Photo by Dorna Naseri
Jennifer Kohn will travel far and wide for AYCE foie gras.
The best meal my husband, Jeff, and I ever had? Our life together is all about our meals. We plan trips around food, whether three-star Michelins or greasy spoons in crazy neighborhoods. Since our first date, on November 4, 1995, food has been an integral part of our life. We hemmed and hawed about which was our best and then we both simultaneously said, “Au Gré du Vin.”
In 1997, Jeff and I went to Europe on a culinary tour, with no set return date. We left in February and, by April, we found ourselves in Toulouse, France, which is just east of Gascony—the foie gras capital of the world.
That night, we must have walked miles on winding streets looking for a typical meal of the region. Down a narrow, cobblestone street, we stumbled upon Au Gré du Vin. No menu boards outside, just a small, intimate place with perhaps a dozen tables, exposed brick walls, and a mural of the menus from restaurants at which the owners had eaten—all great restaurants of France.
I started out with a chèvre chaud, two large buttons of herbed goat cheese served over frisée salad with toasted pine nuts. It was excellent. Jeff had a terrine of foie gras, which was preserved in a large sort of Le Creuset-type crock surrounded by duck fat. It was served with toasted pieces of country bread. It was fantastic and enormous. The server just scooped it out and kept coming around again and again. We kept thinking she was going to say, “You had enough,” but she never did. It was an all-you-can-eat terrine of foie gras. It was so frivolous, just giving it away—like the way they pour coffee in a diner. Our only real experiences with terrine of foie gras were tiny slabs with some aspic. And now: a bottomless plate of foie gras!
I followed my salad with cassoulet, the dish of the region, which was enormous and delicious. Tarbais beans that melted in your mouth with saucisson à l’ail (garlic sausage), mutton, and duck confit. The cassoulet was so filling that Jeff dove in and helped finish off the dish.
Jeff had one of his favorite dishes, daube, which is a stew of braised beef infused with tarragon and orange, and cooked with potatoes and carrots. We drank a Madiran 1993, produced around the village of Madiran in Gascony, where the main grape variety is Tannat and makes up 40 to 60 percent of the wine. It’s supplemented by Cabernet Franc (locally called Bouchy or Bouchet), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Fer (locally called Pinenc).
You would think two future bakery owners would go crazy with dessert, but we were so full that we had two black coffees and split some lemon-cassis sorbet.
We walked back to our hotel (it was a notch above a youth hostel) and were never so full. We thought we would never eat again, but, of course, the next morning we were out—we were in France, for goodness’ sake!—off in search of croissants.
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