Angers is a prosperous little town. That's not a surprise given this Loire Valley gem's proximity to the movers and shakers back in France's day of royals rather than republicans. Any trip to the Loire Valley ought to start here. It's a couple of hours from Paris by train, and with the exception of Nantes, a great port city to its west, there's not really much else to see in the "western" section of the valley.
I was in town for a trade show, and on the lookout for a couple of wines to add to my collection. As part our group's festivities, we were wined and dined at the Château de Brissac (pictured below in its nighttime splendour) before getting down to business the following morning.
What more need be said about this place? It puts the castle in château. The evening's tasting and eating might have been gluttonous enough to last me for a few days, but there's no point in feigning a healthy lifestyle when you're in a country that values its provender like France does, so the next night's dinner, while perhaps not as grand in setting, was just as satisfying. And it offered me the advantage of just requiring a waddle up one flight of stairs to my room afterward.
For some reason known only to my maker, I craved lobster ("hommard" in French) whenever I came across it on a menu. La Salamandre's version bathed invitingly in an earthy broth. The meat was cooked perfectly, with not even a hint of the rubbery quality that can so easily befall it when insufficient attention is paid. Even the claw meat was pliant.
The Savennières was perfect with it, with both the body to match up with the luscious texture of the lobster, and the acidity to freshen what might otherwise have been almost too rich a dish.
A note about French wine lists: I've always found them to be exceedingly parochial. La Salamandre's is no exception. Typically, there will always be Champagne and Bordeaux, and then essentially only wines from the immediate area. Loire lists illustrate this well. The wines of the Anjou (the area surrounding Angers) are represented; the wines of the Tourraine (the area surrounding the other great city of the Loire, Tours) are non-existent despite being made with the exact same grapes and in very similar styles. And Tours is nearby as the crow flies.
Perhaps it's my problem. After all, a restaurateur in Angers might well argue that she's just being a locavore, a word that would cause lots of head scratching in France because they don't need it in their vocabulary. It's the very essence of their wine and food culture to begin with.
This is not your New York City pigeon. A real eating pigeon might best be described as the other red meat.
Set atop a melange of mushrooms, the bird had the intensity to match this well-defined earthy component and just enough "lightness" to remind that it is, after all, a bird, not a piece of pork or beef.
A red from the Graves area of Bordeaux went well with the birdie. But the white did pretty well, too, proving, again, that wine/food "rules" are really just guidelines.
There are warm and inviting public spaces, such as the bar and adjoining lounge.
The rooms, if not Louis XIV extravagant, are quiet, clean and well-enough appointed.
I'm not sure why, but for some reason, I very much like the notion of stepping up to my hotel bathroom and stepping down into a restaurant.
Though it faces the very imposing, very Gothic Saint Maurice Cathedral, Restaurant La Ferme exudes a welcoming warmth.
It came highly recommended by the Pudlo Guide, which is, for my money, the best source for restaurant and hotel suggestions in France. But beware: Make sure you get the most current version. My 2008-2009 edition proved that change even comes to France. Two of the places I wanted to try had shuttered for good by the time I arrived.
Rabbit terrine. Rich enough to need a salad to balance it. Who knew wild bunny could be so luscious?
Poule au pot. Nothing fancy about a chicken braised in a large cooking vessel with big chunks of potatoes and carrots. It proves that there's more to flavor development than browning.
The mayo is more yellow than white, and has none of Hellmann's vinegar/sugariness.
Some might argue that the detail work, while striking, is overly indulgent, and perhaps not the best use of the collection plate.
Some of the many decorative features are more war-like than others.
Two things are very hard for me to resist, and when they're offered together, forget it. "Oeuf" and "cocotte." It seems to me that anything done á la cocotte is a very good thing.
And the color of the yoke is no Photoshop trick. It was truly about as intensely orange as I've seen. Not bad for about $8.
Continuing with the cocotte theme, these perfectly prepared scallops swam in a lime-infused creamy sauce that was just about perfect with the Coche-Dury white Burgundy before me. My server told me that it was the last bottle of his three-bottle allocation.
The vast majority of the so-called cult producers aren't; Coche-Dury, on the other hand, is one that deserves the breathless accolades heaped upon it.
The price of this most lowly of the lineup (it was a Bourgongne Blanc, the humblest tier in Burgundy's hierarchy) just proved how much the multiple markups end up costing consumers when a foreign bottle gets to our shores (Ice Bucket Selections excepted!). This exquisite bottle of chardonnay went for the price that you'd pay for a insipid white in a restaurant in New York: about $60. Considering that this same bottle would cost you about $100 in a store in NYC, it was an easy choice to make.