" On the way to Tilcara and Humahuaca, the landscape is unreal, the color tones of the earth, and the huge mountains, are all overwhelming"

Quechua ladies of Peru

View from our Dorado Beach Hotel terrace.

Rafting in the Rio Paquare, Costa Rica was an exhilirating, heart thumping experience

I ticked off another destination on my bucket list and, in retrospect, am finding it hard to determine which vacation I loved more: the South African Safari http://singita.com/ or a recent trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Aperitif on the beach at sunset, in Grand Cayman, is priceless

Brittany July 1999

By: Esilda Buxbaum

In July of 1999, we were back in Brittany to attend a family wedding. It turned out to be a typical French country wedding -- a ceremony in a 15th century Gothic church followed by three days of eating, drinking, singing and dancing. The huge nonstop platters of shrimp, saltwater crayfish, crabs and spider crabs with homemade mayonnaise will long be remembered. Almost as noteworthy is that we arrived as "Les Américains" and left, or at least Esilda left, as The American Who Ate the Pigs Feet in Aspic and Returned for a Second Helping. Even among those who eschew McDonald's, few contemporary Bretons are hungry enough to deal with so little meat and so much bone and gristle; however, gastronomy is still a respected art form even by those who no longer actively practice it. In the days after the celebration, for very reasonable prices we had two exceptional restaurant meals, both worth writing home about.


Pont Aven

Le Moulin de Rosmadec

Pont Aven is a town of exceptional charm. The dozen or so small mills, each with its water wheel and attendant locks on the River Aven, are quite picturesque, although not operational. The river is little more than a stream with verdant banks until it opens up in the harbor on the far side of town. Less charming are the hordes of tourists who visit each day. Least charming are the tourist galleries whose paintings are a far cry from the cutting edge "synthesist" art developed by Gauguin and his cronies at the turn of the century. (A visit in spring or fall, when tourism wanes a bit, can be quite rewarding.)

Those of us with other tastes in mind head for the stores offering the wonderful caramels of the area and the cookies for which Pont Aven is justly famous. These shops are shrines to the rich salt butter of the region and are excellent way stations for pilgrims of the good table looking for souvenirs.

Two years ago we passed through Pont Aven rather quickly, but the Moulin de Rosmadec caught our eye. This converted 15th century stone and wood mill, with the added attraction of a Michelin star and a page in the Tables et Saveurs de Bretagne guide, would have been a lovely place to stop and eat but it was fully booked. We resolved to reserve ahead the next time we were in the area.

Le Moulin de Rosmadec, proud owner of a Michelin star since 1935, offers a wonderful combination of sophisticated dining in a provincial setting. The welcoming atmosphere of the charming and cozy interior lived up to our anticipation. Pierre Sébilleau and his two sons Frédéric and Franck pride themselves on their quietly classic cuisine and scoff at food trends. However, the soy sauce butter served with the grilled sea bass is one indication that the menu wasn't composed in 1935. The classics are still a plesasure and the contemporary dishes are rended as if they were classics.

We ignored the 165 franc menu, which was probably a bargain, but not suited to our gastronomic mood. Esilda's 298 franc five course menu began with a flan tiède de St.Pierre au coulis de langoustines. The intense langoustine coulis, with an unexpected garnish of chopped black truffles, was heavenly. A julienne of zucchini and leeks and some fried salsify chips rounded off this simple comfort food custard. Following this hors d'oeuvre was the aforementioned blanc de bar grillé au beurre de soja, grilled sea bass with a delicate soy sauce glaze, that offered a convincing argument that the kitchen is not stuck in time. The accompanying mashed potatoes were rich with butter and cream while fried leeks offered texture and color. For the main course, Esilda had the assiette d'agneau "cervelle, ris, rognon, côte." The lamb parts -- brains, sweetbreads, kidney and baby lamb chop -- were simply cooked to perfection, rosé as Esilda had ordered. While the kidney would have benefitted from some trimming, the sauce redeemed the dish.

Esilda's fifty dollar meal included a good, if not extensive, selection of cheeses and finished with a simple dessert, chaud-froid de fruits à la pistache, warm strawberry and peach slices in a crème anglaise sauce with pistachio ice cream. The richness of the vanilla custard sauce came as no surprise, given the superb eggs we had been enjoying in Brittany.

My Menu Tradition at 398 francs was far simpler with three courses, albeit three very grand courses. It began with a good slice of the chef's fine cold duck foie gras terrine with aspic and a small salad and was followed by the house specialty, homard grillé Rosmadec et ses deux beurres. The half lobster arrived in the shell and swimming in hot herb butter with a Bearnaise sauce on the side (should one need more butter). A small tub of compound butter arrived lest there not be enough butter already in the shell.

For dessert I entrusted the hostess to choose between le soufflé Grand Marnier and les crêpes soufflées au citron. The crêpes, filled with a lemon soufflé and served with a blackberry coulis, were the epitome of an old fashioned sort of dessert not usually taken to such heights nor prepared so well. It was every bit as good as promised and the simple, but most expensive meal on the carte, seemed well worth its price.

A nice bottle of Pouilly Fumé took us through most of our meal, supplemented with a glass of Cérons to accompany the foie gras and a couple of glasses of Madiran for the lamb and cheese courses. All told, the meal ran to 898 francs (about $150) for two, including tax, service, wine and coffee.

There are four rooms for guests to stay at the inn, but unfortunately they were already booked by the time we called. We found a very nice, although small, room at a reasonable price just a short walk away in the Hotel Roz-Aven on the quay.


From Pont-Aven, we intended to drive up to the center of the peninsula and spend an afternoon at the Lac de Guerlédan, but a drizzly day changed our plans. Instead, we drove back to Lorient to stock up on our favorite Gwenn Ha Du, Breton for Black and White, brand caramels. (These are the best we've found in Brittany and we felt rewarded for our foresight as we learned they are not widely distributed, even in Brittany. Look for these delicious caramelized sugar and Breton salt butter bonbons in the southeastern part of Brittany. We first spotted them in a pâtisserie in Guérande.) The coolness also prompted us to finally pick up a traditional Breton boatneck sailor's jersey at an outdoor market. The Anne ar Breiz (Breton for Anne of Brittany) brand seemed bon marché and a good compromise between the very expensive ones seen for sale in New York City and the very cheap ones that proliferate in the markets. It's washed well and remains a favorite of mine.


 

Quistinic

Poul-Fetan

For centuries the village was home to three or four families. It was inhabited until 1970 when it was acquired by the Quistinic community. Restoration of the thatched roof cottages (chaumières) was completed in 1992 and the farmland was restored between 1992 and 1994. Visitors can now see how life was lived in the middle of the 19th century in Brittany. The inn in Poul-Fetan has cider and Breton foods at midday and in the evening and there's a gîte for overnight guests.

village photos


 

Mûr de Bretagne

Auberge Grand'Maison

Although our plan to spend the afternoon at the Lac de Geurlédan was washed out by the day's rain, we kept our dinner and hotel reservations in nearby Mûr de Bretagne. Dinner at the one star Auberge Grand'Maison was more than sufficient reason to spend the night. Our large, comfortable and tastefully furnished room was a great buy at 480 francs, particularly in relation to prices on the coast. The dining room is a bit kitschy, but we focused on the food and the stone walls rather than the paintings.

The Auberge offers a wide range of à la carte choices and prix fixe menus starting at 150 francs for the businessman's lunch menu from which one could compose a meal of potato pancakes and smoked fish with cream sauce, cold salmon with vegetables, and dessert. At the high end, for 420 francs, La Fête offered foie gras and crayfish with spicebread, lobster with crisp vegetables in a lobster cream sauce, a choice of pigeon, farm raised milk fed veal, or wild turbot, cheese and dessert.

After three days of feasting at the wedding and hearty dinner the night before, we opted for the prix fixe menu at a moderate 230 francs with a great choice of selections for each course. For a starter, Esilda chose la cassolette de queues de languostines, crème de petits pois, jeune laitue braisée, saucisse de campagne fumé and found it an almost perfect combination of expertly cooked sweet crayfish on a bed of braised lettuce with a sweet pea cream sauce all offset by smoked sausage (that may have been too peppery -- I can't confirm this as she all but licked the plate clean and left nothing for me to taste).

I was left to content myself with les cannellonis de céleri à l'araignée de mer et au crabe, ragoût de coques au fenouil. I expected celery and meat of the two species of crab to fill a cannelloni pasta, but was delighted to see the description was one of those nouvelle cuisine word plays on traditional food. Thinly sliced celery root cooked until pliable and then elegantly wrapped around the crabmeat arrived in a sauce of tiny clams and fennel.

This creative meal of complex -- yet harmonious -- flavors continued with les mini-tournedos de pieds de porc, galettes de pommes de terre à l'andouille "façon campagne" for Esilda and le fameux pigeonneau de Sainte Anne d'Auray cuisiné en bécasse for me. Both dishes may take some explanation.

The former, mini patties of minced pigs feet, were spectacular. This rather peasant dish -- raised to a level of haute cuisine -- rivaled those we had at Café Boulud in New York. The circle of browned, overlapping sliced fingerling potatoes with bits of smoked Breton chittling sausage was an appropriately earthy accompaniment. Pig heaven.

I had no idea that the squab pigeons of Sainte Anne d'Auray were famous, but I will vouch for the delicious flavor of those cooked by Jacques Guillo in Mûr de Bretagne. My squab was served rare in an almost black sauce richly flavored with the liver and offal of the bird and, I suspect, thickened with its blood. (This may be why the name of the dish refers to bécasse, or woodcook, that is cooked in the same manner.)

A cheese course was followed by l'allumette feuilletée aux fraises de Plougastel, glace aux pistaches, coulis de fruits au vinaigre balsamique for Esilda. She expected a light dessert of a little ice cream with a few berries. She was surprised by a rich, delicious combination of strawberries, blackberries, whipped cream and layers of very light, buttery puff pastry nicely balanced by a fruit sauce spiked with balsamic vinegar. My croustilliant "châpeau breton" au café et à la marscapone, glace au miel de blé noir, a chocolate, coffee and marscapone cream dessert with buckwheat honey ice cream, arrived in the shape of a traditional Breton hat.

We had half bottles of Chablis with the seafood and Bordeaux with the meat, and glasses of Côteaux de l'Aubance with the fruit pastry and Maury with the coffee dessert. The total price of our dinner with wine, mineral water and coffee came to 898 francs. Coincidently, the exact same price dinner the previous evening in Pont Aven.