Today dawned beautiful, with mild temperatures and mostly blue sky. We decide all we wanted for breakfast was coffee and a sweet roll, and we ended up L'Ocean, a Michelin one-star walking to the railway station to get it. Thus fortified, we studied railroad information for quite a while, getting a bunch of different schedules from the racks and going back again and again with different questions to the nice information clerk, who was fortunately not too busy on a holiday morning.
We finally decided on an excursion to Le Croisic, about an hour west of Nantes, right out on the coast. It was on a TGV (train de grande vitesse -- the fancy high-speed trains most of which are long-distance), and therefore reservations were obligatoire. It left in forty minutes. But wait! We had left the camera in the hotel room. Well, we might just make it. So we walked as fast as people of our age do, and got back to the station two minutes before Beautiful coast the train was due to leave. It was on time.
We went to the window with the nice clerk, who agreed we didn't have time to make reservations. He told us to speak to the controleur before boarding the train. We thanked him, and went down the ramp and under the tracks to number 5. (The tracks in Nantes are numbered 1 to 12 and 52 to 54. Don't ask us why.) A whole bunch of people were getting off the train and coursing down the ramp. We got to the far right and strode purposefully up the ramp, reaching the top just at the end of the pulse of exiting passengers. We stared at the TGV. Everybody was on board. There were two SNCF guys talking at the door to one car. We approached.
"Oh, all right, get on!" he said in French after we had explained our predicament. So we never paid the reservation fee. After the train started, we had a chance to talk with the conductor, explaining our unfamiliarity with the reservations system. He in turn reviewed the train schedule with us and ended Village church up giving us his copy of the current schedule. It is a lovely train, even prettier than the German / Dutch high-speed train, and it was unexpectedly full of passengers. It takes just over two hours from Paris to Nantes, which is really quite fast, so these passengers were all going to the seashore for the weekend. (We suspect Monday is a day off from work because Armistice Day falls on a Saturday.) And lots of them were traveling first class and were dressed to the nines, so we gathered that some of these locations were rather fashionable seaside resorts.
Le Croisic is the end of the line. We left the station, and walked five or six blocks to . . . . the ocean. Which, by the way, was the name of the restaurant we had picked out of the Michelin Red Guide: L'Ocean. It is a one star.
The Michelin Red Guide for France is 1723 pages long. It lists hotels Ship model above the altar and restaurants in every little town and big city in France. There must be at least 10,000 restaurants in the guide. Of these, the highest rating is three stars; 22 restaurants. An additional 70 restaurants receive two stars, and 407 get one star. The rest don't get any stars.
The ocean (Atlantic type, wet, Mark One, Mod One) looked terrific, with lovely breakers, sunny with scudding clouds. The Ocean Restaurant looked rather plain, could use a coat of paint, but it was open for business.
We had lobster bisque and fisherman's soup, followed by baked sea bass and Coquilles St. Jacques with a tiny vegetable sauce, and then two desserts -- Voltaire, which was a cold chocolate cake with custard filling and sauce, and a green lemon souffle which tasted a little like key lime. We told the waiter we had read the Michelin guide, and he laughed, mentioning the lobster bisque and Coquilles St. Jacques, which were two dishes specifically mentioned in the guide! Marina
Each of the dishes came with their little accompaniments and flourishes: croutons, bread circles with emulsified oil and grated cheese, dishes of sauce, little candies after dinner. The sea bass was delivered on a platter, and the woman maitre d' appeared benevolently in her severe grey suit with the off-white lacy blouse, and, using two spoons, proceeded to de-fin the fish, peel off the skin, scoop off the filet onto the dinner plate, remove the skeleton, flip the bass over, peel off the other skin, and serve the other filet, all in the twinkling of an eye.
We haven't had much experience with French restaurants, and what we have had has always been good (even when we get upset with the arbitrary rules, the food is great) but we would have to agree with Michelin that this was worth one star. Oh my, yes. All through this most agreeable luncheon we sat at a table next to the window which hung out over the rocks; by the end of lunch the tide had come in and was lapping next to the restaurant. The sun glinted so brightly A typical white stone house off the waves that we wore sunglasses to suppress the glare. There were three or four sailboats near the horizon. The view reminded us of the Chart House in Malibu, but the building was much older. It also had 14 guest rooms.
We lingered for a couple of hours. The restaurant was not crowded, but there were plenty of customers, including one big family group of fourteen. There was also a most amazing table of four people -- one man and three women, late sixties, dressed the way people of that age dressed in Cleveland, Ohio, on a Saturday morning in 1955 after a trip downtown to shop at Halle's. What was amazing was that a little toy poodle sat quietly on the lap of one of the women for the entire duration of their luncheon. Wish we had had a spy camera!
As we left the restaurant we saw their fish tanks arrayed along the Le Croisic street scene landward side. Separate holding areas contained live lobsters, crabs, oysters and several other species of seafood. No wonder they advertise All Fresh Fish.
We still had a couple of hours before the train back to Nantes, so we walked through the town of Le Croisic, into the church dating to 1400 where the organist was practicing Pomp and Circumstance, to the marina where a man was washing down his sails. Weekenders were strolling, riding bikes, or simply opening their houses for the next few days.
We were so mellow from the luncheon that we didn't even mind too much when the train stopped and we all had to get off and board a bus for an hour-long ride to Nantes. But this was the second time it has happened during our railroad jaunts, so it has to be counted as a predictable risk of railway travel, and in this case the presence of railroad officials was visible at each transfer point, we were asked whether we had other changes to make, and consequently everything seemed more under control than in the Netherlands.