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Toulouse, France


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I was there a few years ago for a conference, and the locals took us to Les Caves de la Maréchale for our final dinner. I don't remember what I had, but I do remember it was a lovely experience. If you can get hold of some of the local cheeses - look for the Languedoc cross mark on some of them - they are fantastic. All of them. Really. And I ate many. Then there's the wine...

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Yikes!

We'll be coming from Portugal(whose cheeses are not well known in the US, but are fantastic) and going on to Italy and staying on a goat farm, so I look forward to making many cheese comparisons. We always carry along large zip lock bags and bring lots of cheese home with us.

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We've reserved a table at Michel Sarran.  This will be my first ever experience at a Michelin-starred establishment.  It's been quite some time since I've stepped foot into a true fine dining restaurant, and the last time was in Seattle (and thus jeans were perfectly acceptable.)  I've got no idea what one wears to such a place.  Suit?  Tie?  Tails?  I'm flying blind.  Thanks in advance for any advice you might have!

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4 hours ago, Mark Slater said:

It looks like a nice restaurant. Business casual is normal in France. Jeans and T shirts are a mostly American thing.

I agree. However, if you put a phone call into the restaurant, and explain to them that you're a traveler, that you've been wanting to try their restaurant, but unfortunately, you only have nice jeans and a collared shirt - without time to get to a store and buy other clothing - they'll often accommodate you - in fact, they'll often appreciate your having taken the time to call. The two key words are "humble" and "polite," and if you speak French, so much the better.

That said, Mark's right: This is a nice-looking restaurant, and you might feel very under-dressed here. Is it one star or two? I've sometimes found that beautiful, dressy, one-stars aren't worth the money if you're judging solely by the food.

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6 hours ago, Kanishka said:

We've reserved a table at Michel Sarran.  This will be my first ever experience at a Michelin-starred establishment.  It's been quite some time since I've stepped foot into a true fine dining restaurant, and the last time was in Seattle (and thus jeans were perfectly acceptable.)  I've got no idea what one wears to such a place.  Suit?  Tie?  Tails?  I'm flying blind.  Thanks in advance for any advice you might have!

E-mail them about dress code.  Dress codes vary across Europe.

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We've been here a week+ now, and have had multiple wonderful meals.  In fact, the only two real disappointments have been non-French.  

Tripadvisor says Le Rohtang Pass is the best Indian restaurant in town.  If so that's pretty awful.  We went because they opened earlier than other places and we were famished.  We got butter chicken for the boys (comme d'habitude) and one veggie and one meat thali.  The sauce on the butter chicken approached something I'd prefer served on ice cream.  My chole was cardboard, and the lamb, though tender, was almost as sweet as the chicken.  Service was alternately inattentive or extremely rushed.  Perhaps most strangely, they tried to get us to go online and cancel our reservation when we came in (though they said they would seat us), with some weird explanation as to why based on fees they pay to their online reservation provider.  I get the ins and outs of the business but I'm here to eat, so please don't try to talk me into scamming your service partner.  Ugh. (two side notes:  1.  The restaurant is actually run/operated by Bangladeshis.  At one point, I was having a conversation in three different languages with one person.  2.  This is the second time I've been utterly disappointed by Indian food in France, the last time being 15 years ago and for nearly the same reasons.)

We popped in to BATbAt  (ugh that capitalization) because it was near our apartment and advertised pho.  We were craving, and took the plunge.  We got a variety of other small sides for the kids and happily, those were quite good.  But the pho was not. good.  Broth like water -- as if someone had boiled it for maybe 30 minutes or so.  Low quality, rubbery meat, with some weird curry spicing that was completely out of place.  Contrast that with the pho at Haozai, which was great.  Still nothing compared to the great pho options in the DC area, but definitely hit the spot for those of us who live hors du Beltway.  

But those are the only real lowlights.  We've had two awesome lunches at Marché Victor Hugo, one at Le Louchbem and one at Le Magret.  I had cassoulet at both and regret nothing.  The beans were better at Le Magret, while the duck and sausage within were better at Le Louchebem.  Hot tip:  you want to eat here, but it is super crowded, especially on the weekend.  Show up at 1150, ten minutes before the average Toulousain starts thinking about lunch, however, and you're golden.  I also was very French and dropped nine euros on a half dozen oysters and a glass of white Sunday morning at Poissonerrie Bellocq.  The oysters were huge, sweet, briny, and *incredibly* fresh.  

We are staying across the street from the Marché Couvert des Carmes, a smaller and less touristy Marché that still has some awesome stuff.  I've been there practically every morning to get fruits, vegetables, and various cheeses.  I am currently blanking on the hard cheese the local fromagier told me was "tipiquement de cette region," but it's a wonderful mild, nutty hard cheese that gets better as it approaches room temperature.

Tonight:  Michel Sarran.  Tomorrow:  Carcassonne!  A très bientôt.

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I'm overdue on my write-up of dinner at Michel Sarran (Cliffs notes version:  wow that was a lot of food, some very good, some unforgettable, all high quality, why didn't I fast beforehand.)  That will have to wait for when I have a bit more time.

Today, the family all drove out to the spectacular Rocamadour, two hours north of Toulouse.  It's the low low season, meaning the access road wasn't crowded, parking was plentiful, and the town was basically shut down.  The very beautiful sanctuary was open, however, which was helpful to burn calories after lunch.

We had that lunch at Le Belvédère, in next-door L'Hospitalet.  My wife and I both had velouté des legumes and the duck confit (when in the Dordogne... (I didn't see any non-extravagant truffled options)), which with dessert was only 19 euros.  Our middle son, who is getting more French the longer we're here, demanded the duck as well ("Me want duck!  Me want duck!").  While the velouté was good, I thought the confit was outstanding, with the crispy skin and succulent meat you expect from simply country French cooking.  The accompanying duck fat fries were a bit much for me in terms of quantity.  My mother-in-law had pumpkin soup with two large hunks of scallop.  Though she felt the scallop was a bit over-caramelized, she said the soup was excellent.  Our oldest, feeling picky, had a ham and cheese pizza, which he gleefully ate without sharing.  The kids ate off of the Menu Enfant, which offered a choice of duck confit or pizza for 9 euros.  The only difference I saw between the kid's duck and the adults was the accompanying sauce.

If you're making the trek to Rocamadour and want a nice restaurant with a beautiful view of the medieval town and chateau, Le Belvédère seems like a great bet.  I suspect that in the high season, reservations are a must.

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