Auberges, the traditional country inn à la française, are one of my favorite sorts of restaurants in France. Bistros run a close second, but a bistro, for the most part, is a “steak-and-french-fries” or “croque-monsieur” type of restaurant.
The best auberges, on the other hand, offer traditional recipes, local produce and regional wines, with generous helpings of hospitality. For my money, you cannot find better-quality-for-the-money food than at a good auberge.
And I have a new favorite one—the Auberge Lou Bourdie in Bach (pronounced “Bash” in French) just south of Cahors. I first ate there in February (these photos were taken then) when I visited Cahors for the Malbec-Truffle festival. The meal was so memorable that I vowed to go back at the first opportunity. Our 20th wedding anniversary in April seemed like the perfect opportunity to return.
Fortunately, I had called the week before to reserve a table for two. This in itself is rather amazing. Bach is a tiny village, well off the main road and not close to any popular tourist destinations. Yet, in mid-week, in mid-April (definitely not the main tourist season in the Lot region where Bach is located), every table had been reserved in advance.
The heart and soul of the restaurant is Monique Valette. Describing her is not easy. I think that my wife hit it on the head when, halfway through our meal, she leaned over and told me that the auberge owner-cook reminded her of someone who wouldn’t be out of place in an ancient village in Gaul. And, it’s true. With her reddish, poofy hair that would give pause to the most imperturbable hairdresser, her ruddy-cheeked face, which is lit perpetually with a smile, and her imposing, Julie-Child-like stature, the broad-shouldered Valette is a force of nature right out of an Asterix adventure tale.
She uses her grandmother’s recipes, and her grandmother would have been right at home whipping up a feast for Obelix and company. This is good, honest, home-style cooking. Our meal began with a complimentary aperitif, a glass of Bul’s, a sparkling Malbec from the Clos Triguedina in Cahors. This is, I believe, the only vin mousseux made in the Cahors region. It has a deep pink color and very fine bubbles. It’s a fresh, fruity wine with a good structure, attractive blackberry and raspberry aromas, notes of toast and yeast, and a nice level of acidity. It went well with the plate of lightly toasted, French cheese puff pastries that we were given to nibble on.
Next up on our €26 fixed-price menu was a tureen of delicious mushroom soup. This smooth and velvety-textured soup had a delicate earthy flavor and the tiniest flecks of black mushrooms and green parsley. My wife was ready to finish the tureen, but my first Auberge Lou Bourdie experience–where I had dined with two Chinese journalists who had done so, and then suffered valiantly to eat the following courses—made me a wiser diner, and I counseled her to pace herself for what was to follow. The next dish was a green salad topped with thin slices of smoked duck breast and a generous slice of foie gras.
Following that, the waitress brought three serving plates to our table. The first was a dish of creamy, slow-cooked, cassoulet-style Tarbais beans. Plate number two was a delicate vegetable gratin with thin slices of zucchini, carrots, onions, cheese and rice all infused with an aromatic chicken broth that had been added before it went into the oven to bake. Accompanying these two side dishes was a thick slice of perfectly cooked, lean lamb for each of us, lightly scented with garlic and rosemary.
The wine, a half-bottle of 2001 Cahors from an estate that I’m sorry to say I didn’t note (hey, I was enjoying my wedding anniversary dinner), was excellent with each course of our meal.
Our last course was Valette’s “meilleur pastis du monde,” not the anise-flavored liqueur and aperitif made famous in Marseilles, but southwestern France’s famous phyllo-wrapped pie filled with sweet caramel sauce and apples and scented with vanilla and rum. Our individual pieces were topped with candles, and Valette, accompanied by our waitress, surprised us with a rendition of a traditional French wedding anniversary song.
Blowing out our candles, we each gave her a kiss on her rosy red cheeks. Other than our three sons, I don’t think that any other wedding anniversary gift could compare to this unforgettable meal.