As The Swallow Flies

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In the practically invisible little hamlet of St. Cirq, in the Tarn et Garonne, is a wonderful restaurant called L’Hirondelle, like the swallows that swoop over nearby fields.  The first time we drove through St. Cirq, after hearing about L’Hirondelle, we thought there was no way the tiny town had any sort of restaurant, let alone an excellent one.  And indeed, we couldn’t even find it until I called for reservations and got directions.

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To get there you drive through a rolling pastoral countryside full of the beautiful blondes d’Aquitaine, as these lovely cows are called.  No blonde jokes now, these cows are so ubiquitous they’re like the symbol of the region.

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When you arrive at L’Hirondelle, you’re greeted by a freestanding fireplace in the middle of the room and this truly unique bar made of colombage.  There’s colombage all over the area, but usually on the exterior of houses, where beams and bricks are more normally found.  So we were quite enchanted by seeing them used in this unexpected fashion, and could tell that we were in for something special.

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In our corner of the pretty room there were just three tables of elegant couples, or two, if you subtract Shel and me.  Behind us was one long table of boisterous hunters in camouflage, even many of the women.  Serious hunters one and all, intent on having a seriously good time.  It made for a great atmosphere.

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It was lunchtime on Sunday, our absolutely favorite meal of the week in France, so we ordered the menu at 30 Euros.  They immediately brought us this huge tureen of pumpkin soup, as silky and ephemeral as a dream.  I actually thought about just having soup, since they’d brought us enough for 6-8 people, but I managed to restrain myself after the second bowl.

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Shel’s first course was all seafood

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mine was all duck   My salad was one I had versions of several times while in the southwest, and I fell in love with it.  In this incarnation it’s topped with foie gras, over slices of duck breast, surrounded by sliced duck gizzards and bits of walnut.  It was superb.

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As our main course we’d ordered the côte de veau for two, a huge roasted veal chop served on a slice of tree trunk, which is what you should order too when you go there.  But make sure they don’t think you’re English, or if you are, pretend you’re not.  Because when we saw that the veal was barely pink, and remembered that we hadn’t been asked how we’d like it cooked,  we said to ourselves “they must think we’re English or something.”  In the event, the veal was delicious, but we both would have preferred it rarer.  So when the owner came by to check on us and asked “it is well-cooked enough?” at first I murmured politely “perhaps a bit too cooked, but then I didn’t mention that we’d like it pink.”  When he looked surprised, I proceeded boldly, asking him if he thought we were English.  He was very taken aback when he discovered that we were Americans and that he’d just assumed that we wanted the meat well done, since evidently many of his English clients have sent theirs back to be re-cooked.  We shuddered delicately and ate every scrap anyway.

But I knew he owed me one, and he knew it too.  The elegant couples had departed, leaving us in the company of 25 camo-clad hunters.  I approached the colombage bar and asked assertively “est-ce qu’on a le droit de ronger les os ici ?”  Is it ok if we gnaw on the bones in your restaurant?

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Faites comme chez vous, Madame,” he replied, make your self at home.  And so, showing no restraint whatsoever,  I did.  And I’m here to testify that it was one of the best bones ever.

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Shel’s mouth-watering chocolate dessert made him want to lick his plate, but really, that would have been going too far.  My dessert was a plate of excellent cheeses, but honestly, if I showed you every cheese plate I’ve eaten since we got to France it would be a huge yawn.  Instead, let me show you the dessert the hunters had,

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a gateau à la broche, which is a cake cooked on a special spit over an open fire.  You can see a picture of one being made here.  It looked so good that Shel had to buy himself a little one we found along the road on the way home, and although he hasn’t eaten it yet, it’s bound to be a treat.

As was our whole afternoon at L’Hirondelle.  I’d move to St. Cirq just to be able to eat there often.  It’s the kind of place where you want to have a regular table, know the menu inside out, and have the chef slip you something special now and then.  The kind of place where they don’t (normally) think you’re English, where all the food is perfectly delicious, and where you can gnaw your bones with pleasure.  That’s my kind of place.

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2 Comments on “As The Swallow Flies”

  1. Jan Lang Says:

    Oh my, I really want that duck salad–sounds like a great idea to riff on for a nice autumn meal. I wonder if I can find duck gizzards anywhere in Seattle??

  2. zuleme Says:

    sigh. That’s our kind of place too.


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