Alfonz calls me up to say ‘Bon Appetit’ as he does often when he is touring clients around southern France. This day he did a late morning wine tour in La Clape wine appellation, followed by a seaside lunch at La Cambuse in Gruissan, and after another wine tasting at the beautiful VanHo Belair on route home here in Capestang.
The restaurant is known for their view of the pink salt pans. Four hundred hectares of barricaded shoreline where the tide brings in salt water and the sun evaporates the water leaving beautiful edible, high quality salt. Due to variable algal concentrations, vivid colors are created in the evaporation ponds. The color indicates the level of salinity in the water. Microorganisms change their hues as the levels of salinity increase in the ponds. In winter the manmade etang only has a slight hue of pink, but in the summertime the reds are very bold when the sun hits the surface of the water.
I ask, So what’s for lunch? And Alfonz usually goes into elaborate details of succulent lobster, fresh raw oysters and mussels harvested that morning, right out of the Mediterranean Sea. He spent a lot of time during these conversations over the summer telling me about one speciality the restaurant was well-known for; salt encrusted duck, chicken, sea bass, or seabream; baked until perfection. He never tired of telling me how much the tourists loved tasting it for the first time. Although by summer’s end he was asking me, What are you having for lunch? It was never anything close to as exciting.
So when Alfonz surprised me yesterday and took Daniel and I out for lunch, I was so very happy. He literally has visited this restaurant 50 times, and I thought for sure on his day off he would never take me there. But voila, he said, you must try this before we move to Budapest, it is more an experience than a just meal.
He ordered for us. A hot plate of 6 large baked oysters; made with wine, herbs and cheese, a fresh plate of raw oysters served with lemon, steamed giant prawns, and delicious sea snails; all to dip in their homemade garlic herb sauce. He also ordered Daniel a salt encrusted chicken kid’s meal with French fries served with ice cream for dessert. He ordered us house wine, then two full fish sea bass also baked to perfection encrusted in the famous local salt.
Once my meal came, Daniel sat next to Alfonz and took over the filleting and preparing my fish to eat. He ate half my fish, but I was happy to share with my very picky boy. I ate his chicken and I was not disappointed at how good it tasted; it reminded me of Christmas dinner back home.
Our lunch cost about 25€/person with wine and dessert. After, they gave us a coupon for the coffee shop/cocktail bar with great views next door. We climbed to the second floor and enjoyed our coffee with beautiful views of the pink salt fields below. Spectacular!
It was a very memorable moment for me to finally reach La Cambuse in Gruissan. It was among the best meals I have ever had in France, and the ambiance, the wooden tables, the picnic style benches, the open air seating, the servers casually dressed in shorts; all made my visit just that much more special! It only took me five years to get here, but it was well worth the wait!