Not all lunches here are in quaint little bistros. Saturday found us at the nearest shopping mall just outside Pamiers in search of exciting purchases like large envelopes and pricing the pipe we need to connect the new wood-burning stove to the chimney.
What Le Centre Pyreval also has is a Crescendo, one of a chain of cafeterias. But apart from the fact that you serve yourself, this is nothing like the North American version.
At various stations, you can have steak frites cooked to order, specify which of the four or five plats du jour you want dished up from big roasting platters and daube pots, or, as we did, go for the pasta of the day.
Saturday's was carbonara, the ingredients--lardons, eggs, cream--all mise-en-place-d, just waiting for our order. The final touch was the option of having an egg cracked and the yolk deposited whole on your pasta to enrich an already rich sauce.
Apart from that, a central station lets you help yourself to soup, quiche, a bewildering array of salads, cheeses and desserts which invariably include fromage blanc with fruit purée, iles flotantes, and crème caramel. The raspberry tarte is what lured us on Saturday.
You can also buy half or whole bottles of wine, or serve yourself to a carafe of vin de table. Glasses of sangria wait for you beside the cash desk. Beyond it is a table loaded with bottles of vinegars and oils--hazelnut, walnut, olive--so you can mix your own dressing. As I said, not like a North American cafeteria one little bit.