Hearth cooking in France
I was passing through Bordeaux this summer. (Don't you love that sentence?) I had one of the best meals of my life in a bistro called La Tupina where much of the food is cooked at the open hearth. The tasting menu had a perfect salad, a slab of foie gras, roast lamb with white beans, chicken with potatoes cooked in goose fat and a cheese course consisting of a garlic-rubbed slab of bread on which there was a slice of hard cheese, with a pot of sour-cherry preserves to eat with it. Naming the dishes doesn't begin to describe the quality of the cooking, much the sweet, friendly service. I'd go back to Bordeaux just to eat another meal there.
How do the French do it? It has something to do with the marriage of texture and taste (in the US I think even the best chefs often neglect texture in their pursuit of flavor and visual presentation of food). I was in Paris recently, and I put that ol' scrap of bread left over from a picnic lunch into my plastic bag of postcards. Every time I opened the bag, my entire head was enveloped with a cloud of bread aroma. I had to stop walking in order to steady myself and absorb this fleeting, heaven-sent experience.