Les Flots – La Rochelle

27 05 2010

What's that guy on the left doing?

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).

Oooh, shiny.

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.

beautiful seeded bread

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.)

Savory cake, herbed crème fraîche

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!

Our choices made, we were soon brought an amuse-bouche consisting of a tiny cup of chilled cream of broccoli soup with a dollop of whipped broccoli cream on top, a sliver of smoked sturgeon, and a swipe of dark gastrique sauce.

"Well, it certainly is amoozing."

Then, to start, I had a fillet of rascasse, coated in tapenade and served over a ragoût of tomatoes and capers.  It was sauced with a foamy artichoke emulsion, and garnished with a round of crisp bacon.

"deconstructed" puttanesca

I noted that it was almost like a “deconstructed” (maybe “reimagined” would be a better word) puttanesca sauce, but whatever you want to call it, it was darn tasty.

lamb, spelt risotto, crispy basil tuile

Nick began his meal with a rosy-pink saddle of lamb and a tiny Staub pot (I just love anything served in those little guys) of spelt risotto, topped with a basil crisp.  The whole dish was seasoned and cooked to perfection.

Our friend indulged in the seafood platter, a basked filled with ice and piled high with all manner of shellfish, which served as both appetizer and main course.

"Well, they're in the same phylum."

As for me, I had the “gigot” of rabbit – a rabbit leg cooked and served to resemble a leg of lamb.  It was stuffed with olives and sat atop a round of polenta, fried crisp on one side.  The only fault of the  sauce, a mouthwatering vinegar reduction, was that there wasn’t enough of it.

weg of wabbit

Nick and our other friend had the blanquette de coquillages, a light stew with shellfish (in this case razor clams, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it changed from day to day) and swordfish in a leek and white wine broth.

Look! Another mini Staub!

I was beginning to appreciate the reasonably moderate portion sizes, considering we still had dessert to come, and it was one I was pretty excited about, too.  The Mango-Chocolate “Harmony,” with piment d’espelette jelly and Valrhona Manjari chocolate, was the first decision I made when choosing my menu.  I’m pleased to say it did not disappoint.

Pardon the crappy picture.  It tasted much better than it looks here.

An insignificant tuile topped a trendy verrine with layers of mildly spicy pepper jelly, fresh mango, and both chocolate mousse and chocolate ice cream.  Nick had an easy time choosing his dessert, too, but somehow neglected to photograph it (Or I forgot to remind him).  Either way, he really enjoyed it, a layered affair featuring pistachios, citrus, and lemon thyme.

Finally, a plate of mignardises arrived at the table, with a large cube of strawberry pâte de fruits and a small glass of spiced apricot compote with vanilla cream for each of us.

1, 2, 3, 4, can I have a little more?

If there was a weak spot in the meal, this was it.  Strawberry, in my opinion, is one of the hardest pâtes de fruit to make, because the necessarily long cooking time and all the added sugar almost always reduces the delicate flavor of strawberry to a jammy or fruit roll-up taste.  The apricots may have been a touch over-spiced, as it was hard to discern the fruit behind the clove and cinnamon.  But the vanilla cream was great – smooth and intensely flavored with Tahitian vanilla.

All in all, it was a fantastic meal, made better by the warm, summery-feeling evening and the picturesque location.  By contrast, we had a full view of the kitschy Brazilian-themed place next door, where people were brought ice cream with sparklers stuck into it or drinks in glasses that looked like pineapples, alligators, or skulls.  It was fairly amusing, with the added bonus of making me feel very happy to be dining where I was dining.  As we ate, the Stade Rochelais, La Rochelle’s rugby team (whose colors, in case you were wondering, are yellow and black, and were flying at many many bars around town) won a big match, so when we left the restaurant to make our way back to the hotel, we found ourselves in the midst of a city-wide party in the street, with singing, face paint, general revelry, and of course lots of beer.  We didn’t wait up with the crowd for the team to return triumphantly home, but we enjoyed the fun and convivial atmosphere while en route.  Street noise notwithstanding, I slept like a baby that night, with a belly full of wonderful local food.

On this day in 2008: La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc

Originally published on Croque-Camille.




15 responses

27 05 2010

That is what I miss about France so much! To be able to go to l’Ile de Ré for the weekend, and enjoy not only incredible cuisine but the sights, the setting and archeological sights if one’s little heart desires!

27 05 2010

that meal sounds incredible!
if you ever find yourself back in cognac, taste at M. Baron — we almost went to Otard but ended up at Baron, and so happy we did!

28 05 2010

What a glorious weekend! *Disney-princess-esque sigh* Yay for starfish-shaped whipped broccoli cream! And that looks like a chocolate dessert I’d be hard-pressed not to order. Spicy jelly? Yes please.

Also, something about my impending move-out is making me very aware of crockery, and so I’d like all of those plates and pots and glasses…

28 05 2010
Bela Lumo

Oh that looks delicious! I spent a very happy year in La Rochelle and still visit once a year. I will definitely need to eat at Les Flots next time.

28 05 2010

A few years ago I spent two weeks at the local Ecole des Hoteliers in La Rochelle. It’s out at the Marina. I have very wonderful memories of the city, its surrounding region and the dedication of the teachers and students there. Thank you for bringing back so many happy memories.

28 05 2010

Wow that sounds like quite a lovely meal in a perfect setting! I’ve been missing out on all these long weekend because the weekend is when I’m working – but May in Paris is still fun 🙂

28 05 2010
Tammy McLeod

What a meal – my favorite part was the deconstructed puttanesca.

28 05 2010

tasteofbeirut – I appreciate my opportunity to live in France every day. 🙂

Celine – I’d say the Otard tour was worth it – the castle has some interesting history and I definitely learned something about the Cognac-making process, which is why it was such a shame that the stuff wasn’t really worth drinking. Thanks for the tip though!

Hannah – It was a very intriguing dessert. I liked the plates they used, too – especially the ones that sort of looked like sea glass.

Bela Lumo – I’d love to visit La Rochelle every year! And I highly recommend Les Flots. It’s a bit expensive compared to the other restaurants in the neighborhood, but the value for the money is excellent.

martha – You’re welcome! It is a beautiful city.

Hopie – Especially when the sun decides to shine! 😉

Tammy – You know, that may have been my favorite part, too.

28 05 2010
hungry dog

What a fabulous review and what a fabulous restaurant! I want everything you ordered…no joke. Looks like a lovely setting too.

29 05 2010

Wow…what a dining experience! Each course is beautifully presented and looks mouth watering! So glad you enjoyed!

30 05 2010

What a meal! We go up there every other year or so to replenish our Cognac supply so will definitely make a note of this place.
Glad you had a nice time away.

30 05 2010

hungry dog – It was great as a final vacation dinner!

Jocelyn – Proof that we do, indeed, eat with the eyes first. 🙂

Loulou – Thanks! I found your favorite Chinese place in Cognac, but unfortunately they were closed. Oh, well. Next time.

2 06 2010

Your entire dinner at Les Flots sounds (and looks) fabulous — but what really caught my heart was the thought of eating mussels and crepes and watching a little football. (Maybe someday you’d consider figuring out that sun-dried tomato anchovy bread and posting the recipe?)

3 06 2010

Too bad they were closed. I’m sure January and her husband would have loved to meet you two!

6 06 2010

Trisha – France has definitely made me a fan of the savory “cake.” I bet you I could tweak my cauliflower cake recipe with tomatoes and anchovies…

Loulou – Yeah, especially since I had some pretty average Chinese later in La Rochelle.

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