Georges- Toulouse, France

If you visit Toulouse, the ville rose, you don’t want to miss the breathtaking sunset view across the Garonne river.  The panoramic splash of colors across the expansive sky and its perfect reflection on the glassy water surface change almost every minute as the sun sets beyond the Pont St. Pierre and Pont des Catalans bridges.  After watching this romantic and magnificent sunset, we took a lazy stroll around the cobblestone backstreets of Place Saint-Pierre and sniffed our way to rue Blanchers.  Rue Blanchers is a small restaurant row of sorts with numerous cafés and restaurants offering international and local cuisine. 

Restaurant Georges was one of the first places we came upon and we knew immediately that it was the right place to dine.  We didn’t have to walk down the remaining stretch of rue Blanchers to check out our other options- the menu sounded tempting and the place was brimming with locals.  Georges’ menu represented Southwestern French regional cuisine with a modern twist, at reasonable prices.  Here you can order a Formule for 21 Euros (entrée + plat, plat + dessert, or 2 entrées + 1 dessert), or a Menu for 26 Euros (entrée + plat + dessert).

The atmosphere at Georges was friendly and casual, and happy diners filled the numerous tables that were tucked into every crevice of the small restaurant space.  Old paintings and antique photos adorned the brick exposed walls, and small stained glass lamps added to the rustic feel of the restaurant.   There was a tight narrow staircase that led to the downstairs cave and mini dining area that was stocked full of French wines.

Charlotte de Saint Jacques au coulis de crustacés – Molded shellfish coulis prepared in a cream sauce.  This dish was a modern twist on the traditional French dish of coquilles Saint Jacques, which is made with scallops in a white wine and mushroom cream sauce served on a coquille, or shell.  The soft and warm soufflé of delicious shellfish essence that stood proudly on a porcelain  scallop shell dish was just as good as any seared scallop I’ve ever had.

Forestière d’escargots en cassolette et son feuilleté à l’ail confit – Warm cassolette of escargots in a mushroom cream sauce accompanied by a delicious flaky slice of bread with garlic confit.   The cassolette was full of succulent meaty pieces of escargot that were even more delicious on top of the garlic bread, and the intense woodsy aroma of mushrooms filled the air.

Tartiflette au magret fumé- a hearty gratin of potatoes, cheese and smoked duck.  A tartiflette is a warm winter dish that originated in the Savoie region of the French Alps, and is particularly  popular in keeping skiiers warm at ski resorts.  Although a true tartiflette should be made with Reblochon cheese and smoky bacon, modern versions can be made with any type of melty cheese and other hearty meats.   Indeed, this tartiflette was very hearty and had enough power to keep a whole family warm during any winter chill.

Emincé de boeuf au coulis de foie gras – Beef sirloin tips served with a foie gras sauce.  These cuts of meat were slightly tough, though the rich savory foie gras sauce almost made up for it.

Tartare de saumon a la crème d’herbes fraîches – Salmon tartare tossed with herbs and cream, was quite delicious.  The minced cuts of salmon were fatty and marvelous, perfectly enhanced by the zing of fresh parsley and chives.

Le Régal des Capitouls: foie gras de canard mi-cuit, magrets sec et fumé, gesiers confits, saucisse au pot, mesclun de salade, confiture de figues, marrons, noix et sel guerande – this was a classic Toulouse dish that showcased all of the beautiful duck delicacies of the region.  Toulouse is particularly famous for its foie gras and sausages.  Cuts of foie gras mi-cuit, slices of smoked duck breast, gizzard confit and cuts of smoked sausages were served with preserved figs, chestnuts and walnuts.  I loved every tender and flavorful morself of duck on this amazing plate, especially the smoked gizzards that had more texture than the other cuts.  The more I chewed on the gizzards, the more these smokey flavors permeated my taste buds.

Fondant au chocolat – chocolate cake with a somewhat molten center was decadent. The exterior was ever so slightly flaky, adding a textural contrast to the silken interior.

Crème brûlée aux framboises fraîches – crème brûlée with whole raspberries inside was quite flavorful, and the four of us finished it very quickly.

Our dinner at Georges was a fantastic experience, and it was a perfect treat to succeed the amazing sunset that we saw over the Garonne river.  Gratifying rustic French cuisine served by honest caring hosts at Georges is an experience not be missed on your next trip to Toulouse.  Michel Sarran, with 2 Michelin stars, is perhaps the most famous restaurant in Toulouse, but I also recommend Georges if you and your wallet want to take a break and keep it casual and homey.

Georges

4 rue des Blanchers

31000 Toulouse, France

+33 05 34 44 95 92

Open 7 days a week

Lunch 12 to 2pm, Dinner 8-11:30pm

Random trivia:  Did you know that the scallop shell is regarded as a symbol of fertility?  That’s why many paintings of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility, also depict a scallop shell.  Botticelli’s famous painting in Firenze’s Uffizi gallery, The Birth of Venus, shows a beautiful and serene Venus emerging from the sea on a scallop shell.

File:La nascita di Venere (Botticelli).jpg

Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus' copied from Wikipedia

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Toulouse, France

In the sunny southwest of France, close to the Pyrénées mountain range, lies the pink city of Toulouse.  Easily accessible by train or plane from Paris, Toulouse has been called the ville rose for its rose colored brick buildings in the historical center.  Being the fourth largest city in France after Paris, Lyon and Marseille, Toulouse is not only known for its universities, but also as homebase of the European aerospace industry.

The historical center of this quaint and lovely city is easy to explore on foot, although it’s more fun to explore by bicycle.  There are numerous bike rental stations conveniently scattered throughout the city so that pick up and drop off can be done at any of these stations. By swiping a credit card, one can rent these bikes for 1-2 Euros a day. On a recent trip to Toulouse, my friends and I took this bicycle tour of Toulouse, and it was one of the most fun activities that I had done in a long time.  The weather was sunny and the wind was low, and we set off on these two-wheelers through this charming pink city.

We weaved in and out through the narrow cobblestone streets lined with beautiful old buildings.  The first sight that we saw was the majestic Basilique St. Serrin, just down the street from my friend Olivier’s apartment.  It’s the largest Romanesque basilica in the western world, and the signature octagonal bell tower popped against the dramatic cloudy sky.

The Cathedrale St. Etienne has a unique exterior that looks like a mishmash of different architectural styles, since it was constructed by joining two incomplete churches.  Once inside, you can also appreciate the 2 different styles of Gothic architecture that are also structurally askew.

We bought delicious Indian chicken curry and tandoori chicken wraps to go, put them in our cute little baskets on the front of the bicycles, and headed to the serene Jardin des Plantes for a picnic.  On that Sunday afternoon the park was alive with smiling joggers, university students lost in their textbooks, lovers cuddling on their blanket and families enjoying their quality time playing games.  I love the feeling of grass and moist soil on my bare feet- it’s a good feeling to take off my shoes from time to time and really feel the earth under every part of the soles of my feet.  With the sun filtering through the green trees and caressing my face with its gentle warmth, the lullaby of laughing children in the distant background and a content belly full of good food, I drifted off into a quick postprandial snooze…

…but not for long, as we had a lot more pedaling to do.  The 150 mile long Canal du Midi is the oldest canal in Europe still in use, and has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.  It felt exhilarating to pedal along this picturesque canal that was beautifully lined with lush green trees and where people still live on crazy looking old boathouses. 

The Place du Capitol, the epicenter of Toulouse, is a place of public gathering.  One can sit at any of the numerous outdoor cafes to people watch against the background of the majestic town hall and opera house.  When we went there, there was a demonstration going on in one corner of the plaza, while street vendors tried to entice people with paintings and trinkets on the other end.

After we returned our rental bikes to one of the rental stations, we walked over to the Garonne river to watch the beautiful sunset.  As the sun disappeared behind the pristine bridges of Pont Saint- Pierre and Pont des Catalans, the expansive sky captivated us with an awe inspiring panorama of lights, patterns and colors.  We talked about lost loves and new loves, as we  sat on the banks of the Garonne and stared at the sky until it turned dark.

Naturally, this  full day adventure made us hungry.  What shall it be tonight?  Which Toulousian specialty shall we indulge in?  Perhaps the most typical dish that represents Toulouse is cassoulet, a rich slow-cooked bean stew with white haricot beans, duck confit and pork sausage.  This heartiness of this stew was almost intimidating, and I couldn’t finish it off.  We enjoyed our meal with a bottle of Cahors red wine, and finished the meal with a glass of Armagnac to round out our Toulousian culinary experience.  Armagnac, which is a French brandy similar to Cognac, is made exclusively in this area.

Toulouse, beautiful charming ville rose of southwest France- come discover this treasure on bicycle and enjoy the delicious flavors of the region.

Random trivia:  Legend has it that France’s King Henry IV (1553 – 1610) had Armagnac and garlic placed on his lips by his grandfather on the day he was born. He is said to “have drawn wisdom and strength for his whole life” from that experience.