Postcard from Toulouse, France: Cheese, pastries and menus fluent in French flavor

Above, traditional cassoulet at Le Pyreneen

Parts of numerous animals star in the most famous regional dish of Toulouse – cassoulet. A traditional cassoulet often includes pork loin, pork belly, sausage, neck and breast of lamb and duck confit. All are simmered with white beans for hours and finished off under a flame to give the top a tasty, caramelized char.

We decided if we were going to dive into the dish to do it somewhere well-established, an institution, and chose Le Pyreneen. The brasserie opened in 1925 but appears older and set-ready to serve in a period film with little tinkering. The Mister’s dish was indeed meaty, savory and destination-worthy, but I must confess I opted for seafood and was not disappointed. One thing I did learn on this trip was that I do like duck confit, which is cooked ahead of time and preserved in duck fat until ready to use. We encountered it in numerous dishes and always found it tender and juicy.

Small and intimate with attentive service, Une Table a Deux almost feels awaiting a star. The fixed price menu changes weekly based on seasonal fresh foods and was wonderful. Merlu de ligne is hake caught by trotlines set out by small fishing boats off the coast of Aquitaine, and it rested comfortably atop its bed of several different winter squashes contrasting with leche de tigre. If zucchini muffins appear as an appetizer, don’t pass on them. The blanc en neige, or floating island of fluffy meringue, makes an ideal light dessert.

Apologies: The photos below fail to reflect the quality of the dishes in these restaurants. The restaurant interiors were a little dim for a camera with no flash, and then I edited the shots in what was a dimly lit apartment – so some of the colors appear artificially intense.

Le Panache had a similar rotation for its fixed price lunch offerings but has a little more relaxed neighborhood feel, partially because it was right in our Rue des Filatiers neighborhood. We enjoyed everything we tried there. Surprisingly, I think one of my favorite dishes in Toulouse was Le Panache’s roasted carrots, so sweetly intense in flavor and beautifully presented.

Reservations are recommended for all three of the restaurants mentioned.

Generally, I reserve patisseries for window-shopping, but displays of cheese tend to make me reach for my wallet. The entire time we were in France, our apartments were always well-stocked with regional cheeses, particularly goat, for our nightly cheese course. There is no shortage of opportunities to encounter seductive food shops of all kinds on the streets of Toulouse.

Bon appetit!

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