On the Trail

Sunday Night in Montréal du Gers

David Driscoll

Sunday night is party time in Montréal du Gers, a small village in the southwest of France we use as our home base when we travel to Armagnac country. During rugby season you'll likely find most of the town drinking at the café, throwing back beer after beer in celebration (or sulk) after the evening's match, as was this cast this past weekend. The team had played in nearby Marcillac, vanquishing their opponents soundly. The victory was cause for great festivity. Children danced on the bar top, while the crowd sang songs to the glory of our local heroes. Chants of "Montréal, Montréal!" were ubiquitous.

In the middle of it all stood my friend Charles Neal, his mother-in-law Simone, a random Laotian man named Venkha who everyone seems to know, but no one can understand, and myself—drinking cold beer and taking part in the boisterous bash. We'd been out tasting Armagnac all day, making our way from producer to producer, so a few pulls off the tap were just what we needed. Charles's wife is originally from Montréal du Gers, hence our connection the town and its colorful locals. We were prepping for the evening's second phase—dinner at Restaurant Daubin where his brother-in-law is the chef.

Across the plaza and a bit further up the road sits the eatery once known as Chez Simone, but know recognized throughout France as Bernard Daubin. Bernard is a specialist in traditional meats of the Southwest—particularly foie gras. Taking over from his mother—herself a renowned cook who once commanded the kitchens of Gascony—Bernard has continued his family's legacy one step further. His quirky character and over-the-top personality only adding to his legend and mystique, I can truly say that some of the most memorable moments of my life have been at his place. I've been stuffed full of duck liver and cheese with Bernard more times that I can even count at this point. I look forward to eating with him each year with incredible anticipation.

Sunday dinner in Montréal can often start as late as 10:30, so you have to go in with an open mind and a complete lack of rigidity. Bernard might open five bottles of wine and make you drink a glass of each before he's even so much as given you a piece of bread (as was the case this past Sunday). Once we got the juices flowing, however, the courses began to roll out. A pâte of duck, a plate of foie gras, some scallops with caviar, and then a thick vegetable soup with ground pork, followed by a large tin of roasted potatoes with parmesan crisps—and then came the main course.

Bernard has always been a pork specialist. At one point he bred his own pigs and butchered them himself, creating all kinds of culinary masterpieces in the wake of the slaughter. I remember a time when we walked into the café around lunch and found Bernard making raw pork sashimi with sea salt. I had to decide which pang in my gut was more powerful: the desire to eat something that fresh and delicious, or the fear of tapeworms and other various afflictions that could follow such an experience. I succumbed to the former and have never regretted it since. But this past Sunday when Bernard brought out an entire roasted suckling pig, I about died. Being a big fan of carnitas, I would have killed for a few tortillas and a bottle of hot sauce, but a few bottles of red Burgundy did the trick instead.

-David Driscoll