Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Let's Eat

As I mentioned yesterday, my friend Brett was in town over the weekend, and, since he's not insane, he was eager to try the local food. Since I'm not insane, either, I picked some places to eat and we went there. Thus, steel yourself for some descriptions of fine restaurants and terrible photography, courtesy of our iPhones.

* * *

Since I'd thought that Brett's wife Carole was going to be along, I'd carefully made sure that my favorite restaurant in Montpellier could accommodate her wheelchair. Nobody should miss a chance to eat at Le Chat Perché, and I'm happy to say that, if you give them advance warning, they'll reserve a table in the room you can roll into right off the street. You can also eat outdoors on the sidewalk in summer, as well as upstairs on the roof, which is absolutely not for wheelchairs.

I'd been here just recently with my sister, and several times in the past. The place is affordable, which is to say €21 for two courses, €26 for three, it has a wine-list after my own heart (two bottles from Mas de la Seranne), and the cooking itself straddles radical innovation and devotion to the local terroir. By the former I mean the moment when my sister's head snapped up and she said "Who on earth would have thought to put mint in mashed potatoes? But...what a good idea!" By the latter, I mean the market freshness of the menu.

Brett had contracted a mild case of vegetarianism, although he'd eat fish, which is good, because, well, the fish around here is good. Sad to say, but my taste was fading and disappeared early into this meal, so I can't say what the mashed potatoes were all about this time (except that they were pink), but I started with a fish soup with rouille -- traditional enough -- and Brett had a brick filled with goat cheese, a traditional Moroccan pastry (although I guess in America this would be called a beggar's purse) in line with the restaurant's exploration of North African ideas (that mint in the mashed potatoes again).

For the main course, Brett had a filet of salmon glazed with "fruits rouges," which I interpret as a sort of French weasel-phrase for "various berries." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I opted for a local favorite I'd had there before, seiches a la plancha, a common enough dish of small cuttlefish, which have to be very carefully cooked so as not to turn into rubber. They're also usually accompanied by a persillade, a finely chopped combo of parsley, garlic, and salt, which somehow the Chat folks managed to make stick on the seiche body.

We had their house rosé with this meal, from Pic St. Loup, which I remember from my sister's visit as being pretty hearty for a rosé, without being overbearing or metallic. Their normal red is Chateau Puech Haut Les Grands Dévots, which cuvée I have seen a bottle of, and have been utterly unable to find in any wine store -- nor have I found anyone who's even heard of it. It really rocks if you don't have the dough for one of the other reds, which are amazing.

Brett opted for dessert, too, which was a bowl of grapes poached in muscat, a local sweet wine, with an apple sorbet on top. He was levitating shortly after starting it and became obsessed with buying grapes at the market the next morning.

Guess it was good. And, this being Le Chat Perché, I'd be amazed if it weren't.

Le Chat Perché, 10, rue du Collège Duvergier, 34000 Montpellier. Phone: 04 67 60 88 59. Open dinnertime daily.

* * *

Le Chat Perché is at the corner of the big square, the Place de la Chappelle Neuve, where my sister and I happened upon the Bistro Gourmand, and a few days later, the esimable French Letters went to that same square and had lunch at a different restaurant, and the glowing review made me want to try the place myself. So Saturday night, totally ignorant, we gallumphed up there and asked if there was a table for two. The waitress' eyes bulged and she asked if we'd reserved. We said no, and she ran inside. The manager came out. "You really do have to reserve," he said, "but there's a party of two who are late, and we're trying to reach them now." Eventually the waitress came out and shook her head. "Follow me," said the manager, and we were seated.

In Germany when you feel vaguely off, they call it a Kreislaufsproblem, a circulation problem. In France, it's a crise de foie, a liver crisis. In reality it could be anything from indigestion to terminal cancer, but I thought about the French phrase later that night. I have unnaturally low cholesterol, but I'm quite sure I drove it up to dangerous levels this night.

Not that I didn't enjoy every minute of it: my taste stayed with me all night, I'm happy to say, although I don't know why it did on Saturday and not on Friday or Sunday. I'm still working with the doctor's regime of pills and sprays, hoping that this polyp disappears.

I started with a bloc of foie gras terrine into which two thin slices of fig had been pushed. As for Brett, he had some concoction that was like a goat cheese/eggplant sandwich, with two slices of grilled eggplant enclosing a round of goat cheese.

Also visible are glasses of the house red, a very fine Pic St. Loup that had Brett suddenly making the terroir connection very strongly. (And see, I said the photos were terrible: that's the eggplant on top, the square of foie gras just under my fork).

Brett's course was a grilled filet of bar, or sea bass, on cooked fresh white beans, the "coco" beans that are all over the market at the moment. Me, I had what French Letters had: an entire (if small) Camembert cooked in the fireplace in its wooden box, accompanied by a bunch of spears of potato and two big, delicious chunks of Morteau sausage, which I'm going to have to go looking for. It was smokey and garlicky and I think it could well serve in Cajun dishes. Dipping pieces of potato in gooey Camembert and letting the whole thing sort of dissolve, then following it with a small slug of wine is a great way to forget that you have a liver. It doesn't look like we shot either of these, for some reason.

For dessert, Brett ordered peach soup with a scoop of peach ice cream.

(That's a physalia, the thing that looks like a badminton birdie).

Me, I had Roquefort with pears. The pears were a real disappointment: mushy and tasteless. The Roquefort was wonderful, but if you've been paying attention you've been checking out the cholesterol in my dinner here and may not be surprised to learn that I woke up in the middle of the night with a bit of a stomach ache. It passed, but I'll be more careful next time, promise.

Again, the tariff was reasonable, and the food was terriffic. That square is Gourmet Gulch, and I'm going back to check out a couple of the other restaurants some day. Soon, I hope. And if I go back to this place, I'll reserve, promise.

Le Grillardin, 3, place de la Chappelle Neuve, 34000 Montpellier, phone: 04 67 66 24 33. Open lunch and dinner. Reservations mandatory.

* * *

Sunday we mostly drove, but as I said, around 8 we found ourselves in Sète, and I became obsessed with having a plateau des coquillages, a mixed shellfish extravaganza. It had been ages since I'd last had a lobster, let alone a mess of crabmeat, and we found a place that would deliver, for €46, a pile of shrimp, mussels, oysters, sea snails (boulots), langoustines, and a crab and a lobster. What can you say? If the fish is fresh -- and this was -- there's not much to do but eat it. The local oysters are mostly salty, and lack any subtlety, but the mussels were good and the shrimp -- obviously pre-frozen -- were, too. Freezing hadn't helped the langoustines, which were dry, but the boulots were fat and juicy, and the crab had a lot of meat on it. Not so the rather skinny lobsters, but I really wasn't expecting a Maine special here, not at this price. A bottle of plain-vanilla Picpoul de Pinet, a light, refreshing, uncomplicated white that seems perfect with those local oysters and is inexpensive. One downside of the whole thing was that the ice melted rather quickly, and some of the shellfish got waterlogged. The crab and lobster claws squirted out loads of water, too, making me think they'd been prepared sloppily. But hey, mostly it was flavorful and there was a lot of it.

Here's lookin' atcha:

Restaurant le Grand Bleu, 16, Quai General Durand, 34200 Sète, Tel: 04 67 46 06 12.


  1. I had dinner at le grand bleu last year with Australian friends.

    I have never eaten at le chat perché but after seeing your photos and reading your "review", i feel like going there. Did you know that a long time ago, there was a Tex-mex restaurant at that address?

    Have you got my message? You have not answered it, so I'm wondering if you have received it.....

  2. Great details, Ed. The smile on your face as you raise the glass says it all.

    I wonder if fish are becoming harder to find due to the collapse of the Med fishery, as it has in Greece? Also, what's the oyster scene?

  3. I've eaten at quite a few places around town (in your price range, which is also mine), and in my humble opinion, Le Grillardin is one of the best places we've got. I take everyone there. And reserve in advance!

  4. holy moly, this was torture to read right before lunch!!

  5. Just noticed that the Bistro Gourmand has Risotto aux Cepes on the menu. Now if I only had enough allowance left to afford it...Have you tried the cepes at the market yet, btw? I normally wouldn't recommend a one-euro mushroom, but these things are great!

  6. @Joe Nick: The oysters here collapsed some years back because of some infection, but they've been brought back. Fish seem to be in pretty good shape locally; I assume most of the stuff I see is taken within a couple hundred miles of here. I don't eat enough fish, though, to be certain.

    @Gerry: Cepes are 12.50/kg at the Arceaux market, but I rarely use them fresh, preferring the dried ones. That said, I do make a killer mushroom pesto from them, so maybe I should go sell some blood or something and grab some before they disappear.

  7. Chat Perche is my favorite restaurant anywhere.

  8. That picture of you at the bottom is adorbs!!!


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