Combine a wine shop, a cafe, a natural wine bar, a hangout for locals that’s open from 10am to midnight and a restaurant where everything is made from scratch using ingredients gathered within 100 miles and what do you get? La Legende in Sauveterre de Bearn.
On the face of it, Sauveterre de Béarn (population about 1500, although higher in the summer when tourists arrive; the name of the restaurant is a reference to Sauveterre’s medieval fortified bridge, known as Le Pont de la Legende ) seems like an unlikely choice for two former Parisians (alumni of pioneering cave a manger Le Verre Volé). Rumor has it that, having decided to quit Paris, they made a tour of France and fell in love with Sauveterre. Factor in their desire to provision the restaurant exclusively on local products, and the choice begins to make more sense; the Bearn is increasingly known as the home artisan organic farmers, bakers, winemakers and more.
At La Legende, they take full advantage for the local bounty. The daily menu is very limited (they actually ask if you have dietary restrictions when you call to reserve; given that the daily menu has no choices, your answers will shape the meal of all that days guests!) but at 22 euros for 3 very well prepared, totally seasonal course, it is a fantastic value. The cooking is sophisticated but simply and elegantly presented, the flavors are fresh and inventive while still respecting tradition. There is no wine list, but the cave is deep with organic and natural choices, and the sommelier is also your server, so expert advice about pairing with today’e menu is at hand.
The tiny kitchen is located smack in the middle of the dining rooms, so the chef is apt to chime in when you have questions about the day’s preparations. La Legende is the sort of friendly, unpretentious but startling good restaurant that I love.
La Legende Address: 5 Rue de l’Abbé Duplech, 64390 Sauveterre-de-Béarn, France Tel: 09 86 68 99 47 Reservations: Recommended. Menu is very limited, so you will be asked about dietary restrictions when you call
Les Passionés bills itself as a cave a manger, which functionally, means a wine shop where you can also get something to each beyond the charcuterie and cheese you find in a bar a vin. The description written on the restaurant’s facade, “Cafe du marché Vins d’artisans” gives a better idea of the restaurants ambitions, but both fall short of capturing the genius of what they do here.
I would describe it as follows: lovingly sourced products of the region, prepared with care, respect for tradition and inspiration, presented with simplicity and sophistication, paired with wines that are organic, biodymanic or natural, all at prices that are bordering on philanthropic. It is restaurants like this that convince me that French cuisine today is both vibrant and forward-looking, sophisticated and inventive in approach but vitally concerned with how people eat today, and focused on safeguarding dining as the center of everyday French life.
Located along the banks of Toulouse’s Canal de Briennes, Les Passionés manages to pack about 40 seats between its bottle-lined walls. The tables are so tightly spaced that guests coming and going risk jostling other diners but the room hums with well-fed contentment. the sidewalk out front adds another 20 seats or so on sunny days, and the view of the tree-lined canal makes up for the traffic noise from the busy Allée de Briennes.
Les Passionés Address: 31 Allée de Briennes, 31000 Toulouse France Tel: 05 61 13 99 06 Reservations: Recommended
In April 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the Fromagerie Ecologique Agour Irati located high up foothills of the Basque Pyrenees. A quick word about Agour (I also noticed it spelled Agur, which I believe is in Euskera, the Basque language? You Euskera speakers, correct me if I am wrong). If you are a fan of French cheeses, and especially of Basque sheep milk cheeses, you have likely heard of Agour. They are the largest family run independent cheese maker in the French Basque countries and have been exporting to the U.S. for over 20 years. We have featured their lovely cheeses on the cheeses boards at Le Pichet and Cafe Presse for as long as they have been open.
There’s a new fromagerie in Orthez (officially in Argagnon but that is only about 4 minutes from Orthez). This is big news because 1) well things can move pretty slow in Orthez and it is therefore not that often that we arrive to find something totally new and unexpected has opened up and 2) goat cheese is not really the cheese of choice in SW France. With all due respect to Rocamadour and Cabécous from the Midi-Pyrenees, this is the Atlantic end and in the Béarn and Basque countries, the its all about sheep milk tomes, with Ossau Iraty being the reigning king.
The farm Les Chevres de Brassenx is a modest operation, with only about 60 animals and sales only at 3 local farmer’s markets and direct at the farm 3 days a week. When we stopped by, cheese making had just restarted after the winter period when the goat’s stop producing milk, which means limited supply and mostly young cheeses available. But for all that, the cheeses are beautifully made and redolent of fresh, raw milk…no surprise given that the owners (career changers like myself) learned their new craft working in the Poitou-Charente, the most prolific region in France for goat’s milk cheeses.
The other benefit of a spring visit is that the farm is literally awash in baby goats! Not to mention a border collie very insistent on playing fetch, 2 barn cats who seem a bit starved for attention and Monsieur the cheese maker who was more that happy to stop what he was doing to explain the functioning of the farm and cheese making laboratoire (and to introduce the animals).