It is the end of May, and this is the time of our wedding anniversary. We must celebrate with food and wine (of course)!
Our friends George and Michèle had recommended the restaurant at the Domaine D’Auriac, which is located on the edge of town — about 12 minutes from our house by car. We checked online and found a choice of tasting or chef’s menus that looked delicious. We elected to have lunch in order to enjoy the scenery at the Domaine, and to avoid a late-night, over-fed and over-indulged drive home.
The setting was lovely: adjacent to Carcassonne’s golf course, set in lush parkland, with ponds, pools, stone walls, ivy, roses, and more. The Domaine D’Auriac http://www.domaine-d-auriac.com is both a hotel and a gastronomic restaurant. The main building exclaims “France” with stone walls, tall windows, gravel drives and walks, and proud roosters (symbols of La République).
Upon arrival, the many hosts escorted us through deep red rooms out to the covered terrace. They offered us a variety of tables; we chose one that directly overlooked the lower terrace, the pool and the grounds. The air was cool and fragrant from the exuberant spring growth and the passing rain shower. Summer birds’ songs called us from all directions. Already, this was good!
We selected the special chef’s menu of the day, the Menu Homard, or Lobster Menu, as well as the recommended wine pairings.
Here is my (and Google Translate’s) translation of the right-hand page of the menu:
Carpaccio of lobster marinated in tarragon and olive oil “Lucca”, green asparagus ice cream, pistachio crumble.
Stuffed morel mushroom, fregula sarda elbows (these are little semolina pasta balls, associated with Sardinia), coraline sauce (I think made from the red parts of scallops).
Lobster tail pierced with a lemongrass stalk, artichoke purée wrapped in spinach, rhubarb livened with Crémant de Limoux “Robert” (Crémant de Limoux is a sparkling white wine, similar to prosecco or champagne, from this region).
Roasted quail breast, seared lobster claw and seafood spring roll, potato from Ardèche with braised quail thigh, saffron juice.
Shortbread with semi-candied cherries cream.
The sommelier visited us before each course. He replaced glasses from the previous course with new ones for the next. He was a man of about sixty, slightly cartoonish face, disheveled. With each course and its partner wine, he instructed us to take a bit of each of the elements of the dish on our fork, eat them together, and then taste the wine. It was very important to smell and taste the wine along with the food. He was stern about this requirement! And he was right. With each new pour, we always spend a few minutes inhaling the aromas (Mike can always connect the nose with analogues like citrus, smoke, strawberry, candied apricots, violet…). After the initial smell and taste, and following the first few bites of the food on the plate, the character of each wine changed, intensified and blossomed. One became aromatic like a shop of violet soaps. Another developed the aromas of lemon rind and light oak. (Sorry if this sounds pretentious! In fact, it is a fun game to try to match scents and tastes to other, more familiar equivalents. We recommend the game!)
At one point, we asked the sommelier how he selects the wines for each course. He looked a little stunned, and said, “I taste the food!” I said something like, “The appropriate wine pops into your head?” And he exclaimed, “Oui!” He then went on to explain that there are many wines that can complement what the chef has prepared; he has selected the ones that inspire him, especially from the region around Carcassonne.
As is the custom with this type of chef’s or tasting menu, the server presents each plate, and announces the ingredients. And then says the equivalent of “have a good tasting.” For most of the courses, a vibrant self-assured young woman, with energetic hair that framed her face, explained the course with a wide smile. For one of the later courses, a petit young man, with a bit of adolescent skin, silently put our plates before us. He almost said a word, but stopped himself, dripping with shyness. We encouraged him. He blurted out three ingredients, bowed barely, and vanished. Perhaps the Americans scared him? Charming, nonetheless.
All the courses, except the dessert (!), included lobster. Mike particularly enjoys the Maine approach to lobster: ample, fresh, unadorned except for buckets of butter, begging to be man-handled. I’m a little more take-it-or-leave-it. This chef’s approach to lobster was wonderful and creative as far as I’m concerned. In each dish, the chef pulled forward some aspect of the lobster and its flavors, and set them to converse with the other ingredients. The lobster carpaccio (we decided that it wasn’t raw, but perhaps had been lightly poached) tasted of shiso (Japanese herb) and the sea more than lobster tail. In another dish, the chef paired a lobster claw with a roasted quail breast, which, along with the wine, enhanced all the ingredients. It is this amazing French way of combining ingredients and flavors that entrances us.
We have to show you each course!
After the main dessert, and to accompany an espresso, there is almost always a plate of mignardises, or small sweets. No exception here. The chocolate offering was splendid: creamy fudge, a bit of salt, hazel nut. Just right with three sips of intense coffee.
After our wonderful lunch, with its wonderful wines, we strolled a little in the park. The chairs set amid the lawns, the pool, the roses everywhere: all inspiration for what we want to create in our French home.
A postscript: Look how great Mike’s NY Old Navy shirt looks now, without airline red wine!