Last weekend was the last of the May holidays in France. (Usually, there are four long weekends in May. This year, we got the short end of the stick, with two of those holidays falling on Saturdays. Still, France in May is a sweet place to be.) Nick and I took advantage of the long weekend to visit La Rochelle, a port city on the western coast of France, just south of Brittany and just north of Bordeaux. We spent Saturday evening on the nearby Ile de Ré, eating crêpes and mussels and watching the soccer match with some friends. Alec Lobrano describes the Ile de Ré as a French Nantucket, and while I’ve never been to Nantucket, the comparison seems apt. Sunday we took a drive into the surrounding countryside, stopping at an archeological site and an abbey before lunching in Cognac. Afterward, we took an interesting tour of the Otard distillery, housed in the castle where François 1er was born. Sadly, the cognac tasting at the end of the tour was a bit of a let-down. Fortunately, we had the anticipation of dinner at Les Flots, back in La Rochelle, to boost our sagging spirits (pun intended).
Les Flots (meaning: the deep, or the sea) is helmed by Grégory Coutanceau, a chef whose father and brother run La Rochelle’s most highly-regarded seafood restaurants, the eponymously named Coutanceau. He’s got the restaurant business in his blood, and it shows. After taking a leisurely apéritif on the lively rue de la Chaîne, Nick and I made our way to the restaurant to meet with two friends for dinner.
I was immediately impressed by the casual elegance of the dining area, including the outdoor patio, where we were seated. With the medieval Tour de la Chaîne in the background, I admired the modern silvery-edged chargers and beachy hurricane lanterns on the table. Even the bread was artfully presented in its basket, and the butter was served at spreading temperature. (There are few things that irk me more than ice-cold, rock-hard butter in a restaurant, because there’s really no excuse. If I were a Michelin reviewer, any place that served cold butter would lose a star immediately.)
In addition to the bread, a small plate with four tiny slices of sun-dried tomato-anchovy bread and a cup of herbed crème fraîche was placed on the table for us to nibble while making our menu and wine list decisions. Which took a while, because that wine list is a tome. We decided on the 39 euro Menu du Marché, and I chose a bottle of white Burgundy, which turned out to be astoundingly good for the price – only 32 euros!
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