st.remy/alpilles report July 2013: Cafe de la Place, Maison Jaune, Bistrot du Paradou, Mas de l'Amarine
Cafe de la Place: This is a non-descript looking cafe just off the ring road (blvd Mirabeau), it is actually toward the back of the parking lot where they hold part of the wednesday market. Popular place and the ingredients were really superior. We had one beef salad with thai herbs, and one caesar salad with chicken. The lettuce in both stood out. Other items on menu looked good as well, such as the andouillette. Dessert was quite good. Recommended.
La Maison Jaune: Service was friendlier this year, and food very good, and setting on the terrace overlooking the rooftops is hard to match (and allows outdoor dining even when the weather is a bit iffy as it was that night). They have a way with creating simple but refined dishes. Their sardines are always great. Gambas also good (we had the provencal degustation, which was all seafood this year); I didn't love the st. pierre fish but not because of the prep, just because it's not my favorite fish. We added one a la carte order of duck with peaches which was great.
Bistrot du Paradou: Had been once before and loved it. This time it was good but not quite as good, perhaps because of the plat du jour (there is supposedly no choice, although apparently they will make another choice available if you ask). The plat was a remarkable chicken, carved into various pieces--no quibble with that. But it was served with a linguine pasta drenched in butter. (The alternate plat which some had, but which our table was not offered, was sliced leg of lamb.) The entree was a tomato-mozz tart or sliced red mullet; we had the former and it was just ok. Cheese course, which is help yourself, was excellent--though I didn't appreciate being instructed by the waiter on how you are supposed to slice the wedge of cheese. Apricot clafoutis tart was very good (there are many choices for dessert, unlike for the entree and plat).
Mas de l'Amarine. This is a newish restaurant on the outskirts of St Remy on nice grounds. The decor is somewhat avant garde (think Moma design store). The clientele is mostly french. The food is quite good but occasionally seems to be trying too hard. We had a nice starter of grilled lettuce with some goat cheese inside, accompanied by heirloom tomato and a few other things. Our mains were an excellent local lamb done in two ways, I believe the shoulder was confited and the chop was smoked which made for a dramatic presentation when brought to the table and the smoke allowed to waft over the table from its glass enclosure. Desserts were ok. Definitely worth another try and seems popular so book ahead.
I really like St Remy and go there frequently, I spent the month of June there and am going back for the month of September. In June I went almost every day to the Cafe de la Place, for coffee or lunch. The staff is the friendliest I have ever seen at a cafe and the food is good. I agree that the salads are very nice (unusual for a French cafe in the region) and I often enjoyed the plat du jour. This place is known as the hangout for Anglos in St Remy, of which there are many, so most of the staff speaks at least some English.
I think that the Bistro du Paradou is attractive and fun, but is WAY too expensive--50+ euros for a meal that in some ways is just ok and no choice, except for the desserts which are not so great. Last time I went they gave me small portions of several desserts but I was not too impressed.The cheese course is excellent but the wine that is included is not very good. (But I live in the Southern Rhone area and am used to getting excellent wines for not a lot of euros.)
I enjoyed L'aile ou la Cuisse (rue Commune inside the town) several times and have taken clients there. Located inside a former convent (nice vaulted cielings) it also has a patio out back. This place seems to appeal because in addition to the menu du jour they have very nice a la carte choices. The pastries are excellent!
You can do a tasting of Moulin du Calanquet olive oils just across from the restaurant, (L'aile ou la Cuisse) but Calanquet also has a mill you can visit just outside St Remy.
Having just dined at le Bistrot du Paradou for the 4th time in 4 months, I'd like to comment as well. The choice last night was either Soupe au Pistou, sautéed scallops in beurre blanc, or escargots for starters. My husband had the scallops and I had the escargots - both deliciously prepared. (In fact I tend to dream about Paradou's escargots when I'm back in the States. A perfect ratio of butter to garlic, IMO, to be soaked up with lots of bread. Should snails not be on the menu, I usually ask for them in place of whatever else is being offered, as the restaurant always has them 'on hand'. ) Next up was their roasted Bresse chicken, served with sautéed mushrooms & mashed potatoes, pretty much their standard dinner plat (with some variation on the sides). For dessert we opted for chocolate mousse & crème brulée - two dishes prepared absolutely classically & definitely our favorites. (We agree that the dessert tarts are a weakness from the kitchen.) Although I understand some don't agree, should you be hungry enough for starter, main, cheese platter, dessert, coffee & limitless wine (which we find quite acceptable), 51€ is more than reasonable for the quality of the food. We especially love the warm welcome, not just for us as regulars but for any newcomer who might show up. It always feels like we've been invited into someone's home.
"...I didn't appreciate being instructed by the waiter on how you are supposed to slice the wedge of cheese."
Understandable. But if you realized how much cheese is ruined for presentation by diners who just hack off random pieces or destroy the traditional shape, you'd have some sympathy for the dining room. We had one owner of a chambre d'hote tell how she finally gave up serving a cheese plateau with her nightly table d'hote because of the way well-meaning but clueless guests massacred the cheeses.
"I didn't appreciate being instructed by the waiter on how you are supposed to slice the wedge of cheese."
Indeed if you cut a piece of cheese the wrong way, it is ruined for other diners, and not just for the presentation. Cheeses have different degrees of ripeness and texture, depending whether it is closer to the middle or not.
If a piece of cheese arrives at my table "hacked" the wrong way, it is disappointing, and I may even complain to the waiter and ask for another piece of cheese, especially when it is my fave roquefort.