Europe 2016 – Part 3 – Haute Savoie – Annecy, Chambery, Grenoble

September 27:

We got an early start from Alba and headed to Annecy, where we would spend the next three days. We stopped on the way in Chambery for lunch and sightseeing.



As we walked around, we checked out several restaurants listed in Michelin to find the most promising for lunch. We ended up choosing very well.

Onze Grandes et Trois Petites


The 19.50 euro menu included 2 choices for the appetizer and main. We both started with roasted baby eggplants in tomato puree with parmesan, topped with prosciutto. Main courses were leg of pintade (Guinea hen) and lieu (pollock) tempura style in a curry sauce with cabbage. Both showed real creativity. The cheesecake with raspberry coulis was a nice  dessert.

With a bottle of 2014 Luberon and coffee, the bill was about 68 euros.

Continuing on to Annecy, we found our hotel, the Ace Hotel Annecy, after an hour of searching. Poor “Jean” was beside herself.  The hotel is fairly new, as is the street where it is located, so it cannot be found by GPS. It is in Seynod, three kilometers from the center of Annecy, in a new commercial and residential district. It is however very worth seeking out, as it is an incredible value at 54 euros a night. Our room is very comfortable, of decent size, with air conditioning, a good size bathroom,  and a comfortable queen size bed. Sitting on the bed, however, resulted in its collapse due to a wobbly leg.  The intrepid concierge came up quickly to tighten the screw, but that did not last.  She returned with a replacement leg and a tool kit, which did the trick.  All this whilst booking in a steady stream of customers.  Kudos to her. The hotel was packed.


Once settled, we drove five minutes into Annecy and strolled around before dinner at Le Bilboquet. The old part of town has a number of canals, reminiscent of Bruges, Strasbourg and Colmar.

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Le Bilboquet


Amuse bouche – Cauliflower soup with mussels

Assortment of vegetables with a parmesan biscuit

Tartare of saddle of veal

Filet of fera (fish from Lac Leman) with vegetables

Duck breast

Assortment of vanilla-based desserts

Raspberries with meringues (vacherin) and ice cream

The cooking here is creative, presentation is beautiful, and the chef obviously likes to work with vegetables. We drank a Chignin from the local area, and the bill came to 110 euros.

September 28

We headed into town in the late morning, and walked along the canals to the park that borders the lake, checking out restaurants as we meandered about.




Raw fera with marinated onion, potato slices, potato chips and a green sauce

Prawns with curry sauce

Artichokes and fennel

“Hamburgout” from boudin noir, peppers, onion and tomato confit

New potatoes (fingerings) sauteed

Contresens is owned by Laurent Petit, the Michelin 2-star chef of Clos des Sens in Annecy-le-Vieux. He also runs the traditional bistro Cafe Brunet, which is also in Annecy-leVieux. Contresens is large, with a quirky modern design. Service is friendly and attentive. Everything here was simple and delicious, with a wide choice at reasonable prices. There is one price for each course, regardless of which dish you choose, and you can have as few or as many courses as you want. We had a bottle of Cotes du Luberon from Provence for 23 euros. Total with coffee came to 73.

After lunch we drove the entire circumference of the lake, stopped back at the hotel, then headed to Annecy-le-Vieux, which was of little interest until we headed up some steep hills to a point with magnificent views over the city to the lake and mountains in the distance.  Gabriel Faure is the local hero, and his “Requiem” received its premiere in the small church of St Laurent on the plaza at the top of the hill in Annecy-le-Vieux.

For  dinner, as it was Stanley’s birthday, we decided on La Ciboulette, a Michelin-starred restaurant. The menu offered two choices for each course, so we each chose one and shared tastes.

La Ciboulette


La Ciboulette

Canapes –  mini pastry with Roquefort cream, puff pastry with olive tapenade, escargot in parsley foam

Amuse bouche – tomato soup with whipped mozzarella

Foie gras sauteed with fig and onion

Mousseline of fish with crayfish from the lake  in a cream sauce

Saddle of veal with mushrooms, whipped potatoes and vegetables

Monkfish medallions with artichokes, tomatoes and a tomato confit

Cheese course – A selection of cheeses from the Savoie, chosen from the cheese trolley

Poached pear with chocolate cake and chocolate mousse, vanilla ice cream

Raspberry croustillante


Everything was beautifully presented, as expected. Portions were generous, particularly the foie gras, which was two massive pieces. The desserts were particularly beautiful to look at, but were not as intensely flavored as one would hope. We drank a bottle of Saint Joseph 2014, priced at 42 euros. With two aperitifs of kir a peche, the total came to 190. All in all, it was a pretty good value for a four-course meal of this quality.

September 29:

We took a day trip to Grenoble, parked at the Grenoble Museum, and walked through town checking out restaurant possibilities for lunch.Grenoble is not an exciting city. There is some charm to the older part of town, but mostly Grenoble needs a fluff.


As it turned out, the first restaurant we looked at, Le Chasse-Spleen, right across from the museum, had the best looking lunch menu, and the most reasonable price, 18 euros for two courses. The decor is a bit strange, but don’t be put off by it. They also have outdoor seating but of course there were smokers there so we opted for inside.


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We both had a game terrine with warm potato salad and greens. It was a huge portion and very good. Stanley had mussels stuffed with nuts in a saffron sauce with basmati rice and spinach. I had veal shank in an intense reduction, with miniature ravioli, also a very generous plate of food. With a very good bottle of a Cotes de Provence rose at 24 euros and 2 coffees  (served with a chocolate candy) the total was 64.

After lunch, we crossed the street to the museum. The artworks on display range from the 13th to the 20th Century. It wasn’t bad, but was mostly second and third rate artists, with a few works by top artists, though not their best work.  The contemporary art, however, really does have a very well balanced representation of the leading early 20th Century artists.  The building itself is well-designed, with good lighting and plenty of space for viewing the art. There was a special exhibit of Henri Riviere, “Deux etes en Savoie” 1917 to 1918. It was one room with a dozen small paintings: think “how I spent my summer vacation”.

In summary, the high point of a visit to Grenoble could be lunch at Chasse-Spleen. The trip back to Annecy on local roads was a nice scenic drive, though. “Jean” was a stalwart presence.

For dinner, we decided to go back to Contresens, as we had enjoyed yesterday’s lunch so much, and the menu has so many choices. This time we had cold pea soup, mozzarella with red and green tomatoes, lamb chops, hanger steak, artichokes with fennel, fried polenta with a Parmesan crust. For dessert we had a “cafe gourmande”(an assortment of desserts normally served with a cup of coffee, but I left the coffee out so I would be able to sleep later) and “M & M’s reinvented”, a chocolate bombe topped with vanilla ice cream, surrounded by a sauce of chopped M & M’s and peanuts. With aperitifs of kir a peche and a bottle of Madiran, the bill came to 101 euros.

We’ve had a wonderful time in the Haute Savoie.  Tomorrow morning we will drive to Lyon, drop off the rental car, and take the TGV back to Paris for the last four days of our vacation.





Europe 2016 – Part 2 – Piemonte

September 24:

We set out in the morning for our 2-hour TGV trip to Lyon, where we picked up the rental car.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that the car came with GPS, complete with one of those nice ladies with a plummy English accent (Hampshire?).  But we quickly learned that as we approached any French town named “St. Jean de something,”  our GPS lady pronounced it “St. Gene.” As a consequence, we decided to call her “Jean” (not the French pronunciation). We headed off with “Jean” through the Alps to Italy, arriving in Alba in the late afternoon. We quickly located our hotel, just a few kilometers from the city center in Biglini. The Hotel Medea is a 3-star with spacious, nicely decorated rooms and air-conditioning. The furniture is traditional and the bathroom is large and well-equipped. The king-size bed was very comfy. All this for only 70 euros a night is quite a bargain. The location is very convenient both to Alba and to all the restaurants and country drives we had planned.

Here are some photos of our room:


After getting settled, we drove into Alba for the early evening “passeggiata,” the Italian custom of strolling the main streets, perhaps stopping for a snack or drink at a cafe, shopping etc. We managed to find a bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, which is not often seen outside of Spain.

I had planned all of our lunches and dinners well in advance and made reservations, important as these places are all busy and walk-ins are often turned away.  The first dinner was at Osteria Veglio in La Morra,.

Osteria Veglio

Set on a hillside, the Osteria has a terrace with a view over the valley, but it was a bit chilly so we sat in the very attractive dining room.

Dishes we tried:

Vitello tonnato

Agnolotti with meat filling

Pappardelle with lamb ragout


Veal tongue

Raspberries with vanilla gelato

Everything was just right. The vitello tonnato was perfect, rosy veal with a delicious tuna mayonnaise, agnolotti were light as a feather, and the raspberries were plump and sweet, with a huge scoop of wonderful gelato. We had a lovely bottle of 2015 Barbera d’Alba from Renato Ratti, for 14 euros. Total bill was 100 euros.

September 25

We headed into Alba in the late morning, where there was a Sunday market in the main Piazza, and the main street was being prepared for a wine festival later in the day. Then we headed off to lunch at Trattoria Marsupino in Briaglia, about a 40 minute drive South.

Trattoria Marsupino


This restaurant is rustic but elegant, and the dishes show real creativity. We had:

Carpaccio of sturgeon

Baccala ravioli

Testina di Vitella (parts of veal head, including cheeks and gelatinous parts, in Barolo sauce)

Capretto al forno (roasted baby goat)

Liquorice mousse with lemon sauce

All pretty good, the sturgeon was nice to find as it is seldom seen, the goat was a bit tough and had a lot of bone, but was tasty nonetheless. The standout was the dessert. We only ordered one to share, but the kitchen sent out an extra, and we devoured them in minutes, they were so good. An unexpected combination, but a very clever one. With coffee we were served a nice plate of mignardises. The wine list is noticeably more expensive than the other places we went to, but I chose a 2006 Langhe Rosso, “Yeta” from Farigliano, which was very rich and full-bodied, for 23 euros. Total bill was  106 with water and coffee.

After lunch, we took a scenic drive around the Langhe.  We have found that, when a bit of road falls over a cliff, our Italian friends are inclined to put off mending it, and, instead, put out barriers and flashing signs. Our dear “Jean,” however, is overly cautious, and at a number of points tried to steer us down narrow side roads to avoid the barricades. It seemed to get her rather frazzled, but we persevered finding our way back to Alba, where we bought a few food items to take back to Ana and Bertrand when we return to Paris at the end of the week. Cheese with black truffles and a jar of salt with white truffle.  The town was mobbed due to the wine festival, which was very festive.

For dinner, we drove to Ristorante Rabaya in Barbaresco. “Jean” was at a loss and couldn’t find it, but after driving into town and asking at another restaurant for directions, we found it easily.


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There was a nice terrace, but again too chilly to eat out there. Dishes we ate were:

Salad of guinea hen (faraona) with shaved fennel

Cauliflower soup with prawns

Agnolotti with shaved black truffles

Bollito misto

Sweet and sour rabbit

Chocolate semifreddo

We shared the generous portion of guinea hen. The agnolotti were smothered in a blizzard of truffles, which made the dish special. All very nice.  The wine was a 2014 nebbiolo from Barbaresco. Total bill was 100.

On our way home, we thought we could hear the tinkling of ice cubes in “Jean’s” glass.  The poor dear needed a stiff one.

September 26:

We headed off in the morning to Acqui Terme, an ancient Roman spa town South of Asti. It was quite impressive. Here are the photos I took:


The “source” of the hot water in a central plaza, where people stop to let the water run over their arms or legs.2016-09-26-11-36-23T2016-09-26-11-50-04

We found the organist in the Cathedral doing his Monday morning scales.


We thought the restaurant “Arsenic and Old Lace” to be a particularly interesting reference. We did not stop to see if elderberry wine was on the carta dei vini.


We then headed to lunch at Ristorante Belbo da Bardon in San Marzano Oliveto, near Canelli, where we were surrounded mainly by senior citizens  having lunch as their main meal of the day, just like we have seen in England.

Da Bardon


Gnocchi with meat ragu

Roasted rabbit


Fresh local Peach in Moscato wine

Chocolate panna cotta in coffee sauce topped with nuts

I had hoped to try finanziera and this was the first restaurant that had it on the menu, so  of course I ordered it. I love organ meats, so this was quite a treat. It was mostly sweetbreads, there was liver, little meatballs of some kind, several parts I could not identify, mushrooms and peas.  I could eat this every day. With a 2013 Barbera “Mati” (14 euro), coffees and water, the total was 81.

Dinner that night was at La Coccinella in Serravalle Langhe. It’s a bit of a trip from Alba, but well worth the journey. An elegant room, warm and professional service, and superb food make this very special.

Trattoria La Coccinella

Tagliatelle with seafood

Canneloni with duck topped with mushrooms

Rolled roasted goat

Fried veal with fried zucchini and mushrooms

Croccante of gianduja


We had a bottle of Grignolino d’Asti, which was only 13 euros and an exceptional wine, a bit more delicate than most of the others we’ve had, really delicious. Total with wine and water was only 86 euros.

This was our last day in Piemonte, leaving on Tuesday for Annecy in France (Haute Savoie).

Europe 2016 – Part 1 – Paris

September 22:

Our eleven day trip to Europe began with a very pleasant flight on Norwegian Air, a fairly new discount airline, and we arrived in the Paris suburb of La Varenne at the home of our friends Ana and Bertrand.




After unpacking, we set off to the Spanish gourmet shop in La Varenne to pick up a bottle of Pedro Ximenez Sherry. Our dinner plan was for Mensae, a relatively new contemporary bistro in the Belleville district of Paris (20eme), a working-class neighborhood that seems to be rapidly gentrifying. The chef, Kevin D’Andrea, was a finalist on Top Chef in 2015.  We drove in with Ana and Bertrand, found a parking space and strolled to the restaurant.



After an aperitif of kir a peche, we got two beers to go with the meal. They only offered one beer and it was very, very good. Stanley and Bertrand started with tete de cochon, and I had squid in a scrumptious sauce with hints of Asian spices. Ana had a shrimp dish that looked very good. My main course was saddle of veal, while the others had hake with pasta in a shellfish reduction. I had a white peach dessert and the others had figs. Service was warm and professional. All in all, a wonderful meal and the total bill was about 190 euros.

September 22:

Another sunny day in Paris. The four of us headed to the Musee Cognacq-Jay, housed in a mansion in the Marais. It is a very interesting exhibit of painting, sculpture and decorative objects of the romantic period, late 18th century. Like other small museums in Paris that we have visited, it was, to us, a special pleasure. Then, off to lunch just off Place de la Bastille.


Restaurant Amarante in Paris

This pleasant small bistro is known for its bargain lunch, 19 euros for two courses and 22 for three. They are also known for organ meats. Bertrand and I started with cold veal tongue with mayonnaise and greens, Stanley had a plate of thin slices of sausage, and Ana had fois gras. Next, Stanley and Ana had a delicious breast of Guinea hen (pintade) while Bertrand I had tripe with olives. The tripe was a huge portion, deliciously gamy, and served atop buttery whipped potatoes. Stanley and Ana opted for dessert, he for the Camembert cheese and Ana for a fruit salad (apple and white peach). We had a very nice bottle of a light red wine for 25 euros, a Mariseppe, and with 3 coffees the bill came to about 115 euros.

Ana and Bertrand headed home while we went to the Musee de l’Orangerie in the Tuileries gardens. The collection of late-19th and early-20th Century paintings, mostly impressionist, was impressive. We strolled through the Tuileries to the Metro and headed back to La Varenne. That evening Stanley and I went back into Paris for dinner at Les Arlots, highly recommended by Alec Lobrano. It is near the Gare du Nord, in a somewhat gritty neighborhood, but not unsafe, it seemed to us. It is also very near the Goutte d’Or, which is where our artist friend Kate Browne mounted her “Cocoon,” one of the projects she has done in other locations around the world:

Les Arlots


Another lovely dinner. A warm welcome, a highly knowledgeable sommelier who is the co-owner, a great bottle of wine from the Ventoux (Provence), Chateau Landra 2012, for only 22 euros. We started with quail and sardines, then sausage with pureed potatoes and beef tartare with roasted potatoes. Desserts were exceptional here, including a plum clafoutis,and a combination of coffee mousse and white chocolate mousse with tuiles. Total bill was about 100 euros.

We left Saturday morning for six days, going to Alba in Italy and Annecy in the Haute Savoie. I will be posting reports on these next. We return to Paris next Friday.