Saturday, March 14, 2009

Le Pelican

It felt like I was breaking a food taboo. I was still thinking that the restaurant kitchen had made a mistake as I cut through the pliant quail breast I’d ordered for an appetizer. Pliant. It was too pliant, too yielding. There was a knot in my stomach as I bit into the flesh. I nearly dropped the fork. Cold-smoked quail? I was very familiar with cold-smoked salmon but the idea of cold-smoked bird meat was foreign to me, so foreign that I felt panicky that I was biting into raw flesh at first. Oddly, it had a texture and flavour almost exactly like the cold-smoked salmon I’d had many times back home in British Columbia. I never expected to find supple, wood-smoked flesh like this in France and certainly not from bird meat.

Back in the summer of 2008, The Frog and I were in France visiting his father. Towards the end of the visit we spent time in Brittany, as we often do every visit. On our way back home we stopped for lunch in the quaint town of Rochefort-en-Terre. We found a hotel-restaurant in the center of town called Le Pelican. Little did we know as we climbed the stairs to the restaurant that The Frog and I would be marked by the journey to that town and certainly remember the restaurant as one of the best of the whole trip to France.

The first thing that we noticed was the room. The dining area, on first impression, looked like a hunting lodge and a part of a Sherlock Holmes novel. There was a large stone fireplace, wood panelling, red velvety chairs, and an exposed beam ceiling at which I couldn’t stop staring. The second thing we noticed immediately after was the quality of the service. From the beginning we admired the clockwork precision and ballet of the staff moving amongst the tables, the experience they had seemed to emanate from every fork placed and glass poured. Yet these both seemed to be the intricate setting in which the jewel of the food was placed.

When we’d begun with complimentary amuse-bouche—green olives and cheese-flecked pastry—we had no idea what a culinary pleasure we’d experience. As I described, I had an appetizer of quail which included its cold-smoked breasts (as did The Frog). What I didn’t say was that once I’d gotten over the shock of the cold meat, I tried one of the legs that accompanied the breasts. They were roasted and stuffed with the ground flesh of another type of game bird (I’m stumped right now for its name). I could have eaten just a whole plate of those. All this was accompanied by a small salad and a sunny-side up quail egg.

I did enjoy the nice contrast of all the subtle flavours of my main dish. Barley is an underrated accompaniment for white fish. The cidery sauce was just sharp enough to provide a top note to the fish’s middle note and the barley’s base note. They all married well together. I have to admit that I was a little less impressed by the main course than the stunning appetizer but I would be doing the dish a disservice to say it was a lesser quality. There was quality in every inch of every dish we had at that table. The food was an interesting mix of French traditions and experimental ideas in food. Even the bread mixed these ideas. There was a mixture of several choices of buns at our tables. I don’t know about the others but mine was bread heaven and almost too stunning to eat. Almost too stunning but not quite enough to keep my greedy teeth away.

I couldn’t decided at the outset what to order for dessert so I ordered everything. Well, not quite. Just a plate of all desserts in miniature. I had ones I liked more than others. I am not a big fan of whipped cream so the framboise cake was a bit disappointing. The chocolate cake was nice but oddly not what I had been looking for that day. The melon was ripe to perfection. Really, French musk melons really seem to blow cantaloupes out of the water. There was nougat ice cream which was nice but not as nice as the peach sorbet next to it. Yum! And of course there was the crème brulée. Who cannot like crème brulée? After, coffee was served with lovely little complimentary cookies.

Le Pelican seemed to fit very well into the theme of the town which seemed to be a colony of artistes clinging to the fringes of an old but partly restored chateau (which we visited later). The restaurant was a quiet little stronghold of quality and pleasure. I’d love to keep it a secret but it would be a shame that someone out there reading this wouldn’t know to try this restaurant with an unassuming outward appearance if they passed through the town.

You can get a glimpse of the town here and Le Pelican here.


Benoist said...

Argh... I hate editing after the fact!

Certainly one of the food locations that stays on my mind as well, along with the Alsacian hotel where we ate a famed "Coq au Riesling" (A rooster cooked in a riesling wine sauce) I had heard about from my dad for years before we actually made it there last year. And excellent it was, for sure. Maybe the topic for another post, Rissa?

Suzanne said...

Nerissa, I have a tutorial on my blog for the bunnies. If you make one I would love to see it!

Bernard de Brillon said...

What a fabulous description, Nerissa!
It is almost better to read your prose than to live such an event as this meal.(I said "almost"). Go on with these fairy tales about food.

Nerissa said...

I know, Ben, that I still have to write about that too.

Suzanne, thanks

B de B: Something tells me I'm being teased, M'sieur ;-)

Christine said...

I for one, am drooling all over my keyboard. Bring on those desserts, I say!

Nerissa said...

Well, I hope you didn't zap yourself when your computer got wet ;-)