Les Viviers

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Dinner at the fish ponds

When I finally find Les Viviers, after driving around in circles in Loix for half an hour, I’m certain this is going to be a mistake. After all, there’s an old fishing boat crumbling in the open field across the street and overgrown hedges hide any evidence of the restaurant itself. Still, Eric assured me that this place has the best seafood on the island, so I decide to give it a go.

The other side of the hedge is a different world. The first thing you see is this enormous jade-colored pond (les viviers means the fish ponds) lined with bamboo and spiky succulents. This place is tres hip from the house music to the rosewood and zinc tables and chairs. It definitely feels more L.A. than Île de Ré. A young woman in a gypsy blouse escorts me to a couch on the deck overlooking the pond and explains how the menu works.

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

Relax, have something to drink, some olives and almonds, she says, and when I’m ready, she’ll escort me back to the kitchen where I can see all the fresh seafood and personally pick out my dinner.

So I order a glass of La Couple rose champagne and just hang out, watching the blue sky fade to black. In the kitchen, the seafood is arrayed in tubs and tanks—all kinds of local fish, crabs, lobsters, and, of course, oysters. I go for the plancha langoustines, carpaccio of bar, and the hommard de Vivier plancha.

 The carpaccio is sweet and firm, tartly drenched in lemon juice, olive oil, and fennel (they insist on calling it anise). And on the table is a little glass cruet of fleur de sel, which comes not just from this island or even this village, but from the salt ponds just down the road.

The way the lobster is prepared couldn’t be simpler. It is halved, grilled shell-side down for only a minute or two, flipped and quickly heated on the flesh side and finished with a brush of butter and a kiss of fleur de sel and pepper. That’s it. It is so wonderful that never have I been sadder to have a meal end.

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