad, croissants, pain au chocolat, jam, tea and coffee.

Off we went to the Thouars Friday market. Here I am waiting in line - Fridays are busy days!

Making the correct change for those croissants and baguette.
The berries look lovely, as do the lemons!
Two pictures of what the countryside looks like on our way to Niort. Flat agricultural fields and lots of cows. Not quite like last year where the Quissac surroundings were vineyard after vineyard.

This is a busy street in Niort, a real gathering place for people to have coffee, chat and shop.

Walking along those streets, we came across a lot of displays for Mother's Day. Do you think that the mothers are getting younger to want to wear this style of clothes? Perhaps I'm just getting older...

Isn't she a cute little girl?

These dragons are symbolic of the city and are on many of the postcards.

We went into this huge hall where preparations were underway for a bakers' competition. Beautiful tables set up for each "boulangerie and pâtisserie". The presentations were all made of bread.

I wonder if Diane and Richard will recognize this Grand Café where we ate together last year. This time round we ate at Les Remparts and I had the lasagna and chocolat fondant and Karl had fish and chips followed by an Île flottante.

This looks like it might be the City Hall, or perhaps the head office for Deux Sèvres, which is the "county". It is on the rue Préfecture, which may be the clue... Whatever, it looks important with its gate and filigreed iron.

This is the train station, "Gare de Niort".

Just another typical street. We don't think Niort is particularly beautiful, but it does hold a personal attachment since this is where my Gobeil ancestors came from. They left Niort and made their way to La Rochelle where they left for la Nouvelle-France in 1665.

We didn't get to visit the Donjon last year, so we didn't miss our chance this time round.

The Plantagenet donjon now houses a local museum. Today, it was presenting René Trouvé, a watercolour painter.

Karl entering the donjon.

"Look at the little cannons!" Karl gave me a brief (well, perhaps rather lengthy) explanation of the difference between a cannon and a mortar. These are apparently mortars. You do not aim mortars at people like a cannon, but shoot them in the air. The resulting explosion happens either in the air or upon impact with the ground, but it's the resulting fracas that maims.

After such a strenuous afternoon, walking and driving, stopping for afternoon coffee and bergemot (which is how you refer to Earl Grey tea around here) and taking time out for a little snooze, we were ready for dinner.

Trust our little "DK Eyewitness Travel France" book to lead us to the best restaurant in town, without a doubt. Karl and I ranked it as probably one of the best during our two years of coming to France! It is a restaurant, a caterer, and a specialist in chocolate - maître chocolatier.

Our table is waiting....

First came the "mise en bouche", which is just a little teaser for all the food that is about to come. This was liver pâté on a bed of lettuce, with a balsamic reduction on top.

My appetizer was a rabbit terrine with caramelized onions, raisins and some flat leaf parsley on top. Don't you just love the little old-fashioned jar it came in? Very well presented, next to a slice of country bread. Unfortunately, we were so busy eating that we forgot to take a photo of Karl's wonderful salmon ravioli. He said it was excellent.

I had the cabillaud (cod) on a bed of sautéed veggies (all miniature size) set on a saffron coulis. What a delicate taste!

Karl had the magret de canard à point (duck), served on narrow slices of potatoes that were like toasted potatoe chips. All this atop veggies on a bed of orange coulis. Note the orange zest on top to decorate the perfect plate!

Only Karl had the next dish since I had a smaller fixed menu. This was a piece of heated up fromage de chèvre (goat cheese) on a bed of lettuce. He wasn't able to finish it all, not because it wasn't good, but because it was overpowering the taste buds. I thought it smelled a bit like toe jam...

Now came our pre-dessert, which was a small dish of crème brulée. It had a layer of chopped walnuts before the topping which added an amazing crunch and taste.

My dessert was the specialty of the house, their ganache. But what a presentation! The little red fish-shaped decoration to the right is actually homemade candy, like a brittle. There were two cookies anchored by sliced strawberries holding up a thin slice of chocolate that had pistachios sprinkled on it. (Too bad the angle doesn't show that one off because it was so pretty.) Needless to say, I couldn't finish this chef d'oeuvre, so I brought most of it back home. Chocolate is definitely good the next day!

Karl had a crêpe soufflé garnished with orange sorbet, fresh slices of granny smith apples, tangy zest of orange and fresh strawberries. It was perfect! "More than perfect!" he exclaimed.

The next step was a grand café crême for Karl, accompanied by 3 little chocolates: 2 of coconut and one of ganache wrapped with cocoa. We were losing ourselves in the sheer delight of the evening and forgot to take a photo.

Of course we accompanied everything with wine: Karl had the pinot noir and I had the rosé. We rolled out of there wondering how we could have possibly eaten all that food, but vowed that we'd be back. It's well worth the 1.5 hour drive to feast on this gourmet food, and make gourmands of us!

Just as an aside, we paid 59.50 euros for this feast, tip included. If we convert this to the 1.50 conversion rate that we paid when we bought our euros for this trip, that comes to $89.25. If you convert it to what the euro is worth today, at 1.23, that amount is $73.19. I would challenge anyone to find a restaurant in Canada that would serve this type of food in such beautiful surroundings, accompanied by wine and coffee, at this price.

~ AM

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