Paris is filled with hundreds of tiny restaurants, each representing one unique small corner of France.
Just about the most famous of the provincial gastronomic regions is les Landes -- the wild area of forests, salt marshes and sand dunes that runs south and southwest below Bordeaux, along the Atlantic coast. It was once considered the poorest part of France, but no longer, in part due to the raising of magnificent fatted ducks, snow-white geese and the production of something almost worth its weight in gold: foie gras de canard et d'oie.
The very tiny, very expensive little bistro that represents les Landes in Paris is one of the most dramatic and famous small restaurants in the city. It is Lous Landes (simply the name of the region in its local dialect), owned and run by Georgette Descats.
Her basic clientele -- probably 75 percent of the people who reserve her 10 tables -- never changes: They are the Landais exiles in Paris. Nor does her basic menu vary.
The dish I have remembered most vividly came one evening as the third course, after the foie gras Landaise and thin slices of sun-dried Landais raw ham (with the texture of smoked salmon). It was a vegetarian soup based on oodles of garlic (22 cloves in the original version), a mixture of wild and domestic mushrooms and a crackling-snapping garnish of sliced radishes.
The soup has to be made in two parts, on succeeding days. The first day you prepare the basic mushroom bouillon -- which takes very little time. On the day of serving you assemble it with the other vegetables.
If you can manage to find a bunch of radishes with green tops still attached, this is ideal, since the leaves can be snipped into the soup, giving an interesting, slightly peppery effect. I bolster the radish leaves with watercress and scallion tops for the final garnish of the soup.
It is essential to follow Descats' timing precisely, to maintain her exact balance of flavors, to guard the handsome contrasts of colors and, especially, to preserve the crackly snap of the texture of the vegetables. Even a few minutes of overcooking will make everything go limp. LOUS LANDES SOUP OF GARLIC, MUSHROOMS AND RADISHES (4 servings) For the mushroom bouillon: 1 ounce (1/2 cup) coarsely broken dried wild mushrooms, either Chinese, French, Italian or Japanese 1 pound fresh mushrooms, chopped 1 tablespoon caraway seed 1 large bermuda onion, chopped 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram 2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper For the main soup: 4 tablespoons goose fat, or same amount of bacon fat or butter 5 medium onions, about 2 cups, chopped 1 cup thinly sliced carrots 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 2/3 cup finely sliced radishes, plus a small handful of their green leafy tops, coarsely snipped with scissors 1/3 cup watercress leaves, snipped 1/3 cup scallion tops, snipped About 3/4 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely diced; or use canned Italian plum, drained, chopped 1 teaspoon dried basil, or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped Salt and pepper to taste
The day before serving, make the mushroom bouillon:
In a 3-quart kettle, cover dried mushrooms with 2 quarts of cold water. Heat over high heat to gentle simmering, cover and let simmer for half an hour.
Stir in the fresh mushrooms, caraway seed and chopped bermuda onion. Continue simmering, covered, for another hour.
Remove from heat and let cool. Refrigerate, covered, overnight.
Next morning, heat to boiling, add marjoram, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
Strain solids, firmly squeezing so they give up every drop of their juices. Set aside the bouillon and, separately, the mushroom pieces.
To assemble the soup: Melt the goose fat in a 6-quart kettle over low heat. When it sizzles slightly, stir in the 2 cups of chopped onions, the carrots and the sliced garlic. Simmer, covered, very gently for 15 minutes, without letting them color. Meanwhile, wash the radishes in ice-cold water. In a small bowl toss radish leaves with watercress leaves and scallion tops.
Add the 8 cups of mushroom bouillon to the simmering vegetables. Salt and pepper to taste. Heat gently to the point of light simmering and, just when the first bubbles appear, add the slices of radish. Let them simmer, very gently, uncovered, for precisely 10 minutes.
Carefully and lightly stir in the dice of tomato, plus the radish leaves, watercress, scallion tops, basil, marjoram and reserved mushroom pieces. Simmer very gently for precisely 5 minutes. Meanwhile, ready the hot soup bowls. Serve immediately, accompanied by solid chunks of rough country bread.