Languedoc's Full Flavors

SAINT-GUIRAUD, France - When traveling, few events are more exciting or rewarding than the discovery of a restaurant that seems to fit one's ideal: crisply beautiful and carefully thought-out surroundings, a calm, gentle welcome, a menu full of one's favorite seasonal fare, from artichokes to asparagus, those Lilliputian Mediterranean clams known as tellines and newly pressed olive oil from the meaty green verdale olive of the Languedoc.

Add to this a wine list that gathers up the greats of France's up-and-coming wine region, the Languedoc-Roussillon, and you have a thoroughly charming place well worth the detour.

But the best part of all is the attentive pair that showers all their love on their little Le Mimosa, Bridget and David Pugh. The couple - he is English and she comes from New Zealand - has been perfecting their little jewel since 1985, when she traded her dance shoes from the Norwegian National Ballet for cook's clogs and he swapped his violin for a corkscrew.

Le Mimosa is an ocher-stone, restored medieval home lovingly decorated with local antiques and selections from the couple's art collection. All is set at the top of a village surrounded by spectacular views and well-tended vines, and it is here that the Pughs offer a solid, simple, full-flavored menu.

On a visit on May, I loved the well-ordered starter of puff pastry topped with fresh green asparagus, warm, tender goat cheese and the freshest of tiny tomatoes, warmed just to a melt and drizzled with olive oil. Like Bridget herself, the dish is graceful and soft-spoken, seemingly fragile yet loaded with power. She is sure of herself, and your palate will verify that. She urges, coaxes ingredients to give of themselves, until they speak clearly and distinctly of their own intensity.

artful blends I felt the same way about her brilliant combination of artichokes, grilled almonds and zest of lemon confit, all marinated in a fragrant, thyme-scented honey. Her food is ingredient-driven, and I'd feel safe with her behind the wheel any day.

Other regular specials might include tangles of spaghetti laced with tellines; a meaty saddle of rabbit stuffed with pistachios and sage; or a farm-raised lamb from the Herault roasted with farigoule, or wild thyme, and the precious, delicate fleur de sel from the Camargue.

When it comes to wine, David will give you an equally authoritative lead. Among my favorites in his cellar are Domaine Tempier's renowned rosé from Bandol; any of the ripe and densely flavored creations from Domaine d'Aupilhac; and the well-structured reds and floral whites from Gilbert Alquier et Fils, in Faugeres. Most wines are well priced, generally 120 to 180 francs (about $20 to $30), and there is a worthy and welcoming selection available by the glass.

In 1996 the Pughs opened an equally charming hotel, Ostalaria Cardabela, in the picture postcard village of Saint-Saturnin-de-Lucian, just a few minutes' drive from the restaurant.

Le Mimosa

34725 Saint-Guiraud
(7.5 kilometers north of Clermont l'Herault, about 50 kilometers north of Montpellier)
Tel: 04-67-96-67-96
Fax: 04-67-96-61-15

Closed November through February, and Sunday evening (except July and August) and Monday. Credit card: Visa. Menus at 190 and 290 francs, with optional wine-pairing selection for 145 francs. A la carte, 350 to 450 francs.

Hotel Ostalaria Cardabela

10 Place de la Fontaine
(10 kilometers north of Clermont l'Herault)
Tel: 04-67-88-62-62
Fax: 04-67-88-62-82