Carryin' on to Carantec

posted 2 June 2005

As I think I've mentioned before, Finistère is not a hotbed of highly rated restaurants. Brest offers nothing higher than a G-M 13/20, and many local favorites aren't even listed in the guides because they specialize in minimal preparation of superb raw materials rather than elaborate cooking (as in "boil in salted water, drain, and serve," a procedure French cookbooks call cooking "English style"). But there are three G-M 16/20's within 90 minutes' drive, so we're visiting them all—for Sunday lunch, since that's when it's most convenient to drive so far both ways. One is "Le Temps de Vivre" in Roscoff, where we went three weeks ago. Another is "Auberge des Glazicks" in Plomodiern, where we plan to go on Sunday, a date chosen because the nearby Museum of the Strawberry and Its Patrimony will be open. The third is "Patrick Jeffroy" in Carantec, only a few kilometers from Roscoff as the seagull flies but rather farther if you go by road around the intervening "aber."

We took a different scenic route, so as to avoid retracing the same roads we took to Roscoff, so we paralleled the beautiful Elorn River (which reaches the sea at Brest) for much of the way. We'd been to Le Temps de Vivre before, but Patrick Jeffroy wasn't there when we passed through this region in 2000. The restaurant is in the Hotel de Carantec and has a panoramic ocean view.

The food was great. The photos are a little out of focus, because we hadn't quite mastered the "macro" feature on the camera at the time.

Warm oystersAmuse-bouche: A bouillon of langoustines and "palourdes roses" (pink clams) with pea sprouts; a cherry tomato on a toothpick treated as a "candy apple" with a crown of poppy seeds (a misstep on the chef's part, we feel; the caramel coating clung tenaciously to the teeth, and we had to scrape it off with the toothpick and bits of bread crust), a bit of raw mackerel on a sweet tomato sauce, and a cube of "bouillon d'avoine" on a corn-on-the-cob pic, slightly smoked (sort of like smoked oatmeal tofu; not bad).

David: Pressť of crab, artichoke, wakame, and Jerusalem artichoke in a curry and coconut milk sauce, topped with coconut ribbons and herb salad.

Anne: Nine huge oysters ("hollow" rather than "flat" ones, ) served warm with diced apple and cider balsamic vinegar. The oysters, although huge by most standards, are actually harvested quite small, so as to be no more than a couple of mouthfuls—they're Crassostrea gigas, introduced to restock the coast after a disastrous disease outbreak some decades ago, and if allowed, they'll quickly grow to dinner-plate size.

Rack of lambDavid: Rack of lamb in an herb crust, bouquet of spring vegetables with coarse mustard.

Anne: Small "St. Pierre" fish roasted whole with sweet garlic, parsley, and almonds (excellent, served whole on the bone at my request), special sand-grown carrots and sweet radishes in a sweetish sauce.

Carantec dessertDavid: Creamy white dessert cheese with cream, with salt, pepper, and minced herbs (tarragon, parsley, dill) on the side.

Anne: Cheese assortment of the day: fourme d'Ambert (uncharacteristically tasteless), St. Felicien (outstanding), a tomme of brebis, a St. Nectaire look-alike, tête de moine. House-made cocoa bread with nuts and raisins.

David: Strawberry soup with sliced strawberries, rather sour, with house-made lemon marshmallows (where the sugar was) and crisp crêpe triangles.

Anne: Shortbread of buckwheat with lemon cream, "gariguette" strawberries, warm meringue, fresh fruit garnish (a blueberry, a physalis berry, a raspberry, and some red currants in a pool of red coulis), a quenelle of strawberry sorbet, and a crisp crepe sail.

Mignardises (with decaf and verveine tea): orange fruit paste, house-made marshmallow, chocolate-coated citrus peel (very mild), slightly curdled crême brulée, nut tuile, a very buttery caramel, a fudge with nuts in it.

Now those of you who get our Christmas letters may remember a story from our summer 2000 trip to Brittany in which we arrived in Morlaix, where we had reserved at a highly rated restaurant, to find that the day's menu consisted solely of mussels (in any of several flavors of sauce) with fries and mussels (in the same choices of flavors) without fries. The chef had left for the long weekend to look after some property he had acquired in a nearby town, and no replacement could be found. The kitchen apprentice was doing the cooking, and he steamed a darned good mussel, but he didn't know how to make anything else. The dessert, which the chef had prepared before leaving, was actually very good. The woman who was single-handedly waiting tables in both our dining room and the grill room next door was not best pleased about the situation.

Well, in the couse of our inquiries to the dining room hostess at the Carantec restaurant about when the place had opened, when they got their current rating, etc., we got into a long conversation about where the chef had cooked before, how long she had been his "assistant," and so on, and profound suspicions started forming in both my and David's mind. The hostess looked more familiar by the minute. We'll have to look back at the Gault-Millau guides for the relevant years and compare some dates, but it sure looks to us as though the delinquent Morlaix chef was none other than Patrick Jeffroy, off to supervise the pre-opening renovations in Carantec!

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