Restaurants

Haraneko Borda, Itxassou, France

In the Pays Basque, adding Borda to the name of an eating establishment signifies a rustic country inn. In Euskera, borda means barn and the original Bordas were kitchens set up in underused barns, often with the cooking done over wood-fired braziers and guests served at long rows of tables, outdoors when weather permitted. Although no one is likely to confuse the the bright, modern dining room at Haraneko Borda with a barn, its kitchen does feature a wood fired grill and oven, the room is framed by ancient wood beams and on sunny days, tables are set up on the expansive deck looking over the green, rural valley of Itxassou.

The restaurant at Haraneko is actually part of an expansive organic farm called Ferme Heranea where owner Christian Aguerre raises the ancient race of Basque black hogs known as “cochon noir de kintoa”, rumored to produce the best pork in France, was well as fruits and vegetables including the sour cherries for which the valley of Itxassou has become known. Starting a restaurant on the property was a logical next step in the farm’s evolution, creating a a dining experience that the chef calls “zero kilometer local”, meaning that the majority of the ingredients come directly from the restaurants own farm. Ham and pork from kintoa hogs, corn for taloa (Basque corn pancakes), chickens, eggs, piment d’Espelette, fruits and vegetables all from the farm. Even the wine served, although not all produced within 1 kilometer, all comes from the Pays Basque.

The cooking at Haraneko matches the setting, being both rustic and accomplished, sophisticated but simple, the kind of food I love to discover and to eat.

When we visited for lunch during the week in early May 2019, reservations were easy to get and the menu prices very fair. However, that could change, as Borda Haraneko has been discovered, recently being named Best Farm-Auberge in France by Le Fooding.

Cochon noir de kintoa roaming free within sight of the dining room at Haraneko Borda

Haraneko Borda
Address: 3 Gerastoko Bidea, 64250 Itxassou, France
Tel: 05 59 15 09 68
Reservations: Recommended. Not busy outside the season but hours can be irregular

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

La Legende, Sauveterre de Béarn, France

Combine a wine shop, a cafe, a natural wine bar, a hangout for locals that’s open from 10am to midnight and a restaurant where everything is made from scratch using ingredients gathered within 100 miles and what do you get? La Legende in Sauveterre de Bearn.

On the face of it, Sauveterre de Béarn (population about 1500, although higher in the summer when tourists arrive; the name of the restaurant is a reference to Sauveterre’s medieval fortified bridge, known as Le Pont de la Legende ) seems like an unlikely choice for two former Parisians (alumni of pioneering cave a manger Le Verre Volé). Rumor has it that, having decided to quit Paris, they made a tour of France and fell in love with Sauveterre. Factor in their desire to provision the restaurant exclusively on local products, and the choice begins to make more sense; the Bearn is increasingly known as the home artisan organic farmers, bakers, winemakers and more.

At La Legende, they take full advantage for the local bounty. The daily menu is very limited (they actually ask if you have dietary restrictions when you call to reserve; given that the daily menu has no choices, your answers will shape the meal of all that days guests!) but at 22 euros for 3 very well prepared, totally seasonal course, it is a fantastic value. The cooking is sophisticated but simply and elegantly presented, the flavors are fresh and inventive while still respecting tradition. There is no wine list, but the cave is deep with organic and natural choices, and the sommelier is also your server, so expert advice about pairing with today’e menu is at hand.

The tiny kitchen is located smack in the middle of the dining rooms, so the chef is apt to chime in when you have questions about the day’s preparations. La Legende is the sort of friendly, unpretentious but startling good restaurant that I love.

La Legende
Address: 5 Rue de l’Abbé Duplech, 64390 Sauveterre-de-Béarn, France
Tel: 09 86 68 99 47
Reservations: Recommended. Menu is very limited, so you will be asked about dietary restrictions when you call

See more photos here:

Continue reading
Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Les Passionnés, Toulouse France

Les Passionés bills itself as a cave a manger, which functionally, means a wine shop where you can also get something to each beyond the charcuterie and cheese you find in a bar a vin. The description written on the restaurant’s facade, “Cafe du marché Vins d’artisans” gives a better idea of the restaurants ambitions, but both fall short of capturing the genius of what they do here.

I would describe it as follows: lovingly sourced products of the region, prepared with care, respect for tradition and inspiration, presented with simplicity and sophistication, paired with wines that are organic, biodymanic or natural, all at prices that are bordering on philanthropic. It is restaurants like this that convince me that French cuisine today is both vibrant and forward-looking, sophisticated and inventive in approach but vitally concerned with how people eat today, and focused on safeguarding dining as the center of everyday French life.

Located along the banks of Toulouse’s Canal de Briennes, Les Passionés manages to pack about 40 seats between its bottle-lined walls. The tables are so tightly spaced that guests coming and going risk jostling other diners but the room hums with well-fed contentment. the sidewalk out front adds another 20 seats or so on sunny days, and the view of the tree-lined canal makes up for the traffic noise from the busy Allée de Briennes.

Les Passionés
Address: 31 Allée de Briennes, 31000 Toulouse France
Tel: 05 61 13 99 06
Reservations: Recommended

Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Asador Extebarri

Etxeberri Oct 2018 3

Entrance to Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Vizcaya Spain.

We recently had the chance to have lunch at Asador Etxebarri, a restaurant that has gotten a lot of attention from the culinary press for its grill-centric take on traditional Basque food.  I had read how great the food is but had not realized that the restaurant is so isolated or that it was in such a beautiful place.  It is located in the tiny village of Axpe (in the commune of Axtondo) in the the Basque region of the Bizkaia, which is right on the edge of the Parke Naturala Urkiolako. And when I say right on the edge, I am not kidding; the craggy peaks of the park tower over the village and create a striking view from the terrace at Etxebarri, where guests are offered a glass of champagne before the meal. Continue reading

Tagged , | Leave a comment

Bar de la Relève, Marseille France

Bar de la Relève is located just 5 or 6 blocks from the Vieux Port but the steep hill climb that connects the two keeps the neighborhood a bit sheltered from the crush of tourists (by the way, stop at the medieval Abbaye de St.-Victor for a quick look as you pass…the crypt is a jaw-dropper!).  A sort of bar/cafe/tapas bar a la Marseillais, Bar de la Relève was started by a group of copains who had already made there mark on the local food landscape ( Edouard of the Bistrot d’Édouard, Arnaud from the Cafe des Epice, Hugo from Le Cave de Baille and Gregoire, locally famous for organizing food-centric “happenings and soirees”) but who longed for a friendly place  to meet friends, raise a good glass of wine and have a bite.

They found the perfect location in an ancient and long abandoned café du quartier, that had, in its day, been a favored haunt for taxi drivers.  After an extensive and charming renovation, Bar de la Relève was born.  On any given night the front room is thick with neighborhood habitues crowding around the bar and spilling out onto the sidewalk, engaging in animated discussions between glasses of wine. Don’t worry, speak to the kind gentleman watching over the door, get on the list for a table and then wade right into the crowd.  The people of Marseille have a well deserved reputation for friendliness.

Once at table (or on any tiny scrap of bar you may happen to conquer), the menu is full of small plates that work as a snack or can be strung together for a meal.  On one night:  panisse, a sort of Provencal fritter made from chickpea flour, fried and simply served with sea salt and a lemon wedge;  squid hoods stuffed with green chard and braised in pastis, tomato and white wine;  filets of lieu jaune breaded a l’anglais served with sauce tartar; a robust country pâté;   and a lovely salad of roasted winter vegetables.

Côté vin, a well selected list featuring natural and organic wines, most by the glass.  What else could you need?

Bar de la Relève
Address:  41, Rue d’Endoume, 13007 Marseille, France
Tel: 04 95 09 87 81
Reservations:  Not accepted, come early or just push up to the bar until a table in the small dining room opens up.  Pleasant terrace for warm days or nights.

Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Les Temps des Vendages, Toulouse France

Temps des Vendanges May 2017 2

If you leave the old center of Toulouse, crossing the Garonne via the pont Saint-Pierre, you will arrive in the left bank quarter of Saint-Cyprian.  Less picturesque and with fewer sites to attract visitors, this side of the river offers instead the charm the of a French town quietly going about its daily routines.

Located on the pocket sized Place de l’Estrapade at the center of the Saint-Cyprian, Les Temps des Vendages is at heart a cave or wine shop.  The walls of the tiny front room are lined with bottles that reflect owner Eric Cuestas’ passion for organic, biodynamic and natural wines, what he calls Vins d’Artisans.  By virtue of a tiny kitchen at the back  and 10 small tables tucked in between the cases of wine, the cave becomes cave a manger at lunch time.  Each day, the kitchen offers a short menu of seasonal dishes that look simple but surprise with their depth of flavor and technical accomplishment.

On a day in late May, one starter was a golden-yolked farm egg baked en cocotte with cream, raclette cheese , parsley and peas.   A main course featured  half a roasted chicken served with a salad of red feuille de chêne lettuce and potato puree.  Very simple dishes both but perfectly executed.  As each plate was delivered, the server chatted amiably about  the various farms from which came the eggs, chicken and raw milk raclette,

A cheese course we ordered was composed of a drippingly ripe Brie de Meaux, a cow’s milk tome from the Ariege hamlet of Bethmale and a herb crusted sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica.  The owner selected these from a small but very packed display case full of cheese and charcuterie at the back of the room.  Are these today’s cheeses, I asked?  No, he selected these to match the bottle of red wine from the Clos de Tue Bouef in the Touraine that we had been drinking.

By the time that a dessert of goat’s milk panna cotta with gariguette  strawberries (a specialty of the region)  arrived,  it had become clear that this simple little cafe and wine shop is anything but.  Instead, it offers something that is rare these days.  Impeccably sourced food and wine, prepared and served with skill and an amazingly humble sense of the virtues of a job well done.

Afternoons finds the pleasant terrace out front filled with tables of friends sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheese. Neighbors pass by to purchase a bottle and some cheese or rillettes to take home. Just another day in paradise.

Lest Temps des Vendages
Address:  9 Place de l’Estrapade, 31300 Toulouse, France
Tel: o5 61 42 94 66
Reservations:  Lots of space on the terrace, but if the weather is bad, reserve on of the 10 tables inside.

Tagged | Leave a comment

Au Pont Corbeau, Strasbourg France

pont-de-corbeau-sign-sept-2016

The best winstub in Strasbourg hides in plain sight.  Restaurant Au Pont Corbeau is located right on the quai Saint-Nicolas, a somber, almost windowless brown facade frowning out at the Musée Historique de la ville de Strasbourg located just across the river in the heart of the old town.  If you didn’t know it’s reputation, you probably wouldn’t give it a second look.

Fortunately, an acquaintance who lives in the area recommended it to me, saying that it is the winestub where “the locals go”.  Walking in to the dark wood lined dining room, you can believe that this is true.  The clientele seems to be mostly older and well healed people from the neighborhood.  Well dressed older couples. Groups of bankers in business suits with their jackets handing on the backs of their chairs.  A society matron lunching with what appears to be a daughter, a grand daughter and a great grand daughter.  A table of retired men, enjoying a couple bottles of wine with lunch and finishing with schnapps.

In other words, people who like to eat well, who know good food when they eat it and who seek the comfort of always finding their favorite dish on the menu.

That’s is the essence of Au Pont Corbeau.  Traditional cuisine of Alsace, prepared with attention to detail, like it has been for 90 years, served with care, warmth and humor in a crowded, convivially noisy room.  Eating well, on dishes you know and love, with people you enjoy.

Start with a fat slice of house made goose foie gras terrine “mi-cuit”.  Then maybe plump filets of herring marinated in white wine and olive oil.  Or presskopf, pig’s head terrine sliced as thick as my thumb, served with potatoes sauteed with garlic and parsley.

The above mentioned matron very carefully and tactfully devoured a thick wedge of crispy puff pastry tourte filled with ground pork and venison, served with carrot, beet and celery root crudités.  The  bankers shared platters of choucroute nouveau, first of the season sauerkraut garnished with smoked pork shoulder, knackwurst and pork shank.  The old buddies were split between the choucroute and a pot of rabbits pieces simmered with Riesling and mushrooms.

And just when you think you can’t eat one more bite, a bowl of green salad appears, to, as the waiter explains, help with digestion.  If it does its job, a generous slice of fresh fruit tart, maybe huckleberry or tiny yellow mirabelle plums, might just be the way to finish the meal.

In the pursuit of new and different dining experiences, we sometimes forget one of the rare pleasures of civilized living:  a well made, comforting meal composed of dishes we know and love.  They have not forgotten it at Au Pont Corbeau.

Au Pont Corbeau
Address:  21 Quai Saint-Nicolas, 67000 Strasbourg
Tel: 03 88 35 60 68
Reservations:  A good idea, very busy lunch and dinner.

| Leave a comment

The Clown Bar, 11eme Paris, France

In the past, if you had heard of the Clown Bar at all, it was likely in the context of its wonderful Belle Epoque clown decor, which is so iconic that is often shows up in architecture books on cafes of Paris.   The design pays homage to the Clown Bars history as a hangout for performers and audience members from the nearby Cirque d’Hiver, long home to Paris’ circus.  Paris legend has it that Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, used to spend time bellied up to its zinc bar.

A few years ago, however, the team behind popular 2nd arrondissement restaurant a vin Saturne bought the Clown bar, washed away more than a century of tobacco stains from its hand-painted glass clown murals and re-purposed it as a bistro specializing in clean, thoughtful, modern French cooking.  For those of you who might jump to the conclusion that “modern” is a pejorative term for me in the context of French cooking, let me assure you that, in this case, it is not.  The food is simple and well prepared, the ideas and flavors direct and delicious, all while still subtly evoking traditional french bistro fare.  In other words, modern in the best sense.  The foie gras terrine smothered with shaved raw champignon de Paris and the beignets of sea snails with aioli were both perfect examples of the kitchen’s style:  surprising updates on traditional dishes that seem both new and intuitive at the same time.

The wine list skews decidedly natural, at least that is what I have heard.  When we were there, the young man running the dining room made lovely wine recommendations after discussing our menu choices with us, so I never had to look at a wine list.  All his choices seemed well considered and showed a real affection for the rapport between simple food and simple country wines (which is code for nice wines that went will with the food and didn’t break the bank).

Lots has already been written about the young Japanese chef and French sommelier who are in charge, so I wont add to the œuvre.  Suffice it so say that is is always a pleasure to find a new spot in Paris doing good food at a fair price.

The Clown Bar
Address:  114 Rue Amelot, 75011 Paris
Tel: 01 43 55 87 35
Reservations:  Always a good idea in Paris, especially in a small space such as this.

Tagged , | Leave a comment

Restaurant Arrantzaleak, Ciboure, France

Arrantzaleak May 2015

Located on a quiet street fronting the estuary of the Nivelle river, behind the fishing docks in the Basque coastal town of Ciboure, Restaurant Arrantzaleak doesn’t give the impression that it might be one of the best known restaurants in the region.  The decor is modest, with even a bit of seaside schmaltz…the walls are decorated with fishing nets, colorful cork floats, mounted trophy fish, tables are wood topped  and sky blue painted benches standing in for chairs.

However, when we arrived, the table of 15 Chinese tourists near the door left no doubt that this was the place we had read about.

Fortunately, Arrantzaleak, or “Chez Remunctxo” as it is known locally, lives up to the billing.  The formula is simple:  very fresh fish , grilled over hardwood coals (the grill is situated in a alcove that you pass through on your way to the bar), accompanied by fresh seasonal vegetables.  Done.

Although everything we tried was very good, selections from the daily fresh sheet were particularly good:  grilled razor clams served with leeks, fava beans and asparagus; wild caught sea bass with more favas, pickled shallot and garlic butter;  excellent whole prawns with persillade; and little flat fish called “langue d’avocat”, which resembled sand dabs and were served with herbed beurre blanc.

Restaurant Arrantzaleak
Address: 18 Avenue Jean Poulou, Ciboure, 64500
Tel: 05 59 47 10 75
Reservations:  Definitely, during the high season

Tagged , | Leave a comment

Chez Canaille, Pau, France

 

Chez Canaille is a bistrot, pure and simple.  That means copious portions, a menu that is meat-centric, heavy on charcuterie and doesnt stray far from traditional and regional specialties and a wine list of well priced bottles  from lesser known appellations.  In other words, no modern monkey business.

Well, maybe a little modern monkey business.

Like the fact that the menu lists the provenience of pretty much every entrecote, pied de cochon, jambon, boudin and andouillette(and sole!) they serve as well as  good number of the vegetables, fruits and cheeses.   Or that the wine list is heavy on wines that are organic or natural or both.  Or that the person who designed the decor harbors a tongue in cheek romance for the look of old time bistros that borders on the ironic.

Favorite dishes include textbook plate of beef marrow bones finished with a drizzle of persillade (two bones, each 10″ long…the waiter actually asked “Vous avez tout fini?  C’est pas possible!”).

Or a 4-bone côte de porc roasted for two and served with garlic roasted in its skin, thick cut frites and an accompanying saladier of curly endive dressed with grain mustard vinaigrette (although I think that when there are 4 bones, it is officially no longer a chop but has become a rack…this one from a porc noir de Bigorre, the black pigs whose legs are famous as the source of some of the best hams in the world).

Or a choux a la crème the size of a soft ball, filled with crème chantilly and drizzled with caramel.

Like I said, a bistrot.

Chez Canaille
Address:  3 Rue du Hedas, 64000 Pau
Phone:  05 59 27 68 65
Reservations:  Yes for weekday lunch, when it is very busy
| Leave a comment