Welcome to Part 2 of this GourmandeMom (Beginners) Guide to Austin's sister city, Angers, France.
In Part 1, I mention one of the biggest differences between French and US eating out culture and rituals: the philosophy in France of leaving you alone to enjoy your meal and the company of your friends or colleagues. In this Part 2 we delve into more (but still basic) details about dining and some of my favorite places to eat in Angers. Part 3 includes some practical details of dealing with le train and the SNCF web site, and highlights just a few of the best cultural sites in Angers -- just to whet your appetite for getting out of a Paris rut and checking out Angers, and Levitation of course.
Le Petit Dejeuner (breakfast)
Everyday life in France may not include much of a breakfast at all. Yes, it is true. Les français do not have croissants or pains au chocolat every day for breakfast. It may well be just coffee. Or, if home, it may even be cereal, or perhaps—my favorite French breakfast: the ritual of une tartine (sliced in half chunk of baguette, butter, jelly to spread as indulgently as you wish. And once you check this out, you will know exactly what I mean.)
Sorry, this photo not from a breakfast in Angers, but from the lovely spread at the Hotel la Perouse in Nantes.
But you, en vacances, you can indulge. If you are going to do so, feel free to ignore the hotel breakfast and just grab a coffee and a croissant or pain au chocolat or pain au raisin at a nearby café. I am fond of La Parenthèse, a little ways down from the Hotel Mercure next to the lovely Jardin des Plantes. The barista there makes an exemplary café crème.
Some of the typical hot beverages at a café:
- un café crème; un café au lait -These are basically the same thing a French friend finally told me, but I still always order the café crème. And a double, if they have it. If the café crème is not served is piping hot, I find another café for the next day. That’s just wrong. Please do not even think about trying to get this with soy or almond milk or skim milk. Ordering this in the afternoon is a little weird, but have a try at it.
- un allongé - Way popular now. This is pretty much what you want to order to get something close to what we consider “American” black coffee. It’s like an Americano at Starbucks: a shot of espresso with additional hot water added.
- un exprèss - If you want straight up espresso for your quick petit déjeuner, that’s fine too. Definitely get this as a double (“un double exprès”); it is first thing in the morning after all. If you walk into a cafe and just order "un café s'il vous plaît" - you will get an "express." (While we're on the coffee subject, les français typically have coffee after dessert. A little weird to have coffee with dessert, but it is done more and more. And that is why you will see the "Café Gourmand" as a dessert offering at meals: it combines your postprandial espresso with a sampling of tiny desserts.)
- Une noisette - A piping hot (should be) "express" with a drop of hot milk; sometimes the hot milk is served in a tiny pitcher on the side for you to add yourself (i.e., at the Café St. Régis in Paris). I could drink these all day long.
But if stepping out into the day at that hour is just not your thing, enjoy the hotel breakfast. It will probably include some cheese, meats, fruit. Just be ready to pay more than the quick bite at the café.
The other meals of the day
Europeans eat at later times than we do.
In France, this means that prime lunch time (le déjeuner) is 1 or 1:30 pm. A prime time for dinner is 8 or 8:30 pm or later. Earlier seating times are available, but typically not before 7 pm. But this timing issue applies only for a “restaurant.” A café or a brasserie will be open pretty much any time you are hungry, with the typical café fare (the croque monsieur, an omelet, probably a hamburger, etc.…and while we’re on the subject, you know that anything prepared “tartare” means it is not cooked., right? This includes steak tartare. If you’ve been hanging out at Justine’s in Austin, you know this already. They make a good one.)
With a French meal typically including an “entrée” (not the main dish; this is a starter (appetizer) in French dining-out terms) and a “plat” – or main dish, you will see everywhere at restaurants and cafés the option of a “la formule” or “le menu.” It is usually a bargain: for the price indicated, you select an entrée –sometimes from a particular list – and your choice of a plat –and you get those for a certain price. Or you can mix it up, depending on what “formules" are offered and have a plat and a dessert. Sometimes a glass of wine might be included in the formule. Even the local boulangerie that offers some lunch items (sandwiches usually) to go will include a "formule": sandwich, drink ("boisson") and dessert (like slice of a fruit tart); or sandwich and boisson.
Yes, there is even a routine on how to get a glass of water. After one run-through of asking for it and getting it, you’ll be a pro. Water comes in flat (l’eau plate) and sparkling/bubbly/“gassy” (“gaseuse”). You can of course always order a fancy bottle of water, just as in the US, such as Vittel, Badoit, or Evian—depending on what the venue offers. But tap water is just fine—and free. The way to get that free water is to ask for “une carafe d’eau.” They will set a pitcher of water on the table for you. I became hooked on this "blue" Perrier all over France now. The bubbles are finer, not so ... bubbly.
Ah, the ritual of the “apéro”—the short, more “familiar” form of “apéritif.” This is that magical time before that later dinner hour where friends meet up for a drink. Sure it could be called “happy hour,” but that would be so wrong. “Happy hours” do exist in France, but the apéritif time is the prelude time to a meal. It embodies for more than what we think of as “happy hour.” It can happen at a dinner party as well. It refers not just the beverage but the ritual itself.
- Classic apéritif beverages include: the “martini” (Vermouth, not to be confused with how it sounds in English), the Negroni, the Kir (not so trendy these days for the "bobo" set, but it remains a classic: white wine and (typically) splash of cassis). Another good option is a glass of Chablis, or just any glass of wine you feel like at that time of day.
- le vin
- It may help you to know that the French (generally) are very confused about wine when they come to the states. They are (so some tell me) just as confused as the uninitiated may be when in France trying to order “a merlot” or “a cab.” Without getting into a lecture on the nuances of the AOC system in France (the system that control, tightly, how and whether a certain wine merits the label “Bordeaux”—to indicate its provenance in Bordeaux), all you need to know is that the French are used to ordering and referring to wine by region (Bordeaux, Beaujolais, Burgundy, Chinon, Brouilly, Bourgeuil, and on and on). In the US, we are accustomed to ordering a glass of wine by the grape—i.e., a merlot, a pinot noir, etc.
The “ardoise” or slate chalkboard with the wine selections probably are more specific and may have several Bordeaux from which to choose. You can always order a glass or two (my preference, to sample more local wines), but a bottle, and a half bottle are options as well. For a house wine, you can always order – for sharing purposes – a nice little carafe, which can come as a “pichet” (a little pitcher) or “un quart” (.25 liters) or a “démi” –double that, and way too much for one person, even me.
- la bière
- Sure, France has beer. Craft beer is making waves in big cities such as Paris, but it’s just not too widespread just yet. Nevertheless, some fine French beers are going to be available. Asking for “une pression” – a draft beer – might lead to the barkeep asking you which one. Those choices will probably include “un Kronenbourg” or more specifically, the 1664 (“mille six cent soixante-quatre”). If you want that beer in a bottle, that would be “en bouteille” – and many international beers may well be available, such as Heineken. As Kronenbourg is said to have about 40% of the market, that may be all you need to know. But for more details, check this out.
For more details on French menu and French dining, along with pronunciation help, see my favorite French grammar site.
Whether you like it or not, no need to tip because it is already taken care of for you. The bill (l’addition) at a restaurant, café, wine bar, or bistro will include the gratuity. But it is customary that if you had nice service to leave a little extra change.
GourmandeMom’s Short List for Eating (and Drinking) in Angers
As in all of France, even Paris, check the websites of these places for the latest days and times the restaurant is open. Many are closed Sunday, Monday – and sometimes both days.
Chez Rémi (and Saignant (opening September 24, 2013))
Chef Rémi Fournier is only 33 years old and is well on his way to changing the Angers food scene—and including a little bit of Austin along the way. Rémi made a splash in Austin with his pop-up brunches via Justine’s during the Austin-Angers Music presentation during SxSW 2013.
Rémi has had the original location of Chez Rémi closed for renovations, but that original location, on Boulevard du Maréchal Foch, will re-open as a burger place/steakhouse (no reservations!), on September 24, 2013 -- as Rémi himself tells me. It will have out-of-the-ordinary burgers, complete with artisanal bread, a house ketchup, vegetables straight from their garden -- and some specialty-of-the-house frites. The steakhouse part of the vibe will include such items as a black Angus bavette and a fine entrecôte of Charolais beef--and of course a beef tartare.
The new location for Chez Rémi is 5 rue des Deux Haies. It will no doubt have the charm of the original's consistently delicious, unpretentious market-fresh food that exemplifies Rémi’s culinary philosophy—and a fine wine selection, including of course the best of the region’s natural wines. Check out his boudin for sure, but just keep in mind: "boudin" in the US (Louisiana) is not the same thing as this French boudin. That boudin is usually "white" boudin, with rice, pork, and vegetables (i.e., no blood). The excellent boudin of Chef Rémi is blood sausage.
Located on the main square, the place du Ralliement, opposite the elegant Le Grand Théâtre d’Angers (built between 1867 and 1871), is an array of cafes. Tucked away in one corner is a real gem of great eating, in a very nice but not stuffy restaurant: the Provence Caffé.
Just as “apéro” is the short, jargon-like term for “apéritif,” so too “resto” is the analog to “restaurant.” Just across the Maine River is more of Angers and a whole other world to discover—in a history-rich neighborhood called La Doutre, and this is where you will find Au P’tit Resto.
Un Brin Folk
Check the times carefully to make sure you catch a prime seat in a cozy settee in the corner to kick back with a beer or wine and listen to some music.
This very informal but well-done “living room” type décor may be described to you as a café like the coffee shop in Friends. Well, no, it is much cooler as it is more up to date in terms of what passes for hipster eclectic urban space these days. Check for hours (as with all these places).
The natural wine selection is great, and the gruff guy behind the bar pretty much incomprehensible sometimes with his French, but there may be no better ambience -- though not necessarily quiet—for kicking back for a glass of wine and Spanish jamón. As Le Fooding describes it: "Bedecked with wood, old rocks and beams, this red den opens when the town sleeps. Out comes the wine, pata negra, potted meats…in a spot soaked with atmosphere."
If I had a country manor in France, this is the décor I want. Eclectically sophisticated, casually elegant but warm, with a light-hearted, even fun, aesthetic—this describes the setting for le Favre d'Anne in a 19th-century mansion. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant, but do not let that scare you away.
It is not stuffy at all despite the exquisite and beautifully presented food. Pricey – but worth the splurge, especially to pretend for an hour and a half or so that you are living in your chic country manor, with attentive warm service. The wine "list" is a hefty book. (Note: at fine French restaurants, lunch is always a more economical option -- and easier to get a reservation, which is generally a must for lunch or dinner.)
Just off the main square, on a side street and right close to the Provence Caffé, is “les Deux A."
The two initials “A” represent the first letter of the owners’ first names: Alain and Alexandra. A warm, welcoming service; good wine selection from very knowledgeable helpful staff. Food offerings are on the very average side and simple: tartines, which are open-faced sandwiches of many different toppings. Let the friendly staff guide you into enjoying some glasses of wines from the region: they know their stuff. You may order, with their help, not just any wine from nearby Saumur (always a great choice for a regional wine), but they may guide you to, say, this particular wine they just tasted the other day with the producer who stopped by to chat. That kind of thing.
Lunch in a medieval part of a French town should be in a light and airy venue – part tea salon, part unpretentious restaurant, with large windows onto a quiet street near a museum with old stone walls (the Musée des Beaux-Arts) – and carefully yet nonchalantly displayed wares by local artisans for purchase. There is just such a place in Angers: recently opened (December 2012) Osé. Owner Catherine Pasquet with her architect team created a space for local and organic offerings in a soft grey and cream space infused with natural light. All the better to show off those ceramics by local artists.
The fact that well-known and respected Jean-Michel Monnier selected this venue for a lunch gathering—after I attended one of his intense-wine tasting classes at the Université d’Angers sommelier program—speaks volumes. Inside, the walls are stone—slate of course: this is the land of the ardoise after all. Another set of walls, in the foyer, are lined with hundreds of bottles of wine it seems. An elegant, not stuffy setting for very reasonably priced fine food. A lunch time formule is typically 16,5 euros (the French use that comma where we would expect to see a decimal point). With all this wine expertise and wine emphasis, it is worth asking for some guidance for a nice wine to accompany that formule if a glass of wine is not included.
Remember: When in Angers, or anywhere nearby, drink local (wines)!