La Camargue – La Telline

You could have missed the restaurant if you weren’t paying enough attention. Luckily, we were on bicycles, so we saw the little white wooden sign as it emerged from beneath a tree on the front of the property. La Telline.

For my inaugural multi-day cycling trip, we had embarked for 8 days in the South of France. A loop starting from Avignon, going southwards towards the sea, then up and west through Nîmes and Uzès, and back again. We would spend two nights in the Camargue – a preserved wetlands region at the mouth of the Rhône river. The Camargue is known for its rice cultivation, its wild pink flamingos, and its gypsy population in the main city – Saintes Marie de la Mer.

Flamingos in the Camargue

Flamingos in the Camargue

Having done some restaurant research (but not too much) I found mentions of La Telline in a number of places and was charmed but the down-home feel from its website. In red italics at the bottom of the page with a little “no entry” symbol reads the warning “The restaurant does not accept credit cards.” I decided that if we were going to go all-out for one nice (cash only) meal, it should be there. I’d packed a nice-looking skirt that fit smugly over my bicycle shorts, and we set out in the morning from Arles riding along the banks of the Rhône before our lunch.

The dining room at La Telline

The dining room at La Telline

The interior of the restaurant feels like someone’s home – smartly decorated with antique radios, bullfighting posters from decades past, cast-iron tools, ancient water jugs and drinking glasses. Everything delicate about France that you can spy at garage sale is here – but it’s clean and displayed in an attentive, cozy way.

One of their specialties, of course, is tellines – little oblong clams that can be fished in and around the Camargue. They serve them cooked and cooled in a tall round white ceramic dish, stirred with an aïoli thin enough to not disturb the pleasure of a simple dish of steamed clams.

Another specialty is the grilled bull steak. Bulls are grown in the Camargue to support the local tradition of the ferias, or local festivals featuring bullfights. The bulls that don’t have the right “character” to fight are used for consumption. The meat, grilled in front of us on the fireplace, had that same tender firmness of duck breast – but with a distinctly beef flavor.

I ordered the grilled eel, which was also cooked in front of us on the fire. Both of our main dishes were served with locally grown red rice, and a side dish of sautéed carrots with garlic and shallots.

We enjoyed a locally harvested wine with our meal – first, a white with our starter, and then a red from the same vineyard for the main.

As we finished our lunch, the mood of the restaurant loosened up a bit and the patron and his wife chatted with us.The wine we’d drank was from a vineyard just down the road – we’d passed it on our way in.

Where were we staying? asked the patronne, and as it turned out, our innkeepers were close personal friends of the restauranteurs.

During our two days in the Camargue, we’d come to realize that most of the mom-and-pop tourist businesses all knew each other. When we cycled back to the vineyard to pick up two bottles for our stay, the winemaker also nodded at the name of the inn. “Ah! You’re staying at Irène and David’s place.”

We arrived at the inn and Irène was thrilled we’d had a good lunch – “ce sont nos amis proches !” We enjoyed our dinner that night on the small terrace of our little two-room rental apartment.

Besides the restaurant, and the winemaker, our other favorite food-related visit was the Maison du Riz – founded by a local riziculteur, they sell rice from their own production, as well as beer made with their own rice flour. The red rice beer, in particular, had a nice full flavor, with a hint of sweetness from the rice.

Bike on the beach

Bike on the beach

Links for the Camargue:
Restaurant La Telline: http://www.restaurantlatelline.fr/
Mas de Valériole winemakers: masdevaleriole.com
Holiday home Les Mazets du Paty: http://www.lesmazetsdupaty.camargue.fr/
La Maison du Riz: http://www.maisonduriz.com/

and also… excellent bike rental in Avignon: http://www.daytour.fr/?lang=en

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Marché des Lices

“Des étrilles, s’il vous plait. Bien vivantes!”

DSC_0213

Les étrilles

The woman in front of me in line orders a variety of crab whose body is no bigger than the circumference of a coffee mug. The hairy, freckled crustaceans are clamoring around in a green basket atop the ice, next to the lobsters who roam lethargically around one end of the stand.

DSC_0216

Marché des Lices

The weekly open-air market in Rennes is a sight to behold, with it’s painfully tender kouign amann pastries (you can never eat just one,) and it’s locally farmed cheeses that don’t have nationally recognizable names, just subtitles on their price signs that read “Ça déchire grave !” (it’s seriously awesome!) Many of the vegetable stands are run by elderly locals, or young apple farmers trying to make a go of it. There are crepe trucks – many crepe trucks – and I stand on the sidelines observing which one has the longest lines to figure out which one is the best.

DSC_0214

Kouign Amann

Extensive Google searching has not revealed to me which market, exactly, is the largest market in France. This is difficult to search for in French because when you look for statistics about the “largest food market” you find all sorts of economic figures about general food sales. In any case, the Marché des Lices can’t be far off from the biggest.

DSC_0210

Breton radishes

There is a kind of overwhelming, food-induced joy that comes over me sometimes: the first time I tried French demi-sel butter, with it’s large sea salt crystals; the first time my taste buds had the pleasure of meeting a Mogador macaron by Pierre Hermé (milk chocolate flavored with passion fruit;) and the first fresh salicorne (samphire) stalk I was able to pick out of the ground myself, along the salt marshes in Guérande, and crunch on.

DSC_0217

Leek to go

When I was an American teenager employed at a gourmet grocery store in New England, I dreamed of French open-air food markets as glorious as the Marché des Lices. There is not one, but two covered market buildings: one filled with butcher counters, and the other filled with bakers, jam-makers, cheese-mongers, and other sellers. The outdoor space lying around the market has different sections: the fishmongers and oyster sellers on one side, fruit and veg crammed around everywhere else. Flowers are up the hill a bit, towards the Place Saint Michel.

The most difficult thing about shopping at this market is that I’m only buying food for a meal or two, before I have to hop back in the train to Paris the next day. It’s not exactly practical to carry home clams or crabs or whole fish filets. On this last visit, I decided to go with clams – sautéed with cider and topped with crunchy salicornes.

Cider-braised clams with salicornes

DSC_0219

Cider braised clams with salicornes

Sauté one finely sliced leek in a generous amount of butter, being careful not to let it brown. Once it is softened, about 8 minutes, add enough clams for a hearty starter for two, and about a cup of brut bubbly cider. Cover the pan, shaking gently every minute or two, until the clams have opened.

Serve topped with lightly steamed salicornes, a heaping of fresh parsley, and a cup of cold cider.

A few addresses in Rennes:

Crêperie Saint Georges, 11 Rue du Chapitre
We were almost put off by the gaudy décor in the entryway – don’t be! The crêpes are inventive and different, and most importantly, delicious.

DSC_0209

Chocolate and espelette pepper crêpe at the Crêperie St Georges

 

Le Haricot Rouge, 10 Rue Baudrairie
THE place to go for a coffee, tea, or hot chocolate on a weekend afternoon. Noteworthy for the various different flavors of hot chocolate, and board games at your disposal.

Bella Ciao, 16, rue Saint Georges
A small local designer boutique with jewelry, handbags, clothing, and home décor.