Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

It's not because the place has a pizza oven ...

The restaurant under the arcades in Pont-à-Mousson was named after its landlord: Pierre Bonaventure. And what a congenial landlord he was!

When we asked for a table for two the young woman behind the bar shook her head. “Sorry, we’re full. But if you care to wait, you can have an aperitif on the house.” We liked the idea and squeezed ourselves among the other patrons that were waiting by the bar. At the back of the room a man was shoving large juicy steaks in a pizza oven in which a wood fire was burning. He was perspiring abundantly. Fascinated we watched how he first coated the steaks with aromatized oil. Next he laid them on a metal tray. Using a traditional pizza shovel he then put the steaks in the middle of the oven, at a safe distance from the hot logs.

2008: we had booked in advance and came in early.
That's why the place is still empty.

We were each given a glass of local rosé wine, called ‘Gris de Toul’ and a small bowl of crisps and green olives. Hardly twenty minutes later, we were shown to one of the tables facing the bar. By then we had learned that beef, in all sizes and shapes was the specialty of the house. As a gesture to non-meat eaters the menu card featured grilled salmon … but that was it. The choice of special beef cuts was impressive though, ranging from the traditional ‘entrecôte’, ‘onglet’, and ‘filet pur’ to the more exclusive ‘tablier du sapeur’ and the ultimate delicacy: ‘la pièce du boucher’. The latter means ‘the butcher’s choice’, meaning THE best part that the butcher is likely to keep for himself. We were tempted to order ‘this rare piece of beef’ until we noticed that it came as one solid piece weighing something in between 350 and 400 gr. … per person!  Now, I don't know about you, but for me that is way too much!

Instead we had the ‘faux filet’ steak with pepper sauce, oven-roasted potatoes and green garden beans. We ordered a bottle of the ‘Gris de Toul’; Toul being a small town west of Pont-à-Mousson. For some obscure reason this particular local wine is described as ‘gris’ or even ‘oeil de perdrix’ (partridge’s eye) instead of rosé.

Service was quick, efficient and very friendly. And the food was delicious. When we complimented the waitress on the quality of the meat, she explained that the landlord, who was also ‘operating’ the pizza oven, was a butcher’s son and that he bought all his meat ‘sur pieds’. This means that he goes out to the local farms where the cattle are raised. He picks the animals he suspects having the most tender and tastiest meat.

By the time we had finished our lunch most patrons had left and returned to their offices. The embers in the pizza oven were slowly dying when the landlord walked over to our table to enquire whether we had enjoyed our meal. When he heard that were from Belgium, he pulled up a chair and offered us a pousse-café. He told us about his plans to open a similar restaurant in Brussels. His son, who was 17 at the time, was to become the manager of this new restaurant. He therefore wanted to know what was the best area in the city to start such a business and whether the Belgians would like the ‘steak-in-pizza-oven’ concept. Those things are always hard to tell in advance, of course. So we simply said that we loved the idea and the food and that other people would probably appreciate it too.

Since that first visit we have been returning to Pierre Bonaventure’s restaurant in Pont-à-Mousson each time we are passing through the area. Beef is still the restaurant’s specialty, but nowadays you can also get sardines, lobster, … all roasted in the famous pizza oven.

Pierre never opened a similar restaurant in Brussels though, which is a real shame as I’m sure the concept has a lot of potential. Do you think it would work in - say - London, New York, Montréal or Melbourne?



Nadege said...

It sounds like a really great place. I have seen chefs spreading themselves too thin opening right and left and suddenly close down. Plus now days, I am not sure restaurants are doing that well so maybe it is better they didn't open that restaurant in Bruxelles.

The Beaver said...

Good restaurants , especially nice steak places do very well in Montréal- especially in the heart of downtown because during the week , one can cater to the business people and in the evenings or WEs -to the tourists or those from suburbia like me who go downtown for hockey matches, theatres or concert halls.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of cooking other foods in a pizza oven. How clever! Sounds like a wonderful place.

ladybird said...

Nadege, I've read somewhere that 80% of the new restaurants close down within the year of their creation. I think people often underestimate the effort it takes to put good food on the table day after day.

The Beaver, A colleague of mine just got back from a two weeks trip to Canada and she told me that Montreal is a fabulous city with lost to see and do and extremely friendly people. I guess that you are one of them ! :)

Dedene, We just love this restaurant. However, to European standards, it's just too far to go regularly.