2 Weeks in France - Week 2 report; Blois/Avignon/Aix
After a great week in Paris we headed to the Loire for a few days of biking. For the first two nights our base was Amboise and there's nothing of substance to report from there. We then moved on to Blois where things were more interesting.
L'Orangerie du Chateau: Feeling that we had done well budget-wise in Paris and that we should not leave France without having a Michelin-starred experience, we headed here. We were seated in a smaller room upstairs - about 6 tables in total. Lovely space, beautifully set tables - everything you would expect. Service was spot-on throughout the evening and the food consistently excellent. They had several fixed menu options but I went a la carte in order to have frogs' legs for the first time and then followed that with sandre with zucchini in a lightly foamed sauce - both great dishes. We also had our first true French Cheese Cart experience here - a beautiful array of cheeses was offered to us and luckily I had read a recent thread here about cheese etiquette so I was well prepared! At 250 euro this was the most expensive meal of our trip but well worth it.
Next it was on to Provence where our first stop was Avignon:
Cuisine du Dimanche: One of the quirkiest but most memorable evenings we had. I had seen mention of this restaurant on this site then checked out there website which looked nice and led me to expect something in the neo-bistro mold. What we got was much more fun and interesting. The name says it all - Sunday Cooking - rustic, comforting and totally satisfying. Best pistou I've ever had had followed by a Tuna Tartare served with Ratatouille and a dish the menu listed as "Beef cooked long time in the oven." Both were excellent but the true star of the night was the "Apple Crumble My Way" - rich custard, raspberry compote, apples and pastry - a great take on what I consider an American staple. My only regret from my trip is that this is the night I agreed to share a dessert. The menu is limited but changes with great frequency and this night it seemed that the placed was run by just 2 people; a humorous and slightly crusty man working front of house and his wife (I believe) Marie doing all the cooking. We were the last table in the place and we coaxed Marie out of the kitchen to tell her how much we loved everything. The 4 of us had a lively chat and she was fascinated to know that I had found them on this site which she had never heard of.
Finished the trip with 2 nights in Aix en Provence:
Jardin Mazarin: Hadn't made advance plans for this evening so as we wandered through town we decided to make a reservation at a place that was in one of the quieter squares. Unfortunately the man who took my reservation was one of the few truly rude people I met on my trip so we weren't particularly excited to actually dine there. The hostess at our B & B asked what our dinner plans were and when we told her of this experience she gave a shudder and told us we would not return to that restaurant, picked up the phone and made us a res. at Jardin Mazarin instead. Located on the Place des 4 dauphins, they have been open for just about a year. We couldn't get a table in the garden but were perfectly happy in the dining room. Food was great but it is the service here that really struck me. Both the dining room and the garden were full - probably 50 diners in all and there were just 2 servers and another young man helping them out. They never stopped moving, truly efficient yet the miracle was that they also managed to make everything seem very personal as well - now that's successful service, if you ask me. Also saw them turn away several parties who came in without reservation so definitely plan ahead if you want to go here.
Le Poivre d'Ane: Final meal in France took place outside in the Forum des Cardeurs on a truly glorious evening weather-wise. Food and service were excellent but the big excitement for me was the opportunity to try Pork Tartare. I had read about this dish but don't know that anyone serves it in NYC so this was my first encounter. The menu states that is Tartare aller-retour so there was a light sear to the meat but it's probably as close to raw as one would ever want. Forgive the pun but this dish truly had me in Hog Heaven. A great ending to 2 weeks of great dining.
I would love to extend a huge thank you to all the regular posters on this board. The knowledge you share truly made this a trip I will never forget. I will continue to read and dream of the day I can return to France