A Great Seafood Feast on the Ile de Re

July 29, 2009

Chatting with a suave French hotelier over dinner on the Ile de Re, the lovely Atlantic island thirty minutes from the train station in La Rochelle that’s sort of a French version of Nantucket, the other night, we lamented the fact that Blackberries, email, etc., mean that it’s harder and harder to have a real vacation. By this I mean a week or two during which you just plain stop working. Unfortunately technology has so blurred the boundaries between work and leisure that even on vacation most of us are required to keep up with our email, which, depending on your work, involves a constant blizzard of questions, requests and invitations to meetings.

On the eve of leaving for two weeks in a rented farmhouse in the southwestern French region of Le Lot, I found myself musing over vacations of yore, or those intensely anticipated two-week sojourns when we loaded up the Country Squire (later, the Vista Cruiser) and drove through the night to get to the dock in Hyannis to take the earliest ferry to Nantucket, a place that was then all about rusty bicycles, rusty bed stands with lumpy mattresses and soggy but tasty sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper. Dad, an executive with a major textile company in New York, never called the office, but instead ratched down for a first few days until he became smiling and playful. Food was never particularly important on these holidays, although the grown-ups would go out once or twice for a lobster feast, leaving the kids at home and happy with barbecued hamburgers, corn on the cob, and Howard Johnson’s mint chocolate chip ice cream.

As I grew older, and more gourmand, I realized that there was actually some good simple food to be found in the various corner of New England where we vacationed, and what brought the joys of a simple shore dinner back into focus was the excellent meal I had at La Baleine Bleu in Saint-Martin-de-Re the other day. This pleasant twenty-year-old restaurant overlooks the old harbor within the Vauban citadel of this lovely little town, and the menu is dead simple and so just wonderful. I started with a Kir, an apperitif that never tastes good in Paris, and enjoyed a tiny shot of gaspacho before diving into eight plump, briny oysters (and no, they weren’t even vaguely laiteuses, or milky, as most are at this time of year. Next, perfectly roasted locally caught cod with local sea salt and pureed potatoes made with olive oil from Crete. We drank an excellent white from the Ile de Porquerolles off Hyeres in the south of France, and finished up with poached white peaches on crumbly shortbread with salted-caramel sauce for dessert.

The service was young, attractive and friendly, and this three-course meal ran a bargain 34 Euros, which is why I’d cite La Baleine Bleu as a perfect example of the best of summertime eating in France.

La Baleine Bleu, Ilot du Port, Saint-Martin-en-Re, Ile de Re, Tel. 05-46-09-03-30. Prix-fixe menus 28 Euros, 34 Euros, Open daily during the summer.

  • John Mihalec

    Alec, of all the places in France we regretted never getting around to visit in our two years there, Ile de Re is probably at the top of the list. Your review only reinforces our determination to be there some day. For now, we have (today) our French teacher, Madame Madeleine Thomas arriving from Boulogne for three weeks of Fairfield County summer. On besoit de etudier toute suite. All the best,