Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pizza on a Sunday in Perpignan

In small cities in France, not a lot is open on Sundays. The farmer’s market, yes, but not much else. Thus, when we arrived in Perpignan past 1pm on Sunday (a week ago), we had some difficulty finding a place to eat. We ended up going to L’Arago which is a bar brasserie, apparently known for their steaks (actually entrecôte), but we didn’t order that.

We ordered two huge pizzas for 10€50 each, a saumonée with crème fraîche (at the very top of this post) and a venezia (above), with fresh mozarella, tomatoes, olives, and basil oil. They were both good. I loved the basil oil on the venezia. We also got a plate of fries, which were decent.

For dessert, we had a crème catalan which looked like a crème brûlé when it came out, but it was another thing entirely. Beneath the thick layer of caramelized sugar was a fragrant, sweet, delightful custard which had some unplaceable scent, like some faint spice. It was delicious. It was a discovery.

Unfortunately, we were really disappointed by the service. It was 2 or 3pm as we were eating, and the restaurant was not busy, yet we could not get our servers to serve us, and then when we asked them to wrap up the pizza that we didn’t finish, they disappeared and we had to go downstairs and find them ourselves. It took forever for us to pay the bill too, because the waiters wouldn’t come over, and then we had to wait for them to swipe our card, and then to come back.

1 Place Arago
66000 Perpignan, France
Tel: 04 68 51 81 96

Overall rating for the price: 5.5 out of 10
I don’t care if it was cheap, service like that for an average meal will not get you a good grade

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lunch at Le Saint Jean (Carcassonne)

For our second day in Carcasonne, we made a reservation at this restaurant, which was recommended not only online, but also by our hostess (we didn’t stay at a hotel, but rather a chambre d’hote). Plus, it had free wi-fi. It was always crowded and busy, and it wasn’t a small place. There was both outdoor and indoor (covered) seating. The décor was contemporary, and the atmosphere casual. No one said anything when I whipped out my laptop while waiting for our dishes to arrive.

I don’t remember this meal too clearly (perhaps because I was distracted by my internet usage), so I will just give you the pictures and the notes that I took. My apologies for this lack of a real review. We order four plats (main courses), all of which came with cheesy potato gratin (except for the fish, which had a rice salad, if that’s what you can call it), and two desserts.

Lastly, I’m not giving you a website, because the website is terrible. Also there is a very long intro that takes forever to get past, and it annoyed me.

Tournedos de canard aux fruits rouges (19€) – almost a 9 out of 10, loved the acidity of the berries with the duck

Magret de canard aux nectarines (17€) – I liked the nectarines with the duck, but what was really good was the mushrooms, or cepes. 8 out of 10

Filet de poisson aux légumes (merlan) (19€) – Merlin with vegetables… and yes it came looking like that. We laughed that perhaps our waiter had gotten a little hungry on the way over to serve us? Average.

Souris d’agneau confite (18€) was very good. Excellent cooking. 9 out of 10

Pavé au chocolat (7€) – average, tasted like a moist brownie with crème anglais and chantilly

Île Flottante (7€) - average

Le Saint-Jean
1 Place Saint Jean
La Cité
11000 Carcassonne, France
Tel: 04 68 47 42 43

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dinner at La Cotte de Mailles

Carcasonne is a “medieval” city in France. In fact, if you want to get to La Cité, or inside the fortress walls, you can't even take a car. You have to park outside and hull your luggage in yourself, up the steep cobblestone path, a fact which we learned for ourselves the hard way.

We chose to live inside the fortress because we wanted to really experience Carcassonne. And part of the experience of visiting a medieval city has to be eating medieval food, right? So this is what we did.

We stopped in La Cotte de Mailles at around 5:30pm to ask for a reservation for a party of four, and then came back to the restaurant for our reservation two hours later, at 7:30pm. It wasn’t crowded, but the little place was cozy, decorated with art depicting the fortress itself, as well as some medieval weaponary.

We ordered two apperatifs or drinks, the first being a cup of Hypocras (4€20), the famous medieval wine mix, which was made in house. It had a very pleasant, strong clove smell, and was deliciously warming. On the cool summer night that we sat down, it was very enjoyable, but I imagine it would be especially enjoyable in the winter.

We also ordered a cup of Elixir Cotte de Maille, also called the Elixir Rose (4€20), which was so good we ended up calling another glass. The scent of the rose was so incredibly beautiful. Based in red wine, it was sweet and pleasant to drink. Both this drink and the other had hints of honey and spices.

The restaurant is actually owned and run by a grandmother, mother, and daughter team. The two older women do the cooking, and the daughter runs tables. She was a fantastic waitress—very friendly and talkative—and was happy to answer all of our questions and to help us choose our dishes when we couldn’t decide among the many delicious sounding choices.

Above is the porcelet au miel et à la lavande (21€90) that we ordered. It was very unique and interesting—have you ever had pork marinated in honey and lavender?— but a little sweet for meat. The fragrance of the lavender was strong, which we enjoyed, but after a while (one or two whole slices of pork), the taste became a bit one dimentional. Nevertheless, it was a very creative dish, and I will never forget the taste and scent of the meat. Perhaps someday soon I shall experiment with honey and lavender marinades, and I shall report back to you.

The Cassoulet des Troubadours (16€50) was another dish we ordered. I’m not posting a picture of this because, honestly, all cassoulets look the same, and I think I have already put up three or four pictures on this blog, so refer to those if you forget what this dish looks like. This cassoulet, like the others we’d ordered before, was very good.
But, unlike the other cassoulets, this one came with a cheesy potato gratin, in its own little pot. It was deliciously rich and creamy, with a crunchy top, as it had probably been put under a broiler so that the cheese could melt and then caramelized a bit. A very nice addition.
Even without this addition though, this cassoulet was definitely the best one we'd eaten. The portion was so huge, it didn’t really looked like we’d touched it when we were done eating, but I’m telling you, we sincerely enjoyed it. It was perfectly seasoned and had variety, and was rich and warm, with soft white beans that popped in your mouth. I would be happy to order it again.

I ordered a Salade des Délices, which was also called Foie Gras au Chocolat (19€80). Despite, I believe, being an appetizer, it was a huge portion. It was also delicious. The chocolat foie gras was a discovery. It wasn’t sweet chocolate, but rather cacao, and the bitterness of it (if you’ve never had it before) can be compared to coffee grounds, but more mellow, with hints of caramel. There was also chocolate sorbet (in the tiny little mis en place type of dish you see on top of the plate, to the right), foie gras mi-cuit, stewed figues, and some duck gizzard. It was delicious. The cherries, orange slices, tomatoes, and lettuce provided some relief from the protein overload, but I would have been happy even if they hadn’t been there. Both of the foie gras (the chocolate and the mi-cuit) were amazing and the taste of those mixed with a little bit of figue and chocolat sorbet was delicious. A definite 9.5 out of 10. And the only reason why it’s not a 10 out of 10 is because I hesitate to declare perfection when I haven’t tasted every foie gras in the world. But I assure you, this was pretty damn perfect.

Our last dish was the ambroisine de caille et sa garniture (18€90) that you see above. It was delicious quail—succulent meat and slightly crispy skin—and also came with the cheese potato gratin that I mentioned when I talked about the cassoulet. You can see it in the bottom right. All good.

We were very full afterwards (do you see the size of those portions?) but it was a great meal, and should you ever find yourself in Carcasonne, I suggest you come with an appetite and sit down at this restaurant.

La Cotte de Mailles
2 rue St Jean
La Cité
11000 Carcassonne, France

04 68 72 36 24

Overall rating for the price: 9 out of 10

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lunch at Le Vieil Alby

We left Toulouse in the morning and drove to Cordes sur Ciel. Unfortunately, I was feeling a little sick, so I didn't enjoy this meal as much as I wish I could have, and my notes on the dishes are also a little lacking, so this review will not be as detailed as my other one have been.

On the drive to Cordes, we stopped by Albi, to see the famous cathedral, and to stop for lunch. We ended up eating at a hotel/restaurant not too far away called Le Vieil Alby.

There is no picture of our first dish, an appetizer, because the plating was average, and I wasn't feeling well. My apologies.

The appetizer: a tête de veau, sauce ravigote – headcheese, surprisingly very good… I say surprisingly because everyone in my family has had tête de veau before and the smell was rather strong, and it also tasted very different, so we weren’t sure what to expect of this dish, but it was rather pleasing. Probably not a dish to order if you’re not an adventurous eater, though.

Pictured above: Tripes à l’Albigeoise - a little vinegary or acidic, but good, not too chewy (as tripe can be), very different from the tripe you would get at dim sum (as you can see)

Pictured above: Filet de Truites aux amandes - trout, cooked well, nice flavors; I really enjoyed the potato (they cook it somehow so that it is very velvety and flavorful… completely different from any potato I’ve ever had before, and I am not ignorant when it comes to potato dishes) and the fava beans

Pictured above: tournedos de magret de canard et son escalope de foie gras poêlé, sauce orange – good, very nice flavor, the sauce worked well with the duck (which had a great flavor all on its own), and as a perfect slightly acidic balance to the foie gras.

Pictured above: Duo de foie gras mi-cuit et poêlé aux pommes (15€). You can probably guess that this was my dish, since I have a very serious relationship with foie gras. It was fantastic. The foie gras mi-cuit (cold, on the left), was delicate, slightly sweet, perfectly savory, and smooth. It went well with the reduced basalmic vinegar sauce that was used to write on my plate. The foie gras poêlé (on the right) was served with half of a baked apple, the sweetness of which worked as a perfect foil to the warm, fattiness of the liver. I also really enjoyed the sautéed mushrooms and the smooth, succulent potato. That potato astonished me. I made everyone at the table try it because the texture and flavor was so great. I have no idea how they cooked it, but I suspect it may have been boiled, and then poached in duck fat. It was delicious. My dish was a solid 9 out of 10. Maybe even a 9.5

Finally, dessert! Above is the poumpet au coing et la fleur d’orange, crème anglaise. It was excellent. Definitely a 9 out of 10. Not too sweet, perfect melding of flavors, beautiful presentation. Best of all, the pastry was light, the fruit (quince, I believe is the translation?) was slightly warm, slightly acidic, slightly sweet, and the crème anglaise was cold, sweet, and light, with that beautiful vanilla scent and flavor to it.

Of course one dessert isn't enough, so above is our second dessert: profiterole au chocolat. Good. The chocolate sauce wasn't too sweet (as can be a problem), and the vanilla ice cream and choux pastry didn't disappoint.

Nice, friendly atmosphere in the restaurant. More dressy than your average tourist place. In fact, I would say that they seemed to cater to the business or business casual crowd.

25 rue Toulouse Lautre
Albi, France
Tel: 05 63 38 28 23

Overall rating for the price: 8 out of 10
**if you're noticing that I am generous with my scores, that's not true. I just don't eat at bad restaurants. I check reviews before I go.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lunch at Chez Emile

Chez Emile was a recommended restaurant—both online and in travel guides—so we knew that we would have to have a meal there while in Toulouse. Sadly, the first time we stopped by, the restaurant was closed (the majority of restaurants are not open seven days a week in France, even in large cities). The second time around, we called ahead to make a reservation before coming there, and we got the earliest lunch seating possible. It is well that we did so, for the restaurant was quickly full within about 30 minutes, both upstairs and downstairs.

The décor was upscale, but not overly fancy. I wouldn’t eat there in shorts, but no need for men to go in a dress shirt; a polo would be fine. I would definitely recommend a reservation though. Or, if not, show up exactly at noon (which I believe is when they open).

Though there were prix fixe menu options, we decided to just order four main courses.

The gigotin d’agneau de lait des Pyrénées, Champvallon (30€), which translates, I believe, to lamb shoulder, was very good. The perfectly cooked meat sat in a fragrant sauce. The lamb was tender and succulent. I think it was a more fall type of dish, as it was somewhat stew-like and the flavors were very earthy, but it wasn’t heavy. We gave it a 9 out of 10.

Their cassoulet au confit de canard de Francis (20€) was a little too salty, and while it was good—nice and thick, with soft, flavorful white beans—it just couldn’t stand up to the one that we’d had at Le Magret. We were slightly disappointed by the fact that it was a little one-dimentional and lacked variety. Though it was delicious, the huge portion got a little… boring after a while. Perhaps if you really like the flavor of cassoulet, it would be different. We gave it a 7 out of 10.

This magret de canard du Gers grillé, échalote et gros sel (22€) was beautiful. And it tasted as good as it looked. Cooked rosé, or medium-rare, it was juicy, tender, and mildly sweet where the meat had been caramelized. The bed of sauteed vegetables accompagnied the duck nicely, providing a mellowness that made the dish feel light and summery (as opposed to sauces, which often make a dish feel more serious, more autumn, and less summery). All in all, it was very good, 8 out of 10.

The pigeon aux épices, cuisses confits et panisse (27€) was presented in which I thought was a simultaneously artful and amusing manner, although I suppose if avian feet scare you, you might enjoy it. From the “deconstructured” dish (picture on the right), you can see that there were different cuts of the bird, including a very succulent breast. If you’ve never had pigeon, it tasted like quail. If you’ve never had quail, it tastes like duck. If you’ve never had duck… please, go try some duck. It is delicious.
I liked the seasoning and the vegetables (especially the miniature zucchinis), but it wasn’t a “wow,” and because of the boneniness of the bird, I don’t know if there was as much meat as the other plats. I would say it was a 7.5 out of 10, simply because it was fairly expensive for something that didn't make me ooh or aah. I might ordered it again, or I might not, depending on what else was available.

The soufflé au Grand Marnier (8€) was very pretty, lighty, and airy. I personally thought that while the flavor of the liquor was there, it was a little bit… eggy? The scent was definitely present. The ice cream combined nicely with the warm soufflé, and the little tuile was deliciously crispy and sweet.

This moëlleux aux chocolat (8€) was… average. But when I say average, take in mind that I am comparing to restaurants of a similar reputation. It did not wow me, but it was by no means bad. I liked the dessert, but I thought the chocolat flavor could have been more pronounced (remember though, I am a dark chocolate girl) and while the orange sorbet, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, and tuile were all good, it just didn’t wow me. Is it so wrong that when I eat, I want to be wowed?

The macaron (8€) you see there, it definitely did wow me. First, it’s presentation was artful and whimsical, and secondly, it tasted beautiful. It was a little symphony in my mouth. The raspberry macaron wasn’t overly sweet (as can be a problem with macarons), and the scent of the red fruit in there was very nice. The raspberries, pineapple sauce, raspberry coulis, and pulled sugar all came together with the macaron to make a perfectly balanced dessert with sweetness and acidity. I would definitely order it again.

Chez Emile
13 Place St George
Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 61 21 05 56

Overall rating for the price: 8 out of 10... (the service and ambiance contributed to this score)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lunch at Le Bon Vivre

I told you we ate here again! Although a warning about this review: I shall be less detailed because it is late, and also the pictures are smaller because they take up a lot of space, and really the food wasn't as pretty as other plates that I've seen, so it doesn't deserve to be big. If you'd like a better look though, just click, and the pictures enlarge tremendously.

This time we ordered four plats and three desserts (though two of them were identical).

I ordered the cuisse de canard confit et grillée (16€50) from last time, because I liked it so much. It was still excellent. Want details and a picture? Refer to the previous post.

Then, there was this lapin poêlé grillé (23€). The rabbit was fragrant, well seasoned, and excellent. The potato wedges were fried so that the outside was nice and crispy, and the dish in general was just a solid 8.5 out of 10. (My apologies that my 3am writing is not up to par.)

Spilum de porc noir de Bigorre et purée de pommes de terre (19€) – not memorable. Seriously. I don't remember anything about it.

Fricassée de queues gambas et noix de St Jacques au Basilique (26€) – again, average. Good pasta (fresh), scallops were cooked perfectly, nicely seasoning shrimp, but nothing stunning.

This café gourmand (8€) was just average. It was not as good as the two previous ones we had at Ô Bistro Gascon and Le Magret. The chocolate hazelnut cake was very average. The eclair was fine. The coffee was average. The chocolate was good. But all in all, did I think it worth its price? Not particularly.

The other dessert we ordered was a parfait glacé aux fruits rouges et son coulis des fruits (8€). It was good. Not a "wow," but sweet, delicate, light, and refreshing.

Here is the address again, though if you want notes on ambiance, refer to my previous post.

Le Bon Vivre
15b Place du Pt Wilson
31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 61 23 07 17

Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10 (yes, it went down a little)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lunch at the Marché Victor Hugo (Le Magret)

On Sunday, we went to the market, Marché Victor Hugo, went upstairs, and asked politely for a reservation for four people at one of the restaurants. They are all good, but we picked Le Magret (which means “The Duck”). We then went around and explored the market, checking out the wine booths, pâtisseries, and little cheese shops. Once lunch time arrived, we headed up. Normally, reservations are not taken at market-place restaurants, but because we were nice and spoke pleasant French, they allowed us. It was a good thing too, for the place was quickly packed. In fact, all of the upstairs restaurants were booming with business.

We ordered an appéro aux violettes (4€) which was an exceptionally fragrant liquor (violet-scented), nice to sip on, without too strong of an alcohol overtone (as digestifs, the after-meal drink, can be). We decided against appetizers and just went straight to the main course. We ordered four.

First, a parillade de poisson (17€), which included everything from salmon to shrimp to mussles. While it was a nice variety, it wasn’t stunning, just an average, filling meal, with very nice plating.

The cassoulet maison (14€), which is recommended, was very good, and this is coming from a family that doesn’t really eat beans. The white beans were soft and flavorful, and mixed with a variety of proteins and sausages, from cuisse de canard confit (duck leg), saucisse de quenelle (our favorite sausage), and jambon (ham). I would definitely have this again. Though it was a bit heavy for a summer dish, it was too delightful to put down. A very large portion though. We could not finish it, though we tried.

The emincés de magret de canard, sauce aux cepes (14€) was lovely. The meat was cooked rosé (medium rare), and was tender and flavorful. The mushroom sauce that bathed the meat was a nice accompanist, and the fries were crispy, while the legumes were soft. An 8 out of 10.

This foie gras de canard maison (12€) was exactly what I had been hoping for. It was smooth and melted on your mouth like butter. The grey salt and coarsely ground black pepper worked very well with it, and the seasoning of the foie gras itself was spot on. The only thing that could have possibly improved this lovely dish would have been a confit d’oignon, confit de figue, or something sweet like that (as is traditionally served with foie gras).

The café gourmand (5€) was a discovery. Despite our many trips to France, we had never seen (or perhaps had seen but never ordered) this before. The idea is that it is a small espresso with a variety of miniature desserts. In this case, the desserts included were a chocolate mousse, strawberries in their own juices with lightly sweetened whipped cream, a slice of an apple tarte tatin. It was excellent. Eveything was both beautiful and delicious, and we really liked that we got to try several of the kitchen’s dessert offerings. Definitely a 9 out of 10.

The Île Flottant (4€) was excellent. The mixture was sweet and light and indescribably perfect. My family gave it a 9.5 out of 10.

Our overall experience at Le Magret was a fantastic one. The service was quick and friendly and the atmosphere was warm and cozy. We loved that the owner was also our server, and that even when things go hectic, she was willing to stop and take a picture with us. The place never had an empty seat for long, and we can see why. If you go to Toulouse, I would declare it a loss if you did not eat at Le Magret.

Le Magret
é Victor Hugo
Place Victor Hugo
31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 61 62 45 45

Overall rating for the price: 9 out of 10

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Dinner in Toulouse at Le Bon Vivre

Walking around Toulouse, we saw a restaurant that was very crowded and and open seven days a week, from 8pm until some very late night/early morning hour. We were intrigued by the large menu and the fact that it always had patrons, and so we ended up having dinner there on our first night.
Three of us ordered à la carte while one person order the Menu “Ballade Gasconne,” which was 26€ for an appetizer, main course, and dessert.

This appetizer was part of the three-course menu. Called the terrine de foie de volailles, I found it to be just average. I might be swayed by the fact that I don’t care much for rough country-style pâtés, but really, it was about what I would expect to find at a boucherie in France, so I was a little disappointed. For such a large portion, it got a litle boring, and we were sharing among four.

This dish, a cuisse de canard confite et grillées, was also part of the three-course menu, and it was surprisingly good. It looked so simple, I thought it would just be an average dish, but actually the duck was perfectly seasoned—just enough salt, and not a bit over—and the skin was delightfully crunchy. The fries were thick cut, but crispy on the outside. It was so delicious, I actually ordered it again when we went back later, and it was wonderful the second time around too. A very solid 9 out of 10. Delicious.

This dish, la Délice au Foie Gras (18€) was supposed to be a salad, as you can see from the picture. It included gésiers de canards confits, magret fumé, foie gras et peaux de canard grillées (along with apple slices, avocado, lettuce, and shredded carrots). In other words, it had confit-style duck gizzards, smoked duck breast, foie gras (liver), and grilled duck skin. Goodness, those all sound so unelegant in English. But it was really quite delicious. For those of you who are squeamish eaters, I will say that the smoked duck breast was heavenly. I loved the texture and the taste, especially how it wasn’t overly salty (I sometimes find smoked salmon to be a little too high in sodium). The textural variety offered by the gizzard (chewy), foie gas (melt-in-your-mouth), and skin (crunchy) was fantastic. I would order it again in a heartbeat, especially since it lets you try so many different things. A solid 8.5 out of 10.

This foie gras chaud au fruits de saison (19€) is something you should only order if you, like me, have an unhealthy love for foie gras. Because that’s what the dish is. A lot of foie gras, swimming in its own pool of warm, yellow fat. For those of you who haven’t ever had foie gras chaud, don’t be frightened. You know, they say duck fat is one of the healthiest animal fats, especially since it is liquid at room temperature (as opposed to butter). And duck fat has great flavor.

The foie gras was, nevertheless, a lot to take. It was very fatty, but in a good, melt-in-your-mouth kind of way (like marrow, if you’ve ever had that). The reduced sauce from the cherries (which was the seasonal fruit) was sweet and slightly acidic, just perfect to balance the foie gras. I could not finish the foie gras (there were three fairly large pieces), but I enjoyed every single bite. An 8.5 out of 10.

This jarret de veau à la tomate fraîche et tagliatelles (23€) was very average. Nothing fantastic, although the pasta (fresh) was good. I thought it tasted like a good, rustic stew. Not exactly what I was hoping for, personally. Nothing wrong with the flavors, but it just didn’t stand out in my mind, especially not compared to the other dishes.

A coupe de fromage blanc was the dessert that came with the three-course meal, and it was so below average, I don’t even think it’s worth mentioning nor picturing. Skip this dessert for something else. If you really like fromage blanc (which is akin to ricotta or cottage cheese), I’d say just eat it at home. It’s cheaper.

Thankfully, we ordered another dessert, and it was much better. The fondant au chocolat crème au café (8€) was light, and the chocolate and coffee flavors melded very well. And easy dessert to eat and share, and despite our very large meal, this ending didn’t weigh us down.

Overall, the place had a nice ambiance. There are outside tables where people mostly sit to smoke, have drinks, and eat dessert (younger crowd), while inside is where most meals are. The tables are fairly close together (as is typical of France), and they are all half booth, half seats. It's a cloth napkin type of restaurant, but causal dress is fine. In fact, during this meal, I was wearing jean shorts and a tanktop, and I did not get any funny looks.

Le Bon Vivre
15b Place du Pt Wilson
31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 61 23 07 17

Overall rating for the price: 8 out of 10