Provence report July 2011
In approximate order from best to worst:
La Maison Jaune (St. Remy de Provence): This is classic provencal cooking done at the highest level, ie, without flourishes like foams, emulsions, etc. You can order a la carte, or from the approx 55 euro provencal degustation menu, or from the 68 euro menu which has more options. Excellent fresh anchovies over white beans with a pistou was my starter, followed by perfectly cooked lamb loin and chop, followed by their incomparable all-goat cheese course, and dessert was strawberries. The setting is beautiful as well, a quiet terrace on the second floor with views of rooftops and crumbling stone walls of the village.
L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel (Arles). This is a contrast from La Maison Jaune in that it is more experimental and creative. The dinner is a set menu (no choice) of approximately 15 small plates (incl. dessert), with an emphasis on vegetables and with meats/fish playing a supporting role. Highlights were a white tuna with beans, a thinly sliced taureau (bull) from the camargue, and long green beans with mackerel. The desserts were not quite as good--perhaps because too tomato-based. The staff is accommodating and even the chef himself was helping as a waiter (it must be hard on them to deliver 15 dishes to each table with the right timing).
Brasseries d'Eygalieres (Eygalieres). This is the less formal offshoot of Chez Bru. We had the menu du marche with a carpaccio of cod with a citrus and black truffle sauce as a starter, followed by a chicken breast wrapped in puff pastry with foie gras. Both excellent.
L'Arome (Bonnieux). Very high-level cooking. I started with a tomatoes three ways entree, followed by a filet of sea bass. Girlfriend had an excellent duck breast with cherries. We went for lunch.
Plage Paloma (Cap Ferrat). This is an expensive place for lunch (they also have dinner), but with absolutely fresh fish and great ingredients generally. Beautiful setting.
L'Oustalet (Gigondas). Great wine list, and food also good but not quite as good as L'Arome where we had been the previous day for lunch. Again had a starter that was tomatoes served several ways, followed by a braised lamb shoulder.
L'Olivade (St. Remy de Provence). Seems to have changed ownership since last summer, with the ingredients in the salad having improved but also changed in that they use less tuna in their version of the salade camarguaise.
La Fille du Pecheur (Villefranche sur mer). Good fish but a bit overpriced.
Le Cosmo (Villefranche sur mer). Very popular but food was just so-so.
Bar Tabac des Alpilles (St. Remy de Provence). Very casual and decent, but not great (entrecote was somewhat stringy but still tasty), brasserie-type food. Seems to be a popular local hangout.
Le Tambourin (Arles). Not good. Salad had no dressing and hadn't been washed well.
L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel
Rue des Carmes, Arles, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur 13200, FR
As a supplement to my earlier report, here are a few additional places that I either inadvertently left off the original list or went to after I filed the report.
Le Bistrot du Paradou (Paradou). Perhaps the best (and best value) meal of the entire trip. We went for dinner. There is a choice of entree (on our night, it was foie gras ravioli, escargots, or soupe au pistou), followed by one plat without choice (on our night, it was three lamb chops with some mashed potato and ratatouille), followed by a help-yourself cheese course that is brought to your table and left there for you to take as much as you like, followed by a choice of desserts (the abricot-clafoutis tarte and the gateau chocolat were both amazing). The house wine, for 6 euros per person, was an excellent cotes du rhone from chateauneuf-du-pape; when one bottle was finished, another was brought without additional charge. After eating here I can see why some consider it the best bistro in all of france. The food was classic and impeccably prepared; probably the best lamb I have ever eaten.
La Stazione (Cassis). In contrast with the somewhat homogeneous (ie, grilled fish) offerings elsewhere in town, this Italian restaurant puts out excellent pastas, pizzas, antipasti, and a few mains that are cooked by a chef imported from Naples. The quality of the ingredients is excellent: perfect melon, perfect tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, etc. The pizzas, made in a wood burning oven, are comparable to those I have had south of Naples. Small but well chosen wine list. Highly recommended.
Yacht Club de Cassis (Cassis). This place is on the port but not on the touristy part; rather, it is past the tourist office toward the lighthouse. We went for lunch (and had to sit inside because all the outside spots had been booked, seemingly by many regulars who own or work on boats). The grilled fish was excellent and was fileted for us by the waitress. A great option for dining on the port away from the tourist crush.
WOW I am shocked to read that Bistrot du Paradou charged you for the house wine. Did you ask for a second option when they brought over their regular wine? We were there about 2.5 weeks ago and paid what we've paid for the past 3 years or so: 49€ per person for 4 courses including wine (but I don't remember what the label said). Prior to that, the price might have been a bit lower, but always including the house wine.
I may have reported inaccurately. I believe it was 49 euros total including the wine and the food, although on the check this was broken out (perhaps b/c required by law?) into 43 euros for food and six euros for wine. The wine was the one that was on every table and also lined up on the bar. Most other tables were drinking the same, although a few ordered rose.
AHA that makes sense now.....thank you for explaining. I had been wondering what the
"new" management/owner (Vincent, nephew of original owner Jean-Louis) might change from the bistrot's long-standing menu format, and am very glad to hear that, in fact, nothing has changed...yet. Phew!
It is good to hear that Le Bistro du Paradou continues its wonderful culinary tradition. I have not visited Provence in the past 4 years. I always stayed in the Le Baux and frequented Le Bistro du Paradou as often as I could. I ate in the restaurant 6 times over the years and was always impressed with the cost of the fixe prix dinner and the quality of the menu. It was an honor for me to receive a signed poster featuring the exterior of the restaurant from the owner Jean-Louis on July 16, 2005. Great memories and great food!