Cancale (aka “The Seafood Tower”)

So, I know that I said in the last update that I would be posting about the farmer’s market next, but I took a last-minute trip to Cancale today, where a personal dream of mine came true: I finally had my damn seafood tower!

Anyone who has spoken with me in the last year and a half has heard me speak of “the seafood tower”. To call it an obsession would be using too kind and gentle a word: it has been a quest. I have annoyed friends, family and new acquaintances alike with my incessant ramblings about the seafood tower. It all started before I left for Brittany for the first time, over a year ago now (how time flies!). When my sister heard I was moving to Brittany, she sent me a link to Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Brittany. If you’re not familiar with Anthony Bourdain, you should change that right quick! He is a funny, wry and drunken professional chef who travels the world and eats amazing food in his Travel Channel show “No Reservations”.  I recommend that you all watch this episode (which can be bought on iTunes) if you are at all interested in my life here (and I assume you are if you’re reading this!).

In the episode, Anthony Bourdain had become obsessed with these seafood towers he had seen little old ladies attacking with vigor in various seaside restaurants in Breton cities such as Cancale. He became increasingly obsessed with doing a “seafood tower” scene, and began asking his producers repeatedly “when do I get to do my seafood tower scene?” Finally at the end of his trip, he got to do his seafood tower scene. And today, a year and a half later, I got to do mine.

The day started when I met my friend Carolyn in St Malo, which is a beautiful seaside town about 2 hours from Rennes. I had already visited St Malo during the Routes du Rhum (a huge boat race) a couple of months ago, so I didn’t spend much time there today: I had more important things to do, like eat some serious seafood! Carolyn took me for a brief walk on the boardwalk while we waited for the bus to Cancale, and it was lovely to see the ocean again. Having almost always lived within sight of the Pacific, I get separation anxiety when I’ve been landlocked for too long!

The boardwalk of St Malo, with the ancient walled city in the distance

A short bus ride later, through beautiful and patchy farmland, we arrived on the boardwalk of Cancale. It’s a gorgeous little town, placed right on a crescent coastline. When the tide is low, it exposes miles of oyster beds that stretch out towards le Mont-Saint-Michele. You almost imagine that you could skip from oyster bed to oyster bed until you reach that famous island, which resembles a giant sand castle from that distance.

The tiny outline of Mont-Saint-Michel off in the distance

But enough about the scenery: let’s get to the goods. We quickly scouted out a promising seafood restaurant (aka it was neither void of customers nor overpriced). We were seated promptly and within minutes had ordered our plateau de fruits de mer pour 2 personnes, and a demi de vin blanc. We then waited with anticipation until finally the moment arrived: our tower of glistening pink and grey gems arrived.

We attacked the unsuspecting victims with impatience and joy. We had no idea what we were doing, and joked that the chefs were spying on us and shaking with mirthful laughter at our novice seafood eating ways. And it was messy, very messy: I had shrimp brains, oyster brine, and bits of crab shell all over my face and hands. But it was oh-so-glorious…

This oyster was dedicated to my brother Jess, a true fan of des huitres

The platter included several sizes and varieties of both clams and sea snails (which I adored, surprisingly), along with shrimp, langoustines (a type of tiny lobster), a giant crab et des huitres, bien sur. It was served with an endless basket of bread, house-made mayonnaise, butter (of course) and beautiful shallot vinegar.

One of my favorite little buddies: a langoustine.

I meant to take an “after” picture of the graveyard of shell fish parts left behind after our voracious assault, but it got whisked away too quickly by the very attentive waitress, who waited for us patiently to finish devouring our massive pile of food. It took us a fair amount of time to work our way through all the obstacles involved in getting the various meats out of their shells!

Carolyn and I after our satisfying lunch (you can tell it was windy!)

And then there was dessert…Cancale is home to one of my food idols: Olivier Roellinger (who is also featured in said Anthony Bourdain episode). He is a culinary visionary, and a fabulously offbeat one at that. He owns a hotel, restaurant, cooking school, spice store and dessert shop in Cancale.  So naturally, after lunch we rambled up towards city center and found our way to his patisserie, Grain de Vanille. I ordered the mille feuille, which they are known for.

_

In French, mille feuille means “a thousand leaves”. This mille feuille was composed of a thousand leaves of pure brilliance, and words cannot describe the delicate and delicious beauty of this dessert.

Roellinger's patisserie, Grain de Vanille

Afterwards, we checked out some of his other locations. Here I am, completely dorking out, in front of his headquarters.

So, all in all, it was a fabulously brilliant day. Several dreams came true for me today, and I was reminded once again, as I am everyday, why it is that I moved to this amazing little pocket of the world.

Thanks for reading, and who knows, if you come visit me in Brittany, it could be you on the other side of my seafood tower…

A shout out to Restaurant L'Escale, where all the magic happened

To see more photos from Cancale, and my other adventures in Brittany, click the link to my flickr page (scroll up and to the right).

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Food. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Cancale (aka “The Seafood Tower”)

  1. Ah, des huitres. It’s only taken me 4 years to learn how to say it.

  2. Tort McCarter says:

    Loved the Flickr pix, that amazing blue sky–can’t wait to see it! and of course, to be seated across from you and a seafood tower…soon!

  3. Pingback: Moules-frites and friends | Girl et Galette

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Hello …

    I am planning a trip to France in May, and I too am obsessed with the Seafood Tower. However … we’re mainly traveling in Normandy, and I’m wondering if it’s really worth driving hours out of our way just for TST. Do you know – are there any towns in Normandy that serve it? Or just Cancale?? Thanks!!!

    • caelycate says:

      Elizabeth,
      I would imagine that any town along the Atlantic coast should have a decent fresh seafood tower readily available, regardless of whether it’s Brittany or Normandy. I take it your going to the Normandy beaches? I’ve never been myself, but am going in just a couple of weeks. I will keep my eyes peeled for the plateau de fruits de mer and I will report back!
      And if you have any other questions about your upcoming travels, don’t hesitate. You couldn’t pick a better month than May – it won’t be too touristy yet and the weather should be lovely.

      • Elizabeth says:

        Thanks so much for replying. Yes we will be staying near Bayeux, visiting Normandy beaches & countryside. Really, I just want to drive the countryside, enjoy the scenery, and EAT. Great job on the blog, I really enjoy it!

      • caelycate says:

        Hi Elizabeth,
        I hope the trip preparations are going well, or maybe you are already en route? I wanted to let you know that my travel plans changed and I didn’t end up going to the coast in Normandy (unless you count Le Mont Saint Michel which is right on the border of Normandy and Brittany). However, as I said earlier I am sure that they have plateau de fruits de mer anywhere that is on the coast. Make sure to sample other Norman specialties as well. Their dairy products are phenomenal, so don’t miss the creme fraiche and butter as well as cheeses such as Camambert, Pont-l’Evêque and Livarot. They are also known for Calvados (apple brandy) and apple and pear ciders. Enjoy your trip, I would love to hear about it!

  5. nicole says:

    I was wondering what the price range was for the seafood tower? =] great post

    • caelycate says:

      Nicole,
      The price really depends on the quality of the restaurant and the type of platter you get. You can get a wide range of platters that include varying ingredients. The basic platter usually includes sea snails, mussels, oysters and clams while the fancier ones have whole lobsters and giant crabs in addition to all the other stuff and they can cost around 60-80 euro. The seafood tower we got was at a moderately priced restaurant and was one of the more expensive options on the menu. It cost 35 euro and included langoustine (small lobsters) a whole crab, sea snails, clams, mussels and oysters. The platters are always served with heaps of bread and butter. So we had mounds of seafood and bread, and a pichet of white wine for under 20 euro each. Very worth it!
      Thanks for reading, hope you get to sample a SFT very soon!

  6. Mary says:

    Is “plateau de fruits de mer” exactly what we should look for on a menu at a restaurant to get a tower? I’m glad I found your blog. My husband and I are going to France in less than 2 weeks!

    • caelycate says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what to look for on the menu. They’ll have several variations of it, ranging in size and price. Most restaurants will have English menus available and also the staff of any restaurant in a vaguely touristy town will usually speak English. I have to admit, although I speak French, there were some seafood words I didn’t know, so it’s always good to be equipped in case you find a real hole-in-the-wall type place that doesn’t have English on the menu. Here’s a link for seafood vocabulary: http://www.french-at-a-touch.com/Words-Phrases/seafood_words_phrases.htm

      Happy travels, will you be traveling in Brittany!?

  7. Pingback: Brittany road trip | Girl et Galette

  8. Pingback: Larmor Plage (a.k.a this is work?!) | Girl et Galette

  9. Pingback: A few stories: Paris, Rennes and Cancale | Girl et Galette

  10. Pingback: Cancale, encore, encore, encore… | Girl et Galette

  11. rowenainitaly says:

    Here I am surfing right into your site well over a year later and I just have to say how much I enjoyed this post. Yes I was looking for recommendations for TST, but you also ticked all the right boxes: Bourdain, the Pacific (I’m born/raised in Hawaii but now live in Italy), and this love for seafood! I ADORE bulot! We’ll be heading out there in a couple weeks and I intend to get my seafood tower!

    • caelycate says:

      Have you had your seafood tower yet!? If so, I hope it was splendid! If not, I would recommend going to Au Pied d’Cheval, a restaurant I went to after I made this post. It’s good quality at a decent price and has a local ambiance as opposed to many of the nearby tourist traps which line the bay (and serve frozen food!).

      Hope you have safe and fun travels in France. I spent a lot of my childhood in Hawaii, I really miss it…

  12. Pingback: The Emerald Coast | Girl et Galette

  13. Drew says:

    Hi,

    I chanced upon your blog as I am planning your my trip to France (incl st malo n cancale) over the new year. I’m also a passionate fan of the seafood platter n similarily inspired by Anthony Bourdain! Your blog has really drummed up the excitement of my trip knowing tt there’re like minded ppl traveling to cancale to have a seafood feast.

    You mentioned both l’escale n au pied d’cheval in your posts and I’m wondering which of the 2 would you recommend? Also, I read on another website tt d’cheval is closed from mid nov to march. Is this true? And lastly, are reservations needed for either restaurant if I’m visiting on a dec sat afternoon?

    Really appreciate all e help n info! 😀

    • caelycate says:

      Hi Drew,

      Wow, how exciting! You picked the best time to go there, it’s prime seafood season! Between the two restaurants I would definitely recommend Au Pied d’cheval. L’escale is where I went the first time I visited Cancale, and it was one of the only restaurants open that day, but the other restaurants I’ve tried in Cancale are all better, albeit pricier. Of the more economical restaurants, Au Pied d’Cheval is my top choice (and the locals’ top choice). As for it being closed during those months, I would be shocked because as I said that is prime seafood time. It is however less touristy then, so I supposed it would be expected for them to have limited hours. The only way to know for sure is to call. Do you speak French? Let me know if you need help with this! I would be happy to call them for you, although there is a good chance they would speak English too if you prefer to call yourself. Their hpone number is +33 02 99 89 76 95.

      I shouldn’t think that you would need reservations in December unless you’re with a party of more than 4, but keep in mind that most restaurants stop seating before 2:30, but as I remember Au Pied d’Cheval does a longer than average lunch service. Usually only the very touristy or commercial chain restaurants offer “service continu” or continued service.

      Good luck with the planning, have so much fun, and don’t hesitate to ask if you have more questions.

      • Drew says:

        Wow thanks for all the help! And omg i didnt know it’ll be prime seafood season! That’s great news 😀 Hmmm i’ll call Au Pied d’Cheval up and ask if they’ll be open. I’ve read about it in other books/articles as well so it must be like really good 🙂 I dont speak french but if they dont speak english i’ll get my mum to talk to them-she speaks french.

        I’m looking forward to the trip, i’m leaving for France in a few days time! Planning has been rather arduous, but fun and a good learning experience. Once again, thanks for all the help!

        Ooh btw, are there any other things you’d recommend that are must-do/must-eat/must-see in St malo/cancale?

      • caelycate says:

        Drew,

        You must visit Olivier Roellinger’s bakery in Cancale, Grain de Vanille. If you walk up from the oyster beds along the coast (take the staircase that is next to the Muscadet shop) into the main part of town it’s the perfect 15 little hike, and you can reward yourself with a coffe or tea and some amazing pastries in the cute little shop. Their millefeuille is to die for!

        As for Saint-Malo, I recommended some restaurants in my post. Type “Saint-Malo” into the search option in the top right-hand part of the blog.

        Enjoy your trip!

      • Michael says:

        Does anyone know if Au Pied d’Cheval is indeed closed until mid April? Thanks.

  14. caelycate says:

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve tried calling Au Pied d’Cheval many times since I received your query, but no response! If you would like to try yourself, their number is (if calling from France) 02 99 89 76 95 (if calling from England) 33 2 99 89 76 95 (if calling from the US) 0011 33 2 99 89 76 95

    Bonne chance!

  15. Pingback: Spring arrived…along with some visitors | Girl et Galette

  16. Kelly says:

    I read your blog and loved it. Unfortunately my husband and I went to Au Pied D’cheval in Cancale today and I cannot recommend it. Nothing seemed very fresh! The atmosphere and waitstaff were very charming. I think I need to try another spot before I leave Brittany. Heading to Saint Malo tomorrow ..

    • caelycate says:

      Hi Kelly,

      Sorry for the late response. I’m so sorry about your bad experience at Au Pied d’Cheval. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been there now…sounds like it’s gone downhill! What a shame. Hope you ended up getting some good seafood in the end.

  17. Sabina says:

    Its an absolute coincidence to have come across your blog and your mention of the legendary Olivier Roellinger because just yesterday I decided to take a few classes at the cooking school!! With my new found love for cooking it would be just the thing to do. I also see you live in the countrside in Brittany. Where exactly? I live not so far away in the countryside too but across the border, Pays De La Loire. I often visit Cancale because the family i live with has a vacation home there.

    • caelycate says:

      Hi Sabina,

      Wow, I’m jealous. I’d be curious to know what you make in your cooking classes and if you meet le maître Olivier in person. Sounds like you landed with a good host family! Are you studying abroad? I’m right in the dead center of Brittany, close to Pontivy. Anyways, enjoy your travels and your cooking adventures!

  18. Pingback: Harbour House at the V & A Waterfront | A Gorgeous Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s