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A Not so Little Piece of Paradise

So my fiancé and I moved to southern France just the other week and it’s been overwhelming to say the least. Sure, I know the language, and to an extent the culture, but the gastronomy has been something special. Our first week here was a whirlwind of wining and dining, constantly in awe of the wonders that Montpellier had to offer. In fact, the city is considered a culinary location of France, and the region, Languedoc-Roussillon (or as it is known today, Occitanie), is an off the beaten track wine destination. In other words, we’d arrived in Disneyland.

Our very first night here, our good-natured landlady sent us to her favorite neighborhood spot, Le Ban des Gourmands. We had no idea what to expect as we didn’t know much about her or her eating habits, just that she was a wine person. Good enough in my book. So armed with massive appetites from eating nothing but macarons from the Ladurée at Charles de Gaulle airport, we wandered over to the restaurant. Now I had my preconceptions of what French dining meant, but this place was every cliché that the movies promised. An outside terrace overlooking the plaza, one pleasant server who knew his wine list by heart, and a menu written on a chalkboard. We were under the spell and ready to dine.

Now coming from Israel, we were amazed at the price point. For the same amount of money that would buy you lunch at the meanest hummus place in Tel Aviv, it was possible to buy dinner that would be considered fine dining in California. Because it was fairly late at this point, we decided against trying the whole menu, instead opting for a cut of veal I’d never heard of and a type of fish that I looked up and found it was pollock, a rather unusual species in my repertoire. In the meantime we sipped at our first taste of regional wine, which was a revelation. A viognier that was literally sent from heaven, and a red blend (ok so I forgot which grapes) that was beyond succulent.

The food took a while to arrive, which gave us a chance to take in our surroundings. A bakery that we would soon haunt on the daily, a cute greengrocer that sold the best goat cheese we’d ever encountered (until yesterday), and a somewhat creepy cafe that was always full with somewhat unsavory characters.

Torn from our musings by the arrival of our food, we were stopped in our tracks. The assumption that portion sizes were small in France was quickly rebutted with these decent sized plates. Not American decent, but a healthy amount. The veal cut that I still haven’t heard of was falling off the bone and melted in my mouth and was accompanied by some lovely crispy fingerling potatoes, a type that I hadn’t had since leaving California so many moons ago. And the fish…a perfectly rendered skin and dripping with good quality olive oil…the most interesting zucchini I’d ever had…the one time boiled potatoes didn’t suck…I was nearly embarrassed by how much I was enjoying my food.

But the fun was just beginning. Up next-discovering new ways of deep frying, trying to be creative in 25 square meters, and wine. Oh so much wine. Stay tuned.

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