In the limited planning time I had for the Rouen trip, I didn’t make it to the library for guidebooks as I normally would have done. But in the research I was able to do, one restaurant kept coming up, no matter where I was looking. And that restaurant was Le Rouennais. I called before we left Paris to see if they would be open on the holiday weekend, and impulsively made a reservation for lunch on Bastille Day.
Since it was a holiday, we figured it would be ok to start our lunch with a celebratory cocktail. (A quick hilarious story, if you don’t mind: last Thursday Nick and I went to the Musée d’Orsay. We met on the bridge that joins the Tuileries to the Left Bank, where there are naturally loads of tourists. I overheard a miffed-sounding American woman telling a companion that she had gone all the way over to the Place de La Bastille, and “No Bastille!” I just about died laughing, once I was out of earshot, of course. For those of you not in the know, the Bastille prison was completely demolished very shortly after its famous storming, and, in an ironic twist, the stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde, one bridge over from the one on which we were standing.) So I ordered a kir violette, and Nick was talked into the “Cocktail Maison.” With our drinks came a little plate of apéro nibbles: puff pastry-based cheesy poofs and seafood canapés. It seems that this is fairly common practice in restaurants in Rouen, but it’s such a nice touch.
We each got a two-course menu, as we do, and Nick got the meal started with the trio de saumon.
Silky house-smoked salmon, a wedge of mousse-like salmon terrine, and a very finely minced salmon tartare were equally delicious and beautifully complimented by a dollop of citrusy crème fraîche. Luckily for me, Nick was generous enough to share a few bites. The seafood in Normandy is some of the best and freshest in France, and regional chefs proudly highlight it on their menus. So for my main course I chose the marmite de pêcheur, expecting some kind of mixed seafood stew.
What I got was this adorable little tureen topped with flaky puff pastry (and a pointless rosemary garnish). Underneath the golden crust was my stew – big chunks of salmon and some kind of white fish along with tiny mussels and shrimp swimming in a rich seafood velouté. I enjoyed every bite, mopping up the last of the sauce with bits of bread, sticking my hand into the bowl in what was certainly an undignified manner.
As for Nick, he chose the magret de canard, and was very pleased with the rosy, perfectly medium rare meat on his plate.
It was served with a classic orange sauce, triangles of underwhelming polenta, and a portion of delicious tomato confit soufflé. He liked it so much, in fact, that he neglected to photograph the rather unremarkable moelleux au chocolat I had for dessert.
Our bellies full and our palates satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the mostly deserted streets of Rouen – it was a holiday, after all – before hopping on the train home. We arrived in Paris in time to watch the fireworks from a vantage point high on the hill above Belleville. Not a bad way to spend a Fête Nationale.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.