30 May 2008

Lunch at the beach on Oléron

During the week we spent on the Ile d'Oléron on the French Atlantic coast, we ate in a restaurant exactly one time. Most of the other days, we cooked oysters and clams that we bought at the outdoor market at La Cotinière. The first day we were there, we were able to buy fresh fish (ling cod was what we got) but then the fishermen went on strike. One day we made steaks and green beans; another day we went to a charcuterie and got some pâté de campagne and a cold baked salmon fillet rolled and stuffed with mixed vegetables in a mayonnaise sauce.

The outdoor terrace at L'Albatros is right on the water

The restaurant we picked for lunch on Tuesday May 20 was called L'Albatros in the resort town of Saint-Trojan-les-Bains. We sat outdoors in the nice weather and lunched on seafood of course. The restaurant had been recommended to us by some friends who live here in Saint-Aignan.

The day's specials at L'Albatros

The daily specials listed on the blackboard pictured above included, as a starter, a tartare of oysters « spéciales Gillardeau » — spéciales are oysters that are fattened in salt ponds for several weeks before going to market, and Gillardeau is the name of the producer. I'm not sure what the "tartare" would have been, because none of us ordered it. I, however, did have half a dozen « spéciales Gillardeau » oysters on the half shell as my starter course. They were incredibly fat, filling their shells almost to overflowing, and they were tasty. They were served with bread, butter, and lemon. I didn't take a picture.

Fresh sole grilled with herbs

The first of the two main courses listed that day was fresh sole grilled with herbs. That's what Walt had. He said it was very good. As you can see, the fish dishes were served with what the British call "jacket potatoes" — big baked potatoes with cream and butter and herbs, called pommes de terre en robe des champs in French. "Potatoes in field dresses" — doesn't that sound nice. The little black pot on the plate contained a purée of topinambours — Jerusalem artichokes, which are the knobby roots of type of sunflower called a girasol.

Croaker fillet with truffle butter and spring vegetables

The second main course was Filet de maigre grillé au beurre de truffes — a fish fillet grilled with truffle butter. When we got back to the rental house after lunch, I looked up maigre in my dictionary on CD to see what kind of fish it was. The translation was "meagre" — obviously a British name, and it didn't mean anything to us. It was only after we got back to Saint-Aignan and had Internet access again that we could look it up. It turns out to be a kind of croaker. Cheryl said it was very good, and the accompaniment of pasta with truffle butter sauce was excellent.

Céteaux breaded and fried,
served with a sprinkling of ground cumin

I decided to order a local Ile d'Oléron speciality called a friture de céteaux au cumin after I asked the woman taking our order to describe it. Céteaux turned out to be small flatfishes that live in the waters around the island. Here's a description and photo I found on this site:

Here the word is spelled with an S rather than a C, but that happens with local terms and names. The description says the fish resembles a sole but never gets bigger than 12 or 13 cm (5 or 6 inches) long. It also says that the fish doesn't do well in shipping, so you never find them except right along the coast where they are caught. So you should try them if you are in the area (it says). They were very good and reminded me of good seafood I might eat in a restaurant in coastal North Carolina.

Another view of the terrace at L'Albatros restaurant

With our lunch we had a bottle of the local Oléron white wine that was very dry and very fruity at the same time. It was served well chilled and was perfect with the fish.

I'm posting this food report especially for a friend in California. She knows who she is.


  1. 'Tartar' means 'finely chopped and raw' meat or fish. You can have tartar of beef, salmon, scallops ... and oysters as well. Nowaday, in modern cuisine, you can also find 'veggy' tartars, which are basically chopped vegetables like tomatoes ...

    If you mix the beef version with oil, finely chopped onions, capers, pepper and salt ... you obtain what we call in Belgium an 'Americain' :-). Some people even add mustard and/or ketchup ... but that is purely up to one's personal taste.

    The origin of this 'Belgian' version/name is somewhat gloomy. After the second World War, the American army left most of their horses on the European continent. As there was a shortage of beef and meat in general, the horses were put down and the meat was chopped and sold as 'tartar'. Hence the name 'Américain'. Nowadays, only beef is used to make an 'American'.

  2. The only time I ever ate steak tartare was in Belgium, Brussels I think, in a restaurant, and it was called "filet américain". It was raw ground beef spread on slices of toasted bread and it was good.

    I can't imagine chopped raw oysters. But why not. Salmon, scallops, beef, yes.

  3. The céteau looks like what I'd call a sanddab...not that I know much about fish. Your meals look yummy.

    I heard on the news today that the fishermen's strike has spread to Spain.

  4. Hi Chris, I thought of sand dabs too. Maybe it's the same kind of fish. But there are so many fish species and local names...

  5. how nice to know about local mini fish and specially fattened oysters. sprinkled with cumin, how nice.

  6. The oysters are farmed out there around the Ile d'Oléron and the town of Marennes. They are placed in salt ponds where a special green algae grows to feed and fatten up for several weeks or even months before they are harvested.

  7. I think I will have to try all the fish....looks very very tasty!!!

    Thanks for the great photos!!

  8. merci - love the food report. I am in New Orleans and we just got back from an excellent dinner at a new place called Cala's in Kenner. we had "drum" a la meuniere.....tomorrow we go to Galatoire's, our old favorite in the French quarter. I am really full or else I would be drooling over your meal descriptions.....thanks for the food details


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