Cozy bistros with farm-to-table menus are making Toulouse a fresh dining destination.

By Alex Schechter
August 12, 2015
Chocolate éclair at Café Maurice
A chocolate éclair at Café Maurice
| Credit: Céline Clanet

Toulouse is experiencing unprecedented growth. With a shiny aerospace museum and a spotless, easy-to-navigate public transit system, “La Ville Rose,” as it’s known, is projected to soon overtake Lyons as France’s third-largest city. So it was somewhat inevitable that a forward-thinking attitude would take hold of the dining culture. Intimate, laid-back spots highlighting local produce have replaced fussy, old-school restaurants steeped in Midi-Pyrénées culinary tradition.

“Simplicity over spectacle,” explains chef Simon Carlier, co-owner of Solides (prix fixe $35), whose wooden tables and vegetable-driven fare adhere to the less-is-more credo. Dishes change nightly—you might get lamb tripe with yuzu or filet mignon with nori. Three blocks away, Au Bon Servant (prix fixe $35) has a set menu that allows chef Nicolas Servant to riff off whatever inspires him at the farmers’ market (fall preview: grapes incorporated into duck gravy, Bourgogne truffles). At Monsieur Marius (entrées $24), Nicolas Brousse cooks experimental plates like coquilles St. Jacques with chestnut cream, Morteau sausage, and Jerusalem-artichoke mousse. His success has even spawned a wine bar next door, L’Avant Marius.

Café Maurice
Outdoor seating at Café Maurice
| Credit: Céline Clanet

The stylish new Café Maurice (8 Place St.-Georges; small plates $11–$24) channels turn-of-the-20th-century Paris with its white subway tiles and circular zinc bar. The kitchen turns out dishes like sea-bass tartare with citrus; upstairs, an upscale deli stocks infused olive oils and artisanal pasta. And over at La Côte et l’Arête (entrées $15– $30)—whose name translates to “rib and fish bone”—cuts of meat are on display before hitting a wood-fired grill. Duck-fat french fries and desserts add to the indulgence. Outside, post-theater crowds linger on the leafy patio, and the snug dining room is lit with suspended lamps and candles.

“Ambience is important to us, but we’re interested in breaking the rules,” says Carlier, the Solides chef who is friendly with other members of this upstart crew. “We’re not exactly forgetting tradition—just rewriting it.”