Monthly Archives: February 2014

France etc. Sept — Dec. 2013 Part 3

Back in Sanilhac, it’s got colder (early november) — days 7-10 degrees and nights around zero. But the house is cozy — the previous owners being Swiss means that the cold weather was thought about.
This week’s big local activity is taking place at our favourite restaurant — le Tracteur.  It’s “The Casseroles Circus”, an event over two nights and three days in which the owner/chef, Numa hands the kitchen over to 3 other young chefs so they can do their stuff, accompanied by copious amounts of new season’s wines and live music.  It was outstanding.  We attended every session. One chef was from Sweden, one from Paris and the other from our other favourite local restaurant , La Table 2 Julien.  Great to see young chefs  and winemakers given such opportunities and to observe the cameraderie between them all.  I think my dish of the series was oysters in the shell, dressed with a really light red vinegar, fresh pomegranite seeds and just a touch of mint.  We had seconds and thirds.  Everything was kept affordable. The oysters were 5 euros for three.
Next we resumed our touring and headed north to stay for a few days with friends in the Dordogne.  They live in a most beautifully restored house in a small village which, like so many in France, now has no commerce, just a Mairie.French youth is deserting the countryside in a big way.  The Dordogne is very beautiful and famous for the quality of its food. It is foie gras heaven. The local wine appelation is Bergerac. The most popular red grape is cabernet sauvignon.
Our friends took us for a memorable lunch to Le Vieux Logis in the village of Tremolat. The lunch was served in the beautiful gardens.  Just great.  We were greeted by the charming owner, a man now well into his 80 s.  This would be a lovely, if expensive place to stay for a few days.
We also had a very good dinner in Bergerac, but I can’t remember the name of the restaurant.  What we saw of Bergerac looked inviting.
Next, we got on the road to Spain. Our Dordogne friends recommended to us a hotel called  Iriate Jauregia ( the spelling is correct– we are now in the Basque country) which is in the countryside outside the village of Bidania- Goiatz, between San Sebastian and Bilbao  Janelle and I agreed that it is one of the best hotels we have ever stayed in.  It’s a 17th century palace, beautifully restored and decorated. It has only 19 rooms, a large garden, bar, library ( with real books and magazines ) and a fantastic restaurant, which we were not expecting.  Make sure if you stay there that you dine in the restaurant at least once.  It isn’t expensive and the whole experience is great.
Next morning we got up early (for us ) and drove to Bilbao to fulfil a dream to see and visit the Guggenheim Museum.  It was everything we expected and more.  It’s location is perfect and its being there is attracting otherworld famous architects to do their thing in Bilbao.  A bonus for me is that there is a gallery on the ground floor which houses a work I never thought that I would see , Frank Stella’s monumental work in steel “a Matter of Time”.   I was thrilled.
But we had to move on as a very special lunch beckoned at a very special restaurant.  Asador Etxebarri ( more Basque) is tricky to find, even with GPS.  But we persevered and found it.  It is in an unpronounceable Basque village — Atxondo — about 40 minutes drive from Bilbao, up in the hills. Asador Etxebarri has been rated as one of the best 50 restaurants in the world. It’s appeal to us is that it has achieved its status without tricks — everything is local and fresh and cooked over coals. We arrived, walked into a bar which had only a single customer and were pointed to a staircase. The dining room upstairs was very quiet. It had about 15 tables , very widely spaced.
The philosophy is to source the best and freshest local raw materials (including seafood) and to cook it simply and perfectly over coals.  It was just fantastic if you love food which is simple.  Janelle thought it a whisker too simple, but to me it was perfection.  Not cheap, but not outrageous.  Wonderful stuff!  We were given the privilege of visiting the kitchen, one wall is lined with height adjustable griils.  Opposite, in the other walls are two big baker’s ovens full of coals which are shovelled across under the grills as needed. To get the coals fires are lit in the ovens each morning at four. The main wood used is holm oak.
We drove back to Sanilhac on Autoroutes and were home in about seven hours.