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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.

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