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Oct 17, 2011 05:28 PM

Trip Report Provence, Montpellier, Nimes, Aix & Paris

Well, we begin our trip next week and I wanted to thank everyone for all the suggestions and opinions before we depart. Parigi, we only have 3 days in Paris near the end of the trip but will try to lunch at Chez l'Ami Jean if nearby Restaurant Mariette doesn't appeal to us when we walk by the previous day. The tips from everyone and especially your trip report Kurtis inspired this dining adventure. The one disappointment is that we won't be able to enjoy Le Castelas in Sivergues. Our pace had been dramatically slowed so we aren't over extending ourselves (and our stomachs). And I've arranged to spend some time with the owner/winemakers at 3 Rhone establishments and will include our tasting notes. So the next post in Decemberwill be the first of the trip report!

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  1. Sounds better all the time. Bon voyage.

    1. Please don't get stuck in "Toledo," as I am really looking forward to your report from the fabulous itinerary : )

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kurtis

        We might have created a new euphemism To Toledo out! We will be tempted for sure. But to experience the rarest of pleasures, to be completely satisfied and in harmony with the universe is too compelling to limit those opportunities. Once some time ago I was fortunate enough to know marianne and her husband chef Josef and were invited to attend their restaurants grand opening. When we neared the final few courses, I took the linen napkin from my lap and began wiping my eyes. Marianne came over and asked me what was wrong and I looked up, partially faking a sob and replied, the meal is almost over!

      2. Just returned from two weeks at our home in Provence. We have cousins in Montpellier so we always go there several times to meet up with them. While we did not go to Insensé this time, we have been there a number of times and enjoyed our meals very much. I posted some pictures from my blog from earlier this year. Earlier this week, we went to eat at Let Petit Jardin which is close to the cathedral. It was excellent and I definitely recommend it to you.

        19 Replies
        1. re: Pammel

          La Cuisine du Dimanche
          Cocktail - 3 layer Pousse-Cafés in large bowled wine glass, one composed of mildly tart crushed Raspberries under a layer of raspberry puree with a dry white wine floated over those two layers.
          and the slightly sweeter version with the lower layer of crushed blackberries then the puree with the white wine floated over that. Both tasty and interesting look/presentations and a nice way to look over the menu.

          Amuse-Bouche Hard to give it a title but I’ll describe this in detail basically a firm hummus log served with thin toasted slices of a bagette, but so much more. I, on first look, thought it might be a tuna tartare then after tasting, thought the base was white beans, eventually decided garbanzo because there was just the slightest taste of that.

          This dish must take a day to prepare. First the cooked chickpeas are marinated along with finely chopped red onion for I’d guess 8 to 12 hours in a combination of fresh lemon and lime juice, then mashed or pulsed in a food processor along with red, yellow and green bell peppers and some Italian Parsley leaf to a paste, then lightly seasoned with a sprinkling of very short chopped stems of cilantro that are folded in. This mash was then rolled into a log, chilled until firm and presented on a plate surrounded with toasted slices of a baguette that had been rubbed very lightly with fresh garlic. The “hummus” was delicious and the red onion and the lemon and lime juice marinade completely altered the flavor of the garbonzo beans into a fresh, lively spread, and then those cilantro stems provided little explosions of flavor as you ran into them.

          Entrée (Two)

          Risotto with Saint Jacques
          The bed of risotto was made with Canaroli rice, which is less starchy than Arborio and the rice I prefer anyway. That’s a nice touch/start to this dish already, and it was prepared perfectly and a true al dente, and not the hard nugget interior that is commonly served as al dente, this risotto was a collection of firm grains and not a mush, but creamy so it was probably cooked in a combination of a rich chicken broth with a bit of milk, then had a very good (not salty) young parmesean and a scattering of finely chopped Italian Parsley flakes folded in, and then another surprise. There were little bits of orange zest throughout the risotto, not a lot of them but enough to provide another unexpected explosion of flavor in a bite here and there. On this delicious bed lay 4 perfect scallops, the exterior seared in butter and carmelized while the interior remained almost translucent. The shallow bowl was dusted with smoked sweet paprika and a sprinkle of Italian parsley flakes.

          Gnocci with Chanterelles
          Again, perfect preparation. Feather light potato gnocci served with sweet fresh and sun dried cherry tomato bits in a mildly rich cream sauce then presented with a substantial (and I mean many of them) layer of chanterelles on top, possibly sauteed with a bit of sherry in the butter. Lovely. And if gnocci can ever be called elegant, this was.

          Plat wife and I chose the same
          Oven roasted lamb Slow roasted till it can be easily pulled off the bone with a fork, combined with roasted chestnuts and thin slices of small white potato, very sweet pieces of sun dried tomato The seasoning was fresh basil and Turkish Bay leaves and this combination was further “stewed” together and served under a good helping of lightly sautéed chanterelles. Exquisite.

          Cheese Plate - Small portion of Chevre infused with fig and a mild blue

          Dessert Wild cherry and pear compote crumble. Intense fruit flavor under a crispy crumble. Nicely and not overly sweetened and a perfect finish to what was one of the best meals on this trip.

          La Cuisine du Dimanche is in Avignon

            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

              Thanks. It will take some time to organize the notes I made and write reports on the other dozen or so meals. Dimanche was one of 3 that stood out above all the others.

              1. re: catfur

                Thanks for the report. It was difficult to read while I eat my take out lunch. Definitely have to make it back to Avignon.

            2. re: catfur

              And I thought you got stuck in Toledo again! Welcome back!

              1. re: Kurtis

                Thank you Kurtis. It's amazing how finding this site has increased my appreciation of dining. We took photos of several meals and made notes, something we had never done before, not really to write a review, but simply to be able to remember and "re-enjoy" if that can be a word, the meals we had as well as trying to live up and provide the kind of report I've read and enjoyed here.

                1. re: catfur

                  L'Epice et Love in Avignon
                  Coming off the "highs" of both a dinner at La Cuisine du Dimanche and lunch at L'Oustalet in Gigondas, (which will need more time to compose a proper report) L'Epice et Love was a walk by then walk in selection on our second evening in Avignon, and more than held its own in its own way. The meal and course after course was well prepared and remarkably tasty and the owner/chef/waitress, Madame Marie Chantal is a delightful host, patient, friendly and treats her guests with a sense of good spirit and a twinkle in her eye and she is, and rightfully so, proud of her establishment.
                  We had returned to Avignon early in the evening from an amazing lunch at L'Oustalet in Gigondas and a series of wine and barrel tastings at Chateau Beaucastel, Chateau Saint Cosme and Domaine les Goubert and had not made dinner reservations but strolling around the City for an hour, looking into cafe and restaurant windows, we found ourselves hungry enough and wanted to enjoy another meal. L'Epice was packed, noisy, cute through the window, and the aromas when we opened the door settled it. Madame Marie was very sorry she couldn't seat us immediately but we could be seated in an hour. Doing our Arnold impersonation, we told her "we'll be back" then walked around the block to have a glass of wine at Ginette et Marcel, a nice cafe/coffehouse that serves great looking dessert tarts and pizza. An hour later we were warmly greeted as old friends and guests and seated. We ordered a half pichet of admirable house red and looked over the carte, Not even having to ask, Marie took the time to describe each dish, especially drawing our attention to the "special" of the day, Pork Cheeks in Red Wine, explaining that this wasn't prepared for the menu that often "After all, pigs only have two cheeks" I looked up and replied, "No, I think they have four" There was a pause as she absorbed the comment and then she broke out into infectious laughter. I ordered it and my wife went with the Vegetable Platter, Risotto with Artichoke Heart and Ratatouille. A large basket of baguettes and assorted breads were placed on the table along with the first course, a substantial platter of anti-pasti, consisting of an intensely flavorful Olive Tapanade on toast points, marinated grilled red peppers, grilled eggplant, thin slices of very lean and very good prosciutto, a variety of olives and a green salad of baby lettuce, lightly dressed with a fine olive oil in portions large enough for two.

                  I had not eaten Pork Cheeks before so have no bases for comparison, but these were delicious. They were stewed for a very long time in Red Wine till fall apart tender and served in a deep ceramic crock with boiled new potatoes, a few slices of carrot and herbed with Turkish Bay Leaves and another flavor that we couldn't immediately identify
                  but it added immensely to the overall flavor. Marie came by and asked how I liked them. I asked if I could kiss her. She laughed, looked at my wife and said May I? She did and we all laughed again and engaged in conversation. The herb was Juniper Berries. She goes out and collects them herself. Later, she brought out a jar of the berries and poured out a handful into a napkin for us. The restaurant was beginning to clear and Marie spent even more time conversing with us over dessert, which for the life of me I can't recall what it was but I know we enjoyed it along with Marie's company.
                  Oh, and this meal was 16 euros, a coffee included.

                  1. re: catfur

                    Because of Kurtis' extraordinary report last April (thank you for that) we approached L'Oustalet with great anticipation and reverence but the morning had begun poorly. Heavy rain swept across Avignon so rather than a leisurely walk down to the Shuttle stop to ride to the TGV station and pick up our rental car, we called for a cab and, thankfully, immediately stepped up to the counter, filled out the paperwork and knew we would easily make our appointment at Chateau Beaucastel even with a stop in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for coffee and a look around, then... "Passport please?"
                    O Damn. We forgot we had left them in the care of the B&B. My wife found a chair near the floor to ceiling windows, looked out at the rain, opened her journal and, smiling, quite possibly wrote something rude. Another shuttle bus was just leaving and I jumped on then just made the city bus by a hair and trotted back to the B&B. Passports in hand, returned via bus and Shuttle, rushed through the terminal and into the Avis office and stopped cold. A train had just arrived and there was a line. A long line. A long line of people who must have spoke Martian. We skipped the CdP stopover and lost our way on one of the country roads to Courthézon, arriving just as our scheduled appointment and tasting would end. Arranged to return later that day and got directions to Gigondas. The rain diminished as we parked across from L'Oustalet, with a minute or two to spare before our reservation for lunch. The rain had stopped now and the air was still and fresh and clean and the autumn leaves on the ground were a riot of color, and the patchwork of vineyards just over the stone wall extended into the distance. The world was right again. The interior was more modern and sleek than I had imagined and the room between tables, spacious. The wine list was immense and impressive but since we would be tasting the remainder of the afternoon, decided to order just a glass of rose for each of us rather than a bottle. The Service, conducted by 3 individuals, was prompt and professional yet unhurried.
                    We selected our Menu and then a plate holding slices of Serrano ham, fresh shucked oysters,olives, roasted almonds and a helping of salty anchovy paste along with a basket of bread was set between us. Not accustomed to "Amuse-Bouche" or being served items we had not specifically ordered, my wife and I glanced up at each other. This was going to be GOOD and sent a mental "Thank You Kurtis"

                    The second Amuse-Bouche Sauteed Chicken Breast with grilled fennel and a quince compote provided an exciting combination on the palate. Another upward glance. This was going to be better than GOOD.

                    Our entree arrived. Risotto with Chanterelles surrounded with a cream foam. Lovely, delicate flavors and, slightly, very slightly underdone. Still a Wow.

                    The plat A thick, very thick Roasted Veal Chop- tender and perfectly Pink in the middle served with Anchovy and a cup of pan juices for dipping along with braised celery and chard stems to the side.

                    Too full to even consider dessert with our coffee, a slate rectangle was set before each of us, holding a mini creampuff with a button of burnt sugar on top that my wife is still raving about, a small coconut marshmallow, a Meringue puff with a toffee cream center, and almond paste shaped into an almond with an iced hint of orange topping and a small block of dark dark chocolate. After that we almost ordered dessert.

                    This was only our 3rd day in Provence and we'd already enjoyed 3 incredible meals and were looking forward to the next 3 weeks.

                    1. re: catfur

                      Great report; I can almost taste that dish of veal chop w/ anchovy and braised chard...

                      1. re: Kurtis

                        Leaving Avignon was difficult to do. On our walks around the old city, we passed so many of the restaurants I had read about both here and on other sites and even tho had we stayed longer, I would have been sorely tempted to take a "Toledo" at Dimanche, we promised each other to return on another trip. Next up, the Luberon.. We drove from Avignon to Bonnieux in less than an hour, much less really. Someone had suggested we just base ourselves in one or the other on the initial thread proposing our itinerary and it was sound advice. The distances are not great at all and one can easily visit many villages and sights from either. But we still preferred staying first in Avignon without a car and then driving to Bonnieux. After checking in, we drove to Saignon to enjoy a Chocolate Festival that weekend and lunch at Auberge du Presbytere. I don't think we've ever dined in a more picturesque and pleasant courtyard. Even tho it was nearing November, the sun was out and the air warm. We both ordered the fish menu of the day and while the presentations were lovely, the meal and various courses were a step down from what we had been experiencing.

                        Entree Crayfish, marinated in lemon juice and served with lemon slices and chives on a bed of baby greens, including some peppery arugula. Very colorful plate and a big mound of crayfish. Unfortunately cooked just a little too long or possibly steamed an hour or two earlier for they were somewhat grainy and not very tender. A second glass of a nice Sancerre helped. The Plat was monkfish and in all my life I had never seen or been served a portion that large. It was the size of two healthy lobster tails and draped over a bed of rice, served with grilled tomatos and quince and topped with marinated red peppers then completely covered with a bright yellow thick sauce that didn't add much other than moisture. I know monkfish is often substituted for lobster and offers firm resistance when bitten, but this was just a little more than resistance and a little stringy. Flavor was clean and the fish fresh so can only suspect it was again, held in heat just a little too long. Not long enough to ruin the meal and all in all, it was a good lunch, filling, and a lovely setting with great and attentive service. We just ordered the wrong plate or at least that's what I hope. We skipped dessert and picked up a few odds and ends for dinner that evening.

                        1. re: catfur

                          Glad you were able to sit outdoors at Auberge du Presbytere even in November. Yeah, their food can use more precise execution based on our experience as well, but still, to this day, the spell it put on me is the lasting image of Luberon.

                          1. re: Kurtis

                            The following day, Sunday, was the most enjoyable by far. We drove to L'Isle sur la Sorgue and spent the morning wandering around the stalls and shops and saw too many roasting chickens, cheese, breads, olives and crisp apples to consider finding a restaurant for lunch and did get to Fontaine de Vaucluse later in the warm afternoon and enjoyed our lunch near the headwaters, under a scattering of sunlight then headed home to Bonnieux with dinner reservations at L'Arome that evening, but stopping at Pont Julien to watch the sun set between the stone arches and listen to children playing where legions once marched. Everything was perfect at L'Arome. The cave was warmly lit, the service impeccable, the presentation of the dishes, from first amuse bouche to final dessert were works of art yet each course, each dish, each ingredient somehow lacked or missed something. Not one was memorable. Enjoyable for the most part but Memorable, no
                            We started with an amsue bouche of Cream of Parsnip Soup and if there was a direction to this dish, it had no purpose that I could find. It was a soup made from parsnip, bland, directionless and it wasn't clean enough to prepare the palate for the following courses. Next was a Lentil Soup with Truffle and poached egg. The lentils were delicate and perfectly prepared, firm but cooked through, but the eggyolk was almost fully cooked so didn't spread and infuse the soup with the intended richness it needed.
                            My Plat was Scallops with chorizo chips and served with a side of steamed shredded carrots and brussel sprouts, compacted in small ramekin then inverted on the plate. The scallops were small, nicely caramelized but cooked opaque and too firm and the chorizo chips were thin and cooked so crisp that all detectable paprika and flavorings were gone. They were crispy chips, adding little to nothing so had no idea why they were even in the dish. And this Plat, the heart of the meal, was half the portion of the starter we enjoyed earlier in the week. Next was a rectangle of dark grey slate that had a perfect square of chilled, shiny blend of gelatin, cream and Roquefort on Pain Espice, gingerbread, with a perfectly placed spoonful of sweet quince jam. Lovely to look at but I'm glad they told me it was Roquefort.

                            Wife's Plat was Wild Boar and it was basically a Daube Straightforward bowl of meat, served on its own, very tender of course, in a dark reduction sauce and easily mistaken for a pot roast, only a little less memorable. Her poached apple with caramel sauce for dessert was very nice. Our disappointment was three-fold. It fell short of our expectations. We had already had better for far less cost. And the only reason I can recall what we ate is because I took notes.
                            Discounting the cost, it was average.

                            1. re: catfur

                              "And the only reason I can recall what we ate is because I took notes."

                              My experience here is similar although I do remember the food being very delicious: I am just unable to recall details of the meal from L'Arome as I can from many other places during the trip.

                    2. re: catfur

                      I re-read your L'Epice et Love report with great pleasure; how nice is it when a stroll and empty stomach lure you into a gem that becomes a part of lasting memory and story like this! Thanks for sharing this.

                      p.s. I am glad there's only 4 cheeks to a pig, or else, you may not have left Avignon for rest of your adventures!

                      1. re: Kurtis

                        Even with the wonderful recommendations from so many on this board, Les Papilles in Paris met and even exceeded all our expectations. The ambiance, being warmly greeted and shown to our table as if we had been dining there regularly for years, the professional yet courteous explanations of how one selects the wine from the bins and what will be served, the attentive service where the bread basket and water were never allowed to empty and the thoughtful recommendation of the best wine to accompany the meal were simply icing on what was easily one of the most enjoyable meals we had on our trip. Les Papilles is the restaurant you always wish to discover, be it on a vacation or
                        near home. Delicious well prepared meals, warm and attentive service, generous portions, fun and easily a great value.

                        The amuse-bouche was simple, A platter of thinly sliced Serrano ham and a basket of baguettes, and noticing how we devoured the ham, the owner behind the bar bend down and produced the hand operated slicer, placed it on the bar and began slicing then nodded towards us with a smile as one of his waiters passed. A moment later we had another platter and more bread. The soup was next. Bowls filled with lardon, croutons chives and a big dollop of creme fraiche were placed before us along with a tureen that provided 3 helping of Cream of Celery soup for both of us. And that soup was rich and so delicately flavored that I rank it among the best I've had in a restaurant. The Plat was Beef Cheeks, prepared similarly to the pork cheeks we enjoyed at L'Epice et Love in Avignon but being beef, it was much richer and packed more flavor, Again fall apart tender to the touch, along with small new potato, carrot, meaty lardons and decorated with italian parsley and sprigs of thyme, and to take a description from Parigi, orgasmically delicious and its made me a huge fan of this dish. The cheese plate was a nutty and flavorful soft cheese with an sweet onion relish, I want to say Brie but it had more flavor and I'm sorry I didn't ask. The dessert came in a large glass and was something between a creme brulee and marscapone over and around poached sweet pear. This was a meal and dining experience one does not forget. Add me to the long list of admirers!

                        1. re: catfur

                          One more great funny report from you.

                          "to take a description from Parigi, orgasmically delicious"

                          Uh, I didn't invent the thAng, you know. :-)

                          1. re: Parigi

                            I thought boredough said you had!

                            1. re: catfur

                              don't think it was me...! maybe I was referring to another statement....? It's a great description just the same.