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8 Rue de la Corne de Cerf
35400 Saint-Malo, France
BY IAN D'AGATA | JUNE 21, 2019
Curried mussel soup (Soupe de moules de buchots AOP au curry)
Tuna mignonette cooked on the grill, eggplant jam and orange oil (Mignonette de thon blanc à la plancia, compote d’aubergines, et huile d’orange)
Grilled lobster directly from our tank, with seasonal accompaniments (Homard de notre vivier grillé, accompagnement de saison)
|2017 Domaine Laguille Côtes de Gascogne||88|
|2017 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes-Vaillant Coteaux du Layon La Varane||89|
|2016 Jean Durup Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume||90|
Welcome to Le Chalut
Readers who enjoy seafood will want to check out Le Chalut, a well-regarded restaurant located in the pretty medieval center of Saint-Malo. Aside from the foie gras appetizer that never seems to go missing in any self-respecting French restaurant, the rest of Le Chalut’s fare speaks the language of fish: roasted sole, scallops, spider crab, grilled lobster and marinated monkfish are just some of the choices on the menu.
A beautiful sunset in Saint-Malo
The dining room is attractive and quiet, imbued with a refined, if slightly dated, atmosphere. In fact, that air of “time has slowly passed on” may be Le Chalut’s greatest appeal. Stepping into this restaurant and out of Saint-Malo’s crazy-busy old fortified city center (the Intra Muros) is like entering an oasis of calm in which to enjoy a relaxing, leisurely meal. The service is low-key and professional, and adds to the comfortable and retro but cute setting (the dining room is shaped like the hold of a ship, and its decor includes fishing nets and an aquarium). The food is expertly prepared by chef Jean-Philippe Foucat, and though it doesn’t exactly shine for novelty or inventiveness, it is mostly satisfying.
Curried mussel soup
This time around, I liked my curried mussel soup quite a bit, while I was slightly underwhelmed by the tuna and lobster dishes. Not that there was anything unacceptably wrong with them; I just didn’t find enough lift or intensity in either the aromas or flavor profiles to make them memorable. Also, the tuna had been cooked to the point where the meat tasted just a little too dry. It’s not surprising that some believe Le Chalut is no longer at the top of its game. I’ll have to go back another time to see if it was all just a case of the stars not lining up quite in the right way.
Tuna mignonette cooked on the grill, eggplant jam and orange oil
The wine list at Le Chalut, though not bad, could use
a few more selections. However, I did appreciate the opportunity to try wines
from other than the usual regions and estate names found on wine lists
everywhere nowadays. I began with the 2017 Domaine
Laguille Côtes de Gascogne, a likable Ugni
Blanc-Colombard blend that provides just enough juicy acidity to wake up the
palate before dinner. The 2017 Domaine
les Grandes Vignes-Vaillant Coteaux du Layon La Varane might not be the
last word in complexity but is a very
likable, sweet Chenin Blanc, fat and luscious yet boasting just enough vibrant
acidity to keep it interesting one sip after another. It made a very good match
with the curried mussel soup, and provided an example of just how rewarding it
is to try sweet wines with courses other than dessert. The last wine of the
evening proved the best: From an estate whose ancestors have been involved in
winemaking since at least 1560, the 2016
Jean Durup Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume is a lovely wine from the cool-climate
area of Chablis that is rounder and softer than many other wines I have had
from this estate over the years. The 2016 is drinking beautifully, and much
sooner than I would have expected. Made from the famed Fourchaume Premier Cru (sections
of which are, in my humble estimation, of Grand Cru quality), the Durup 2016 a
level of depth and aristocracy that is quite attractive.
In the ultimate analysis, Le Chalut really does offer a pleasant dining experience. Yes, the decor is a little dated, and the cuisine could be a little (or maybe a lot) more exciting. Frankly, on this day, it could have been prepared a little more precisely too. In fact, on its own, the food would not tempt me back to Le Chalut anytime soon, and neither would the wine list, which could be improved just by adding a few more bottles from different estates in each French region. That being said, the prices are gentle, the quality of the ingredients is very good, the service is friendly and the surroundings are restful. Taking into account all its positives and negatives, Le Chalut adds up to more than the sum of its parts. It makes a good lunchtime escape from the madding crowd of the Intra Muros (especially in summer, when the city appears to have more denizens than an anthill). It’s a fine place to kick back and relax, throw away the thinking cap and be grateful for the simpler things in life.