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Jan 8, 2007 07:19 PM

Aix en Provence - recommendations please

We will be in Ventebren for a week in late July, and would be very grateful for dining suggestions. We'll wish to eat well. Thanks very much.

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  1. If you'll have a car, I highly recommend a day trip to St-Paul-de-Vence. If art interests you, you can spend some time at the Foundation Maeght (Chagall, Braques, Miro and Kandinsky) and have a meal to remember at La Colombe d'Or.

    Here's my entry from our fabulous lunch there 10 years ago...


    ...When we started to catch the aroma of lunches being prepared in the small pizza places and cafés, we turned around and headed back to the Colombe d’Or. It was still a little early, but we knew we could relax with an aperitif and an olive or twenty. Through an arched doorway cut into a stone wall, marked by a hanging sign with a gold-painted dove, we found a small dining patio with an ivy-covered trellis, hung with light fixtures made out of dried gourds. The view onto the mountains and valley below was, naturally, breathtaking. We went in and asked if our table was ready yet, but we were shown into the cozy bar at the entrance, with the explanation that the dining room would be ready in a very little while. A few other early arrivals were in the bar, seated at tiny tables and sipping aperitifs, so we joined them at our own little table and ordered: a kir royale (made with champagne) for me and straight champagne for Jimmy. There were pots of olives on the bar, of course (Provence should be known as the Big Olive!). We moved to the bar so we wouldn’t have to keep getting up for more olives as we sipped our drinks and chatted with the bartender as the olive pits accumulated. He was very friendly, as was nearly everyone we encountered, and offered to take our picture for us when he spotted my camera.

    Another drink for each of us and several more olives, and we were shown into one of several art-filled dining rooms at about 12:45. The menu was presented and we were faced with extremely difficult choices. We finally opted for an appetizer of foie gras for Jimmy and the house hors d’oeuvres variées for me. I figured it would be a nice, mixed platter of a few vegetables, salads, slices of sausage, etc. WRONG! Jimmy’s foie gras arrived first, and a waiter came over with some dried sausages. He sliced a few pieces of each onto my plate and disappeared. We were a little confused, considering the price of my dish, but the waiter was soon back with a huge basket of raw vegetables, with pesto on the side, and two enormous trays of small plates containing:

    · stuffed zucchini
    · pickled pearl onions
    · fresh anchovies in oil
    · fresh grilled sardines
    · couscous
    · a combination of tomatoes and grilled sliced eggplant
    · boudin noir (blood sausage)
    · the ubiquitous and always welcome niçoise olives
    · roasted sweet peppers
    · stewed white beans
    · marinated mushrooms
    · sliced cucumber salad
    · fresh beet salad
    · and two different types of herring

    Had we known all this was coming, I think we might well have ordered nothing else. Everything was wonderful and it was all I could do to stop myself after having small tastes of it all (except the blood sausage), fully aware that our main courses were still to arrive! We ordered a bottle of a local white wine, Côtes de Provence, bottled under the inn’s private label; it was crisp and good. Our appetizer plates were finally cleared away and they gave us a decent amount of time to recover from that course before bringing our next dishes. Jimmy had ordered herb-roasted poussin (baby chicken) and potatoes dauphin, and I ordered a cassolette d’escargots, ratatouille with about a dozen cooked snails, out of the shell, tossed in. Mine was delicious and Jimmy’s was outstanding. We finished with espresso for Jimmy, a mint tea for me, and a digestif on the house—orange eau de vie—with which Jimmy toasted, “Oh! Da vie!”

    This was a meal we will remember always — the location, the gracious service, the surroundings, and, most especially, the food. Art literally covered the walls (lithographs, original oils, watercolors and collages, all signed with the names of well-known artists) and the flower arrangements were striking. It was expensive, granted, but not formal or stuffy; all the guests were in casual clothes, including jeans, and engaged in conversation in normal tones, not hushed as at, say, the Espadon at the Ritz in Paris. We hope to return and stay at the inn sometime - there are twelve guestrooms - and I eagerly look forward to the day.

    1. Exactly the kind of advice I am seeking. Thanks!

      1. Not sure where Ventebren is but, if Avignon is within striking distance, I suggest Christian Etienne in the town for lunch. Set in the Papal Palace with a beautiful terrace overlooking the palace, the setting itself is worth the trip. But, it is the food that should take you there. Every summer, CE offers a menu tamate (tomato menu) in which every dish, including the dessert, has something to do with tomatos. It is to die for!

        Another must go in the region is Jean Charial's restaurant in Lex Baux. The accent in his food is on vegetables and almost nothing in the world goes together as well as Provence and Veggies do.

        In Aix itself, L'Hacienda is worth a visit for very local food.

        (Caveat: I haven't visited Provence since 2003. But, I would be surprised if these restaurants have disappeared and shocked if they have deteriorated!)

        1. Look at Guide Gantie,
          which has a great list of restaurants in Provence. When I was in Aix ; we ate at a place 45 minutes out of town in Rognes called Les Olivades, a small house in the middle of the field serving Michelin starred food at bistro prices. I advise going there for lunch as it may be tough to find in the dark. Also go to the Chateau Barbrie(sp) 20 minutes towards Aix, even though its not a restaurant-it is a zoo in a chateau; most unusual place I have been to.

          1. Thanks very much. To all who replied, please contact me if you ever have cause to visit Toronto. I will ensure you eat well. Regards, Chip