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Oct 8, 2000 10:02 AM

SW France Report/ La Tupina & Le Centenaire, etc./Longish

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Just returned from a 2 week trip to SW France. We began in Bordeaux (2 nights), continued to Sarlat in the Dordogne (4 nights), followed by a week in the Lot Valley (near Puy Leveque). In terms of generalities, the food in this area is unbelievably and deliciously rich. The streets are paved in foie gras. It is very hard to order a meal without foie gras showing up in some fashion: pate/sauteed/poached/sauce ingredient/salad ingredient, etc. Foie gras stores are everywhere -in Sarlat one next to the other. Also, this is definitely duck territory - confit,magret,gibiers,duck prosciutto,smoked, etc. If all this whets your appetite read on.
There has been alot of buzz on this board about La Tupina in Bordeaux. Indeed it's worth visiting but not quite the experience I expected. It's located in a fairly seedy section of town. It offers simple, practically minimalist food. You get an ameuse of goose neck confit, crudites, and pate. I ordered foie gras en cocotte which turned out to be nearly raw liver, salted and peppered and baked in foil - that's it. They bring the whole foil bag to the table and you eat foie gras - no sauce, salad. Now don't get me wrong, it was scrumptious, just a little, well, in-your-face (literally too). Same thing with magret ordered as a main course. You get a grilled magret on the plate. That's it. Not even a sprinkle of parsley. Same with roast chicken. Every table gets a side dish of fries cooked in goose fat - sinful and simple. The wine list is not extensive and is written in a composition book with all kinds of erasures. They only have a couple of the lists, so we had to wait about 15 minutes to even see it. Atmosphere is country inn and is filled with tourists. Your move.
Best meal of the trip was Le Centenaire in Les Eyzies de Tayac (Michelin**). Everything (food, service, setting) was superb. Courses included risotto w/ truffles, crab w/ cream surrounded by aspic, caramelized sturgeon in truffle butter, langoustines over Vin Jaune mousse, great cheese board, black chocolate tart w/ a complimentray glass of Banyuls, and an edible strawberry basket. The best dish of the meal - a must - is Steak d'oie Rossini - a goose steak topped with foie gras and truffle (generously) accompanied by the best mac & cheese you can imagine (covered with melted aged Cantal). Centenaire is definitely worth a trip if you're in the area.
At the risk of going on too long, I'll just mention a few of the other places we tried and if anyone is interested I'll expand in another post. La Hoirie in Sarlat, Quatre Saisons in Sarlat, Le Vert in Mauroux, La Source Enchantee near Puy Leveque, and Sel et Poivre in Bergerac. It is very hard to eat badly, very easy to find delicious country wines, and very affordable thanks to the exchange rate (7.5 during our visit). Thumbs up on the SW.

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    Leslie Brenner

    Andrew, thanks for that great report. I had been considering trying La Tupina when we go over Xmas, but I think I'll skip it this trip after your description. It sounds like maybe there are things worth eating, but we're inviting my in-laws, who expect a little more preparation/presentation. Any idea why Tupina has such a great reputation? The magret thing sounds curious--so completely unadorned. Was it grilled over sarments? That's something everyone prepares at home there. I had a very good meal at Le Centenaire about eight years ago, though not quite as amazing as what you describe. In general I was more taken with the small, unheralded restaurants throughout the region, though I was visiting a cook who has lived there all her life, and so was often was fortunate enough to dine in places she knew. Even when I wasn't, though--and I'm thinking especially of the Lot Valley--I always ate very well.

    I, for one, would love to hear about the other places you tried, especially Sel et Poivre. We'll be staying all the way out at the beach (Lacanau-Océan), and probably won't venture much farther than Bergerac this time.

    Glad to hear you had such a (gastronomically) wonderful trip!