8 July 2006, La Chalosse

Sunday (2 July), we did the Michelin driving tour of La Chalosse out of St. Séver, through Mugron, Montfort de Chalosse, Bastenne, and Gaujacq. Saw one lonesome field of sunflowers but still mostly corn and cattle, a few grapes. We stopped to visit the church in St. Sever and to have lunch, but boy is that place closed up tight on Sundays! We finally found a sign pointing down an alley promising a restaurant 100 m away (perfect for the hundred-yard rule), and sure enough, we came out the other side to find "Le Touron" open and doing a brisk business in Sunday dinners for people dressed for church. David and I went halves on a cheese omelet (they were out of mushrooms) and a salade Landaise.

On the way back, we came across a "vide grenier," a rummage sale. David rolled his eyes, but I felt we just had to stop— talk about meeting the locals! It was a big one, filling a space the size of a high-school gym, plus most of the parking lot. It turned out to be more a flea market, featuring a lot of habitual vendors catering to collectors—coins, stamps, old postcards, comic books, pressure cookers (who knew, but this guy had an array of about 40 of them), old square wooden-and-cast-iron coffee grinders, "fèves" (those tiny procelaine figurines baked into puff-pastry-and-frangipane "galettes des rois" for epiphany; the person who finds the "fève" in his piece gets to be king or queen of the party—bakers feature collectible series to encourage everyone to buy more of the cakes; we collected several in the "Peanuts" series January before last, during the sabbatical). Some actual "rummage" was being sold—lots of baby clothes, old records and CDs, plumbing fixtures, housewares, etc. Also little potted "piments d'Espelette" plants.

Eugenie grill Back in Eugénie, we had dinner at Guérard's "lesser" restaurant, l'Auberge de la Ferme aux Grives (The Inn at Thrush Farm). It's big deal is meats grilled over the open wood fire right in the dining room. Steaks are grilled to order over the horizontal grill, which the chef feeds with coals from the vertical grill. The chef tries to stay a chicken or so ahead, because at the temperature he prefers they take about an hour to cook (though, he says, when he hears a large group is coming, he adds some coal to the fire to run the temperature up and can crank out a roasted chicken—and these are big chickens—in 25 minutes). The suckling pig takes 15-20 hours at low temperature, so it cooks all day on the upper spit, slowing turning before the coals, and is then lowered to the bottom, where the fire is hotter (where the chicken is in the photo) to brown and crisp. The one on the grill while we were there was intended for the following day's dinner service, and the one I ate had been cooked the day before.

Eugenie vegsThe grillmaster does his carving on a big wooden table behind this large screen of vegetables, breads, etc. We got these photos before the maitre d' informed us that photos of the decor are not permitted. It seems that someone came to dinner, took many photos of the interior, and then, just 20 km away, opened his own restaurant with a microscopically exact copy of the decor! Mrs. Guérard, who decorated the place herself, was not best pleased. We therefore confined our further photography to the food on our plates.

Amuse-bouche: Gougères, i.e., cream-puff batter mixed with grated cheese and baked into tender, eggy little puffs.

First course, David: Cold stewed rabbit in aspic with slices of cold foie gras.

First course, Anne: Carpaccio of tuna with foie gras. That is, raw tuna was wrapped around cold cooked foie gras into a cylinder and very thinly sliced. A wreath of the overlapping slices ringed the plate, and the center was filled with salad and shavings of Parmesan. Beautiful, but the light was so dim we couldn't hold the camera steady enough to get a focused photo. Also delicious.

Second course, David: A whole leg off one of those giant roast chickens, with a sauce of cream and chicken drippings and a square of herby bread stuffing.

Second course, Anne: Roast suckling pig, with the drippings and a spoonful of "Spanish-style" stuffing (bread crumbs, sausage, onions). I wonder whether it wasn't actually the last of the pig before last; it was rather dry and bony, and the skin, though tasty, was leathery rather than crisp.

Side dishes, to share: Mashed potatoes and an excellent dish of baked rigatoni in cream sauce with morel mushrooms. Fun to see how the chefs copy one another (they would call it "taking inspiration from" or "hommage to"); we were served a very similar, but not quite as good, dish at one of the restaurants in Biarritz.

Dessert, David: French toast with roasted strawberries and caramel sauce.

Dessert, Anne: An odd cheese mixture, reminiscent of Rondelé or cervelle de canut, but not as good as either one. Strongly dominated by minced green onion and gummy in texture. I didn't like it much.

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