RESTAURANT LE 29 AU BORD L'ETANG, BOUZIGUES - A REVIEW



Bouzigues fronts the Bassin de Thau, a saltwater lake (etang) separated from the Mediterranean by a strip of land that reminds one of the Outer Banks. The waterfront is lined with restaurants, all featuring the oysters and other seafoods from the etang and the Med. It's not the most picturesque of villages but the flavor of the place is certainly more inviting than the more crassly commercial towns directly facing the Med. There are souvenir shops to be sure, but they are somewhat restrained and don't appear to be the raison d'etre of Bouzigues. Rather, the work of harvesting the bounty of the etang and the sea seems to take precedence.

Cathey and I both chose from the 22 Euro menu at Restaurant le 29. Cathey started with the plateau de coquillages (6 oysters and 6 mussels served on a bed of ice). The oysters were as advertised. Bouzigues oysters are recognized as about the best to be had in the region. It was Cathey's first try at raw mussels on the half shell and, with the vinegary sauce in a squeeze bottle added, she enjoyed the taste. (Don't try this at home. The mussels have to be fresh, fresh, fresh.) I had the baked Camembert on toast with bacon, onions, and mushrooms and a small side salad. Creamy, tasty good. Cathey's main was the Parmesan encrusted fresh morue (cod) topped with herbs and lemon. Cathey raved. Superb, she said. Excellent. These are words that Cathey seldom uses in restaurants. And the distinctively prepared side of rice also took her fancy. I had the pork filet with a honey and ginger sauce. (Yes, seafood is pretty much lost on me.) Totally satisfactory.

For dessert, I had a lemon meringue torte, Cathey the rum baba. Both with pastry cream and whipped cream, both a pleasant quality surprise at the finish.

With a bottle of picpoul and coffee for me at the end, 64 Euros.

I suggested that we might try one of the other restaurants along the waterfront next time. Cathey would have none of it. We'll be back to le 29 the next time that friends visit who enjoy seafood.

Read more of my reviews HERE.


RANDOM #1 - CRUZ/CHRISTIANITY, SNOWDEN/OLIVER/WIKILEAKS/SONY & REAGAN/CLINTON/OBAMA


CRUZ/CHRISTIANITY

Ted Cruz is reported to have said that there is no longer room in the Democratic Party for Christians. If I were a practicing Christian, I would be pissed that the litmus test for being a Christian has become adherence to the laws of the Old Testament rather than an understanding of Christ's message of grace.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

SNOWDEN/OLIVER/WIKILEAKS/SONY
Folks like Jon Stewart and John Oliver appear to delight in insisting that they are not journalists, even as they do the very jobs that journalists ought to be doing but are not. For instance, it took Oliver just minutes to burst the bubble of righteousness Eric Snowden and his admirers have erected around his actions. Having admitted to Oliver that he hadn't read all of the documents that he leaked and that it is at least possible, perhaps likely, that bad things will happen to good people as a result, Snowden admitted to having to own causing collateral damage. One has to suppose that those canonizing Snowden would be among the first to condemn the military when a drone strike harms the innocent. What about Snowden, then?

Transparency can be a bitch when it applies to you, can't it?

And now we know that transparency applies to anyone and everyone. The personal information of thousands of Sony employees are publicly available - in a searchable database, no less - thanks to the determination by the folks at WikiLeaks that Sony, like the US government, qualifies as a suitable target for transparency. Who's next? Certainly not the folks at WikiLeaks. Why not? Good question. Maybe John Oliver will get to ask it one of these days.

REAGAN/CLINTON/OBAMA
On an internet discussion board recently, one writer gave Bill Clinton credit for presiding over the best American economy in a good long while. One naysayer insisted Clinton was not responsible. Rather, a Republican majority in Congress was responsible for the good times in the late 90s. One wonders if the same writer would be as quick to credit a Democratic Congress for Reagan's successes. Of course, just as Clinton's good times have grown better than they actually were when viewed through the lens of history, so have Reagan's good times...if indeed a judicious look at the Reagan years can be characterized as good times.

And what of Obama? By the numbers, Obama has presided over the best times of all. Which just goes to show, modern history is written by those with the most powerful microphones.

RESTAURANT AU PETIT GAZOUILLIS, CASTELNAUDARY - A REVIEW

Less than a week after our first visit, we unexpectedly found ourselves back in Castelnaudary for lunch. The first time through, on a Thursday, Au Petit Gazouillis was closed. Tuesday? Open.

A small sign along the main downtown drag in Castelnaudary points to Au Petit Gazouillis, tucked out of the way on a side street. It's a funky, family operation in a small, dim (but not dingy) dining room.We were first in, at about noon, but the room quickly filled with a combination of locals and tourists.  The maitre d' and the single waiter were kept hopping. Even so, service was timely and gave the appearance of being unhurried.

We chose the 13.50 Euro menu. For starters, a charcuterie plate, slices of a variety of processed, store-bought meats with a bit of greens and crudities. Filling if not noteworthy. Cathey opted for the house cassoulet (for a 2.50 supplement). I went for Toulouse sausages and frites. The cassoulet came bubbling hot and quite meaty, a perfect portion for Cathey. My sausage was dense and tasty and the French do know their frites. Cathey had a simple fruit salad for dessert. My molten chocolate fondant came with pastry cream, whipped cream, and a small scoop of French (very) vanilla ice cream. Just delightful. With a demi of wine, and perhaps the most disappointing chunks of baguette I've yet to be served in France, 35 Euros.

If it hadn't been clear that the slices of baguette had been cut from an old loaf - one side of the first slice was crumbly dry and at the least should have been discarded - this would have been a near perfect meal. Be that as it may, Cathey preferred the cassoulet to that of Le Tirou, a ringing endorsement. Given the authentic atmosphere, and for the price, Au Petit Gazouillis is a true find. We'll return.

Read more reviews HERE.


RESTAURANT LE TIROU, CASTELNAUDARY - A REVIEW

Three different towns in the south of France each produce slightly different versions of cassoulet, that hearty, beany casserole named after the cassole, the earthenware bowl in which it is traditionally cooked and served. Having visited Carcassonne and Toulouse prior to our permanent move to the region, only Castelnaudary, which lays claim to actually having invented the dish, remained.

Le Tirou chef/owner Jean-Claude Visentin is a Maître Restaurateur, a prized title not taken lightly.  It's a curious place with odd, slightly chintzy furnishings that embellish otherwise standard restaurant table settings. And you can't miss the petting zoo in the back yard on display to the entire dining room. (Roosters and an alpaca (llama, maybe) and a statue of a cow and more...) But, like 90% of the restaurants in Castelnaudary, whatever else that it's about, it's about the cassoulet.

Brought to the table with some ceremony in the appropriate cassoles, properly crusted, the maitre d' spooned out a piece of homemade sausage, a piece of confit de porc, a piece of confit de canard, and a serving of beans onto the plates of each of the ladies. Not a fan of such beanful fare, I opted for cuisse de canard confite - leg and thigh of duck confit. The cassoulet was a real treat for the ladies, each component with a distinctive flavor, the portion slightly more than they could finish. My duck was done as I like it and as so few restaurants serve it, with the skin crispy instead of limp.

We found the service polite and attentive without being intrusive and Visentin visited each table as lunch concluded, even displaying a smattering of English in our honor. This was the real deal even if the setting had the flavor of a touristy joint. They care about the cassoulet and it showed. Not the least expensive in town - the three mains with a demi of wine, two desserts and two coffees just topped 100 Euros. But well worth it. Thumbs up.

Read more of my reviews HERE.

GREGORIAN CHOIR OF PARIS AT THE ABBEY FONTFROIDE - A REVIEW


Every concert review could begin with the words,"This type of music might not be to everyone's liking." Taste in music is highly personal. My wife Cathey considers anything composed after Bach to be jazz. On my desert island, I'll be listening to the fragile voices of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young as well as Grace Slick in her full-throated glory. But in this case, it must be said. An hour and a half of Gregorian chants might not be to everyone's liking.

Now that that's out of the way, the traditional Easter Sunday concert by the Choeur Grégorien de Paris (Gregorian Choir of Paris) demonstrated both the appeal of that particular form of worshipful music and the amazing acoustic properties of the Abbaye de Fontfroide.

Let's start with the Abbey itself. Set in the midst of wine country west of Narbonne, a visit to Fontfroide makes a great day trip. The grounds are immaculate, the buildings well preserved and with fascinating histories. Just a couple of pictures prove my point.



The main chapel is typical of the region and the period. And it seems to have been constructed for the express purpose of making the listening to sacred music a pleasurable experience. (Avery Fisher Hall, take note!) The Choir was constantly on the move, breaking into groups and reforming, singing in solo and duet and trio and quartet and you-name-it configurations from points throughout the chapel. And from every direction, regardless of the number of singers, the acoustics were crystal clear. Just a delight to the ear.


As for the music itself, it was presented with the controlled passion required. Restrained yet powerful.

Two highlights of 90 minutes of nonstop performance...

At one point, two groups of men and two of women took up station in four corners of the chapel. They started with a sort of call and response, one group starting only after the echoes of the previous group had faded. Slowly, the call and response became a sort of rondo, with one group chiming in just before the previous group had completed their phrase. The piece accelerated until the four parts were being sung simultaneously. Dramatic and exhilarating.

The finish was an Alleluia chorus as in the video above. The Chorus moved from the altar down the center aisle to the back of the chapel and the audience was invited to participate. Chilling.

This annual Easter event is well worth attending. And if once was enough for those of us for whom sacred music is not a sacred pleasure, once was necessary to appreciate the beauty of the genre. And beautiful it was.

RFRAs: LEARNING FROM LED ZEPPELIN, THE PILGRIMS, AND LESTER MADDOX

TRYING TO RECREATE HISTORY
Have you seen/heard Stairway to Heaven performed by Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson at the Kennedy Center the night that Led Zeppelin was honored? If you haven't, take a few minutes and check this video out.


Powerful, huh? But now that The Rolling Stones have announced the dates for their tour of the US, I just have to say it. I cringe when I see Mick Jagger strutting on stage these days. I do. It's involuntary, like a gag reflex. Jagger has become a caricature of himself and it's sad.

Picturing Jagger strutting on a stadium stage to the signature strains of (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction forces me to give a pass to Robert Plant for his antipathy toward the idea of a Led Zeppelin reunion. Plant's just not that shirtless guy wearing low rider jeans any more, screaming into the mic, brushing his shoulder length, curly locks off his face with an almost effeminate flip of the wrist. He realizes that he can't be that guy again without becoming a cartoon. You just can't recreate history. You can honor history the way that the Wilson sisters did at the Kennedy Center that night and the way that Plant does when he performs semi-acoustic versions of Led Zep hits in duet with Allison Krause. But trying to recreate those great Led Zep onstage moments, night after night, note for note and solo for solo, 40 years later? No. So Plant gave up the stadiums and the big money and found ways to be the Robert Plant of today. Like this...


What does all of this have to do with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts? Well, it's about understanding and honoring history. And while those who say that RFRAs honor American history, a closer examination suggests that, like Jagger's strutting, their idea of American history is cringe worthy.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #1
If you are like most Americans, you think that the Pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution. Senator Tom Cotton of Open Letter to Iran fame recently repeated that meme in discussing his state's passage of a RFRA. Like most Americans, and like Senator Cotton, you'd be wrong. Repeating poorly taught history does not make it so.

The Pilgrims did initially leave England after that country's break with Rome in order to practice their own version of non-Catholicism. Since they would not join the Church of England, they had to leave. But they didn't leave to go to the New World. They left to go to Holland. In Holland, they were free to practice their religion as they saw fit. The Pilgrims were not being persecuted when they decided to ship themselves across the Atlantic from Holland. They were, however, poor. Unskilled labor working at low-paying jobs. And their kids were enjoying the less restrictive social life that their host country had to offer. So their parents, for economic reasons and to keep control of their kids, left for the New World.

You can make the argument that the Pilgrims left England for reasons related to religious freedom, but you cannot make that argument for their eventual decision to sail to North America. At that point, the only religious component to their flight from Europe was their inability to convince their kids of the worth of their cloistered, austere lifestyle. There are echoes of such frustrations today, the belief of some religionists that they are losing control of the narrative, especially as regards their children. I get it. It's disheartening when your children reject teachings that you hold dear. But giving religionists license to discriminate based on an imperfect understanding of the Founders intent is not my idea of the American ideal.
  
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MISCONCEPTION #2
If you are as old as I am, you remember the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago.

(I do part with some of my liberal friends when I say that I consider the LGBT struggle today qualitatively different from that of black Americans back in the day. Yes, the LGBT community is discriminated against and that discrimination is is as wrong and as hateful as racial discrimination. But as a Jew, I can tell you that I have been discriminated against in my life primarily when I declare my Judaism. I can walk down the street anywhere in the world, I can even drop my pants and display my lack of a foreskin, and unless I declare my faith, I can pass. The same goes for the LGBT community. Unless they declare their orientation verbally or by their actions, they can pass. Black Americans don't have that option. The reason that they are discriminated against is literally written across their foreheads. Just sayin'...)

If you remember those struggles, you remember folks like Lester Maddox. Lester owned a restaurant in Atlanta. He swore that he would close it before he would allow it to be integrated. He stood in the doorway, waving an ax handle, to make his point. And he eventually did close the restaurant rather than comply with the law. States rights and private property were his mantras. The federal government had no business telling the Georgians what they could and could not do. And anyway, don't people have the right to associate with whom they choose on their own property?

Sound familiar?
1. States should be able to determine for themselves the definition of marriage.
2. And whether or not a state allows LGBT marriage, who a businessperson decides to serve is his or her own business.

By that reasoning, we're back to Maddox. And that just won't fly. The reason that federal laws can trump states' rights is to protect the rights of minorities, not ratify the will of a misguided majority. Never doubt that Georgians were in the majority sympathetic to Maddox. Two years after he closed his restaurant to avoid integration, he was elected governor of Georgia. And once you enter the public sector in business, civil rights trump religion. (Or used to. We'll see what happens once gay marriage hits the Supreme Court. If corporations are people and corporate money in politics is not a corrupting influence and corporations can have religious beliefs, anything is possible.)

One last note...

Misconception #3 is that traditional marriage is the union of one man and one woman. You can't cite the Bible while you are saying that. How many wives did David have? Seven? Did Solomon? 700? Indeed, the history of marriage is not as clear cut as you may think, even into the 19th Century. Look it up sometime.

RESTAURANTS IN FRANCE: COST OF LIVING - PART 3

One of the great joys of living in France is the simple fact that the French take their food so seriously. I'm not talking only about th...