L’Ardoise (Grenoble, France)

While I’ve had a more than a few truly memorable and enjoyable meals in my life, I’ve had a few that were truly touchstones, memories that I could return to and remember both the simple enjoyment and the thrill of something new. And I long ago learned that too often those touchstones were fleeting moments that can’t be recreated; returning to the same place, and ordering the same item, often doesn’t work. Too often you experience the pain of nostalgia, revisiting an old favorite and discovering that part of the ineffable nature of the experience is gone due to a change in context: the experience itself has wilted, the company is different, or even the fact that the person you are is no longer the person you were, and instead of striking a chord the experience reminds you of change. But sometimes it does work, and it resonates like a bell, and that brings me to… L’Ardoise.

Like many people, I had several phases of eating growing up, including a “picky” phase, an early exploratory phase, and even an early culinary phase (my college roommate still tells the story of my craving “proper waffles” instead of the cafeteria dreck). But there were several culinary items I didn’t even really experience until my college year, and that brings me to the topic of beef tartare. The first time I ever had it, it was in the French Alps (France and Belgium are really the two countries that seem to embrace a good tartare). It was a truly enjoyable experience, and one of the best tartares I ever had: flavorful and tender beef, perfectly minced and lightly spiced, and served up with the simple condiments of a fresh egg yolk, shallots, and capers (“shallots” and “capers” also being relatively novel experiences for me). I loved it, and it opened my eyes to a whole new level of how good beef could be (and indirectly converted me into a thoroughly “rare” or “medium rare” person). Accompanying the tartare was Pommes des terre Dauphinoise (you might know that dish better as “Scalloped Potatoes”), and the version served in this region of France is truly a good rendition of it. This was followed by a perfectly splendid dessert of profiteroles with just the right amount of vanilla and chocolate notes. While it maybe wasn’t one of the absolute best meals I ever had, it was certainly one of the most memorable meals ones, and one that pretty much always comes to mind if I’m eating a good tartare or some good profiteroles, or craving a really good scalloped potatoes.

While I’ve been back to Grenoble several times in recent years (it’s a frequent destination, one of my commercialization partners is based here), I’m generally the guest and the host chooses dinner, and they choose well: I’ve had a good number of top-notch meals in Grenoble, and always enjoy my visits (including the previous night’s dinner at Brasseries Chavant, or the 2019 visit to Auberge des 3 Pucelles. But on my second night in Grenoble this year, I had a chance to go to a place of my own choosing, so I went to L’Ardoise. While it is indeed known as one of the better classic French cafes in Grenoble, if it’s not the exact place where I had that memorable meal of of tartare, pommes des terr Duaphinoise, and profiteroles (and it very may be, it’s within a block of the spot), it’s it’s at least a spiritual successor. Looking over the menu, I even had a perfect opportunity, they had the exact same meal as part of their price fix menu: tartare de boeuf, and pommes des terres Dauphinoise, served up with a tomato salad as a starter.

The tomato salad was a nice, rich start to the meal: perfectly-ripe red and yellow tomatoes, fresh basil, a bit of arugula, and fresh mozzarella. Much like the near-identical Caprese salad of Italian fame, this was a light, pleasant start to the meal.

Next up was the main course, boeuf Tartare et pommes de terre Dauphinoise. Everything here hit, not just as a perfect dish, but perfectly resonating with my memories of my previous visit. The boeuf was tender, flavorful, masterfully minced, and served with with just enough capers, Dijon mustard, shallots, and toasted bread to make each bite the perfect mix of beef, mustard tang, caper and shallot bite, and just a little bit of egg yolk moisture to really round it out. I’ve had a lot of great tartares recently (a shout-out to the currently-rebuilding Oakes & Evelyn back in Vermont), but this exactly matched my craving, expectations, and memories.

The pommes des terre Dauphinoise was also on point: rich, creamy slabs of perfectly slightly-softer-than-al-dente potato in an almost over-the-top sinfully good garlic and cream sauce and just enough of a seared crisp to give it a slight crunch, and this meal was simple but perfectly composed.

My coworker did quite well with her selection as well, Sole Bretonne (what English speakers know as Dover Sole on the other side of the Channel) with more of the same Pommes de terre dauphinoise, and while I didn’t sample this dish, she enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed my tartare.

And when it came time for dessert? I can almost never turn down profiteroles, and since they were a part of that long-ago memorable meal? I simply had to order some for dessert, lactose intolerance be damned. And this too was everything I loved about a good profiteroles: perfectly crisped and fresh choux pastry, a quality, flavorful and rich vanilla ice cream, a house-made dark chocolate sauce, and a healthy portion of almonds sprinkled over it, and this is about as perfect as this dish comes as well.

So, how was the visit to L’Ardoise? This hit solidly on point. The flavors, the textures, the weather, the sunlight dancing on my back in the warm summer night? It was as close to exactly the same experience from years ago, indeed, not a single aspect seemed lost to the years, my aging palette, or my greatly-expanded culinary horizons. In the grand scheme of things, this wasn’t a terribly fancy meal, but this was about as close to perfection as a simple meal goes. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this meal under any circumstances, and to have it so squarely hit the nostalgic memory of such a well-worn and loved meal square-on… this was delightful. Sometimes you can go home again. If you’re looking for truly classic, simple French dishes, it’s hard to beat L’Ardoise.

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