Many years ago, a July offered us a month of rainy days. Black and gloomy, no rest for the weary, rain day in, rain day out. Rain, incessant, insistent rain. Yet we awoke that fateful day, the 23rd of that long-ago July, to a sky painted baby blue. I stepped out onto the street dressed all in white, my wild mane of dark, dark hair against a backdrop of brilliant sunlight, a glorious summer day and we walked to the town hall to be married. A month of rainy days broken by one single day of summer splendor.
This month of January has been little more than a dreary string of comfortless days of rain. We’ve huddled inside for weeks now, staring out the window, watching the world scurry by, hurry through the raindrops slithering down, the rumble of the tramway below matching the grumble of storm clouds. The urge to take a breath of fresh air, a stroll around town has been quashed day after day, as the rain just does not let up. Our moods straining under the outside gloom, we flip on the apartment lights and wonder when this month of January will see a flurry of snow or a streak of light. Yet we awoke that fateful day, the 28th of the month, to the sun peeping through the cracks of the old wooden shutters. Drawing them higher, our eyes squinting against the vigorous, near violent flood of sunlight pushing to get in, a glorious day wished me a very happy birthday.
Truth be told, I almost forgot my birthday this year. Maybe its age, maybe it’s the desire to begin to forget the ticking of time passing, maybe I have simply been too busy lately. But I hadn’t thought about my celebration until I slipped in between the sheets the night before and it suddenly hit me. My birthday. I knew nothing in particular had been planned, but that didn’t really matter; I knew that JP would devote the entire day and his undivided attention to me and only me. And oddly, destiny always has a hand in things, teasing our senses and toying with our expectations, and like a cat, we always end up falling on our feet.
The day began with a walk in the park on the outskirts of the city.
Back home, rubbing the dirt off of Marty and tucking him back into bed, we approach the topic of lunch head on. Alone for the day, we decide to slip on better shoes and nicer jeans and go out for a celebratory meal en tête-à-tête. Ideas bounce back and forth, names of restaurants and lunch joints ticking off our lips like delicate little ping pong balls. We sidle up to the blackboard posted outside of the neighborhood Irish pub and peruse the long list of salads and our choice is made. We push through the door and are politely yet firmly told that all the tables are booked. Ah, destiny, it seems …. Back into the street I suggest Lulu Rouget, which is just down the stairs and across the street. I first heard about this lovely little restaurant at the launching of the 2013 edition of Les Tables de Nantes restaurant guide back in November. Lulu Rouget was one of three local eateries to be named a Coup de Coeur, a favorite of the jury. The restaurant was selected and lauded for its unique and creative cuisine based on the highest quality local ingredients.
The young owner/chef of Lulu Rouget, Ludovic Pouzelgues is part of the new guard of la Cuisine Française, dedicated and passionate, basing an inventive cuisine on the simplicity, the flavors and textures of only the highest quality, freshest local products. I was truly swept off my feet hearing him speak about Nantes, the city and the region’s gastronomic riches with enthusiasm and devotion. Since November, JP and I have often walked in front of Lulu Rouget. Each time we do, we pause in front of the elegant charcoal walls, the amusing red and white logo swimming across the plate glass window, ogle the menu posted out front and promise ourselves to go one day. And it seems as if destiny has brought us here today.
We are greeted warmly at the door and offered the two seats at the bar, which is perfect as it gives me a view directly into the kitchen and of the chef at work.
There is no à la carte; Lulu Rouget proposes a menu du marché unique for lunch – one starter (entrée), a choice of two main courses (plats), one fish, one meat, and a single dessert. Pouzelgues works only with fresh, seasonal, local products so limits what he offers to the best, to just a few creations.
Salade “canaille” (rascal or scamp) of finely minced pieds de veau (calf’s foot) on a bed of mixed greens dressed with a creamy, tangy, vinaigrette. Never would I have imagined finding myself eating pieds de veau but there you have it, it was that good; the slightly sweet meat playing off the tart vinaigrette and the cool freshness of the greens, the slightly chewy meat complemented by the crunch of the croutons.
Lieu jaune, poireaux grilles, flocons de sarrasin - a wonder, a perfect blending of smooth sweetness from the creamy, near whipped parsnip purée upon which the pollock was placed, the nutty crunch of the toasted buckwheat scattered atop, meltingly perfect fish, accented by one single lovely, perfectly grilled, organic leek. The whole highlighted by an herbed crème fraîche. No words to describe perfection, nearly impossible to communicate the voluptuous textures, the surprise of the buckwheat, the perfect – astonishing – gentle wave of flavors playing on the tongue .
The perfect île flottante – traditional, artisan, just as the menu claims. I couldn’t resist. Who could? Is perfect too strong a word? How about sublime, in the cool crème anglaise, less sweet than what one is used to, allowing the hint of vanilla to assert itself ever so gently, mellow enough to balance the drizzle of salted butter caramel? How about impeccable, in the ethereal lightness of the poached whites; not moussy, as some are, not dense as are others, nor uneven in their ultimate quality? An extraordinary île flottante – and I’ve eaten many – but how can I be surprised when Pouzelgues was trained by Nantes’ very own Vincent Guerlais, chocolatier-pâtissier extraordinaire?
In the evening, Lulu Rouget offers clients the choice of two menus: 'les yeux ouverts' or 'les yeux fermés' : choose the former – ‘eyes open’ – and you know what to expect. But choose the other – ‘eyes closed’ – and you’ve put yourself blindly, confidently into the hands of the young chef, leaving him carte blanche to prepare whatever he chooses, creating whatever the days freshest products and his imagination inspire. No need to wait for the next birthday, the next celebration. We will be back to experience another extraordinary meal at Lulu Rouget, les yeux fermés.
I needed nothing more this day except a quiet evening in with the family and homemade crêpes, from my husband, from the heart.
1 rue Cheval Blanc
tél: 02 40 47 47 98