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Thoughts on our restaurant choices in Carcassonne, Provence, & Nice?

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We are leaving for our trip at the end of the month and I have been reading everything I could find on Chowhound. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the restaurants that I have come up with, especially more recent updates, or any suggestions you have for something better. We will have a car for the whole trip, and are willing to drive for quality dining.

Would particularly love recommendations for traditional food from each of the regions, and we like all sorts of restaurants, from gourmet michelin stars to traditional cafes. However, my favorites are restaurants that emphasize good quality ingredients, prepared simply, to allow the ingredients to shine. And for some nights, as a change of pace, something simple like a cafe or wine bar, where you could get platters of charcuterie and selections of local cheeses for a more casual dinner. Would be mainly for dinner, as we plan to have something small for lunch, near wherever we are visiting.

We are staying 4-5 nights in each place - Carcassonne, Provence(near St Remy), and near Nice.

First Carcassonne - this has given me the most trouble, as there does not seem to be much information. Would really like to find some casual places, and a place nearby on the coast for good, local,seafood, especially oysters. Have been considering -

-Le Tirou in Castelnaudary
-La Barbacane in Carcassonne

Provence -

-la Bartevelle, Goult or L' Cabro d' Or, Les Baux
-L'Oustalet, Gigondas(truffle menu looks really good)
-Bistro de Paradou(if open for dinner) or La Place, Maussane-les-Alpilles
-AOC, or Le 46 Bar A Vin, both in Avignon,
-L'essential, Avignon,
-Le Fournil or L'Arome - Bonnieux

Near Nice -
-Bistro d' Antoine, Nice
-La Merenda, Nice
-Bistro de la Marine, Cros-de-Cagnes
-Chez Pipo, Nice - for socca
-Le Safari, Nice, for a casual dinner of Nicois specialties or Chez Palmyre, also in Nice.

Also, a general question, do you need to make reservations, more than a few days in advance, for anywhere in particular (since it will be off season)?

Thank you in advance!!!

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  1. My votes

    "Provence -
    -la Bartevelle, Goult or L' Cabro d' Or,Les Baux"

    Cabro d'Or

    "-L'Oustalet, Gigondas(truffle menu looks really good)
    -Bistro de Paradou(if open for dinner) or La Place, Maussane-les-Alpilles"

    yes

    "-Le Fournil or L'Arome - Bonnieux"

    Le Fournil

    "Near Nice -
    -Bistro d' Antoine, Nice
    -La Merenda, Nice"

    Merenda has gone downhill in the past 5, 6 years. Where did you find this recommendation?

    "-Chez Pipo, Nice - for socca"

    O yes ! Much better than even the quite good René Socca.

    "-Le Safari, Nice, for a casual dinner of Nicois specialties or Chez Palmyre, also in Nice."

    Chez Palmyre.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Parigi

      Thank you very much for the advice, it really helps to narrow things down. Do you have any favorite things to order at these restaurants, that we should look out for?

      And La Merenda was because I had been there many years ago, when it still had the original owners. It was really good. And since Dominique Le Stanc, took over from them, and I had enjoyed his cooking at the Negresco, and had read some good reviews else where, I assumed that it would be good. Sounds like you know more than I do though. Has it gone downhill?

    2. Last I checked, le Bistrot du Paradou is open only FRI & SAT evenings in April. (They open for dinner TUE-THU starting around June 1.) If you're interested in a great oyster lunch, check out the oyster monger in les Halles in Avignon (closed MON). He's in a corner near the restrooms (which are not very obvious, so the location is not bothersome), and has a few tables where he will serve you delicious oysters & wine. You can even book a time if you want to go by earlier in the morning. Also you should check the various restaurant days of operation when deciding where to go - for instance in April l'Arôme is closed WED (& THU lunch) and le Fournil is closed MON/TUE.

      3 Replies
      1. re: boredough

        Sorry I neglected to answer your last question about reservations. April is not as off-season as you may think - the UK school holidays are from April 5-21, and Provence is very popular for the British. I would try to book at least a week in advance to be sure to avoid disappointment. The Bistrot du Paradou will probably book up even further in advance, due to being open for dinner only on FRI/SAT.

        1. re: boredough

          Thank you for the information - I had found several websites with hours for le Bistro du Paradou, put they each had said something different. Oysters in Avignon sounds like the perfect lunch, so will look into that, as you suggest.

          1. re: cometraveler

            The Bistrot du Paradou is definitely closed SUN/MON and does not serve dinner TUE-THU until approximately June 1 (as verified by Pammel). If you have found other sites with different information, they are either out of date (there was a time the restaurant was open on Mondays) or not up on the restaurant's seasonal schedule. (We dined there 4-5 times last spring/summer as we usually do, and we're always attuned to their schedule change.) So I hope that you can make it there for dinner! Re: l'Oustalet Maïanen - we've dined there only once (last spring) and, although I don't remember what we had, the cuisine - a typical Provençal menu - was very good. It surprised us that there was only one other occupied table on a WED night, in view of the quality and reasonable prices.

        2. We just returned from our semi-annual sojourn in Provence. We own a home in Sablet (next door to Gigondas) and eat out almost every day at lunch while we are there.

          L'Oustalet in Gigondas is very good but will probably not offer their truffle menu much longer. We went to the truffle market in Riverenches two weeks in a row, and the second week, the truffle sizes and quantity were significantly down. Alternatively, Coteaux et Fourchette in Cairanne is excellent too. We also love Le Tourne au Verre in Cairanne but were sad to find out the current owners have sold the restaurant and will be leaving the end of this month.

          I can confirm that Bistrot du Paradou is only open for dinners on Fridays and Saturdays right now. They serve lunch only on Tuesday through Thursday. Alternatively, I would highly recommend L'Oustalet Maïanen in Maillane, about 7 km northwest of St. Remy. We have eaten there several times and the food is very good; they got a Michelin Bib Gourmand the last two years.

          In Avignon, we like L'Essentiel a lot but don't go often because the menu doesn't change much. We also like La Fourchette a lot. The menu is quite large and they also offer daily specials.

          Hope this helps.

          10 Replies
          1. re: Pammel

            Thanks for the alternatives. The menu at La Fourchette does look good, but I had not read much about it, so it is nice to know that it is some place you would recommend.

            I was able to find some sample menus for Coteaux et Fourchette. However, have not been able to find any menus at all for L'Oustalet Maianen. I know it is hard to descibe someplace, but if possible, can you please tell me what their cuisine is like, i.e. what are their specialties? Though we don't mind driving, it would be nice to have places as close as that to go to.

            Thanks!

            1. re: cometraveler

              L'Oustalet Maianen does not have a web site so you can't find menus. As Boredough said, they serve very good Provencal food. I don't know if you read French but I will attach a picture of the menu we chose. They also had specials in addition to the items listed. I will also attach some picture of our main courses, pan roasted cod on tomato confit with sauteed zucchini and star anise sauce and rabbit three ways. We generally find that restaurants that have earned Bib Gourmands from Michelin's Guide to Bonne Petite Tables such as L'Oustalet Maianen serve very good food for a modest price.

               
               
               
               
              1. re: Pammel

                Thank you both! That does look good. And I can read enough French to understand the menu. Actually, I prefer menus in French, the translations on the English ones often do not make sense..

                One other question - for the more formal restaurants, what is dress like? For example, do most men wear a jacket, or even more formal, a jacket & tie?

                Thanks!

                1. re: cometraveler

                  Not being familiar with all the restaurants you're considering, I don't know what you mean by 'more formal restaurants'. But I can tell you that even in the high-end places we've been to in Provence, ties &/or jackets for men are extremely rare. It's all pretty laid back, so pants & a nice shirt (or top/sweater for a woman) should fit in anywhere.

                  1. re: boredough

                    I used "more formal" for want of a better definition - basically trying to say the dressier places, high end places, probably such as a Michelin two star, for example. So pretty much as you described.

                    Would your description of jackets being extremely rare be the same in cities like Nice or Toulouse .?

                    1. re: cometraveler

                      I'd say 'casual elegant' works just about anywhere you'll be going. The last 2-star we went to (August 2012 in Bonnieux) was definitely casual with everyone dressed in that manner. Same for a few 1-stars we went to in 2013. It would be different at some of the finer restaurants in Paris, but in the countryside - Nice & Toulouse included - jackets are not seen very often at all. It comes down to your own personal comfort zone, but I would not waste valuable suitcase space on a jacket. Maybe another CHer will chime in to confirm & put you at ease about this issue.

                      1. re: boredough

                        Always good to remember French casual is pretty smart compared to US casual. So whilst few places are formal people still take the trouble to dress well. I always feel better if I wear a decent (collared) shirt, decent trousers and shoes (definitely not sneakers).

                        Do I wear a jacket (I never gave a tie) depends on the weather and his I want to feel. Lunch in the sunshine on a summers day in Provence will be shirtsleeves, dinner at happening "on-trend" restaurant then jeans and a shirt, but anything a bit more formal then I put on a jacket (which I wear into the plane and ask for it to be hung up). Why? Because I feel it works, I don't want to stand out as the tourist, and I like it.

                        1. re: PhilD

                          As I said, it's all a question of one's comfort level. But the few men we see wearing jackets in Provence frequently are in fact tourists: they are British. Are you? (and please don't take offense because we are very fond of our British friends...)

                          1. re: boredough

                            Australian but born in England, and my jacket habit probably started when I lived in a Paris. I should also say I am not a "sports coat" or blazer sort of person so my jackets are not standard or really formal.

                            Agree it's about "your comfort zone" but there is a cultural difference between countries. So what you are comfortable with in your home town may make you stand out (for the wrong reasons) in other countries. Many people like to fit in as it helps them feel comfortable and relaxed, so sometimes a slightly more conservative approach works.

                            At one 3 star I ate next to a table of French men dressed in what appeared to be white linen pyjamas, very much on trend that year, creased and rumpled in a very designer way, and no doubt very expensive.....but I wasn't tempted to rush out buy some....although on reflection they would pack easily and no need of an iron ;-)

                            1. re: PhilD

                              Sorry, American, not British. And would prefer to not stand out as a tourist(though would not go so far as to choose linen pajamas). More than most other items though, packing a jacket, takes up a lot of space. From past travels, it seems like restaurants are getting more casual, though in France/Italy, it is always stylish, as well. Anyway, just one of those things it seems hard to fin out in advance, so thanks for your help.

          2. I had the same difficulty with Carcassonne (not much information), but a stroll around the old town checking out menus landed us at Le Comte Roger, and it turned out to be wonderful. It still seems to be highly regarded.

            5 Replies
            1. re: rrems

              The menu does look good, so we can add that in. Am still searching though for some other restaurants, especially with different types of food. Though it is good, I cannot imagine eating, fois gras, duck, and/or cassoulet for a bunch of days in a row, and surviving to want to have other big meals after that.

              Did you come across anything a little further away, such as Toulouse or Narbonne or Albi(hoping to be able to fit in a day trip there)? Thanks.

              1. re: cometraveler

                Yes, we were staying in Toulouse when we visited Carcassonne. The two restaurants we liked best were Le 7, at 7 Place St. Sernin (contemporary), and Le Bon Vivre on the Place Wilson (charming old-school bistro).

                1. re: rrems

                  Did you find driving in and out of Toulouse to be difficult? Because, if not, that would open up a lot more possibilities for dinner, including the two you recommended ?

                  You would think that there must be some good places in the modern part of Carcassonne, but there seems to be little information from past discussions.

                  Thanks!

                  1. re: cometraveler

                    We had parking in the hotel where we stayed in Toulouse, which was just across the canal from the city center, so at the end of a day we would park there and walk to restaurants, which were not a very long distance (Toulouse is not a large city). Even driving into the very center should not be too difficult, though you should be sure to have a good map. There is also an excellent subway system, which we used once, so if you prefer not to walk far it is a great alternative to driving into the busiest part.

                    1. re: rrems

                      Sounds do-able. Thank you!

            2. I know you asked for seafood, but I just had to mention La Grande Bouffe in Carcassonne, where I had probably the best steak of my life. If you're feeling in a meaty mood, treat yourself.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kooshball5

                Will check it out thanks!

              2. If you want a replacement for La Merenda, you might like to try Nice Art, 16 Rue Delille, in Nice. It is in the up-and-coming mid-price restaurant mecca in the new town, opposite the revitalized theatre and modern art museum complex in the central garden running along the old river bed . You won't find much about it yet in guides - there is not a tourist in sight - but you must reserve because the locals are going there in droves. It does a 15 euro lunch menu (like La Palmyre) and a 29 euro dinner menu, as well as a tempting a la carte. It will nake a change from the other resaturants in your list, which are tourist favourites (as well as well regarded by locals,I hasten to add) and focus on traitional nicoise cuisine. This is southern cuisine with a modern lilt, a very respectable representative of new face of Nice.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Piggyinthemiddle

                  I was able to find a sample menu for Nice Art and it does look good, so will check it out Thanks!

                  In general, I would really prefer less touristy restaurants, if possible, but it is not always easy to obtain good information or recommendations. You don't, by any chance, know of any good, non-touristy, restaurants that serve more traditonal Nicois cuisine? Seems to be hard to find.

                  Also, do you know anything about Alain Llorca's restaurant( near La Colle sur Loup) ? I thought that their menus looked good, so it might be a good "special occassion" restaurant.

                  Thank you for your advise!

                  1. re: cometraveler

                    The restaurant scene in Nice is changing quickly, and the city itself is getting a higher national profile, a result of the new tramway system,the huge investment in rennovation of the major squares (Garibaldi and Massena) and the brilliantly realised central garden development, which flows from the arts/theatre complex all the way down to the sea. There are many new places (the block around Rue Delille has something like 20 now!) which I have have only read about, so can't really advise on. However, for a treat I would suggest Flaveur (One Michelin star for last 3 years; run by two brothers), Rue Gubernatis; for fish, the new L'Aqua (Blvd Stalingrad) - though try to sit outside, the inside is too minimalist. Your other choices - Bistrot d'Antoine and Safari are very good in their own way. The former does not do menus, but has a reasonably-priced a la carte, while the Safari is certainly TOURISTY, but is also the place middle-class Nicois go to people watch on the Cours Saleya (and many movie stars who visit Nice make it to the Safari). It does a respectable version of all the Nicois specialities (stuffed courgette flowers, petits farcis, squid, bagna cauda, etc) as well as decent fish and a great braised rabbit. I would go for lunch, after walking through the market - but stop off at the Safari while doing so to reserve. It will get you a better table outside (which is all under cover), and better service. Don't be afraid to ask for a particular table if one appeals - by 12:30 the place will be full.
                    I'm afraid I haven't been to Llorca's place - do tell if you go!

                2. It's not a long drive from Carcassone to get to Limoux. We had a very good meal there at Tonton et Tantine. It's not fancy, but the food was superb. This was in 2012, so I hope the chef is the same. The restaurants in Carcassonne did not look all that appealing for some reason.

                  We stayed at this hotel in Castlenaudary, and the meal was a feast.. best cassoulet I ever tasted.

                  L'hostellerie de la Pomarède et le Presbytère