Let us step back in time a few weeks, to the halcyon days of les vacances. A quiet weekend trip to Orléans (or, as Nick and I have taken to calling it, Old Orleans). The sky is clear, but the breeze along the banks of the Loire is brisk. No jacket necessary, though a sweater and a scarf are certainly welcome. We arrive into town early Saturday afternoon and spend a few hours wandering the cobbled streets, stopping for an occasional snack or drink, and looking for restaurants we’d like to try that evening. Les Antiquaires, situated on a tiny street near the river, has one Michelin star and one Gault-Millau toque. Doubting we’d be able to get a reservation at such short notice, we called anyway. We underestimated, however, the extent to which everything slows down in the summer. They were able to accommodate us without any problems whatsoever.
Upon being seated in the comfortably upscale dining room (no jacket necessary here, either), a plate of amuse-bouchewas placed before us containing a dome of tomato gelée on a parmesan tuile and a wedge of peppered melon. I didn’t get a picture of it, but this was when I decided that this would probably be a meal worth documenting. Given our past experience with tasting menus in Michelin-starred restaurants, there wasn’t much debate when it came time to order. We went for the chef’s market menu and ordered a bottle of local wine to accompany our meal. It’s funny, whenever we go to a nice restaurant, the waiter hands the wine list to Nick, who takes a glance before passing it to me to make the selection. I choose the wine and order it, but when it arrives at our table, the first taste is invariably offered to Nick. Being the gentleman that he is, he graciously defers to me, which is usually met with an expression of slight surprise from the waiter. This wine chauvinism doesn’t bother me too much… yet. I’m sure after a few more years I’ll start to get really annoyed at waiters who don’t think the woman at the table could possibly know anything about wine. But for now, I’m mildly amused.
Officially four courses, the menu has plenty of extras tacked on at no extra charge. After our order was taken, a second amuse arrived at the table. (Which would lead me to refer to the first little bites as hors d’oeuvre, if I were being nit-picky.) This one consisted of a chilled glass of cucumber panna cotta and a tiny pastry filled with roasted red pepper. Historically, I am not a huge fan of either cucumber or bell peppers. But the panna cotta was excellent. Cool and smooth, with a just-set consistency and perfectly balanced seasoning, it was a real treat. I can’t say as much for the pastry, which was undercooked, dull in flavor, and inexplicably served cold.
And then the real first course was served.
A house made terrine of pork layered with foie gras mousse. It was served with a tiny toasted brioche roll, which I think was the best of the admirable breads presented during the course of the meal. Buttery and sweet, it complimented the cool, savory terrine beautifully.
Next came the fish course. Trying to figure out translations for French fish is as difficult, if not more so, than trying to figure out beef cuts. I think it was bar or lieu, but both of those are pretty general terms that refer to several different fish. Whatever type of fish it was, it was perfectly cooked. The skin was deliciously crispy and the flesh underneath was moist and flavorful. It was served with baby artichokes and confit tomatoes and there was a cute little phyllo triangle filled with more of the same. The concomitant butter sauce brought it all into harmony.
The meat course was a classic pairing of steak and fried potatoes. The steak was juicy and the waffle potatoes were gorgeously browned and crisp. Served with a ragoût of chanterelles and a nicely balanced reduction sauce, this was French bistro fare elevated.
For the final “official” course of the evening, apricots were the stars. Roasted apricots formed the backbone of the dessert, while apricot compote spread on a slice of poundcake and a mouthwateringly intense apricot sorbet played supporting roles.
I didn’t think I could eat another bite, but then three more appeared in the form of a strawberry-themed mignardise plate.
From left to right: strawberry guimauves, mini strawberry ice cream cones, toasted meringue-topped strawberries. Somehow I managed to fit in the three bites it took to finish these off. Unfortunately, following the flavor-bomb that was the apricot dessert, these tasted a bit dull by comparison. And I would have liked to see a bit of chocolate worked in there somewhere, but maybe that’s just me.
Overall, Les Antiquaires was a very good dining experience. The service was polite and unobtrusive, and we were never left waiting for anything, including the check. The food was, barring a couple of tiny missteps, absolutely scrumptious. The Loire Valley is one of the major agricultural centers of France which must be great for the region’s restaurants. The abundance of fresh, local produce was evident in just about every dish we tried, and the wine isn’t bad, either.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.