Idiosyncratic might be a good way to describe La Rose des Vents Snack, but “genius” is an even better word. This antique store turned homey restaurant in Rouen was the centerpiece of our perfect day visiting this fabled French city.
The first day we were in Rouen, we had wanted to have lunch at La Rose. We walked in around 2pm and my wife told the server (who is also I believe one of the owners of the restuarant) about my allergy. He looked so sad as he told us an unfortunate story: the fish soup they were to have served that day would’ve been dairy free had to be scuttled because another restaurateur had snatched up his allotment of fish at the market. And the other entree they were serving for that week, spare ribs, was made with butter. He apologized and asked if we would perhaps come back the next day.
So we did come back the next day. We had got up late, and decided to start the day with lunch. When we walked in at noon, just as the restaurant was opening, we were greeted as if we were already old friends. We walked in to find there was a table reserved for us! And the server (I never found out his name) told us that they had made some of both entrees dairy free, so we could order whatever we wanted! How is that for hospitality? We hadn’t made any formal commitment, and yet the restaurant was ready just in case we did come back. I tell you, I was already thrilled, and I hadn’t even tasted any of the food.
Since they had been nice enough to make the spare rib dish dairy free, I thought I should try that one. Therese also ordered it.
It was simple and hearty. The most surprising part was the potatoes. One was sliced sideways and had bay leaves stuck in the slits, giving the potato a rich flavor, while the other one was stuffed with ham and sage. For a few spare ribs with baked potatoes, cabbage and snap peas, this was a dish of some sophistication, with lots of depth to the flavor.
And the owners are just wonderful fellows. One as I previously mentioned handled most of the serving and general front-of-house duties, while the other one handles the kitchen. But both of them spend a good bit of time chatting with the customers.
The server, for example, talked with us at great length, about New York City, and the weather in Rouen, and Normandy, and several other subjects.
We can’t wait to return to Rouen just so we can have lunch again at this wonderfully homey place. The menu changes every week, and as I mentioned, there are usually just two options for main courses, and maybe 3 dessert options, and that’s it! Here was the menu board (handwritten, of course) the day were there:
For dessert, they offered me a bowl of fruit – fresh strawberries and raspberries – and some sugar to sprinkle over it. Very simple, but a nice finish to the meal. I believe Therese had the cheesecake, which she said was excellent. To give you a sense of the incredibly unique atmosphere of this restaurant, here of some photos of the interior:
After such a delightful start to the day, it hardly mattered what else we did! But we did have a list of some sights to see. We started off with the Aitre Saint Maclou, a former cemetery which is now home to the city’s art college. The sight basically consists of a courtyard that was where the city’s plague victims were buried during the 16th century, surrounded by buildings that were at one time a hospital (and other things as well), that are decorated with macabre wood carvings of skulls and other things. This definitely has an atmosphere to to it!
From there, we walked north to check out the St. Ouen Abbey Church.
For me, St. Ouen Abbey Church is an enigmatic building. The church is the only part remaining of what was a large monastery – the rest of the abbey was sadly razed to make room for Rouen City Hall (the only part left to indicate that there was a monastery there is an aisle of the cloister stuck to one side of the church). And St. Ouen’s has been decommissioned as a church. When you enter it, there are no pews or chairs filling the nave: it is mostly empty. I say “mostly” because when we were there, there was some sort of musical theater troupe rehearsing at one end of the sanctuary, which meant that section was blocked off and inaccessible.
That was no matter, really, since there was so much beautiful stained glass to see. There is so much light, since many of the windows mix color with frosted white glass which lets in the light wonderfully. Some windows appeared to be rather modern – perhaps they were replaced after the two world wars? – while others were quite traditional, and just gorgeous to look at.
Our final destination of the afternoon was Rouen’s Musee des Beaux Arts (fine arts museum). We focused solely on a special exhibit currently on display called “Cathedrals” , and we loved it. A highlight for me was a room filled with material related to Victor Hugo’s book “Notre Dame de Paris” and the famous Hunchback. There were, for example, period paintings dramatizing scenes from the book that were thrilling – faces expressing extreme emotions, clothes flowing in the wind, great extremes of light in dark, all in true Romantic period fashion. My favorite piece of art exhibited of all, though, was a huge crane made in the style of a Renaissance cathedral – what a hoot!
After seeing this exhibit, we enjoyed soft drinks in their cafe, the Sisley Restaurant, a large airy room decorated with some of the largest paintings from the museum’s permanent collection. What a great place to relax!
Our day had already been a full one by then, but there was still the matter of dinner to consider. So after our usual routine, of heading back to the hotel in the late afternoon for a rest, we wandered over to a restaurant which is also, ironically, called Les Beaux Arts. The ironic thing is that it has nothing at all to do with the museum of the same name. And its cuisine doesn’t have anything particularly “fine artsy” about it – in fact, the restaurant serves Morocccan food. We had passed this restaurant in the afternoon and thought, hmm, Moroccan food would be fun.
We were not disappointed. Therese had a couscous dish that had so much food she couldn’t have finished it in a month of Sundays (don’t worry – I helped her with that). Meanwhile, since the couscouses were made with butter, I stuck to a safe tagine, with lamb, prunes and almonds.
Not that that was a bad thing, by any means. My tagine was a perfect balance between the sweetness of the prunes and the savory elements of the lamb and spices. It was quite delightful. And so with our Moroccan dinner, our second day in Rouen, our most perfect day in Rouen, came to a close.