Wednesday, April 5, 2017

AU LAVOIR, COLOMBIERS - RESTAURANT REVIEW

We live in a town that doesn't do very much to encourage growth or tourism. The streets are rough and bumpy, the tinted glass has been broken out of the street light nearest our house since we moved in three years ago, and the fountain in the square was activated this week for the first time since we moved here three years ago. Oddly enough, many of us like it that way. Quarante is a quiet little village, not on a main road to anywhere, but with a fine baker, two excellent butchers, and a bar that serves edible if not exciting food. We could use an ATM (cash point, money wall...) and a gas (petrol) station but otherwise, most of us are happy that Quarante is a backwater.

Colombiers, on the other hand, seems determined to do everything possible to turn itself into a crowded, overdeveloped, cash hungry example of all that folks like us are looking to avoid when we move to the rural south of France. Ugly apartment blocks? Check. Newly constructed condos with a 'view', meaning you can see a tiny slice of the Canal du Midi from the top floors? Check. And detours lasting months...years...to accommodate construction? Check. I was pleased, therefore, to learn that the restaurant to which a friend invited us in Colombiers was not in town center but along the undeveloped section of the Canal just over the little bridge on the road from Montady.

Au Lavoir occupies a pleasant space. There are a few parking spaces for early arrivals in the courtyard and a few outside tables for when the weather warms. Our party of four were greeted inside by servers who took our coats and led us to the table where three of our friends were already seated. Nice room. Nice table.

And then things started to go downhill.

A small tray of amuse-bouches sat mid table, a cup of lucques (olives) and a little bowl of fish dip with a few chips of toast - enough for three, not for seven, and never replenished to fit the size of the party. Service was slow, positively snail-paced at some points in the meal, and for the most part the food was unremarkable. One could almost excuse the pace of service. We dined on a Saturday night - a night that we usually avoid. And our table mates informed us that a second dining room had just been opened to handle the expected crowds as the tourist season began to liven up. So, growing pains. But let's talk about the food.   

The entire table began with foie-gras, a nicely seared slice snuggled between columns of pineapple and topped with a bit of greens. Foie-gras is easy if you buy well and this was good foie-gras. I chose the lamb for my main, Cathey the sole. Both were acceptable if unremarkable. My simple, slow-cooked shank with a bit of reduction was accompanied by what appeared to be pureed fava, the most inventive bit of the evening. The best that can be said for the lamb is that the chef didn't screw it up. Same goes for Cathey's sole with a pistachio crust. Nice piece of fish properly cooked. Nothing more

Others at the table ordered a veal dish and a beef dish and claimed satisfaction. A lobster tail was sent back to be heated.

For dessert, I had the molten chocolate cake. Again, done properly but without any originality. A friend's plate of little pears looked interesting. And a little digestif at the end was cute, a bit of coconut cream with chipped chocolate and a tiny bite of a sweet bread.

The table shared still and gassed water, a bottle of local rose, a bottle of local red, and a demi of viognier. The tab came to 45 euros per person.

For that price, one expects attentive service and thoughtful, inventive renderings. That's too much for ordinary fare.









6 comments:

  1. That's nearly $50 per person. Quite high for an average meal, but not as bad a price when you factor in the alcohol. I wonder how much of a difference that made.

    By the way, Ira, I really enjoy your restaurant reviews. It's nice to discover what's out there in the world. There was a French restaurant in Winter Park, Florida that burned down in the mid-1980s. It served the best French onion soup I ever ate, to this very day. Of course, it was made in America, so I wonder how much our versions veer from the real thing - French onion soup served in France. Have you ever eaten a bowl and thought, gee, this is the best I've ever had?

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    1. Thanks, David. I enjoy the eating and the writing. Glad it's appreciated. And Cathey makes a fine French onion soup with local onions and local cheese and homemade stock and it's as good as it gets!

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    2. Actually, Ira, it was in 1996 that the restaurant burned. The owner once told me that the secret to his stock was veal bones. (I used to make a marinade and we shared secrets.) I'd love to know Cathey's recipe, but I don't know if you'll ever want to share it.

      Thanks for responding!

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    3. It's no big deal. It begins with Food & Wine's recipe from their Soups and Stews cookbook. But then things go a bit sideways because it's never quite the same depending on the stock that she has available, the differences in onions and herbs and cheese and bread. Cathey cooks with what's in season and at hand, so strict adherence to a recipe isn't always in the cards.

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