There are many ways to find a good restaurant; a personal recommendation from someone whose taste you respect or understand offers you the surest chance of a happy meal. In my travels as a child, when we would arrive in a new town, my father used to ask a policeman (to make sure the establishment was safe), a pharmacist (to make sure it was hygienic) and then look for an eatery where either a nun or a prostitute was dining alone (because they recognize good value). Not sure how often he found the latter criterion.
In any case it never seemed to get us much further along in our quest for our next meal; I remember wandering round and round London’s Soho, looking for an authentic Italian and finding instead sex shop after sex shop. Same story in Frankfurt, once upon a time. Friends give more focused and tested advice.
Restaurant guides have their place, of course, as you conduct your research. Somehow they often miss out the flavor, the character, of a place. Zagats, Time Out, Michelin and Gault Millau each offer a particular perspective. A dear friend introduced me to a French restaurant guide of young, hip, new chefs — Carnet de route omnivore — which has led Antony and me to some interesting finds.
The most interesting guide to dining in France came as a supplement in a newspaper one November when we were in Paris. Lefooding.com Your French needs to be fairly au courant as it is written in a very colloquial language. We found wonderful restaurants, bistros and brasseries, at affordable prices. These are eateries which had not yet made it to Michelin’s Le Guide Rouge.
Several years ago both LeFooding.com and Le Carnet recommended a restaurant in a small village between our house and Uzès — Le Tracteur in Sanilhac. The local locksmith endorsed their suggestion, harking back to my father’s dictat of asking “real people.” This simple establishment has excellent food, simply cooked and served with no pretensions. The staff are friendly, absorb recommendations, and help make the whole experience enjoyable. It reminds me of Alastair Little and his superb cookbook and message, Keep it Simple, now sadly out of print. Nevermind, find it in a used bookstore. Paired with the simplicity is an astonishing level of creativity and good solid technique. By now Le Tracteur has reached into les grandes guides and has an inspirational write-up in the 2010 Gault Millau guide. The French have an expression for a restaurant that is just right — Très correct.
The formula is simple — 26 Euros for three courses with a choice of two dishes for each course. There is either a soup or a complex salad for a first course and generally meat or a fish choice for the main course. Le crumble, which makes a regular appearance as a dessert, takes advantage of the delicious and ripe fruits of the region. A chocophile friend is devoted to the chocolate brownie.
Numa Testud, the chef, is a young guy, with a loyal following of staff and patrons. He doesn’t construct the menu until around 6 pm — and bases it on the fresh ingredients he’s found in the nearby markets. His food is grounded in locality — and there may be fancier restaurants nearby, but none quite so real and honest. He buys natural wines from up-and-coming vintners and sells them at caviste prices — and you can take away the wines if you are so inclined.
An article in the Times of London on where chefs eat on holiday mentions that Anthony Demetre of Artabus frequents Le Tracteur and is friends with Numa.
You can find out more about by checking out Le Tracteur’s Facebook page. For tractor-spotters, there is an old Massey Ferguson parked out front. Whatever…
Here is my favorite song from The Tractors album Farmers in a Changing World — Shortening Bread.