La Chassagnette, the Camargue

September 25, 2007

La Chassagnette is a restaurant opened in 2000 on a farm owned by Swiss pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann. It is in the Camargue, the swampy region of the Rhône Delta famous for white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos. Under chef Jean-Luc Rabanel it was the first “all-organic” restaurant to receive a Michelin star, but Rabanel left to open his own place in nearby Arles and Michelin took away the star. The gastro-organic concept continues under chef Armand Arnal and so Linda and I went for dinner on September 20, 2007: research, as Calvin Trillin would say. 

La Chassagnette has a parking area 20 km along the road from Arles through the rice paddies toward Salin-de-Giraud. One walks from it past vegetable gardens and fruit orchards to the rustic restaurant decorated outside at night with Japanese lanterns. The dining room is spacious with a high ceiling.  

We started with the house apéritif, fruit juices with prosecco, served with slices of jabugo ham. We enjoyed this while the just-revised menus were being printed off the computer. Finally there were three menu options: a few à la carte choices, a Menu Découverte for 80€ or a Sake Menu: glasses of four different sakes paired with appropriate food. The last was very intriguing, but we chose the “discovery menu” as being a better test of the restaurant.   

We ordered a bottle of 2001 Le Mas de l’Ecriture “Les Pensées…” It is a lovely red Côteaux de Languedoc from between St. Rémy and Les Baux.  The amuse-gueule was fried zucchini flowers with a tomato sauce. They were surprisingly soggy, which must have been deliberate as I am sure the kitchen could do a proper tempura if it wanted to. The bread tray arrived, which included a “bread” made of popped rice; it was bland, but had an interesting texture.

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The first course was Velouté de courge au “Jabugo” poires et sauge. The cream of pumpkin soup was enhanced with Spanish ham and fresh little bits of pears which made lovely little counterpoints. 

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The second course was Bonite extra, concombre et radis noir, sauce « tonato » .  A nice piece of raw bonito was served with cucumber, black radish and the kind of tuna sauce which the Italians like to use on cold veal.

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The next course was Chassagnette de légumes d’automne du potager. This was a mixture of vegetables from the restaurant’s garden. They were all cooked in various ways; the eggplant was somewhat overly vinegared. The most exotic was chayote.

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Then came Cassolette de calamars, roquette et citron confit. Small squid, cooked just right so it was neither rubbery nor squishy, was served with a small arugula salad.

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The final fish course was Tronçon de sole vapeur, nage et Légumes « au vert » .   A generous chunk of sole was steamed and served on a bed of chard on a vegetable and herb sauce. There were pieces of fat scallion and salsify. The fish was topped with a mixture I guessed to be coarse salt and ground pistachios.

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The meat course was Pigeon rôti à la feuille de figuier, chutney mi-figue mi-raisin.  The squab had been roasted in a fig leaf which gave some flavor but deprived it of the crusty caramelized skin I like in pigeon. The roasted figs and grape confit were a nice garnish.

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The cheese course was described as Variétés de fromages régionaux, but, in fact it was three slices of a good local hard goat cheese served with a fig jam.

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The dessert was a Coupe fraîcheur au citron de Menton, pannacotta with conserved slices of Menton lemon, a caramel and a sorbet on top.

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The mignardises were delicious freshly made caramels.

The meal was enjoyable, but it didn’t show us any new tricks or wow us with the freshness of the vegetables, as I thought it would. The service was friendly. Once it got going the pace was just right. The site is extraordinary; it would be interesting to roam in the gardens and have lunch there on the big wooden tables outside under the vined trellis (or in the screened terrace if the famous Camargue mosquitoes are rampant.)

www.chassagnette.fr     

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