I love savoring an excellent meal. Whether it is eating raw oysters with nothing added but a little lemon, straight from the sea, in wind and salt air, or relishing an extravagant, expertly cooked, multicourse meal, with fine wine and impeccable service, at an elegant rooftop restaurant overlooking the lights of Paris; basking in the radiance of a well prepared meal, in proper ambiance, in the right company, is one of life’s great pleasures. On our recent road trip in Europe, Sarah and I had the opportunity to partake in both of these treats, first from an oyster shack on the Emerald Coast in Cancale, France, and later as the guests of L’Oiseau Blanc, at the Peninsula Hotel near the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Oysters by the Seaside
It may be a subject of debate among foodies, but ask any in-the-know Frenchman, and they will tell you that world’s finest oysters come from the tiny village of Cancale on the Brittany coast. It has been a well-known secret since Roman times that a magic mix of topography, sea currents, and nutrients combine here to raise the lowly oyster from the bottom of the sea floor to a prized place on the most discriminating palates. It has been said that Louis XIV ordered Cancale oysters to be delivered daily to his palace at Versailles.
Cancale has a broad range of restaurants specializing in serving the irresistible mollusks, but we elected to get as close to the source as possible and bought three-dozen, extra-large “huître plate,” straight from the sea, from an oyster shack on the quay, to enjoy while overseeing more being harvested from Baie de St Michel.
My mouth was watering as we watched the oyster shucker expertly pry the rocky bivalves apart to reveal the tender offerings inside. With efficiency and reverence, she opened each oyster, careful to preserve the liquor, and then placed the half shells on red plastic plates. The taste was as glorious as the ocean from which they came. They were, plump, briny, and slightly sweet. A slight squeeze of natural lemon was the only accompaniment required. Adding cocktail sauce, or even a mignonette, would have felt disrespectful.
Elegant Dinner at the Paris, L’Oiseau Blanc
By contrast, Sarah and I wanted to dress up and celebrate the end our road trip/house hunting adventure in Parisian style. Our sunset dinner at the exquisite L’Oiseau Blanc, on the sixth floor of the Peninsula Hotel, with its commanding views of Paris’ most famous landmarks, was an elegant way to end the experience.
L’Oiseau Blanc is an aviation themed restaurant that celebrates the famous adventure pilots Charles Nungesser and François Coli, rivals of Charles Lindbergh, who in 1927 attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in their biplane, the L’Oiseau Blanc, or The White Bird, but was never heard from again. I can’t help but imagine they would have been impressed by the replica of their airplane brought to the rooftop restaurant where it seemingly is flying over central Paris.
The sommelier asked if we wanted to start our meal with Champagne and brought out something so good, we decided to have her choose the wines for every course. Everything that came to the table from the amuse-bouche to the dessert was beautifully presented, perfectly prepared, expertly delivered by an attentive, but unobtrusive, crew of waitstaff. I loved it all, but for me, the standouts were the Duck Foie gras with Parma ham and the French Veal shank. Sarah especially liked the Rack of Lamb and the dark chocolate dessert designed to look like the cowling of the L’Oiseau Blanc biplane, complete with a praline propeller. The meal, the wines, the view, the service was all perfect.
For us, it is all about the variety and trying to live life in as many styles as possible. Sarah and I still love our street food and trying out new home-cooked meals, but treats such as freshly shucked, raw oysters on a sea wall, and elegant meals places like L’Oiseau Blanc in Paris are experiences we can never get enough of.