On our way to explore the western bank of the Garonne River, we came across the Porte Cailhau, a shockingly beautiful 15th century gate studded with conical towers and ornate sculptures that rival the Disney Castle in its fairytale qualities. On one side you will find the exquisite waterfront and the Pont de Pierre bridge, gracefully lit at night. Passing under it, you enter the Place du Palais, a square so stunning under the setting sun of the late afternoon that I begged the beaux to agree to have a Pastis here, under the bright red awning of one of the many cafe terraces. Lulled by the elegance of the historical homes, majestic tower and the Garonne visible in the distance, I repeated to my boyfriend over and over that this was my favorite spot in the city, one I hope to return to often. Coincidentally, the restaurant about which he had heard good things and wanted to try out for dinner that night happened to be right on that square. We finished our apéro and mosied over, arriving 2 minutes before they officially opened, tapping our feet anxiously as the staff dressed the tables outside. We were the first to be seated.
La Cagette is located at the southwestern tip of the Place du Palais, and its outdoor terrace has a great view of the Porte Cailhau. The menu is based on farm-fresh, local, seasonal ingredients assembled by producers of the region in wooden crates. The name of the restaurant actually means “crate,” and helps conjure up images of imperfect, multicolored and super flavorful heritage vegetables still crusted over with fresh soil and moist from the morning dew. Just about as organic as you can get.
We took them up on their 3 tapas for 6 euros deal and first chose the Œufs Mimosa à l’Houmous, the French version of deviled eggs. The whites were a beautiful bright white color, cooked to a tender consistency, and providing a perfectly firm capsule to pipe the creamy filling into. The latter consisted of the hard-boiled yolks blended with nutty humus, a fabulous combination. I loved the strong chickpea flavor of the dish, and thought that this ingredient offered way more personality than the typical mustard and mayo combination. The eggs were also dusted with bright red paprika, which added a nice heat and made for a very pretty dish.
Another great tapa was the Salade de Concombre, a fresh cucumber salad made with yoghurt, dill and dried cranberries tossed in for a touch of sweet and sour. Delicious, crunchy and fresh. This dish reminded us of the cucumber salad popular as a side to paprikás chicken in Hungary, except that the latter uses sour cream instead of yogurt, and no dill. The cucumbers in this version were also thicker, making for heartier bites.
Next, a very generous portion of the Tapenade verte au Basilic, a basil spread we promised we would only try a little bit of (to save our appetites for the main dishes), but which we ended up finishing off with good bread in a matter of minutes. Fresh, nutty from the grated cheese, packed with basil flavor and clearly homemade.
For our main dish we chose the farmer’s chicken thigh served with green sauce on a bed of sweet corn and sauteed onions. A dish that seemed so simple was in fact wonderfully entertaining to eat. The skin of the bird was wonderfully crunchy, while the flesh inside stayed juicy and moist. The green sauce, when spread over the meat, infused it with a fresh parsley flavor. The corn on the bottom maintained a fantastic juicy texture and crunch, and tasted as sweet as honey; so did the slivers of caramelized onion woven in.
But the unexpected star of the show was our salad, a brilliant combination of peppery arugula, heavenly soft, hand-torn pillows of fresh goat cheese, juicy grilled eggplant, ripe tomato, brown baby lentils, tender couscous, toasted pine nuts, lemon confit and chopped green onion. Rarely is my boyfriend satisfied by a salad, let alone left waxing poetic about one. But what set this salad apart was that despite being super fresh and light, it had tremendous substance. The combination of couscous and lentils with the meaty chunks of eggplant and tomato made it hearty; the enlightened combinations of flavors and textures made it a meal in itself. I loved the classic contrast between the smoky, warm, slightly bitter flavors of the eggplant and the tart, cool pungency of the creamy goat cheese. The latter maintained its shape impressively on the plate, holding together bits of arugula and roasty toasty pine nut, but melted easily in my mouth. I especially enjoyed the beautiful, bright red tomatoes, bursting with sweetness and adding an extra layer of flavor to this already very complex dish.
This salad was one that will stay with me and inspire me to try to recreate it at home. The next time I find goat cheese so silken soft and fluffy, I’ll not hesitate to pair it with this wonderful combo of fresh ingredients.