Last weekend we went to Toulouse in the Haut-Garonne region. It is located in the southwest of France and formerly the capital of the Languedoc province. It’s known as the Ville Rosé or “Pink City” because of its brick buildings.
Absolutely beautiful, the city had a calm to it that I hadn’t found in Provence. Maybe it was because the southwest was on vacation. The city is home to many historical landmarks and beautiful architecture but the highlight of the trip for me was seeing Les Jacobins and the tomb of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
As a big medieval history and theology/philosophy buff, I had no idea that Aquinas’s tomb was in the city. I was taking photographs of the walls totally ignoring the shrine in the center of the cathedral when my husband turned me around and pointed to the tomb. At which point I almost peed myself. It was an exciting moment.
Of course, no trip to anywhere would be complete without a tasting of the regional cuisine. In the southwest, duck, meats and foie gras reign supreme. The husband and I consulted the Gault-Millau and found Chez Emile which was described as the restaurant one must go to for a taste of traditional southwestern cooking.
Located in the center of the city, it has a rustic setting. Cream stone walls, wooden rafters and a home-cooking smell. While the menu had it’s fair share of fish dishes, we were there for the regional meats and the regional wines.
I wish I had been able to take a photograph of the wine list which was a book of about 15 pages boasting wines from 2009 to 1929. The prices were also impressive. We chose a 1996 Saint Estephe, one of the famous Bordeaux domains. Our wallet didn’t allow us to order a grand cru so we went with Les Pagodes des Cos, which was a heavy, woody wine that had the taste of the forest-y region that is Bordeaux (or it was before it was turned into vineyards).
For entrées, the husband went with a traditional foie gras, homemade with a chutney of mango and pineapple. I decided for something heavier – if you can believe there is anything heavier than foie gras. Homemade foie gras ravioli with a sauce made from cream and wild cèpe mushrooms. The foie gras inside the ravioli was poêlé. This means it’s raw, cooked quickly in a frying pan just before being served rather than being baked in a terrine and left to sit for 24 hours. This cause a much richer flavor and a very melted texture. And these raviolis were fondant, melting in my mouth almost instantly. The sauce was light and rich at the same time, tasting heavily of the cèpes, something that you don’t often find because cèpes are expensive and it takes a lot of mushrooms to make a good sauce.
For the main plate, the husband made up for his restraint by ordering the heaviest dish on the menu – and something he had been dreaming of for years – cassoulet. White beans, tomato, 3 different sausages, duck confit, garlic, carrots and onion cooked in duck fat.
Knowing I’d be having duck for the rest of the weekend, I chose lamb. It was cooked in a casserole with potato, onion, and mushrooms. This was not a vegetarian evening.
The waiter came out before the plate was served to place a cutting board and two serving utensils in front of me. When I asked what they were for, he told me the dish was served in the casserole at the table and that he’d be serving me. I didn’t see this happen for anyone else and the husband said they must have been warned in advance of the mess I make when I eat.
For dessert I had the savarin au rhum, with coconut milk and pineapple sorbet. Apparently it’s fashion to serve the rhum in something that looked like a syringe. It was still fabulous.
We left the restaurant VERY full and waddled back to the hotel.
Chez Emile is not inventive, innovative cuisine. It’s traditional cuisine. Heavy, rich and savory. There are no surprises, just the taste of well cooked, tender meats, flavored with its own broth, onions, and a few extra spices (like thyme) thrown in to complete. While flavor twists are always special, it was a treat to eat the traditional dishes of the southwest with recipes that haven’t changed in any major way in hundreds of years.