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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brittany in the Rain - Part 1

One of my favorite garage band songs is The Outcasts' "I'm in Pittsburgh and it's Raining", covered magnificently by The Vibes. Is there a more a propos song title to sum up a city than that one? I had that song going through my mind repeatedly during my recent sojourn in Brittany, otherwise known in France as Bretagne. Bretange is not exactly famous for its temperate weather, with its blustery winds and rains blowing in from the Atlantic, and this was my first visit there that truly lived down to expectations. What's that expression, if you don't like the weather, wait two minutes and it will change? That about sums it up for Bretagne - looking out my hotel window and seeing that the skies had cleared, by the time I made it out the door, it was pouring. Well, this isn't a meteorological blog, and weather or not, one has to eat. I hardly profess to be an expert on Breton cuisine, but if I had to wager, I would say that your best restaurant bet in that region is one of the thousands of creperies scattered from Fougeres in the far east to Brest in the far west. My recent visit only spanned from Rennes to Josselin and, not being a strong admirer of the simple crepe, I ventured elsewhere to sample the local cuisine. My aspirations were humble - no Michelin-starred venues for this trip. The closest Co. and I came to what promised to be an inspiring gastronomic experience, La Table d'O had a little sign on the door when we went to reserve that the restaurant was closed 'exceptionnellement' the Saturday evening we were in town.

Starting off solo in Rennes, I had a couple of addresses that I culled from Le Fooding, L'Arsouille and Le Cours Des Lices, but I opted for one that would require less walking in the rain and the possibility of ordering one of my favorite traditional French dishes, chaucroute de la mer, Le Galopin.

Entering Le Galopin, which had the look of a mid-level brasserie, I received a warm welcome from the owner and was promptly seated in a quiet part of the restaurant, but in full view of the evening's festivities. As the tables filled, I had the impression I was the only non-regular in the place, with the staff shuttling back and forth with handshakes, bottles of champagne, and fresh lobsters, slaughtered directly out of the restaurant's aquarium. Le Galopin appears to be something of a Rennes institution, which may say more about the other options in town than the quality of the brasserie's fare. The only way to get the chaucroute was to order the inexpensive 'menu voyage,' a 22€ bargain from which I also selected the poellee d'encornets entree and a slice of boring chocolate gateau for dessert.
The chauroute was pretty standard, consisting of a mound of sauerkraut topped by three pieces of fish, salmon, lotte, haddock, and plenty of salt, and I mean plenty. Following up on the bowl of salt accompanied by encornets entree, I whipped through my half bottle of Chinon rouge (13.50€) with room to spare. My verdict: if you want an excellent chaucroute de la mer, go to Bofinger's in Paris. The upsides: a pretty diverse range of menu options and the comfort of loners - by the meal's end, two other tables were occupied by a single male patron.

Next up for dinner was a group event at L'Amiral, an even closer walk from my hotel in Rennes' center.

 This one was dinner gratis, meaning I didn't get to select and I didn't get to pay.  More of a chic Art Deco interior than Le Galopin, L'Amiral, a traditional seafood restaurant was roomier and classier.  The croustillant de chèvre au miel et aux noix entree (11€) was terrific, despite the copious morsels of sausage that I had to shunt off to the side, not being a sausage eater myself.  This was followed by a not so shabby main plate of dorade grise grillée aux petits légumes, sauce beurre blanc and some sort of pineapple caramel concoction for dessert.  A satisfying meal overall, though not particularly gastronomically memorable. Photos of the dorade and dessert follow:

I think the message is clear - if you have to choose between Le Galopin and L'Amiral, go with the latter, unless you're a Le Galopin regular, which means you'll go there whatever I tell you.

21 av. Jean Janvier 35000 Rennes 
Tél.: 02 99 31 55 96

2, Boulevard La Tour d'Auvergne, 35000 RENNES
Tél. 02 99 35 03 91

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