The Changing of La Gare
New owners safeguard an old favorite.
The news that Gwenael and Annie Goulet had sold Buffet de la Gare, their charming gem in Hastings, saddened us: it seemed a loss of one of the area’s very best restaurants. After all, Buffet de la Gare was so much a reflection of its owners—its warmth and graciousness, its charming French atmosphere, and certainly Gwenael’s superb food. Whatever came to roost in that spot, we felt, would only pale in comparison. And what if—heaven forbid!—new owners decided to “update” the interior and strip it of its classic charm? Quelle horreur!
We should have known better and trusted that the Goulets would never let such a travesty take place. They hand-selected their successors, the young Dimnet couple, Luc and Nicole, and were available to them throughout the transition. The Goulets have chosen well.
Like the older couple, the Dimnets share responsibility for the restaurant: he is in the kitchen and she manages the front of the house. But they are not the Goulets—they have their own distinctive style and charm. Nicole offers a gentle and welcoming greeting; she unobtrusively will reappear at your table several times throughout the evening, instinctively seeming to know whether or not to engage in conversation. Meanwhile, Luc, her Alsatian-born husband, focuses his well-honed skills on the food.
Beautifully presented tuna tartare reminded us why this dish became so popular on fine-dining menus across the country: the fish was sweet and fatty, with the slight familiar taste of the sea, accompanied by perfectly crisp cucumber.
Lardons tangoed with snappy Roquefort-adorned frisÃ©e in one classic salad, while another—tender field greens with warm medallions of goat cheese—gently whet our appetites, leaving us room for the feast ahead. Oysters may have been just as light, and their clean briny flavor juxtaposed against the icy-sharp pepper mignonette granitÃ© primed our mouths too for the big adventure to come.
Even better than starting with a light appetizer: throw caution to the wind, go for broke, live dangerously, and start with velvety, luscious sweetbreads. Lifting the lid of the charming little pot, you are engulfed by the sexy, musky fragrance of morels and an array of other mysterious aromas. One bite reminds us why we love this oft-overlooked delicacy, and then we remember why we so rarely have it: few chefs go to the trouble to cook this delicate and highly perishable gland, and even fewer prepare it as artfully as it is prepared here. The heady combination of sweetbreads, cream, morels, and vermouth is almost too much to bear, but we nevertheless managed to eat every last bit.
Many talented chefs seem to have a proclivity for either meat or fish, or for a specific technique or style of cooking. The hallmark of other fine chefs may be enormous, in-your-face flavors or subtle complexity. But few chefs can as successfully zigzag back and forth without any areas of weakness becoming evident.
In our visits to Buffet de la Gare, we found the dishes to be consistently well executed, whether it was a moist lemon sole served with tender asparagus tips, pale golden cubes of mild turnip, and sweet, earthy chanterelles, or a deluxe cassoulet, classically rich and hearty, with garlic sausage and double-smoked bacon lending extra heft to the rich flavors of the duck and creamy beans.
Even better in our book (although it could be debated) was a half duck with wonderfully crisped mink-colored skin served with a fresh fig sauce. Discriminate use of acid in the sauce prevented it from being cloyingly sweet; instead, it kept the sauce subtle and perfectly balanced. This was an elegant sauce—one that makes you forget all else as it rolls around in your mouth like a sweet and sophisticated nectar.
But the food here is not all about elegant sauces and elaborate preparation. A rack of lamb was treated simply, showing due respect for the meat’s inherent flavor. The chops arrived at the table with a mouthwatering red center and a perfect fade of color as it headed out towards the browned crust.
It is an accomplishment to deliver a piece of meat to the table cooked to perfection; it challenges even the most accomplished cook to bring to the table a selection of fish and shellfish in one dish, each cooked just right. Yet the bass, scallops, crayfish, salmon, and monkfish were all at their tender, moist, and flavorful best in the Choucroute de Poisson a la Strasbourgeoise (a seasonal variation on the more traditional choucroute that’s currently on offer). This is a dish for those who cherish both the individual characteristics of these creatures of the sea and the flavors they share. Mild sauerkraut and buttery Yukon potatoes lent credence to the name of the dish and provided flavor and texture counterpoints.
A chocolate dome dessert could resuscitate even the most sated appetite—what starts as a tiny spoonful,“just to taste,” turns into half your dining companion’s dessert. Apples in a tart tatin, which simply melt in your mouth, also serve as a vehicle for a thick, rich caramel sauce. Perhaps surprisingly, on one visit, the unanimous dessert favorite was three crÃªpes served with a slightly tart orange sauce.
Buffet de la Gare is, quite simply, a lovely restaurant with flawless service, a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and superb food.
BUFFET DE LA GARE
Lunch, Thurs. and Fri.
Dinner, Tues. to Sat. , Sun. .