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Day 4 - Langogne - Apr 2002


Bux
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We had no reservation for the evening of our fourth night in France due to the lack of an obvious spot to stop. I admit that I find something suffocating about an itinerary that allows for no serendipity, but my travel agent wife, on the other hand, believes half of any day on the road is wasted finding a place to stay and that the place we eventually choose is never quite as good as the one we let get away in the last town. As luck would have it, the new Michelin had no new star in the area, but GaultMillau had a brand new listing for a hotel of charm with most reasonable prices almost exactly halfway to our next reservation. that was destined not to get away from her. She lost no time in making a reservation as soon as we left St. Agrève in the morning.

The 18th century "gentilhommerie" that houses The Domaine de Barres in Langogne turned out to be far more elegant than one might expect for the Lozere and certainly for the price mentioned. The well restored facade of this classic building gave little indication of the total renovation of the interior in a refined contemporary style. There were elevators to the upper floors. Our room (75 euros) was small and had minimal closet space, but was otherwise very handsomely designed, if perhaps a bit over detailed. A full American style shower curtain is always an appreciated touch. There are larger rooms one might consider if staying longer. There is also an indoor swimming pool, sauna and reception area for catered affairs or meetings in two new wings gracefully attached to a rear addition, and a 9 hole golf course, though it's Emmanuel Mercadier's cooking and his wife's charm that will draw us back.

As did many of our inns on this trip into the rural and mountainous countryside, the hotel just opened for the season on Easter. I believe this is only the second year under the present management and it's not (yet) listed in the Michelin Guide, so perhaps it was not a great surprise that we were the only guests. Normally I might find empty hotels a bit depressing, but we could not complain about having Madame Mercadier's full attention as she graciously welcomed us to the hotel and attended to our service in the dining room. It appears that, at least in the shoulder season, the Domaine is run as a mom and pop place, although it's strange for me to refer to so young and charming a couple as the Mercadiers, as mom and pop.

The dining room is even more to my taste than the bedrooms. It's paneled in wood and has two sleek contemporary fireplaces. The light oak furnishings are simple and handsomely designed. Across from the dining room there's a very welcoming lounge for aperitifs or digestifs. Had the night not turned so cold, we might have wandered in for our coffee, but the all too seductive embers in the dining room fireplace kept us at the dining table.

We were given an amuse bouche of a cream soup made from cèpes. With the touch of hot soup and the warmth from the fireplace, all regrets that spring had not yet arrived in this corner of France disappeared as we settled in for a good meal. An hors d'oeuvre doesn't have to be complex, but the right one works wonders to put a diner in the proper mood.

We were told they were only serving a single 30 euro menu for Easter week. It started with a wonderfully satisfying dish of seasonal asparagus and tiny lentils from Puy (we were just south of le Puy en Velay) with a bit of espuma and a poached egg. A poached egg is one of our comfort foods, but this dish rose to a quality I will long for many times over when faced with some less expertly prepared dish of more expensive ingredients.

Rabbit loin stuffed with black olives, liver and kidneys, garnished with a medley of vegetables was our principle course. Monkfish was the option, or we could have had both for only 38 euros. Perhaps I've had more succulent rabbit, or maybe the sauce needed to be a bit more intense. It was very good, but over shadowed by the first course and the desserts that followed. It should take nothing away from the savory preparations that the deserts impressed us so much. It's hard to compare meals from day to day, but these may well have been the best two desserts of the trip and they continued to impress us after our visits to the more famous restaurants of the region later in the trip.

We had a choice of two desserts, a vervaine macaron (vervaine liqueur is another specialty of Puy en Velay) with pistachio cream and the first strawberries of the season or shortbread with chestnut mousse, baked apple, honey caramel and ice cream. We took one of each. They both came with a tuille and roasted hazel nuts. Each was truly satisfying and clearly recognizable as dessert without being clyingly sweet. I can't think of a restaurant off hand in New York, that consistently serves desserts that are better. When the chef came out to say hello at the end of the meal, I asked if he had a pastry chef. He smiled and said "no," it was all his work. We complimented him on the meal and especially on the desserts.

Mme. Mercadier inquired about our interest in France and the route we were taking. She was quite familiar with, and respectful of, Le Vieux Pont in Belcastel, our next stop. I trust we left her with the impression that we were seasoned travelers of some discernment and that the Domaine de Barres more than met our approval. This was a real find and I doubt we will miss the next year's GaultMillau on the sole basis of this year's new listing which pointed us to the Domaine des Barres. I'm not convinced GaultMillau is as reliable as Michelin, but they certainly got the scoop here.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I neglected to mention that there was a good selection of cheeses included on the 30 euro menu. To put this in perspective, I would have been happy to pay the twenty-seven dollars with tax and tip for cheese and dessert for two in a far less sophisticated setting in New York. Only here it brought two savory courses and an amuse bouche as well as mignardises in addition.

Once the season gets rolling along, there's a 22 euro menu with a vegetable appetizer, trout, cheese, crème brulèe, petits fours and chocolates, that's served at lunch and a small but enticing à la carte selection from which you can compose your own 30 and 38 euro menus with two or three courses plus cheese and dessert. We were told they did a good business on Easter Sunday and I suppose that's why there were open this early in the season.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Certainly sounds a good find and one I'll be able to check out as it's ideally placed between the Languedoc and Lyon (airport). They have a web site www.domainedebarres.com by the way, although the menus look to be at least last year's.

Your fine description didn't mention anything about the wine list so I assume it was OK and presumably it's strong on the Rhone and Languedoc? On the subject of wine, my approach of recent years has been to more or less give up trying to match wine an food. I choose the wine we want and if it doesn't go with a dish stop drinking it.

Rabbit always seems to be a bit hit an miss and I'm convinced it's as much to do with product variability as it is with kitchen skills.

On the subject of GM vs. Michelin for dining it's really no contest for me simply because GM provides a description of the establishment. Below the Michelin two star level there are only three categories and no words as a "guide".

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Gault-Millau (or GaultMillau) has greatly increased the number of establishments in the book. However, the descriptions seem often more brief. Maybe it's the reduced font size. Has anyone this same perception? A good place between Lyon and Laguiole was what I could have used when I used to make that trip. Thanks Bux, in case I ever do that route again.

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The web site is actually a very nice one. It's criminal of me not to have listed it. The prices in francs are a dead give away that the site is not up to date, as is the comment that

"Le Domaine de Barres est actuellement fermé.

Réouverture prévue fin mars."

:wink:

The rabbit was not disappointing, and I'd be happy to have it again. I'd be lucky to have it as my average food. There's no doubt this is a star quality place, as much as anyone can say that from one meal.

To tell the truth, I don't pay as much attention to wine lists as some people do here and thus tend not to talk about it or take notes on it. I seem to recall a small list which is not surprising when you consider that this is new management and the prices are very low. Fortuantely many restaurants note the wines on the bill, which is great for those of us too lazy to take thorough notes. We had a St. Joseph, Charpoutier - Deschants for 40 euros. Sorry I don't have the year. We had a lot of St. Josephs, especially in the first few days. One of the most interesting was a very fruity one from Grippa.

Yes, the Michelin rosettes are a good guide for destination places that one "must" visit, but the lack of any description is a real drawback when making advance reservations. When driving and looking for a place to stop, just knowing a hotel or restaurant is in the guide is reassurance, but until you see it, or read the menu outside, you're relatively clueless about what you will find. Nevertheless, although GM can be quick to spot a rising chef, they are sometimes less reliable.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Langogne is in the Lozere. It's about 50 kilometers northeast of Mende and little further south of le Puy en Velay. Beachfan asked for maps locating the small towns in which we stayed. You can find a nice map showing the Domaine and the Lozere in relation to the rest of France by clicking "Plan d'Accèss" on the Contact page of the Domaine de Barre's web site.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Graham,

The 2002 Michelin guide (only in the French version) does include descriptions, though brief. This is new. You can also find them on their site: www.viamichelin.com, by choosing the French version.

Frieda

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Michelin has had those two line comments for a few years now. I think it's been since 2000, but they don't say much about the food and are not as informative as the longer write ups in GM. Of course it's more information about fewer places. Michelin covers about 50% more places. I find Michelin invaluable for it's town and city maps as well. Michelin and their stars are not infallible and it's always nice to have at least one other guide to balance Michelin.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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