Recommendations

Auberge de la Fontaine, Laas France

It always warms my heart to come across a restaurant like the Auberge de la Fontaine. Knowing that is is still possible to dine so well for so little money reminds me of how and why I fell in love with traditional French cooking in the first place.

It only adds to the experience that this charming country restaurant is located in the tiny town of Laas (pop: 131), a town which seems to consist mostly of a church, several speed bumps and this auberge (and of course the famous 14c fountain, really more of a communal well, from which the Auberge takes its name). On a rainy December weekday, the dining room was filled with a mix of workmen, families, groups of friends and older couples, packed into the small dining room and steaming up the windows.

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Haraneko Borda, Itxassou, France

In the Pays Basque, adding Borda to the name of an eating establishment signifies a rustic country inn. In Euskera, borda means barn and the original Bordas were kitchens set up in underused barns, often with the cooking done over wood-fired braziers and guests served at long rows of tables, outdoors when weather permitted. Although no one is likely to confuse the the bright, modern dining room at Haraneko Borda with a barn, its kitchen does feature a wood fired grill and oven, the room is framed by ancient wood beams and on sunny days, tables are set up on the expansive deck looking over the green, rural valley of Itxassou.

The restaurant at Haraneko is actually part of an expansive organic farm called Ferme Heranea where owner Christian Aguerre raises the ancient race of Basque black hogs known as “cochon noir de kintoa”, rumored to produce the best pork in France, was well as fruits and vegetables including the sour cherries for which the valley of Itxassou has become known. Starting a restaurant on the property was a logical next step in the farm’s evolution, creating a a dining experience that the chef calls “zero kilometer local”, meaning that the majority of the ingredients come directly from the restaurants own farm. Ham and pork from kintoa hogs, corn for taloa (Basque corn pancakes), chickens, eggs, piment d’Espelette, fruits and vegetables all from the farm. Even the wine served, although not all produced within 1 kilometer, all comes from the Pays Basque.

The cooking at Haraneko matches the setting, being both rustic and accomplished, sophisticated but simple, the kind of food I love to discover and to eat.

When we visited for lunch during the week in early May 2019, reservations were easy to get and the menu prices very fair. However, that could change, as Borda Haraneko has been discovered, recently being named Best Farm-Auberge in France by Le Fooding.

Cochon noir de kintoa roaming free within sight of the dining room at Haraneko Borda

Haraneko Borda
Address: 3 Gerastoko Bidea, 64250 Itxassou, France
Tel: 05 59 15 09 68
Reservations: Recommended. Not busy outside the season but hours can be irregular

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La Legende, Sauveterre de Béarn, France

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

See more photos here:

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Les Passionnés, Toulouse France

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

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Asador Extebarri

Etxeberri Oct 2018 3

Entrance to Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Vizcaya Spain.

We recently had the chance to have lunch at Asador Etxebarri, a restaurant that has gotten a lot of attention from the culinary press for its grill-centric take on traditional Basque food.  I had read how great the food is but had not realized that the restaurant is so isolated or that it was in such a beautiful place.  It is located in the tiny village of Axpe (in the commune of Axtondo) in the the Basque region of the Bizkaia, which is right on the edge of the Parke Naturala Urkiolako. And when I say right on the edge, I am not kidding; the craggy peaks of the park tower over the village and create a striking view from the terrace at Etxebarri, where guests are offered a glass of champagne before the meal. Continue reading

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Old and new favorite addresses in Toulouse

Bibent

Passing through Toulouse has become a habit, as it is the closest major airport to our house in Orthez. For this reason, magnificent main dining room at Bibent on the Place des  Capitouls has become our go-to first meal in France. After 16 hours in transit (more or less), its reliably plush banquettes, attentive service and simple but well done menu gr, filled with grand classics of the cuisine bourgeois, seem like a the perfect way to decompress.

Bibent has a storied history that began in the early 1900s.  Ideally located in Toulouse’s central square, Bibent was designed to be the most luxurious address in town. Its Art Nouveau moldings and hand painted frescoes endured for years but were finally painted over in gold to avoid expensive upkeep as the mode for Grand  Brasseries faded after the wars. It was the Grand Crise of 2008 that finally closed its to doors after more than 100 years in operation. Fortunately for Toulouse, Christian Constant, one of its native sons who had made it big with three restaurants in Paris, decided to reopen the space after a meticulous restoration.  Constant, who is often cited as the father of the Nouveau Bistrot movement in the 1990s in Paris because he trained a number of its adherents while he was the chef at the storied Ambassadeurs restaurant at the Hotel Crillon, installed a menu is an ode to top quality ingredients, simply prepared (as much as that sounds like a cliche now, it is still very rewarding when well done). Oeufs a la Meurette, blanquette de veau, hand chopped tartare de bœuf, baba au rhum.  You get the idea.

barallel

Not far from Bibent is new arrival (or at least a new discovery for me)  Barallel.  A wine bar featuring mostly organic, biodynamic or natural wines and specializing selections from the area around Toulouse (pretty much requirements for any up and coming wine bar in France these days), it also features 6 handles of beers brewed in its own mini-brasserie, visible through a glass wall at the back of the room.  A unique feature for a bar that only has room for 50-ish guest. Friendly people behind the bar, friendly pricing on the list and a selection of cheese and meat plates from local artisans. Not surprising that finding a seat is always a challenge.

Bibent
Address:  5 Place du Capitole, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 05 34 30 18 37
Reservations:  Recommended at dinner for sure. If you arrive without one, you may be relegated to the downstairs dining room, which is a cosy vaulted cave, but still disappointing when you are expecting to dine in an Art Nouveau palace

Barallel
Address:  9 Rue Cujas, 31000 Toulouse, France
Tel: 09 82 50 43 58
Reservations:  Not accepted.

 

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Paris recommendations Summer 2018

Recently, a guest of Le Pichet asked me for advice for an upcoming trip to Paris. She is to stay on the Île de la Cité, and was hoping for recommendations on a simple Left Bank restaurant in the style of Le Pichet, a grand restaurant for a splurge, museums and  some advice on tipping.

I am reprinting my reply here in the hope that they may be useful to others lucky enough to be heading to Paris soon.  Note that these recommendations are not intended to be comprehensive, as Paris offers an endless palette of choices;  these are just the things that answered her request.  Enjoy!

Restaurants:  Honestly I have not spent a ton of time on the left Bank as we generally stay either near the Marché at Place Aligré (between the Place de Bastille and Place de Nation) or near the Place Batignolles in the 17th.  That being said, I do know a few good places not far from the Cité.  Continue reading

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Bar de la Relève, Marseille France

Bar de la Relève is located just 5 or 6 blocks from the Vieux Port but the steep hill climb that connects the two keeps the neighborhood a bit sheltered from the crush of tourists (by the way, stop at the medieval Abbaye de St.-Victor for a quick look as you pass…the crypt is a jaw-dropper!).  A sort of bar/cafe/tapas bar a la Marseillais, Bar de la Relève was started by a group of copains who had already made there mark on the local food landscape ( Edouard of the Bistrot d’Édouard, Arnaud from the Cafe des Epice, Hugo from Le Cave de Baille and Gregoire, locally famous for organizing food-centric “happenings and soirees”) but who longed for a friendly place  to meet friends, raise a good glass of wine and have a bite.

They found the perfect location in an ancient and long abandoned café du quartier, that had, in its day, been a favored haunt for taxi drivers.  After an extensive and charming renovation, Bar de la Relève was born.  On any given night the front room is thick with neighborhood habitues crowding around the bar and spilling out onto the sidewalk, engaging in animated discussions between glasses of wine. Don’t worry, speak to the kind gentleman watching over the door, get on the list for a table and then wade right into the crowd.  The people of Marseille have a well deserved reputation for friendliness.

Once at table (or on any tiny scrap of bar you may happen to conquer), the menu is full of small plates that work as a snack or can be strung together for a meal.  On one night:  panisse, a sort of Provencal fritter made from chickpea flour, fried and simply served with sea salt and a lemon wedge;  squid hoods stuffed with green chard and braised in pastis, tomato and white wine;  filets of lieu jaune breaded a l’anglais served with sauce tartar; a robust country pâté;   and a lovely salad of roasted winter vegetables.

Côté vin, a well selected list featuring natural and organic wines, most by the glass.  What else could you need?

Bar de la Relève
Address:  41, Rue d’Endoume, 13007 Marseille, France
Tel: 04 95 09 87 81
Reservations:  Not accepted, come early or just push up to the bar until a table in the small dining room opens up.  Pleasant terrace for warm days or nights.

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Les Temps des Vendages, Toulouse France

Temps des Vendanges May 2017 2

If you leave the old center of Toulouse, crossing the Garonne via the pont Saint-Pierre, you will arrive in the left bank quarter of Saint-Cyprian.  Less picturesque and with fewer sites to attract visitors, this side of the river offers instead the charm the of a French town quietly going about its daily routines.

Located on the pocket sized Place de l’Estrapade at the center of the Saint-Cyprian, Les Temps des Vendages is at heart a cave or wine shop.  The walls of the tiny front room are lined with bottles that reflect owner Eric Cuestas’ passion for organic, biodynamic and natural wines, what he calls Vins d’Artisans.  By virtue of a tiny kitchen at the back  and 10 small tables tucked in between the cases of wine, the cave becomes cave a manger at lunch time.  Each day, the kitchen offers a short menu of seasonal dishes that look simple but surprise with their depth of flavor and technical accomplishment.

On a day in late May, one starter was a golden-yolked farm egg baked en cocotte with cream, raclette cheese , parsley and peas.   A main course featured  half a roasted chicken served with a salad of red feuille de chêne lettuce and potato puree.  Very simple dishes both but perfectly executed.  As each plate was delivered, the server chatted amiably about  the various farms from which came the eggs, chicken and raw milk raclette,

A cheese course we ordered was composed of a drippingly ripe Brie de Meaux, a cow’s milk tome from the Ariege hamlet of Bethmale and a herb crusted sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica.  The owner selected these from a small but very packed display case full of cheese and charcuterie at the back of the room.  Are these today’s cheeses, I asked?  No, he selected these to match the bottle of red wine from the Clos de Tue Bouef in the Touraine that we had been drinking.

By the time that a dessert of goat’s milk panna cotta with gariguette  strawberries (a specialty of the region)  arrived,  it had become clear that this simple little cafe and wine shop is anything but.  Instead, it offers something that is rare these days.  Impeccably sourced food and wine, prepared and served with skill and an amazingly humble sense of the virtues of a job well done.

Afternoons finds the pleasant terrace out front filled with tables of friends sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of charcuterie or cheese. Neighbors pass by to purchase a bottle and some cheese or rillettes to take home. Just another day in paradise.

Lest Temps des Vendages
Address:  9 Place de l’Estrapade, 31300 Toulouse, France
Tel: o5 61 42 94 66
Reservations:  Lots of space on the terrace, but if the weather is bad, reserve on of the 10 tables inside.

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Charcuterie Louis Ospital, Hasparren France

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Few people would guess, on passing this nondescript butcher shop in the small Basque town of Hasparren,  that they are passing perhaps the most famous charcuterie in France.  This tiny store front was first opened in the 1970’s by Louis Ospital, who was part of a tiny group of hog farmer and ham makers (3 of each to be exact) who, in an effort to foster a return to traditional methods of making Jambon de Bayonne, created the Jambon Label Ibaiama.  The label Ibaiama (which means “mother source” in Basque) includes only hams made from traditional Basque hog breeds using traditional handcrafting and aging methods, and has come to be recognized as the finest ham made in France.

Louis’ son Éric has since taken over the family business and become something of a celebrity in the process (yes , a celebrity ham maker…only in France) whose hams, sausages and boudin are served by who’s who of French restaurants (when visiting his ham production and aging facility, one of the first things you notice is that each ham is marked with the name of the restaurant for which it is destined, having purchased it before its 21 months of aging even started.)

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Jambon Ibaiana from maison Ospital and its ideal accompaniments: good bread and butter.

Despite his celebrity status, the current day charcuterie of Éric Ospital is almost unchanged since his father’s day, with an amiable mamie behind the counter taking her time to serve a queue of longtime local clients. The ham is sliced by hand or on a slicer (older clients seem to prefer their ham sliced thicker, and therefore by hand) and the chipolatas and basque boudins wrapped to order in waxed butcher paper.  The shop still offers fresh pork and Basque specialties “en conserve” in addition to its famous hams and cured meats.  Some things don’t change after all.

 Boucherie, Charcutier, Trateur L. Ospital
47, rue Jean Lissard, 64240 Hasparren France

05 59 29 63 06

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