As it turned out, I got a three-day “weekend” for Bastille Day. I put “weekend” in quotes because the three days were Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. But no matter. I found this out on Saturday, and by the time I got home from work, Nick was already researching last-minute getaways. (Isn’t he the best?)
We found ourselves in Rouen Monday morning. Rouen is known for its cathedral, which was the subject of a large series of paintings by Claude Monet. Rouen is also famous for being the site of the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc. (Incidentally, she was born in Orléans, where I went for a weekend last summer. I swear I’m not doing the Joan of Arc tour on purpose!)
Rouen is located in France’s Normandy region, and since I haven’t written any Regional French Cuisine posts yet this month, it seemed like a good idea to name July Normandy Month. (I was originally saving Normandy for September, seeing as it’s famous for its apples, but there we were, so I went with it.) After finding our way to our hotel and getting a couple of maps from the tourist office, Nick and I set out in search of some lunch. And by “set out,” I mean “got some beers at a café and made some phone calls.” Holiday weekends can be tough in France, and a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays anyway, so I wanted to make sure we’d have somewhere to go before hitting the cobblestone streets. An affirmative response from Le P’tit Bec, which specializes in traditional cuisine prepared with fresh, seasonal products, and we were off to the incredibly charming Rue Eau de Robec.
Once seated on the patio, we glanced over the chalkboard menu and decided it was a winner. I started with the flan de légumes, which was served with a yogurty basil sauce.
A taste of the sauce by itself left me cold. A bite of the unadorned flan (really more of a terrine, or even, less elegantly, loaf) was slightly more appealing, but the hint of curry spice felt out of place. However, taken together, the two components complimented each other brilliantly. The creamy herbal tang of the sauce smoothed over the curry weirdness, and the rich flavor of the flan rounded out what was missing from the sauce. The whole was definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Nick opted for the hareng pommes à l’huile, or herring and potatoes. He got a taste for herring on our trip to Strasbourg, and wanted to see how the Normand preparation compared to the Alsatian one.
The verdict? Different, but still good. Instead of a creamy sauce, this herring was lightly dressed in olive oil and accompanied by steamed potatoes and carrots. The fish itself was firmer in texture and more pickled in flavor, as opposed to the smokier taste of the Alsatian herring.
Moving on the the main event, I absolutely had to try the Broccoli and Camembert tart.
It was even better than it sounds. I had no idea broccoli and Camembert were such compatible bedfellows, but now that I do, you can bet I’ll be playing around with the combination. (For starters, how does this one grab you? Broccoli-cheese soup… with Camembert!)
Meanwhile, Nick went for one of the house specialties, a gratin of ham with potatoes, lardons, and crème fraîche (Normandy is also rightly famous for its dairy products, which include butter, crème fraîche, and Camembert, among others).
He enjoyed it, but after nabbing a bite of my tart, he conceded defeat. (We can’t be the only ones who choose a winner after a meal… can we?)
So our sojourn in Rouen was off to a good start. Dinner that night, at the self-proclaimed oldest auberge – founded in 1345! – in France, was too nice (and romantically lit) to photograph, but if you’re ever in Rouen, I can recommend La Couronne without reservation (as would Julia Child). Do make reservations, though.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.