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Days 5 & 6 - Belcastel - Apr 2002


Bux
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Le Vieux Pont in Belcastel some 25 kilometers west of Rodez (the "z" is pronounced) is an old favorite. The restaurant delighted us the first time we were there prodded by GaultMillau's declaration that it offered the best ratio of quality to price in all of France. How could an old skinflint such as I am, pass up the opportunity get the certified best value meal in France. We were even more delighted to return again after they had renovated an old stone building across the vieux pont and added some seven guest rooms. The guest rooms, all with a view looking across the river at the restaurant and the stone village, are another bargain all of themselves. I'm especially fond of the one with stall shower at 67 euros. What can I say, the hand held shower head and the curtainless tub is the single situation in which I feel most alien in France and le Vieux Pont, for all it's charms, does not seem to attract a large American following. Indeed, that may add to it's charms for those of us who leave the U.S. hoping to find some remnant of la France profonde.

It's hard to believe, we call this a personal favorite and yet it's been almost six years since we've been here. It felt good to be back. The only change we noted was that Michèle Fagegaltier seems to have more help in the hotel and the front of the house and Nicole Fagegaltier has her husband Bruno Rouquier with her in the kitchen.

The dining room brought back memories of our first meal where the dishes all seemed exquisitely simple and a later meal from which I recall a menu of dishes with intriguingly different crusts on each dish. A quick look at the menu revealed yet continued development and wider range of flavors than we remember. There was a carte, but the economy of the menus--for instance one can order the cuisse de lapin au coriandre, à la carte for 20 euros or (except on weekends) as part of a menu with an appetizer, course of fresh cheese, dessert and petits fours for 23.50 euros--dictated that we consider ordering one of the four prixe fixe menus. There's also a children's menu for 13 euros and for a moment I fantasize about having a childhood where I'm fed Croustillant de caillé de vache au magret fumé, Cuisse de lapin confite au coriandre, semoule de légumes de printemps and Fruits de saison et sorbet. Would I have had a spill proof cup of Grippa's fruity St. Joseph with that?

This is what we've been saving ourselves for. Well, this and Michel Bras to follow in two days, but we've been careful about not overeating and felt  confident we could handle the 62 euro menu with four savory courses which is served only to the entire table. All of the other menus have options. This one does not.

Sur une poêlé d'endives aux fruits secs, des noix de Saint-Jacques rissolées, semoule fine et bouillon de curry

I'm not a fan of fruit and seafood for all the excellent preparations I've had from the kitchen at Daniel, but this certainly worked. It was surprisingly complex but I was not surprised to be pleased right off the bat.

Dorade royale poêlée, haricots coco et pieds de veau, jus de truffes et pointes d'asperges

Beans and truffles are yet another of my comfort foods.  The veal foot--bits of very fatty, gelatinous and unctuous veal foot--offered more texture and richness than taste. An asparagus spear and a parallel brush stroke of truffle emulsion were like bookends on the plate. This was a more traditional preparation perhaps, but the veal food made it a bit interesting and challenging in addition to being satisfying

.

Du foie de canard grillé et un caramel d'orange au safran, des pommes pailles

The foie gras was seared as almost to have a coat of very fine dark kidskin. It would have been impressive unadorned, but this was one of the most supportive garnishes I've had for fresh warm foie gras. This was superb and vaut le voyage as Michelin would say. Normally I tend to stay with a red wine with hot foie  gras, but this would have been nice with a Muscat.

Poitrine de pigeon rissolée, jus au sésame grillé, tartelette des cèpes et brou de noix

The breast was incredibly rare and the leg was crisp with a crust of salt and spices. Esilda loved the sesame "juice" (crushed sesame seeds). I was a bit indifferent to it, but I polished off the breast and leg although I thought I was full when it arrived.

Fromages du Rouergue

Again this was not an exceptionally large selection of cheeses although certainly more than we could sample between us at this point and I was impressed that they were all local cheeses and excellent examples.

Dégustation de desserts

Sadly, we were not up to the array of desserts that followed, though for intellectual purposes we ascertained that they were up to par. I believe there were about six of them and rest assured that they were no more than half portions each.

We were up for a light dinner the next night at le Vieux Pont after a day trip to Conques and a very light lunch.

-------------- to be continued

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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Belcastel is in the department of the Aveyron. The closest city of any size is Rodez, as noted above. There's a map of France on Graham Tigg's site. From there you can click though to the Languedoc and you will find it listed as "Bel" on the languedoc map. I will try to post references on the applicable pages as I find them.

All of the towns are in a narrow loop to the southwest of Lyon. We covered a little over a thousand kilometers in about eight days of driving, which considering the switchbacks on the mountainous roads and lanes on which we mostly drove, is not very far.

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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By a total coincidence Sue and I stayed at Le Vieux Pont just a day or two after Bux. When you take everything into consideration - the food, wine, atmosphere, setting, personalities behind the operation, the accommodation and value then this is firmly on a very small podium of our favourite destinations. We have been fortunate in being able to visit at least once a year for some time, but inspired by Bux's kind note left for me at reception this is the first time we've opted for the no choice menu with four savoury plats - not least because Scallops and Pigeon are perennially tempting.

We were given a amuse bouche of a deep fried crab, lentil and pig’s trotter croquette on a little white green cabbage – light and tasty, it should be a full dish. What worked for us with the scallops was the play between the bitter endive, sweet scallop and the richness of the dried fruit creation. On the Dorade dish I would add the seasoned crispy skin that gave the other end of taste and texture spectrum to the marbled white cocos and gelatinous (ours was not fatty) bits of veal foot. We agree that the seared foie gras was divine, the potato straws were like a topping of deconstructed rosti and there we a few baby vegetables to give a lighter contrast. The pigeon breast was melt in the mouth and the sesame sauce must have also had some fresh ground almonds, the sesame flavour was appropriately delicate. Of the dessert selection my star was a millefeuille of banana coffee cream, crunchy biscuit topped with seared banana.

We managed to eat every morsel, but were surprised that we had been sat down over four hours. You are right that Nicole’s cooking has become more sophisticated. One or two dishes on our meal last October perhaps had one or two ingredients too many, but for this meal they all had their place.

On your second night did you have the Pavé de veau d'Aveyron et du Ségala, sabayon à l'estragon, trait de sauce soja, mangue et purée de céleri-rave? The veal is cut in a triangular pyramid and brilliantly cooked. An outstanding effort.

Something we only discovered last year was Tea d’Aubrac, an infusion made from a plant from the same name. It seems to do wonders to help digestion.

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Regarding the veal foot with the daurade, "fatty" may not have been the most accurate word. I meant to convey the richness as well as the gelatinous quality. I've always found something sophisticated about Nicole's cooking even when it was simple. What interests me most of all is not that the food is getting more complex or more sophisticated, but that it's developing in way that shows her interest in cooking. Things were very hectic the first night and we didn't get to talk to her after dinner. Maybe it was good that it was packed to capacity that night as it may have slowed down our servce and let us appreciate that tasting menu.

Graham, you mentioned not trusting a place that had no locals or even Frenchmen dining there. The Wednesday night we arrived, the dining room at le Vieux Pont was packed and there was a table of eight that was not staying at the inn. Later we learned that the mayor was eating here (never thought to ask if that was the mayor of Belcastel, Rignac or Rodez) and a group of doctors. I've seen it packed before, but in the summer.

When we finally got to spend some time with Nicole and Michèle, we discussed food and our trip. They were interested in hearing about the Domaine de Barres in Langogne and told us it was owned by the Langudoc-Roussillon Regional Council and that the architect responsible for the renovation, J.M. Wilmotte, was very well known. They said they'd have to check out the kitchen there. They also spoke of their visit to Catalunya where they ate at El Bulli and Santamaria's El Raco de Can Fabes. Santi Santamaria, it seems, paid them a return visit. Of course they said we were in for a treat at Bras. I wish I spoke better French, I gathered Michèle at least, caught a bit of the English words or phrases I had to rely on at times, but overall, I think they got the message that we were fans of Le Vieux Pont.

We didn't have the veal. I'll continue with our second dinner.

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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They also spoke of their visit to Catalunya where they ate at El Bulli and Santamaria's El Raco de Can Fabes..

Bux, in connection with lizzie's report on el Bulli on the Spain Board, do you have anything to add here? :wink:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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-------------- to continue

Based on the pleasure of our previous visits, we had reserved a room for two nights. We visited Conques during the day. It was a short drive no matter how one did it and we followed the scenic route from Belcastel to Conques as recommended on the ViaMichelin.com site. Fortunately it was a little traveled route as it rarely left room for two cars to pass. Much to our surprise the road narrow even further as it led down the hill across the river from Conques and it appeared to leave us in a dead end with only a stone pedestrian bridge connecting to the village on the other side of the river. As there was no room  to make a U-turn, we took a deep breath and preceded across. Miraculously fenders and doors made it unscathed. I thought the vieux pont (the pont not the restaurant) in Belcastel was narrow, but his one made it seem like an autoroute.

By dinnertime we had begun to look forward to another meal, but this time we revised our eye:stomach calibration and ordered from the two smallest menus which were simpler and much shorter, but offered great value.

For 23 euros Esilda had:

Fricassée d'artichauts et d'escargots aux fromage blanc et au thyme, huile relevée d'olive noirs et de câpres

The artichokes and snails were an earthy combination, but the melted cheese on top added little.

Rouget grondin poêlé, boullion safrané aux legumes du pot-au-feu, huile de persel

The cauliflower florets went well with the saffron broth, but the diced carrots and peas were not interesting An olive flavored phyllo crisp perked up the presentation however.

Le fromage fermier de vache

A fresh cheese was served with walnuts and walnut oil in lieu of the cheese tray which was quite understandable at 23 euros.

Gâteau aux apricots secs, au safran et au chocolate

The saffron worked with the chocolate, but the apricots were too chew and less successful.

From the 35 euro menu I ordered:

Brandade d'asperges et cabillaud etuvé, jus de cresson, asperges et buerre noisette

The humor here was that the cod was a piece of fish and the brandade a puree of asparagus and potatoes. It was an inventive dish with flavors that were familiar comfort food and a wonderful counterpoint to the more creative meal of last night.

Filet de truite fario poêlé, pommes de terre à l'oseille, points de choux et jaune d'oeuf a l'huile de noix

Filet of pink fleshed trout, (farm raised--we were told that wild trout has become almost extinct) with small potatoes that were hollowed out and filled with sorrel puree. There was an unusual garnish of a thickened egg yolk on the warm plate and points de choux which looked a lot like Chinese broccoli or the tops of young asparagus as they flower. Once again not as challenging as some of last nights food, but inventive and well thought out nonetheless.

Fromages du Rouergue

The cheese trolley.

Crème brûlée à l'orange et au genièvre, pommes caramélisées, crème glacée au café et pain d'épices

Shreds of candied orange peel made the custard interesting. It was a nice variety of tastes on a plate and a bit of a mini sampling of desserts

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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They also spoke of their visit to Catalunya where they ate at El Bulli and Santamaria's El Raco de Can Fabes..

Bux, in connection with lizzie's report on el Bulli on the Spain Board, do you have anything to add here? :wink:

Not in connection with our conversation at Le Vieux Pont. My French is good enough to say who's food I like, but not why or how. We did little more than agree that Adria was exceptionally creative and intellectual. For Nicole, I suppose it was also a way to acknowledge her interest in what goes on outside the Aveyron and for us it was a way to explain the depth of our interest in food in the hope that our coming to eat at her restaurant became more meaningful to her.

I can't say I could point at any particular thing we had that I could say was directly influenced by Adria, which may only mean that she hasn't mastered foam yet, or is smart enough to stay away from a technique that seems to make most diners and press focus on that technique. Come to think of it, if her foie gras remeinded me of anyone's it was Santi Santamaria's, but that's likely because I'm searching for a response to your question.

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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All right, thanks. Wonderful series of posts, by the way. I'm enjoying them very much.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Glad to hear. From the looks of your avatar it appears you're bored and dozing off to sleep.    :wink:

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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  • 3 years later...

The village of Belcastel sits on the banks on the Aveyron river, a very picturesque place with few inhabitants and a very accomplished restaurant Du Vieux Pont run by Nicole and Michele Fagegaltier. The dining room is a light and airy, very pretty and if your lucky enough to have a window seat like us, overlooking the river. A great setting for lunch.

We chose the Degustation costing €75

Galette de Patate douce aux legumes d'ete, quelques girolles, huile d'orange et Coriandre: A great way to start the meal, a small, smooth potato pancake with seasonal vegetables and a generous helping of girolles on top. Exceptionally pretty with it's perfectly cooked vegetables (squashes, courgette, fennel etc.) The Oil could have done with being a touch more pronounced but overal this dish worked very well.

Langoustine poelee celeri et pomme verte au curry: Another winning dish, 2 or 3 Langoustine tails in a bowl which was then garnished at the table with the celery and apple sauce with curry. The peppery celery came through well and complimented the sweetness of the Langoustines and the apple.

Lotte Poelee, confit d'oignons doux et de Mangues, vinaigrette sauce soja, crumble de pain de seigle. This was turning out to be a very good meal indeed! The Monkfish tail topped with the crumbs and a good vinaigrette, slightly salty with soy sauce, balanced by the sweetness of the onions and Mango. A slight criticism would be that the Monkfish was slightly overcooked (probably from being under the grill for the breadcrumbs) and it could have been cleaned a little better.

Aubergine et Rhubarbe confitet, foie de canard grille, reduction de Ratafia aux epices: The first disappointing dish. A slice of aubergine was stuffed with rhubarb and worked well with the sweet reduction however the Foie was, in my opinion, not the best and was also a little overcooked. A shame because the combination would have worked well if the Foie had been up to the job.

Cote d'agneau "allaiton" aux noisettes, huile infusee de sauge, truffade de potimarron au hachis de cepes: A good lamb cutlet topped with Hazelnuts, the oil was again a little underpowered. Cepes and squash were served covered in a strong melted cheese. Again very good, shame that the Lamb could have done with a minute or so less in the pan.

Excellent cheese followed including an outstanding creamy Roquefort and Tomme de Vache.

Desserts were served on 2 plates and a cup with approximately 6 different elements. Unfortunately I can't remember the elements but it playfully worked on texture and all the major tastes using unusual combinations and finishing with a lovely Chocolate and Saffron ice cream.

Overall a very good meal, 1 star plus, not far off two if it could iron out one or two small points. Well recommended to anybody in the area for Michel Bras.

"Why would we want Children? What do they know about food?"

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  • 1 year later...

Thanks so very much for these reviews of Le Vieux Pont, even though quite old now. We are fortunate enough to be dining there this September and will actually be staying a week in Belcastel in one of the two gites that are located in the village. This gives us a chance to enjoy the region.

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