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!
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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…
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).