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

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