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Languedoc: Turned Away at Restaurant Emile in Toulouse

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Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 01:36 AM

I'd had ambitions of a Friday lunch at Restaurant Emile (http://www.restaurant-emile.com). However, I missed my connection at CDG to Toulouse . . . 1 1/4 hours is not enough time to switch terminals and get through security . . . causing a delay of three hours. By the time I picked up my rental car and found the restaurant, it was 2:20pm and the lunch seating stops at 2pm.

I figured I'd back the next day to try it, but opted to take it a little easier on my first day in country. Wish I'd thought to ask for an order of cassoulet to go.

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

Image: http://static.flickr.com/40/120139941...

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  1. m
    Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 02:56 AM

    After that sad near miss with cassoulet in Toulouse, I made a point to stop in Castelnaudary on my way down to Carcassonne to check on opening hours of my other target, Hotel Restaurant du Centre et du Lauragais. I also wanted to make sure I could find it quickly and not miss a narrow lunch time window. It's right in the town center, as shown on the website map, and across the street from Maison du Cassoulet.

    At 4:30pm, the restaurant was not open yet for the evening. However, I did catch a gentleman in civilian clothes who I managed to communicate with to learn that it would be open for lunch and dinner the next day (Saturday) and for lunch only on Sunday. On my return here, I would see him again in chef whites as it turned out he was the chef/owner, J. J. Campigotto.

    I stopped here for lunch on my way to Bordeaux. At 1pm, the room was nearly full with happy diners dressed in Sunday best. It was a much prettier restaurant with colorful chargers than I had overlooked on my first pass. I was seated next to the window at a nice table set dressed with a lovely white heavy jacquard double cloth.

    Here the cassoulet is listed on the menu as "Cassoulet aux deux confits (porc et canard)". It's 18 euros ala carte or 22.50 on the menu with dessert. I opted for ala carte and also ordered a bottle of local wine, Cave de Tecou "Evocation" Gaillac AC, for 8.50 euros for 375ml bottle.

    My waiter opened my bottle with flourish and gave it a good sloshing into the glass when he poured it. He presented a plate of crispy cheese puffs saying, "for the wait". This turned out to be quite a pause, and despite my best efforts to not eat too many of these and save my stomach, I almost finished them all. They were amazingly light and almost melted in the mouth with a salty and tangy cheese flavor.

    The Gaillac was translucent with red-purple shadings and a violet rim. Initially it was quite tart when tasted on its own, but became rounder with the salty crisps and some time in the glass. It had reasonable depth for a rustic country wine with ripe berry fruit and a light spice. While not complex, the fresh red fruit couple with the crisp acidity and cut of tannin provided a good foil for the cassoulet to come.

    Link: http://www.hotel-centre-lauragais.com...

    Image: http://static.flickr.com/43/120145488...

    9 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
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      Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 03:04 AM

      While I waited and waited for my main event, I pacified myself with the thought that with each passing minute, the cap on my cassoulet was growing crustier and more delicious. When the sizzling hot cassole was presented, it couldn't have looked more like the cassoulet of my dreams.

      Dark brown crusty splotches of baked meat juices, a thin film of bread crumbs, and the bubbling hot white beans were picture perfect. The browned crust was mostly carmelized fat and meat essence with a sprinkling of coarse ground pepper. The bread crumbs provided a little crunch here and there.

      Image: http://static.flickr.com/49/120145612...

      1. re: Melanie Wong
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        Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 03:30 AM

        I eagerly spooned the steamy cassoulet onto my plate (which was heated, a nice touch). The aromas and flavors were solidly meaty and not as spicy or peppery as the version I'd tried in Carcassonne. The soft and succulent pork confit was other worldly in texture and flavor. The cuisse of duck confit served on the bone was very meaty, tender and velvety as can be, with well-aged flavor. The Toulouse sausage was softer with a better melding of the seasoning with the pork and not as overtly spicy.

        These beans were softer, luxuriously creamy, and had more broken pieces. These were laced with white strips of fatty pork skin. Quite a bit of soupy liquid pooled on the bottom of the cassole. It was high in collagen with a gooey, gelatinous sticky mouthfeel and kept everything well-lubricated and moist. Even though the flavors were very rich, nothing felt greasy or fatty.

        The flavors married together but still kept their integrity and separate flavor notes. Deeply resonant of meat, this cassoulet was less about the herbs and spicing and all about the quality of the individual cured meats. This meal was one of the culinary highlights of my trip.

        I spotted Mr. Campigotto across the room and gave him the "thumbs up" and my biggest smile. He acknowledged my delight with a shy nod.

        Link: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

        Image: http://static.flickr.com/44/120145729...

        1. re: Melanie Wong
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          howler RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 07:52 AM

          wow. sensational report.

          1. re: howler
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            Geoff RE: howler Mar 30, 2006 09:16 AM

            Ditto. Melanie, I always look for your reports, comments and suggestions on all CH boards. Thank you!

            1. re: Geoff
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              Melanie Wong RE: Geoff Mar 30, 2006 01:25 PM

              Thanks, guys. I'm not done yet, still several meals in the Languedoc area to report on. Then I moved on to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Jura . . .

              1. re: Melanie Wong
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                pitu RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 04:11 PM

                sweet baby jesus, you are killing me! FABULOUS report!

                My favorite restaurant in that region - run by a heretic Flemish couple - was in Peyriac de Mer. I say heretic, since they dared to run a restaurant in France and they were not French. It was a gorgeous room, very modern in style. The wife, the chef, made a variety of divine pates among many other incredible dishes. My friends that went to check it out found they had since moved on to Spain - so if you dip further south to the Costa del Sol on the next trip, I can totally recommend the Flemish people's BnB/restaurant. That woman is an INCREDIBLE cook, and her husband picked out gorgeous wines for us to take home. Did you get to try Banyuls, the local dessert wine?

                My other favorite from there - that is available here - is the biodynamic reds from Saint Chinian

                Link: http://www.lagabella.com/pages/1/inde...

                1. re: pitu
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                  Melanie Wong RE: pitu Mar 30, 2006 04:35 PM

                  This was my first visit to the region. Broke my heart to not have time to cross over to Spain. Seems like I'm circling in on Spain with this trip and my fall visit to Porto. Maybe I'll get there next time.

                  I didn't have any Banyuls this go round. I've been enjoying Banyuls for some time and have bottles in my home cellar. I'm fond of Dr. Parce's Mas Blanc.

                  I did pick up a bottle of a similar style of vin doux natural, a 15 year old Maury from Mas Amiel, when I was in Beaune to share with friends. The label is shown below.

                  What producers do you like in St. Chinian? I like Mas Champart that Kermit Lynch imports to the US, though I'm not sure that the estate is biodynamic. When I mentioned above that the same wines were available to me here at home, I meant the same cuvees and producers as I tasted in France. I had expected to happen on something unknown.

                  One of the other things that was a suprise is that I was expecting there to be more dogma about styles of cassoulet. Here we hear about the confrerie and the specifics about the inclusion or not of goose, pork or mutton. The two examples I tried were not identified by regional style.

                  Link: http://travel.timesonline.co.uk/artic...

                  Image: http://img.1855.com/etiquette/vin/100...

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
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                    pitu RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 05:27 PM

                    from a biodynamic tasting in NYC . . . I was paying particular attention to SW France, from happy memories.
                    I still see very little of what I had (in 2001) here in the US

                    Saint-Chinian, Domaine Rimbert, Le Mas au Schiste -- he had three wines, all of which were v.nice

                    from the Corbieres, Dom. des Deux Anes -- ditto, I'd try anything from this vinyard

                    I love the method, and that they are producing affordable good wine!

                    Côteaux du Languedoc "Promise", Fontedicto 2001

                    Fitou, La Grangette, Clos des Camuzeilles 2001
                    was the most delicious thing at that particular tasting...

                    1. re: pitu
                      m
                      Melanie Wong RE: pitu Mar 30, 2006 06:29 PM

                      Thanks, I attended a major biodynamic tasting last year in SF. I'll try to find my notes when I get home and see if I tried any of those producers.

                      You might want to repost on the General Topics board to continue this wine-only discussion.

                      Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

    2. m
      Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 12:27 PM

      Dinner my first night was at Restaurant Chateau St. Martin on the outskirts of Carcassonne. Trying to find it in the dark, I turned back once thinking I must have gone too far or missed a turn. But no, it really is way out there, past the horse stables and taking what looks like a dark and deserted, bumpy, and increasingly narrow road. On my second pass through I kept on going and had a sort of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" experience when around the next bend of what had been a black night drive, a brightly lit soccer field came into view in a small village. The restaurant itself is past the hostellerie which was completely black and desserted looking this night.

      The restaurant was lit and seemed open for business with two other cars in the parking lot. I went in and found that I was the first customer Friday evening at 8pm. Later two parties of two would also dine here.

      The restaurant has a sunny pastel interior opening to a large outdoor terrace with seating. On the restaurant's website linked below, the photo looking through the arch to the second dining room shows the table I had, just under the mural. It seemed like the kind of place that I might enjoy even more in daylight than at dinner time.

      I decided to go with the menu (44 euros), picking the Cassoulet Languedocienne as my main course. I also ordered two half-bottles of local wine: 2004 Picpoul de Pinet Cuvee Ludovic Gaujal (10 euros) and 2000 Chateau de Cedre "Heritage" Cahors (11 euros). As a side note, I was surprised to find on my return home that both of these are available on the San Francisco wine market for retail prices less than on the list here.

      The amuse was a bisque of crustacae presented in an heavy earthenware cup that reminded me of a flower pot. The extremely concentrated reduction of shellfish matched the overwhelmly briny scent that greeted my nose on first arrival. The greenish-brown soup was not thickened for a touch of cream, and had a sweeter and lighter taste than any lobster bisque I've had before. It wasn't thickened but for a touch of cream which rounded out the flavors and texture. Accompanied with a crispy cheese pastry stick, this bisque turned out to be the best bite of the night.

      For the first course, I had the seared gambas on a potato and spinach base bound together with a herb-tinged green olive oil, as shown below. While it looked fantastic, the crusty prawns were too dry and cottony. They did have a nice sweet flavor, but the texture turned me off. Each element on the plate stayed separate and didn't combine well.

      The Picpoul was a fine match for this dish. Very fragrant with white flowers, bitter almond and a warm minerality, the wine was very crisp and dry with a slight brininess that married with shellfish beautifully. It finished a bit short, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

      Link: http://www.chateausaintmartin.net/res...

      Image: http://static.flickr.com/48/120140709...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong
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        Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 12:51 PM

        The next course was seared rouget on a bed of melted leeks with saffron sauce. I was excited to be dining this close to the Mediterranean on a Friday for the prospect of having some great rouget. Unfortunately, this wasn't it. The rouget had a fishier, unfresh smell than it should and each of the four pieces I cut into was overcooked and missing the intense taste of rouget. The fried skin of each piece wasn't quite crispy. The saffron saucing repeated the shellfish reduction of the earlier bisque, and while I still liked the flavor, it was old hat at this point. The accompaniments to the fish were quite good --- buttery soft and sweet leeks, puree of sweet potato, and a crispy and chewy tostone-like savory and sweet mini-pancake of something I couldn't identify. But the rouget itself was a miss.

        I'd come to the restaurant because it is the home of l'Académie Universelle du Cassoulet. The cassoulet was presented in the hot cassole, then whisked to the serving table to be scooped onto a plate. The dinner plate wasn't heated and the cassoulet cooled down and congealed too quickly in this near-empty and not very warm dining room.

        The predominant aroma was pepper and savory herbs. Some of the beans were broken and creamy, but most were on the firm side with glossy, intact skin. Even though not cooked down softer, the herbal seasonings penetrated and infused each plump bean with explosive flavor.

        There was no bread crumb cap, but the fatty skin of the hunk of goose confit had turned a deep and crusty brown above the surface. This was the best part of the cassoulet. It was accompanied by a few chunks of fatty pork, some bits of dried and tough smoked pork, and a highly spiced coarse ground Toulouse sausage. The sausage had a gummy, near gelatinous fatty texture with seasonings that reminded me of the dried thyme in breakfast links. The ingredients seemed like they'd just been introduced and hadn't integrated to hit that magical synergy yet.

        The Cahors showed very well with the richly porcine cassoulet. Just starting to crack, its youthful vigor and raspberry fruit have started to sing. The gripping tannic cut was a welcome rinse for the pork fat.

        Link: http://perso.wanadoo.fr/ostal.sirvent...

        Image: http://static.flickr.com/38/120140911...

        1. re: Melanie Wong
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          Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 01:03 PM

          The cheese tray was amply stocked, but for the most part, the cheeses weren't ripe enough for me. I chose the three that looked the closest to prime --- Reblochon, Livarot and a local Brebis. However, none was really quite there. The Brebis was the best of the lot.

          Then the dessert cart rolled out, top heavy with about a dozen selections and enough to serve 10 times the number of patrons this night. The pastries all looked handmade, a little lopsided and rustic. I picked a rose-petal flavored chiffon mousse. With a sponge cake base and hat, it was finished off with an added pool of heavy cream. The mousse part was decent enough, but the sponge cake was on the dry side and starting to toughen. I also had a slice of a St. Honore-like puffed rung filled with a potent chicory flavored cream. I loved the filling despite the soggy pastry. My server offered my more, and if I'd been more hungry, I'm sure she would have let me sample everything on the cart.

          The mignardieses were nice. My favorite was a delectable swirl of chocolate ganache. The other bites were a handmade marshmallow and a little coconut cake.

          The style of service here is rather formal. My server was lovely and we managed to understand each other even though I speak no French. The other tables seemed to be local regulars who she knew.

          All in all, this meal was not worth 65 euros. My cassoulet seemed like it was underfired, yet I might be tempted to return here to order it ala carte on a busier night.

          Link: http://flickr.com/photos/melaniewong/...

          Image: http://static.flickr.com/34/120141203...

      2. e
        Eric Eto RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 12:44 PM

        That sucks that you missed your appointed lunch in Toulouse. So what did you end up getting for lunch? Something good I hope. Don't 'ya just hate it when hunger becomes a factor and you have to make a quick decision where to eat in an unfamiliar place? Hope your chowhounding instict kicked in for you. Did you end up getting a cassoulet in Toulouse?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Eric Eto
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          Melanie Wong RE: Eric Eto Mar 30, 2006 02:37 PM

          Sucks even more when you consider that I took an early morning flight routing through JFK instead of direct from SFO to have an early arrival in time for cassoulet in Toulouse!

          Also, there's nothing good to eat in CDG inside security in 2F. I tossed the horrible pain au chocolat; the espresso was equally bad and I spit it out. Luckily, I still had some sections of pink pomelo in my knapsack and a few crackers to tide me over during the three-hour wait. Well, it gave me plenty of time to get some euros from the ATM and recharge my French phone card.

          When I got to Toulouse (easy to drive to the center from the airport, harder getting out) and parked in the Hugo garage, I ran over to the tourist information center to get a better city map and ask for directions to Emile. I also picked up the free restaurant brochure, which has the same information as the online guide you'd found. When I was turned away from Emile, I scanned through the guide for restaurants nearby that stayed open until 2:30pm and had just a few minutes to try to locate them.

          I wouldn't have starved, as there are plenty of cafes and patisseries in that section that are open for business through the day. But I wanted to have a real meal, cassoulet or not, and a good glass of French wine. I dashed down the street and tapped on the doors of two restaurants that were supposed to still be open. The doors were locked already and the staff inside just turned their backs on me.

          The last restaurant option was J'Go a block away and I sprinted there. The door was locked, but I shook it in frustration, and the manager opened it for me! I asked if I could have a seat for lunch and promised to make it quick. He said, "you are most welcome, please come in." Behind him, I could see his staff making faces of disgust and complaining that it was already closing time. I took a seat in the bar where several patrons were finishing up their cheese and/or dessert, and asked him what the plat du jour was. He pointed to a table nearby and said that it was duck with potatoes. I told him that would be fine and asked for a glass of Madiran and a half-bottle of Evian.

          Finally I could settle down and breathe in some French atmosphere. My glass of Madiran was pretty good, not as concentrated as the better producers, but it did the trick. Once I relaxed I could take a look at the chalkboard above the bar where several wines by the glass were featured, and I was sorry I hadn't seen the Bouscasse' Pacherenc offered.

          My food came out in just a few minutes and was an enormous portion of grilled duck surrounded by thick cut fried potatoes and braised cubes of root vegetable. Maybe those were special French turnips, but they seemed to have a higher natural sweetness than I associated with turnips. The golden brown pototoes had a great crust and very smooth and creamy middles. Cooked to medium-well, the duck filets had a good sear on them and velvet-textured flesh. I enjoyed them immensely with the natural pan juices.

          I didn't stay for dessert as I was anxious to be on my way. This lunch came to about 16 euros and was worth every centime. I was especially grateful to the manager for letting me take a seat.

          Once outside, I took a look at the chalkboard menu on the wall and J'Go seems to be a specialist in regional cuisine. There's a larger dining room upstairs and I saw many well-fed and happy patrons streaming out. Now that I'm home and have looked at the website too, I'm feeling pretty lucky to have stumbled upon something of this reputation and value.

          Link: http://www.lejgo.com/

          Image: http://static.flickr.com/54/120140012...

          1. re: Melanie Wong
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            moto RE: Melanie Wong Mar 31, 2006 01:57 AM

            Hello, glad you had a safe trip. The q&a's with the proprietor,you're translating back into English, yes? I'll try to learn a little French before I travel there, but will that suffice if I stumble into a bistro in a city like Toulouse? Just recently started appreciating Madiran so I look forward to reading more of your tasting notes. merci

            1. re: moto
              m
              Melanie Wong RE: moto Mar 31, 2006 04:26 AM

              Thank you, and, no, I don't speak any French at all. My language skills are limited to reading a French menu. If you learn some before you go, bring a travelers dictionary, and know your ingredients and food terminology, you'll be just fine. I also have a wine dictionary called _LexiWine_ or _LexiVin_ that I neglected to pack in my bag this trip.

              I had tried calling Emile for directions and to try to make a reservation when I landed in Toulouse. No one on the other end could understand me, so I was unsuccessful. There's no way to pantomime over the phone.

              I've found the detailed bill for J'Go:

              10.00 plat du jour
              2.50 1/2 Evian
              4.00 verre de Madiran

              My meal was quite a bargain.

              One thing I want to add is that this was the only bottled water I had in the Languedoc. I had ordered it as a matter of routine here, but I found that in the other restaurants I tried in the region, a carafe was brought out automatically and no one ever asked if I wanted bottled water. The public drinking water supply in these towns was quite fine, delicious even, and I didn't feel a need to order bottled.

        2. j
          JBC RE: Melanie Wong Mar 30, 2006 05:46 PM

          Melanie your extensive and picturesque posts are always highly enjoyable to both read and view.

          But don't you think you should upgrade your posts to a blog? It would let you consolidate all of them on one mother board and allow all the pictures of a particluar gastronomic experience to be illustrated together.

          1 Reply
          1. re: JBC
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            Melanie Wong RE: JBC Mar 30, 2006 06:32 PM

            Nope. I don't even have time to reply to the folks who leave comments on flickr.

            Link: http://flickr.com/photos/melaniewong/

          2. m
            Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Mar 31, 2006 05:01 AM

            In Carcassone I took a walk through La Cite, the old walled city. When it started to rain (and I needed a trip to the ladies room), I ducked into a tea room called La Bonne Demeure. None of the teas were actually that interesting so I opened for chocolat chaud aux parfums. Or at least that's what it was called on the menu for 3.50 euros. What I got was a fake chocolate hot drink. Not recommended.

            What I was thrilled to find in La Cite though was L. Pennavayre, which sells regional food products. Earlier in the day I'd been in Limoux looking for places that might sell products from Joseph Aymeric, who I'd read was the top conserverie/charcutier. But in that smaller town, the shops were closed on Saturday. At Pennavayre, I was able to pick up a tin of Fricassee de Limoux Le Friginot (ingredients: viande de porc 60%, jus cuisine, foie, coeur, rognons, iognons, Marc du Languedoc 2%, vinaigre, ail, sel, epices) and a Foie gras de canard entier of his production to bring home.

            Later I stopped at Leclerc to get some petrol. I'd found that the 24/7 stations only accepted French bankcards and I needed to find an attended station like Leclerc's to gas up. This gave me the chance to do some more shopping. I bought a cassole (which shattered on the flight home), a tin of cassoulet, petit salee, and some canned sardines.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            Image: http://static.flickr.com/44/120142824...

            3 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong
              m
              moto RE: Melanie Wong Apr 1, 2006 02:54 AM

              Hello, thank you for the kind and thoughtful reply to my query re. language adequacy. Sorry to hear about the casole, have you looked at the ones sold here, French made of Burgundian clay that are proofed to endure high stove top heat? You're much better travelled than I, but I've flown fragile items in my carry-on, wrapped in dirty laundry, inside a good shoe box (these always seem over-engineered, but they do endure lots of shipping and transferring before gettting retailed)which I bring along for that specific reason. After seeing the preview inquiry re. cassoulet and hearing the holy trinity of Toulouse, Castelnaudary, and Carcassone, I anticipated with pleasure hearing about a Carcassone version,the town looks like a beautiful,resonating with time, old habitation--maybe posted later? regards

              1. re: moto
                m
                Melanie Wong RE: moto Apr 2, 2006 06:59 PM

                When you have a chance, perhaps you could post on the SF or General Topics board about where to find cassoles stateside? I do recall someone besides myself asking for sources. In this case, my carry-on had olive oil and wine in it. (g) This is the first time something has broken in my luggage. Despite the plastic bubble wrap. I think the problem is that the giant can of cassoulet was wrapped inside the cassole. Even more of a problem is the bottle of Brut that cracked in my Samsonite suitcase. However, my full length cashmere coat soaked up nearly every bit of it . . . just got it back from the dry cleaner who commented on how good it smelled when I brought it in.

                Perhaps you are asking about the cassoulet of Toulouse? I posted about Carcassonne's version at Chateau St. Martin. However, as I mentioned, I didn't find the stereotypical style at either of the places I tried andn wonder if those lines are now more blurred. Anyway, back to Toulouse, I didn't return to Toulouse. Driving by myself in the city was pretty hairy and once out, I decided not to go back on my own. The photo below is my rental car in the public parking garage. Those spaces are tiny! Luckily, this car had automatic sliding doors and I could get back in squeezing around the post that's in the glare.

                I've posted on the General Topics board about Bouscasse Madiran - link below.

                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                Image: http://static.flickr.com/52/120140066...

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  m
                  moto RE: Melanie Wong Apr 4, 2006 02:27 AM

                  Hello, thanks for prompting me to reread your cassoulet posts. Yes, the lines seem blurred; if one was going on the "definitions" in the Oxford Companion to Food,what you had in Castelnaudary perfectly fit their description of the Toulouse style. When we visit Languedoc I think I'll make sure to try multiple spots in Toulouse, so if we don't get lucky in Carcassone no loss.

                  You truly are a superwoman, to haul so many bottles back, and your nice coat at least got benignly if expensively bathed. I'm posting an inquiry on home cooking about the French ceramic cookware from Emile Henry. regards

            2. m
              Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Apr 2, 2006 08:21 PM

              On Saturday morning I took the back road through the vineyard and scrub-covered hills to Limoux from St. Hilaire. Besides sparkling wine, Limoux is also known for the longest-running Carnaval festival in the world, spanning January to the end of March. Things were in full swing with a carousel in the town square and bars and restaurants full of partying locals mid-day.

              I'll admit that the crowd noises are what drew me into the Brasserie la Concorde in the town square (Place de la Republique). Young hipsters were downing pitchers of beer with Languedocienne pizza and dancing to salsa music. I should have realized something was amiss when I asked my waitress if I could order some of that pizza and she informed me that it had come from elsewhere for this private party.

              Even at 12 euros, the 3-course menu with the plat du jour was no bargain here. The salad de campagne had hard-as-rocks packaged croutons filled with preservatives along with cubes of processed cheese and ice cold bacon. The roast beef en croute was stiff as a board, at least the sautee of garlicky beans on the side was tasty. And for dessert, fake chocolate mousse squirted out of a can. The worst meal of my trip.

              Later that evening I returned to Limoux in search of the regional specialty, fricassée de Limoux, for dinner. My host at the B&B had recommended Maison de la Blanquette (46 bis promenade du Tivoli, 11300 Limoux, tel. 68 31 01 63) highly for this dish as well as a superlative cassoulet. He also said that I would enjoy this spot because the owners have a tasting bar and make their own wine. Unfortunately, on a busy Saturday night during Carnaval, it was fully booked when I showed up.

              I mosied over to my second choice, Cafe Hotel des Arcades (96 rue Saint Martin, 04 68 31 02 57, email: hotelarcades@ataraxie.fr, open January through October) because it is the sponsor of Association de Promotion de la Fricassée and I hoped to find a classic version there. I started with a coupe of Blanquette de Limoux with Mur, 3.90 euros. It had the characteristic bitterness in the finish of the local grape, Mauzac, that was not quite cloaked by the sweetness of the fruity liqueur.

              I ordered the three-course menu for 15 euros, and this was one of the best values of my trip. It started with the salade de gesiers, shown below. This was loaded with gizzard confit and preserved duck meat, tender and garlicky croutons, cucumbers, and not-bad-for-out-of-season tomatoes tossed with a zesty vinaigrette and sweet frissée. I ate every bit.

              Link: http://limouxin.free.fr/gastronomie.htm

              Image: http://static.flickr.com/53/120142918...

              2 Replies
              1. re: Melanie Wong
                m
                Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Apr 2, 2006 09:03 PM

                For my main course I picked the fricassee de Limoux. This was served in two pots to be combined at the table. One had creamy white beans redolent with sweet, fragrant garlic. These beans were amazing, cooked to tenderness with just enough slightly thickened liquid around them and some how didn't turn starchy. The pork half of the combo had a shiny slick of melted pork fat floating on top. The soft chunks of braised pork had an earthy, gamey flavor from the chewy bits of organ meat cooked down with it. I think I found a piece of chitterling in there. The seasoning of the pork was quite spicy, reminding me of the sweet spices in gingerbread.

                After a couple bobbles, I had a 1/2 pichet of rosé, 4.50 euros, with my meal. Initially I had ordered the half-bottle of Limoux rosé from the wine list that doesn't include vintages. This turned out to be non-vintage VdPays, but I had it opened anyway. The wine had an aldehydic stench and smelled like fino sherry gone bad. My server then brought out a 2003 Minervois rosé, which had an over-the-hill brownish-orange tint in the clear glass bottle. I decided to skip that and asked for the pichet instead. I was very happy with the fresh, crisp and intensely fruity wine of recent vintage. It was an excellent foil for the richness of the salad and the fricassee.

                For dessert I picked the crema Catalan. This was a firmer and eggier version of creme brulee and very good as well.

                Service was attentive and formal when the server wasn't distracted by the large party celebrating in the other dining room. This white table cloth meal with a tuxedo'd waiter in this little town cost less than a bowl of cassoulet would have set me back in Toulouse, and I think I made a good trade-off trying this local dish in its place of origin.

                Link: http://static.flickr.com/43/120143185...

                Image: http://static.flickr.com/48/120143028...

                1. re: Melanie Wong
                  m
                  Melanie Wong RE: Melanie Wong Apr 2, 2006 09:11 PM

                  At this time of year, the streets of Limoux are covered with confetti. When I stepped out of the restaurant at 10pm, dueling bands and torch-carrying masked celebrants were positioned at opposite ends of the town square for the night time sortie. They lead the on-lookers and revelers into the local bars and pubs for more libations.

                  Link: http://flickr.com/photos/melaniewong/...

                  Image: http://static.flickr.com/47/120144438...

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