“Cassoulet has such a religion around it because it’s the plat de partage — the dish of sharing. When a cassoulet arrives at the table, bubbling with aromas, something magical happens — it’s Communion around a dish.”
– Philippe Puel, Chef, Le Cantou
New York City – Back in Manhattan for a few days after my Dallas escapades and it’s cold. I have a tendency to forget how cold it can get here, and at the same time, I know it’s not nearly as cold as it often might be at this time of year. Still, not what I’m used to anymore after nearly three years living in BsAs. A perfect welcome to the city seemed like a night out for a large, bubbling casserole of cassoulet, and where better in this city than the long time outpost of southwestern French cuisine, Gascogne, 158 8th Avenue in Chelsea. This place ranks high amongst those that over my two plus decades in New York I returned to time and again – at least a couple of times every winter for the cassoulet, and often at other times of the year for simple, rustic fare from the region. I even celebrated, as I recall, my 35th birthday there with a dozen or more friends – we took over their garden in the rear and had a great evening. [Closed]
We’d decided to go all out on a welcome back feast, and started off with a platter of fresh blue point oysters on the half shell, and then on to a couple of appetizers – a large slab of foie gras poached in armagnac and served up with glazed pears, and this assiette d’anatra
, a dish that was, unfortunately, better in description than execution – thin slices of duck prosciutto that were the only really good part of the dish, interwoven with slices of undercooked potato (we asked if they could possibly just throw it under the broiler for a minute or so to finish cooking the spuds, they were just that short of done, and the kitchen declined, claiming they would turn to mush, so we simply left them on the plate – not a good service move on their part, but…), and in the center some shredded, braised duck meat that was a bit too dried out, though tasty. Ah well, the foie and the oysters put smiles on our faces.
And besides, we knew the cassoulets were enroute, and shortly thereafter two hefty, bubbling pots of beans, tomato, two or three kinds of sausage, duck confit, and all sorts of good herbs and spices arrived on the table. We dug in and ate, and ate, until finally giving up, the pots just seeming to have no bottom to them. Gascogne serves up cassoulet as it ought to be, with no frills, no creative touches, no fancy presentations – as Julia Child once put it, “that best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but ambrosia for a gastronome…”.