My husband and I keep having the same debate. I argue that Nantes, our adopted city, does not have a local cuisine as much as she has a choice selection of fabulous local ingredients, these ingredients the basis for a wide variety of pure, clean, simple dishes that are created to highlight the quality and freshness of sea scallops, sardines, tomatoes, carrots, lamb’s lettuce, among others, these ingredients the basis for Nantes’ quiet but assertive renown as a gastronomic city. My husband, passionate and knowledgeable about food and an even better cook than I, disagrees, arguing for Nantes’ stunningly simple and elegant cuisine bourgeoise, a cuisine born from the wealth and modest sophistication of her former ruling class, nobles and merchants alike, as much as a consequence of the fine and exquisite products of this port city.
But other than such traditional recipes as the gâteau nantais, la fouace nantaise, caramel au beurre salé or the beurre blanc nantais, there are surely no truly emblematic dishes. Nantes, as I have before written, sits comfortably between water and land, the ocean and the river, a terroir lush and fertile within kissing distance of Brittany, the Vendée and the Loire in which a diversity of delicacies such as eel and oysters and tender green asparagus, not to mention the fleur de sel de Guerande, offer a fresh palette of flavors and textures, endless possibilities for creativity and imagination. Add to that an amazing selection of local wines, from Muscadet and Gros Plant to the neighboring wines of Anjou and Saumur, we are never short of a glorious meal.
The closeness of Nantes to Brittany and regions washed by both the Atlantic and the Loire River has influenced her own cuisine for centuries, yet while dining on crêpes and cider, moules marinières, Kouign Amann and Far Breton, she has been able to retain her individuality in no uncertain terms, creating her own unique identity. The importance of Nantes as a great port city, for centuries the crossroads between Europe, Africa, the Americas, the West Indies and all that lay between, meant the influence of the spices, sugar, fruits and liqueur brought to her shores on boats great and small, adding an exotic twist, a light kick of rum, the scent of vanilla, the bite of pepper, the hint of almonds and lemon to her cuisine, making all who cooked here curious and adventurous. Light and ethereal, no heavy sauces or overpowering buttery concoctions to drown out and hide the delicate, subtle character of the raw ingredients, the food, the dishes we eat every day need no extravagant elaboration, no flashy, complicated enhancement. Nantes’ culinary identity is based on the simple yet intriguing combination of local, seasonal ingredients and very little more. Give us a platter of freshly steamed and raw seafood, lightly grilled sardines with a glass of Muscadet and we are happy.
One reason husband and I love living in Nantes and in the Pays de la Loire is that creativity and diversity we find in our local eating places. Yes, there are crêperies galore, our favorite kabob (Le Couche Tard) and pizza (Pinocchio) joints (not to forget my favorite artisan chocolatier/pâtissier Vincent Guerlais), the choice of restaurants, bistros and brasseries is ever growing. Just the abundance and quality of those natural ingredients, the network of local producers, draws so many talented chefs to the region, to our city. We, of course, have our fetish restaurants such as Les Bouteilles or our latest discoveries and newest passions, La Raffinerie (chef Nicolas Bourget) and Song Saveur & Sens (chef Nhung Phung) not to forget the magnificent La Mare aux Oiseaux (Michelin starred chef Éric Guérin) an hour outside of the city. But the number of excellent restaurants and extraordinary chefs in Nantes means that we can pursue a culinary adventure, embark on a gastronomic voyage of discovery as often as we step out the door.
Which is why I was thrilled to be invited by Nantes Tourisme and Voyage à Nantes to their party launching the second Restaurant Guide les Tables de Nantes 2013. The guide offers a selection of 97 restaurants in Nantes and surrounding suburbs, 31 more than last year’s guide, as well as a selection of wine bars. The committee representing Nantes Tourisme and Voyage à Nantes, in partnership with Nantes Métropole and Vins de Loire, set out to promote the quality and diversity of the city’s establishments by selecting and highlighting those restaurants and chefs who use – with respect - fresh, local ingredients with a special mention of those who also feature and serve regional wines. Service and ambiance in conjunction with the creativity and savoir-faire in the kitchen and on the plate each play an important role in creating an all-around sensory dining experience, a pleasurable culinary voyage and thus qualifying for the guide.
But the soirée and the guide held a special bonus for those of us who love a perfect gastronomic experience… who love to eat: Les Coups de Coeur, the Jury’s Favorites… the special mention of 3 restaurants who are not so much “the best” but rather special discoveries that are not only worth the visit but worth following. The 3 restaurants designated, the 3 young chefs selected not only highlight the best of Nantes’ produce and ingredients, but raise them to something extraordinary, offering the diner a sensational gustatory and sensory experience while keeping in the spirit of la cuisine nantaise. This years’ Coups de Coeur were
And lucky were we to be offered a taste of each of these 3 young chefs’ creations while we chatted the rest of the evening away. With glasses of Muscadet, bien sur.
I sit and flip through my own copy of this lovely little booklet and see many names I recognize and a few that I don’t. Voyage à Nantes, The Journey to Nantes, was created to promote ”the rich cultural and culinary panorama” that is Nantes. Through projects, happenings and events, the visitor is accompanied and guided through this wonderful city on a “cultural trail”, offering each and every perspective of the city and her heritage, to share the beauty, art and complexity of our modest, diverse city in a clear, concise way. Les Tables de Nantes does the same for food, accompanying the visitor – and the local – on a gastronomic, gustatory trail of discovery and delight. We may be a rather small city, but don’t be fooled! Nantes is most definitely a gastronomic destination as is so evident in the pages of Les Tables de Nantes!
Please visit the websites for:
Le Voyage à Nantes
Les Tables de Nantes
La Folle Journée
Les Machines de l’Ile
Vins de Loire
A special thank you to Florence of Nantes Tourisme and Marie-Laure of Voyage à Nantes for the invitation… and for finally including me in the family of local food bloggers/journalists!
* Photos of the 3 chefs are courtesy of Les Tables de Nantes and Voyage à Nantes! Merci!
** The Creator, who made man such that he must eat to live, invites him to eat by means of appetite, and rewards him with pleasure.