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.

La Salamandre is my idea of a hotel restaurant. There's nothing corporate about it.

Commencing with the world's longest-lived dry white wine, Savennières, seemed to be the way to go. This tiny appellation, found across the river from Angers, is little known outside of wine expertdom, but the wines, made exclusively with chenin blanc, are among the greatest in winedom, and very food friendly to boot. Alas, though I desperately wanted to find one to import, I struck out. C'est la guerre.

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.

Le fromage. Despite what my lovely wife might say, I'm not a sweets person; I'm a cheese man all the way. For me, it's hard to say "non" to the cheese trolley when it rolls around (and please, save the cheese for after dinner, not as a pre-appetizer tease; it's just too filling).

A note on wine: Here's a rule that is not arguable. Or shouldn't be, anyway. Cheese prefers white wine to red in the vast majority of cases. Champagne is even better. That's not to say that reds can't work; it's just that the alchemy has to be more focused. With whites, particularly the more acidity they have, the less you need to be a wine/food maven to make it seem like you are. Try it, you'll like it.

The less-than-modest dessert plate. Yikes. It was superb, but by this time, I was eating on autopilot. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

If you wanted to match wine(s) with this unctuous collection of confections, the rule -- and this one's fairly ironclad also -- is that the wine MUST be sweeter than whatever is on the plate. If it's not, the wine simply disappears.

My suggestion for this plate? Water. Or maybe milk, if your tummy can handle it.

C'est tout. Thankfully. A lovely meal at a lovely restaurant located just off the lobby of the hotel.

A note on French service: Because it's a vocation, not a steppingstone to Hollywood stardom or something else, I've always found French service to have a low-key confidence. The servers don't come to the table every ten minutes to ask how you're doing or even worse, tell you their names.

At La Salamandre, three men took care of the room. As in most of the French places I've been, whether Michelin-starred or humble brasseries (outside of tourist zones), the wait staff assesses the diner's needs by appreciating him or her from afar. They seem to be table side when it's time for water, wine or clearing a plate. Or if they sense you need something. I like that they typically don't ask you if you like what you've had, instead operating on the assumption that it's good, and if it's not, you'll let them know.

By the way, the Hôtel d'Anjou is mighty comfortable, if a tad rundown in spots. It's right on the main drag, too.

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.

La Ferme, as a look at its interior indicates, falls into the classic country style of restaurant. But it's no tourist trap. The only native English speaker present during a mid-week lunch was moi.


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.

The cathedral sits atop what appeared to me to be about the highest point in Angers, and afforded sweeping views of the nearby Maine River as well as the city itself.

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.

Serendipity is as good a way to find a restaurant as any. This gem, with service as warm and welcoming as the food is superb, is hidden away on rue Cordelle.

Though calling rue Cordelle a rue seems a gross exaggeration; it's more like a slightly glorified alley, and is pretty difficult to find on a map. I lucked into it while looking for a different restaurant.

The note on the door indicated that it would reopen after a holiday break the following evening. The sign and a quick look inside made me want to return the next night.

A few steps up from the street and you're in an intimate, well-lighted place.

A few more steps up and you're in a slightly less-well-lit space, but one that is about as pleasant to the eye as any. This is the view from my table.

Calling the decor eclectic might be an understatement.

My coat taking in the wall.

Cuteness aside, it's all about the food, after all. The "carte" is displayed just outside of squinting distance in several places, necessitating a trip or two to get a better view. Or maybe it's just that French needs to be more in my face to make any sense.

A little something from the tapenade department at no charge to start.

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.

And again with le fromage. The little salad was a nice palate cleanser after all of this good eats and drinks.


Hôtel d'Anjou (*** Best Western)
1, boulevard du Maréchal Foch
Tel: 02 41 211 211
My room was 73 euro/night, which was a steep discount from the regular rate.

La Salamandre
1, boulevard du Maréchal Foch
Tel: 02 41 88 99 55
Dinner for one with wine is about 50 euro, but can be more or can be less, depending on the particular menu that is selected.

Restaurant La Ferme
2, Place Freppel
Tel: 02 41 87 09 90
Lunch for one with wine is about 18 euro, but can be more or can be less, depending on the particular menu that is selected.

Restaurant Aux P'tits Oignons
14, rue Cordelle
Tel: 02 41 86 06 31
Dinner for one with wine is about 40 euro, but can be more or can be less, depending on the particular menu that is selected.

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