In the late 19th century American and British aristocrats made Dinard popular as a fashionable summer resort, and they built truly stunning villas on the cliff tops and exclusive hotels such as the 'Le Grand Hotel' on the seafront during the French "Belle Epoque"
. In the late 19th century, the resort became popular with the British wealthy who built magnificent villas on the coast. Dinard rapidly expanded and became the most popular seaside resort in Europe especially for a growing colonie anglaise
or English presence. It started declining in the 1930s when the Jet set realized the Côte d'Azur had beautiful weather all the time. Today, Dinard is considered one of the most "British" of sea resorts in France; however it has still managed to retain its French charm. I once remarked to an British expat who was quite familiar with Dinard that there certainly seemed to be more British expats in Dinard these days; she replied, without breaking her stride, "you know we say the same thing about the French." Wonderful story but says it all quite nicely.
The waterfront buildings are – with the exception of the casino in the middle –Victorian villas rather than hotels or shops, facing on the large sandy beach that attracts the summer crowds. I have been going to Dinard ever since my parents purchased their propriété - forty minutes away from Dinard - in the late fifties. I had some time on my hands before wrestling with diner selections and since the weather was agreeable, I made a little pèlerinage up a hilly side-street, past homes cloistered away from prying eyes, until I finally reached the rue Faber and made a right turn into St Bartholomew's Anglican Church. There on the inside perimeter wall, by the little gate, is a small brass plaque in honor of our mother who greatly enjoyed attending Sunday service there in Dinard. I suppose it's just something I do when I am in Dinard.
It was time to think all about dinner in Dinard. I stopped at the Balneum, a salon de thé right off the Avenue George Clemenceau and sat outside with a pot of tea and English biscuits, (it all seemed appropriate somehow) and enjoyed the wonderful ocean view. I sifted through my research and one thing was clear, seafood in one form or another was going to be part of my diner. Brittany is a region of windswept, rugged shorelines, known for its fisherman since ancient times and nowhere in France, in my humble opinion, can you find a more tempting array of seafood the likes of John Dory, Hake, Cod, and Mackerel along with shellfish such as clams, mussels, scallops, spider crabs, lobster and crayfish. I perused my 1939 Guide Michelin for any helpful hints and was particularly taken by one menu which advertised Langouste Emeraude which sounded delicious or perhaps it was the 1931 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Sadly, the restaurant, the dinner special and wine had long since gone.
I finally found my little restaurant, La Marmite du Pêcheur, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Dinard's immediate downtown yet off beaten path with enough of a view of St. Malo and the bay to keep me happy. My research (a more updated Guide) told me it was considered “une bonne adresse a Dinard” and indeed it proved to be that and a whole lot more. La Marmite was about as close to an authentic petit bouchon as one might find when dining in Lyon. All the finery's of Brittany were on display from the linen tablecloths, salt and pepper shakers and sugar bowls all Quimper, naturally and heavy water glasses from another era. On the wall, the centerpiece was a large blackboard with les plats du jour and the various catches of the day. Everything spelled “super fresh” – from the sea to me. On either of the blackboard were old photographs of fishermen displaying their catch and looking serious but quite pleased; there photos of vieux Dinard and St. Malohearkening back to time long ago. In the background, music was softly playing unmistakable local Breton music. I had arrived.
I started with a bottle of chilled 2008 Muscadet de Breizh which is the only wine native to all of Brittany and it even has its own appellation d'origine contrôlée (A.O.C.) ever since 1936. I told the young lady to order a glass for the monsieur who was behind the little bar and clearly was the owner-in-charge. I find a little gesture helps smooth out one’s meal. I surveyed the chalk board to the immediate future held for my appetite. The evening special besides a host of other delights was La Cotriade d’Armor or a fish stew from the Armorican coast. Remy, the owner gave me the local thumbs up on this dish and told me that a Cotriade is to Brittany what a bouillabaisse is to Marseilles and furthermore that Cotriade recipes are as varied as the Breton coastline itself. The dish was originally prepared at sea so you can imagine it was a rather rustic meal made with whatever was caught that day, potatoes, a lot of spices, and sea water all boiled together. Apparently this truly local dish is slowly making a comeback and for that I’m certainly thankful.
I teased my appetite by starting with “Le Plateau Dégustation” a varietal platter of fresh oysters from the bay. I toyed for a moment with the crayfish and mayonnaise as an appetizer but decided to hold for the main course. Finally the plats de résistance, the Cotriade arrived with Madame right behind looking pleased as punch; I made sure there were plenty of “ooohs and aaahs.” Indeed the Cotriade is a meal to be reckoned with and not one for the idle tourist. The dish had an exotic smoky aroma, a combination of seafood, spices, garlic, and smoked bacon. It was that and so much more. I struggled my way through the oversize bowl that was filled to the very edge and with the help of baskets of crusty bread, I am proud to say that I continue to be a member in good standing of the clean plate club.
Having survived that part of the meal and being a better person for it, I was presented with the desert menu; all the selections seemed to blur except for one item: Île flottante géant or floating island – a desert that took me racing back to my childhood when my mother would bring it to the table with flourish and clapping all around. It was time to answer the clarion call, to rise and accept the challenge. I did and beautifully I might add. Floating island is a French dessert consisting of meringues floating on crème anglaise (a vanilla custard). The meringues are prepared from whipped egg whites, sugar and vanilla extract then quickly poached. The crème anglaise is prepared with the egg yolks, vanilla, and hot milk, briefly cooked. Later, after the paramedics had gone I, over black coffee and a snifter of Courvoisier, recalled my wonderful whirlwind tour of these coastal jewels and pondered how soon before my return to the Emerald Coast.
La Cotriade d’Armor (serves 8)
Ingredients: The Soup About 12 cups of fish stock 1 blue crab (or enough store bought crab meat) 2 small tomatoes 1 apple 1 garlic clove 3 shallots ½ medium onion 1 medium carrot ½ medium leek, white part only ½ stalk celery ½ small red pepper ½ cup olive oil Butter 3 tbsp brandy 1 heaping tsp of tomato paste
Solid ingredients 3 fresh fish filets 14 oz cockles 14 oz mussels 24 scallops 32 small broccoli florets 4 ½ oz smoked bacon, rind removed 1 lb + potatoes 1 bouquet garni
Directions: Set out to sea in a small fishing boat from somewhere along the Armorican coast
Cut the crab in half and remove gills; skin, de-seed, and dice the tomatoes, peel the apple and slice very thinly.
Chop the garlic, prepare the onions, carrots, leeks, celery and pepper and cut into narrow strips.
Heat olive oil and butter in pan, sauté the crab meat, and flambé with brandy or cognac. Add some fish stock and pour into a tureen. Add the prepared vegetables and the tomato paste then pour on the fish stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes. Blend in the mixer.
Cut the fish fillets into 2 oz pieces. Wash the cockles and mussels thoroughly and open and remove the cockles from their shells and set aside with the scallops and mussels.
Blanch the broccoli florets and finely dice the bacon then blanch, drain and braise in a little butter. Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices.
Leave the sieved crab stock to simmer and add the potato slices, then the broccoli and lastly the fish fillet, diced bacon, mussels, scallops and cockles.
Serve immediately in warmed soup bowls.
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