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U of M Sisters Who Deliver: Easy as Pie

U of M Sisters Who Deliver: Easy as Pie


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Meet Abby and Ellie- sisters at U of M who have taken their love of food and cooking to the next level by creating their own business: Easy as Pie.

Photo courtesy of e-zaspie.com

Launched in the beginning of October, Easy as Pie is a multifaceted operation. Through the website, you can place an order up to three days in advance for any of the baked goods on their website. Best part? They bring it to straight to your door. You barely have to put on pants before you can dive into delicious baked goods. Nice.

The sisters also put up weekly blog posts on the website that focus on recipes and tips for college cooking ( i.e. cooking with no time and with a bank account that may or may not be above double digits). Ellie explains, “We aspire to raise the standards of your every day college cuisine while expanding the Michigan student’s personal cookbook.”

Photo courtesy of e-zaspie.com

Their personal favorite item on the menu? Nancy’s Chocolate Silk Pie, a family recipe that has been perfected and passed down from generation to generation. The intense chocolate center and vodka-cracked crust melt in your mouth and are perfect for any occasion. Like now, for example.

Ellie explains that Easy as Pie is “our way of sharing homemade happiness with all those other students who miss their mama’s cooking or just want to learn how to make a cheesy, tasty, home cooked meal on a college budget.”

Photo by e-zaspie.com

Next time you want to indulge in some home made baked goods without leaving your house, raising a finger, or breaking the bank, Ellie and Abby are your girls. It’s a piece of cake… or pie. (Don’t judge me – #puns4life).

The post U of M Sisters Who Deliver: Easy as Pie appeared first on Spoon University.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


A TASTE OF PERFECTION IN A CORNER OF FRANCE

Sometimes I wish I’d never read a page of the late Roy Andries de Groot’s homage to Auberge of the Flowering Hearth or any of M.F.K. Fisher’s nostalgic tales of French country meals. Finding the perfect French auberge these days is harder than finding a world-class baguette in Paris. I’m not talking about the three-star Auberges de luxe where all you need is a Michelin to point the way. I mean the kind of place where locals go to find authentic regional cooking.

I found such a place in southwest France in the mysterious Armagnac region. From Provence, La Belle Gasconne in Poudenas looked like an easy drive (it wasn’t, but never mind). Five minutes from the autoroute you’re on a small winding road surrounded by fields of shocking gold sunflowers turning with the sun, rolling hills dotted with black-and-white cows, sober stone farmhouses. We passed a barn where an entire field of garlic hung to dry from the rafters.

It was nearly fall and twilight edged into full-stop dark as we drove into the tiny village of Poudenas with its guardian chateau. A stone bridge spans the demure river. To one side is the auberge, a low stone house with flowering vines climbing its walls. Inside, the two small dining rooms with beamed ceiling and white-washed walls are simply decorated with country furniture, flower-sprigged tablecloths and bouquets of wildflowers.

The young sommelier, a double for Buddy Holly, brought an aperitif of wild cherry liqueur and local white wine while we had a look at the menu. This is duck and foie gras country, so as a first course we ordered the terrine of foie gras . Presented with a basket of thick grilled bread, it’s served by dipping two silver spoons in hot water and scooping two egg-shaped ovals directly from the terrine.

Marbled rose and gold, this is fabulous stuff, so good that chef Marie-Claude Gracia won a Gault Millau concours , over the likes of Alain Senderens and Alain Chapel, for best terrine of foie gras . Not bad for a mother of five from a remote corner of France. Her secret? She chooses her duck livers very care

fully (they come from a foie gras farm just a few miles away), and she cooks the enormous blond lobes very slowly. Even in southwest France where it is produced, foie gras is a luxury and portions are often less than generous. Not so here. I truly could not resist when the waiter came around to ask if we would like seconds. Who wouldn’t?

Next came one of her specialties, a sumptuous civet de canard (duck stewed in red wine and stock), surrounded by a black pool of sauce thickened with blood. Accompanying it, caramelized onions and a homey serve-yourself dish of zucchini cooked with cream. Her poularde de champs , a poached free-range chicken, is served in a graceful sauce of cream and tarragon set with fat, tender asparagus. If my grandmother had been French and a brilliant cook, this is what she would have made for Sunday supper. In fall there’s more game, and in summer, all sorts of fish.

We passed up the Bordeaux on the small wine list in favor of a local wine, an inky Cotes de Buzet--Cuvee Napoleon-from the left bank of the Garonne. But all during this leisurely, utterly reassuring meal, I had my eye on the glittering armagnac cart as Monsieur Gracia moved from table to table pouring out a Bas Armagnac here, a Tenareze there.

Madame Gracia likes her desserts simple and homey. That means comforting isles flottantes or a delicate custard flavored with vanilla and a single verveine leaf. There is a gateau au chocolat in the mud-pie genre, and a chunky sorbet of Charentes melon. Just when you’re wishing you had one more bite of that sorbet, she sends the cart around to offer you a second chance.

Coffee on the terrace? The waiter reappeared with a lantern and led us across the narrow road to a table set up on the grassy riverbank. Then he returned with a cafe filtre pot. There we sat listening to the sound of the river, sniffing the scent of forest and prunes while we drank a rare old 1964 Laberdolive armagnac. Old men gossiped on the bench by the bridge while a puppy investigated the abandoned mill the Gracias plan to restore next year. We could see the lighted windows of the kitchen, too, and young cooks in their whites hurrying in from the pantry.

This is home to Madame Gracia, who was born next door. Her grandmother and her mother before her had a restaurant here. Marie-Claude went away to hotel school, married a fellow student, and worked in restaurants in France and abroad. Then in 1978 she and her husband, Richard, who worked 12 years at the three-star L’Oustau de Beaumaniere, decided to move back to Poudenas and open a simple restaurant. Their plan was to have the children help out in the dining room while the two of them manned the stoves. At first they were open only on weekends, but a year later they opened full-time and it was so busy that Monsieur Gracia was drafted from the kitchen to the dining room. Now, he teases, “she won’t let me back in the kitchen.” Madame Gracia doesn’t cook any dishes exactly as her mother or grandmother made them, but she feels she’s inherited their tradition just the same. Although she knows all about nouvelle , the dishes she likes best evolve and are transformed in their cooking-- civets, daubes , robust Gascon soups, confiture , the repertory of cuisine familiale ancienne . And she loves cooking the vegetables of every season: onions simmered in wine, red cabbage with apples, new potatoes in their jackets, ragout of baby vegetables. This is regional cooking at its best her grandmother would be proud.

La Belle Gasconne, Poudenas (Lot-et-Garonne), France, (53) 65.71.58. Closed Sunday night, Monday (except July and August) and Nov. 1-15, Jan. 16 to Feb. 10. American Express and Diners Club accepted. Dinner for two, food only, about $30-$65.

To get there: Poudenas is 659 kilometers from Paris, about midpoint between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Look for Nerac on the map, south of the autoroute. Poudenas is 17 kilometers southwest of Nerac.

S. Irene Virbila is a former restaurant critic and wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She left in 2015.


Watch the video: Lazy Summer - Music Video. GEM Sisters (May 2022).