If you're interested in more about Normandy than the D-Day assault, you can't do much better
than stay in Bayeux. It's a small, walkable town on the train line from Paris to Cherbourg, and it was spared almost completely during the Allied landing and German defense, unlike, say, Caen. There's a lot more to it than the famous Bayeux Tapestry. In fact, Mr. T, the Duchess of Escargot and I spent three nights there, went to D-Day sites one day, and were so occupied the remainder of the time that we never got to the tapestry.
And of course, the eating is excellent.
We were there in the autumn, a time of year I'm convinced is very good for much of Europe and the UK. Bayeux clearly must be extremely busy in the summer and get lots of British tourism, a bonus that makes for lots of English-speakers in shops, restaurants and hotels. For others like me who love street markets, the market day is Saturday, on the Place San Patrice, just north of the main thoroughfare.
We ambled into la Table du Terroir for a late lunch the day we arrived. This little spot on the main street, whose name changes every few blocks but here is rue St. Jean, has two dining rooms and outside dining, with a menu that leans toward local food, as the name promises. A first course seafood platter at lunch offered shrimp, mussels and an oyster, all cold and fresh, and some fine onion soup, for instance. Another night, tired and not wanting to walk very far, we wandered in only to be recognized by the waiter from the previous visit - to the point where he recalled where we sat. A fine duck in a red wine sauce satisfied, and an apple tart with ice cream was very nice indeed. And there were winkles - in French, bigorneau, much like snails, but chilled and spicy. (Photo below.) Crowded in the summer, we understand, and despite the fact that it's bigger than it looks, reservations suggested then.
La Table du Terroir
42, rue St. Jean, Bayeux
33 02 31 51 08 85
Lunch and Dinner Thurs.-Tues.
Bayeux's cathedral, despite its considerable size, nearly as big as Notre Dame in Paris, fronts onto a cozy little square. Scarcely a block away is le Pommier, where I stopped for lunch and brought back my pals for dinner. The interior is modern, with rough walls painted over and a long, comfortable banquette in one of the three dining rooms. It's casual enough that a French couple were lunching with their two small children. The young gentleman was discussing the kinds of cheese pictured on his paper place mat with his father, and just hearing a 5-year-old saying "Pont l'Eveque" makes an old chowhound like moi smile.
I had tripes Normand (above) for lunch - I love tripe, and this was cooked with beef shank to make the broth even richer. When we returned for dinner, there was foie gras and and andouilette sausage to begin, pork in a Neuchatel cheese sauce and a steak, among other things. Profiteroles, housemade ice cream and a cheese plate finished things off - as well as a nice view of the cathedral lit up. Smooth service, clearly family-owned, and very hospitable.
The website has an English version, and a way to make reservations.
38-40 rue des Cuisiniers (that's Cooks' Street!), Bayeux
33 02 31 21 52 10
Lunch and Dinner daily
The best, however, was La Rapiere, down an alleyway off rue St. Jean. If you're going, stop reading and go make a reservation now. (They have an English translation on their website, and they, too, let you make reservations online.) It's very small and intimate, a stone fireplace gently sizzling and crackling, the sort of spot with plenty of regulars - but clearly a spot that's serious about their food, serious without what Americans would call an attitude. Ingredients are trditional French, but the presentation and some of the approach is modern. Oysters with a mignonette sauce, yes, but also prawns lolling on a small mound of risotto to begin with. Duck came with what seemed to be a simple pan sauce, but there were notes of thyme, bay leaf, a hit of tartness and just a bit of red currant, absolutely stunning. Pheasant, described as being in the Moroccan style, wore a sauce with notes of onion, cumin, cardamom and just a faint hint of cinnamon, subtle, but able to stand up to the rich dark meat. Almost as good as the duck.
An orb of orange marmalade mousse was glazed in chocolate. A small cheesecake, mild and soft, was topped with a ring of sauteed tart apple and a salted caramel sauce, slightly runny, was lighter than any chesecake has a right to be.
And as a bonus, the prix fixe meals, which run from 29 to 52 Euros, all include an entremet - in this case, a take on the tradition of a trou Normand, a shot of Calvados between courses to "open up the stomach" for more. Here, the Calvados was turned into a wee scoop of sorbet, still soft from the alcohol.
The staff are clearly proud of their food, but the atmosphere is warm, and the farewell at the door felt as though we'd been visiting in a private home. But La Rapiere is very popular, and we were lucky to get a table at all. They've got two forks in Michelin.
This is extraordinary value for the money, and particularly if one follows Pollacks' First Law, restaurants set their own standards by the way they price themselves, Mr. T may have been right when he said he thought this may have been the best meal of the trip. It cerainly hit the trifecta, food, service and decor.
53, rue St. Jean, Bayeux
33 02 31 21 05 45
Lunch and Dinner Tues.-Sat.