Long before Meryl Streep’s brilliant turn in the award-winning film Julie & Julia, I was a big fan of Julia Child. As a little boy, I would sit and watch re-runs of Child’s various cooking shows longing for the day when I’d finally be old enough to wield a cleaver and attack a whole chicken with the artful skill of the large woman with the funny accent who mesmerized me in much the same way cartoons entertained my contemporaries. Yes…while most kids couldn’t wait to grow up so they could smoke pot and drink beer, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a side of beef and bottle of Burgundy and whip up my first Boeuf Bourguignon. Such were the gay days of my youth.
With that as a backdrop, imagine the shockwaves that shot through my animated person when I recently sat down to dinner in Rouen, France at La Couronne, the restaurant credited with giving Julia Child her first real taste of the joys of French cooking. Plunked down in a half-timbered structure opposite the magnificently quirky Church of Saint Joan of Arc in the old market square in Rouen, La Couronne traces its roots all the way back to 1345. Yep you read that right…1345! So suffice it to say, the glittering contemporary restaurant that is meant to be La Couronne in the film Julie & Julia, is not only cinematic fiction, it doesn’t even begin to capture the charm and authenticity of the real thing.
Foodie or not, I’d dare anyone to walk through the doors of this venerable establishment, climb the narrow staircase lined with photos of former diners including everyone from Sophia Loren and Woody Allen to Salvador Dali and Princess Grace of Monaco, enter one of the cozy dining rooms and not immediately experience the beginnings of a love affair with French food, just as Julia Child did when she first set foot in this atmospheric restaurant back in 1948.
As an ode to Julia, my entire group ordered the exact meal that Julia enjoyed so much on her first visit to La Couronne and we all swooned appropriately as each course was delivered. The first course was a half dozen oysters, served with rye bread and butter and vinegar mignonette. Briny and bright, these oysters underscored why this region is so famous for the popular mollusks. Did you know that Marie-Antoinette ordered her oysters from nearby Etretat? True story. The oyster beds that produced the oysters that Marie-Antoinette favored are no longer active, but the legend of their existence is proof positive that the region’s oysters are fit for a queen of any variety- male, female, questioning or otherwise.
The second course was Sole Meuniére, which is Dover Sole, lightly seasoned and dredged in flour, fried in butter and served with lemon and parsley. I know…I know…it seems rich but in truth the dish is not nearly as decadent as it sounds. Though there is probably enough butter in this entree to make Paula Deen happier than a drag queen at a sample sale, each bite was light and airy and not the least bit oily. Truly a testament to the mastery of the chef.
Next we were served a green salad in a light vinaigrette followed by a beautiful selection of fromage blanc (cheeses), both of which aptly prepared our palettes for the final course…fresh seasonal berries in a light syrup, topped with dollops of lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream. So simple, but so delicious. Which brings me to the point that underscores the impression that La Couronne left on me. This was a meal about beautiful ingredients, prepared simply without a lot of bells and whistles and because of that it was an experience that actually outshined flashier meals I’ve enjoyed at some Michelin-starred restaurants.
As Rouen is only a little over an hour by train from Paris, I’d highly recommend dinner at La Couronne and an overnight in the city. Try staying at the chic and contemporary Hotel de Bourgtheroulde which is just around the corner from La Couronne, and spend the day exploring the charm of Rouen. Like me and like Julia and like so many others…you just might find yourself falling in love with all things French in a way you never imagined.
MoxieQ Rating: Fiercely Unforgettable