Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fond Memories of Lavandou

Lavandou was one of my favorite restaurants in Washington, D.C., during the early 1990s. Located in Cleveland Park, the Provencal food was so good that patrons were even willing to eat in the bistro's narrow tunnel-like entry hall.

The pate made with Marc was amazing. The simple peasant bread they brought to your table was excellent -- a nice crusty exterior, but a chewy interior. Everything they prepared (from Soupe au Pistou to the salade composée with smoked duck breast) was delightful.

The wine list was not filled with the great clarets of France, but the selection was diverse and offered good value.

When Lavandou made a deal to acquire the space next-door, its patrons were excited. The bistro's reopening was anxiously anticipated. We all waited quite patiently.

The new space was marvelous, and, best of all, the things we'd loved about the old Lavandou remained -- efficient service and superb bistro food.

Like its sister bistros in Paris, Lavandou shut down for most (if not all) of the month of August. But we took that fact in stride. I kept eating there, as did the restaurant's many other loyal patrons.

We were sure that Lavandou would always be Lavandou. Alas, we were in for a let-down.

Somewhere along the way, the chef and/or management of Lavandou changed. The service got a bit off-kilter. The menu was expanded far too much. Then it was shrunk dramatically. Most importantly, the quality of the food became inconsistent.

Why am I telling you the story of Lavandou? Basically because I have a decision to make. I feel just a little like the jilted lover who was so devoted to a restaurant and then betrayed in some way. I opened my email this morning to find this email from Lavandou.

This week, we are serving one of the oldest specialties from the South of France and one of the most appreciated:

The delicious CASSOULET!

This classic has slowly stewed white beans and various meats and it is backed under a crispy breadcrumbs topping. Le Cassoulet certainly calls out for a robust wine with enough tannin to match the hearty strength of the dish. Grenache-based wine of Gigondas is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Located high in the hills above the Rhone Valley, Gigondas is known for rustic, untamed wines that we usually find too raw to be enjoyable, but when paired with a dish like cassoulet, a muscular, inky Gigondas is sublime.

We have it by the 1/2 bottle and bottle.

I am tempted to give Lavandou another try. But should I?

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