Chartres is one of those places, if you’ve studied French for a long time, that you’ve heard about over and over. It’s home to the best-preserved cathedral in Europe, which is also one of the purest examples of Gothic architecture, built relatively quickly between 1206 and 1260. And it’s only about an hour from Paris. But I had yet to visit, until last weekend.
The catalyst that finally got me to hop on the train was an invite to a salon from Domaine La Beille. A small winery run by a couple (he’s Australian, she’s French) in the Languedoc, not far from Perpignan and the Spanish border. They make some nice wines, and I especially like the way they buck traditions to make single varietal wines in a country where blends are the norm.
Since the train tickets were a little spendy (14 euros each way), Nick and I figured we’d make a day out of it. I researched some places to eat and made phone calls from the train. I got a reservation at the first place I called, the Brasserie La Cour at the hotel Le Grand Monarque.
After a short but cold walk from the train station, we walked into the elegant lobby of Le Grand Monarque. Straight ahead was the airy dining room of the Brasserie La Cour. Thus named because it is actually situated in the courtyard of the building, the space is very light. It almost felt like we were dining outside, save for the fact that it was warm and we weren’t getting rained on. So, better. I was immediately charmed by the mini-baguettes that were part of the place settings at each table. I was also a big fan of the little butter crocks, which contained perfectly softened butter. (It’s a pet peeve of mine when restaurants serve ice-cold, rock-hard butter.)
Of course I had found out the local specialties before we headed to Chartres, and topping the list is a special pâté. Pâté de Chartres is a rustic, meaty pâté with a hunk of foie gras in the center. It’s wrapped in pastry and baked, then any space is filled with aspic.
Here it was served with a salad and a few pickled cherries on the side. I liked the way the tangy cherries played off the richness of the pâté, but Nick wasn’t a fan. (Of the cherries. He definitely liked the pâté, and he also lucked out and got the piece with the big chunk of foie gras.)
Given the gray, rainy weather, for my main course I opted for the “Cocotte du jour,” which happened to be pot au feu – a French classic that consists of slow-cooked beef and vegetables in a rich broth.