Off to Roscoff

posted 17 May 2005 (updated 2 June 2005)

Written 15 May 2005, ca. 11:00 p.m.

On Tuesday, Daniel and a couple of Ifremer colleagues took David with them to Roscoff, where the CNRS lab was holding its annual in-house seminar (rather like the one we attended in Villefranche/Nice back in January). Some of it was scheduled to be about hydrothermal vents, which is a specialty here at the Brest lab, so they drove up for the day.

When we came to plan this weekend, David therefore knew that the trip to Roscoff was only a little over an hour, and we fondly remembered a restaurant there from our 2000 summer trip . . . .

Yesterday, we drove to St. Renan, principally to visit the Credit Lyonnais branch there, to cash the check that Pierre & Vacances sent us, but also to visit its widely known Saturday market. The bank was closed (it's the weekend of Pentecoste, about which more later), but we bought some dry sausage and some vegetables (the new leeks are in, and huge artichokes are 50 cents each or 5 for 2 euros). We passed on the farmer cheeses, horsemeat, foie gras, paella (order as you go by, then pick it up later, hot to go, on your way to your car), cell phones, olives, spices, live quail, and even the huge heaps of live crabs (we had left-over crab at home, about which more later). To my surprise, though, there was a coin-op laundomat, right there on the main street, even though my extensive search of the French national yellow pages had turned up none closer than Brest (about which more later). It had—duh—no phone!

Anyway, we went home, ate the left-over crab for lunch; washed, cooked, and cleaned for a while; then had time to head over the Golfy de Brest les Aber (about which more later), the westernmost golf course in France, for a quick nine holes before dinner—I parred two holes of nine, which is really unusual for me.

While we were in St. Renan, though, we bought a phone card, located a phone booth, and called to reserve at the restaurant in Roscoff, so this morning, we headed off northeast, by the scenic route, passing through St. Renan, Gouesnou, Plabennec, Lesneven, and Plouescat on the way. ("Plou-," from the Latin "plebs," means "parish." We live in Plougonvelin, on the way to play golf we pass through Ploumoguer and Plouarzel, Ifremer is in Plouzané, etc.). The specialties of the area, aside from seafood and selling alcohol to the British tourists who come over on the ferry from Plymouth, are red onions, cauliflower, and artichokes. The first two were just being planted out at the beginning of their growing season, but the artichokes were in full cry. We drove by acres and acres of fields of artichokes awaiting harvest, each as big as two fists—tons of artichokes. No wonder prices on them are so good right now.

Le Temps de VivreWe got to Roscoff in time to walk around the town a little before appearing at the restaurant, "Le Temps de Vivre," for our 12:30 p.m. reservation. The place looks a little seedy from the outside. First, it's in an Ibis hotel, which on Accor's scale is two steps below a Mercur. Second, some letters of its name have fallen off the building and not been replaced, and the menu posted out front has faded badly in the sun. But it was recently promoted to G-M 16/20, and once again, they proved to know what they're talking about. Inside, it was just as we remembered, even to the persistent seagull who comes and perches on the ledge outside the dining room's panoramic windows and stares fixedly at your food, just inches away through the glass.

The amuse-bouche was an assortment of four small tastes: an inch-long "ice cream cone" of crisp crêpe filled with oyster mousse, a gelled custard of the famous local red onions, a one-inch tartlet of three "bigorneaux" (periwinkles, very small gastropods) in herb cream, and a spoonful of cold cream of artichoke soup. The first course was cold—a large martini glass layered with, from the bottom up, an onion-flavored purée of green peas, a few cubes of foie gras, a thick layer of crabmeat, and a layer of "crustacean foam." (Foams are still hot in fancy restaurants. A Spanish chef started it, and now everyone has to join in. You make a purée of whatever food you like, add some gelatin if necessary for the right texture, and spritz it out through one of those old-fashioned stainless-steel whipped cream makers with the CO2 cartridge. We've had everything from liver to licorice to lobster served in foam form.) The second course was "the fish of the moment" (today rouget) served with green and white asparagus, silky mashed potatoes with mushrooms, a rich fish consommé, and a foamy butter sauce. Next came half-wild (i.e., wild-domestic hybrid) duck, the breast served rare and the leg roasted until crisp and tender, on a rolled buckwheat crêpe filled with more of those great red onions. On the side, a large stewed prune stuffed with a compote of dried fruits and pine nuts. Also a dish of steamed buckwheat meal to soak up the duck juices, and the whole thing decorated with neat round circles punched out of steamed savoy cabbage leaves. The cheese course was an assortment of three: ash-coated semi-ripened goat cheese with honey and walnuts, brie with a compote of apple and "chouchenn" (a kind of honey liqueur, distilled from mead), and an excellent aged gruyère with a puree of prunes with Banyuls wine. The first dessert was a small round sponge cake soaked with kirsch syrup and topped with vanilla pastry cream, sliced strawberries, strawberry sorbet, and a caramel tuile cookie, all surrounded with bits of stewed rhubarb and dots of aged balsamic vinegar. Outstanding; in a dead heat with the tiny onion custard for best dish of the meal. The second dessert was a call cylinder of intense chocolate mousse wrapped in a crisp tuile cookie, served with diced stewed pineapple and a pineapple-passionfruit sorbet. The mignardises were square chocolate truffles, home-made marshmallows, and excellent almond tuile cookies.

Good thing we called ahead. A lot of people were jumping the gun on Mothers' Day, and everyone seemed to be there with his mother.

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