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Full of Beans: Vermont Serves Up Cassoulet 

Chef Laurent Quenioux shows off a seasonal, soulful rendition

Wednesday, Nov 19 2008
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Dear Mr. Gold:

There’s finally a nip in the air, and I’m starting to think about cassoulet, a dish with some ballast. Any ideas?

—Gregory, Brentwood

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Dear Gregory:

Cassoulet, the southwestern French standard of meat and white beans, has never quite translated to the United States. The tarbais beans, the soul of the dish, are hard to find here and expensive, and the informality of the dish — natural in a part of France where most families have pots of duck confit, preserved pork and garlic sausage ready at hand — is lost in California, where all of those things have to be made specially. Cassoulet here tends to be overfancy, overthickened and overdone.

But the kitchen at Vermont, a Los Feliz bistro nearing its 10th anniversary, is currently under the guidance of Laurent Quenioux, the renegade French chef who seems to have been operating on a guerrilla basis since he ran Seventh Street Bistro in the 1980s; and the baroquely modernist tasting menus during his short tenure at Bistro K in South Pasadena were legendary. For the month of November, Quenioux is preparing what may be the best cassoulet I have ever tasted in America. It’s the real thing: tarbais beans cooked to a consistency both firm and creamy, walloped with garlic and garnished with first-quality house-made duck confit, braised pork belly and Toulouse sausage so abundant that the meat almost crowds the beans out of the ceramic tagines being used as crocks. Add a frisée salad that must be almost half bacon by weight and a bottle of Gigondas and you’re in business. By December, you may even be hungry again. 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, (323) 661-6163, www.vermontrestaurantonline.com.

Got a burning culinary question? E-mail askmrgold@laweekly.com.

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