No Hamburger, No Tater Tots

No Hamburger, No Tater Tots

Casserole is cassoulet at Spoonriver and Vincent.

Restaurateur Brenda Langton is known for light, elegant, nearly vegetarian dining and composed, colorful plates. Cassoulet couldn’t be more opposite: a one-pot dish in shades of rustic brown, meat laden and filling. Yet there it is on Spoonriver’s menu, a cassoulet from chef Heather Hartman, that is both delicious and beautiful.

Traditional cassoulet includes duck confit, sausage, ham, and maybe chicken, layered over white beans. Cooking the beans to perfection and achieving a silky—not brothy, not stodgy—sauce that’s deeply herby and flavorful is a point of pride for good French cooks.

In Spoonriver’s cassoulet, duck confit—duck legs cooked slowly in their own fat—is the only meat. Generous helpings of carrots, parsnips, and mushrooms lighten the bean layer. The most indulgent thing about the dish, baked in its own almost dainty casserole, is the crunchy parmesan-and-herb crust laced with marjoram, tarragon, and thyme. It tastes like the south of France.

Spoonriver’s cassoulet is to a winter’s night out at the neighboring Guthrie Theater what a casserole is to movie night at home: comfort food. And if your diversions take you to the other end of downtown, Vincent Francoual makes cassoulet at his namesake restaurant, too. Francoual, who hails from the south of France, insists on traditional French flageolets, rather than the easier-to-find cannellini beans, and he adds duck legs, ham hock, and two kinds of sausage—just the way grandmère used to do.

750 S. 2nd St.,

Vincent, a Restaurant
1100 Nicollet Mall,

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