Photo by Tara Stevens
Au Port de la LuneTomatoes with basil oil, braised leeks and endive with roquefort and walnuts at Au Port de la Lune
It all started because I’d read an article about the art of the aperitif and how France does it best. Well, I don’t much care for Dubonnet, though I am a fan of a dark chilled vermut over ice and a slice of orange, and I’d generally go for a cool, crisp Manzanilla over just about anything except perhaps a nice Spritz (Aperol and Prosecco over an olive with a splash of soda) in Venice, until that is, the word Lilet (pronounced lil-aay) appeared before me. I began to obsess over tracking it down, and then, quite by chance I happened to be in Au Port de la Lune (Plaça Sant Galdric 1, 93 270 3819) taking photos for a guidebook when I spotted it.
Lilet is a wine-based liqueur from Bordeaux. It can be white or rosé and includes oranges, star anise, vanilla and cocoa in a long list of exotic additional ingredients. According to their website, it should be served on the rocks with a slice of orange or lemon, unless you’re in Tokyo where you might get it with mint or ginger. At Au Port de la Lune it comes straight up and chilled in a wine glass and was the perfect preamble to what might best be described as a "power lunch" at Au Port de la Lune one sunny Saturday.
I use the word “power” not as in men-in-suits, but rather as homage to a hale and hearty feed that refuses to bow to consumer folly like wanting your meat well done, and delivers food in exactly the way it believes it should be. In this case we’re talking hot, yet raw. I’m happy, but for my dining companion C, who’s not a big meat eater at the best of times, it was a challenge. We wondered at first what he might eat (he had a second starter in main course proportions), yet even he left declaring it one of the best lunches he’d had in a while.
The menu is told you by the indefatigable Flor who listens politely to what you choose and then tells you what she thinks you should have. We order a carrot gazpacho, tomatoes with basil oil, and an endive and Roquefort salad with walnuts. She stops short at the gazpacho. “I think you should have the leeks,” she says. “The leeks are wonderful.” So we have the leeks because Flor is not somebody you dare to argue with, and by way of compensation she gives my other dining companion B, who ordered the gazpacho, a small shot glass of it to try.
My bavette with shallots is a juicy and tender skirt (sometimes called flap) steak, and even by my carnivorous standards the scary side of rare—what we call in the trade blue—and it’s completely and utterly delicious. Flor of course is right. It comes with a snowy pile of aligot, that decadent mash of potato and stringy Tomme cheese from the Auvergne, roast tomatoes and mushrooms. They do a pile of buttery, peppery herring on boiled potatoes for C, and B has the pork, but I can’t help feeling somehow I’ve won.
To finish we get a trio of French cheeses, so ripe they’re practically cartwheeling about yelling "yippee". A nip of Calvados and a bill of less than €15 each, and I’m ready to do the same.