A week-end away in Brittany - La Grée des Landes, in La Gacilly
More to come from us...
The last couple of months in Brittany were filled with travels for Marie and I. Ideas for the blog have been nourished by two trips to the US for family, friends and work; New York, the Florida Gulf Coast, California form North to South, and for my side added side trips to Wallonie (Belgium) and Catalunya (Spain)… Our little project to share Rennes’ bounty with friends has turned into a vocation. Curiosity has been piqued and this Western enclave of France with its hidden treasures has our followers (almost) ready to their pack bags and visit. Encouragement have come in from amateurs and pros, about the pictures, the writing and of course the food.
So, over the last few weeks we’ve been thinking and plotting new directions for marchedeslices.com. Coming soon, along with stories and recipes, will be Marie’s portraits of the Rennes’ and Brittany’s top chefs and the market’s purveyors of everything from soups to nuts, literally! We will take you on trips to places like the one I am writing from today, a small eco-hotel and restaurant tucked in the heath 30 minutes ride from the sea and to places like Le Guilvenec, a working fishing town were the freshest langoustines are brought in...
Also, for our French followers – and there seem to be quite a few – we will be writing in both languages as of Jan. 1, 2015.
Thank you for your input, there will be much more to come….
A beautiful grey and green morning in the country side, a fog is sitting low over the heath outside the deck of my room at La Grée des Landes, in Gacilly. The air is chilly but, I can still write outside taking in the end of autumn scents and sights. The plants and grasses all are bright to grey green, tan and orange-brown. Looking out over the horizon the trees in the woods fade against the mist… quiet, Sunday church bells, and a flock of near silent birds fly in circles over the field, such is winter in Brittany.
We arrived yesterday for a short weekend. The minute you settle in at this modern and simple place stress just melts away. This eco-hotel is also a spa and restaurant. It is environmentally friendly and locavore, so don’t expect the exotic. This is about terroir, the French notion of place, soil, weather and people. It is about what is hidden, what must be found, foraged and grown in the vicinity.
I take one thing back, you do have some exoticism here. The place is strewn with books about photography and nature. The hotel is run by the company Yves Rocher, who is widely known in France for beauty products, but lesser known is the family foundation dedicated to photography and nature conservation. In the village up the road, an annual festival presents the best of international photographers from June and until September.
After our arrival, we were duly massaged and relaxed by the spa’s pros. We swam in the pools, Marie took a yoga class, we partook in the books in the lounge and even taught the bar staff to make a good American Martini! They had to go get the vermouth from the kitchen. Dinner was friendly and chef Gilles Le Gallès’ “Discovery Menu” was everything you’d expect taken higher than expectations. After the amuse-bouches, three spoonfuls of thinly slighted marinated duck on winter greens, chopped scallop stew and a chicken fricassee we were ready for the rest.
The appetizer of langoustine tails on a puree and chips of celeriac was briny, sweet and earthy all at once. The main course was steamed Turbot (a kind of European flatfish like a thick flounder) over a bed of winter veggies. Sounds simple I know, but each was cooked with precision. The Jerusalem artichokes stood out with their nutty flavors that balanced the delicate fish and the subtle seafood sauce to perfection. Next was a cider granite, something fresh to clean the palate. The cider is reduced to a syrup and then frozen. Shaved and served like a little Italian ice it was refreshing with a tart natural cider bite. Then some local cheeses to finish off our wine and a dessert of a white chocolate ganache with red fruit and a fantastic fresh cheese ice cream.
One thing is clear throughout this menu. Natural flavors are at once subtler and fuller, at times just a little funky. It is just those layers of savors that give this kind of cooking its originality against more standardized culinary traditions. And everything served is ENTIRELY organic, harvested in their own garden, or sourced from local producers.
To accompany the dinner, sommelier Georges, adjudicated Marie and me in a friendly 10 minute debate over the choice of a classic Chablis from Brocard or a cult chardonnay from Tissot in Arbois. As all the wines are organic, the help of an expert was needed. The compromise sent us to Alsace and a dry Riesling, Hagenschlauff, from the vintner Becker. It has a nose of minerals, sweet grapes, acacia flowers and a hint of petrol, prevalent in real Rieslings. The wines flavors never overpowered the dishes and seemed to bring everything together. We finished every drop.
Sleep was easy after such a relaxing day, we even left the door to the deck open a bit to let the fresh night chill drift in over the frosted vale.