Sunday, March 21, 2010

Le Languedoc, Carcassonne

As you probably know, I am co-proprietor of a small French bistro called Bistro Des Copains in the small Northern California town of Occidental; we are located about 68 miles north of San Francisco.

About six months after opening, we decided to close the Bistro and take a three week holiday, sort of like a French restaurant's "fermeture annuelle". It was January and we had survived the year end holidays; January is traditionally a very slow time for tourism in the wine country.

My partner in the Bistro and I decided to take our chef and one of our servers to France so they could experience the food, wine, people and culture of France since they had never been to France before.

Since we opened the Bistro, our favorite rosé wine has been the delicious Gris de Gris produced by Domaine de Fontsainte from five varietals of grapes from Corbières. Year after year, this wine has all of the best characteristics of a great rosé; color, crispness and dry.

It is easy for me to get off track when I start to talk and think about this wine so I will come back to this in a future post. When I started to research our trip, I saw that Boutenac where Domaine de Fontsainte is located, is only about 45 km from the medieval city of Carcassonne.

We were determined to visit Domaine de Fontsainte and given its proximity, we decided that we should also visit Carcassonne. Carcassonne is a fortified town in the Aude Department of Languedoc-Roussillon.

It is separated into the fortified Cité de Carcassonne and the more expansive lower city, the ville basse. The fortress which was thoroughly restored in 1853, was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997.

Besides its history and beauty and location along the Canal du Midi, Carcassonne is also known for its cassoulet. Cassoulet is a rich slow-cooked stew or casserole containing meat (typically pork sausages, pork, goose, duck and sometimes lamb) and white beans (haricots blancs or lingots).

The dish is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides. Numerous regional variations exist, the best known being the cassoulets from Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne.

As I have written before, I generally plan out our trips quite thoroughly before we go so that we hopefully have positive experiences whereever we go. On some trips, this means we are not very spontaneous; but I digress again.

As I was planning for the trip with our bistro crew, I checked with a variety of sources including local vintners about where we should go in Carcassone to eat a good traditional cassoulet. Numerous people told me we should go to Le Languedoc restaurant.

The traveling party from Bistro Des Copains; Tricia Stagg, Chef Melissa Gonyea, me and my partner in Bistro Des Copains, Cluney Stagg at our table at Le Languedoc. Unfortunately, my wife Shirley couldn't stay as long as the rest of us.

Among the dishes we tried was a tasty offering of moules gratinés prepared by chef Didier Faugeras.

We also tried the chef's version of onion soup gratinés.

And the "pièce de résistance", highlight, and reason for coming to Le Languedoc was cassoulet au confit de canard, the restaurant's specialty. It was the best cassoulet I have ever had. This was the first time I had ever had cassoulet served family style instead of in individual cassoles.

So while the cassoulet might not have had quite as much tasty crunchiness on top, it was a delicious, rich combination of white beans, duck confit, lamb and pork sausage. It was wonderful, so wonderful that I took seconds when it was offered.

To finish off our lunch, I had the "nougat glacé au coulis de framboise", frozen nougat with a rasberry coulis.

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