Three Weeks of Eating In & Around Vaison-la-Romaine
I will do this in a series of posts so that I can stop to eat & drink...and smell the lavender. We rented an apt. on Chemin Du Couradou for 3 weeks, overlooking the ruins. We leave tomorrow. As anyone who knows us from the NYC Outerborough Boards can attest to, we don't eat at home very often. I mean, why spoil a perfectly good new renovated kitchen, right? But here, with an outdoor terrace off the kitchen, beautiful weather, a great weekly market 3 blocks from our door every Tues. morning & a very, very good cheese shop (Lou Camesteou - Mme. Josiane Deal presiding) 4 blocks from us, who could not wind up eating (& drinking) many lunches and some dinners at home? All that by way of explaining why there aren't going to be 25 restaurant reviews for the 21 days here...well, that plus we don't drink and drive, but we do drink...limits the going out at night somewhat.
First of all, the 2 lunches of note: we walked around Seguret early in the stay but I didn't bring my obsessive listing of recommended restaurants (Michelin & otherwise) with me, figuring we'd only need it for dinners. Well, we stumbled into a place solely due to its drop dead gorgeous outdoor area, overlooking everything. What the hell, we'll get something to eat. Turned out that Le Mesclun was on my list & now we know why. Owned by the same folks who own Le Bateleur in V-la-R (well, until today anyway...more about that in a future post), this was a really nice lunch. Well presented dishes with a very good wine by the glass selection (one glass each), we'd highly recommend it. I even took pics of the food, something I never do...and if I ever find them, I might come back & mention what we ate. Remembered fondly, whatever it was. Similarly, our 2nd mentionable lunch was part of a small group wine tour of Gigondas & C-du-Pape with Olivier Hickman (www.wine-uncovered.com), where he arranged a 4 course wine pairing lunch (36euros/person extra) at Les Florets in Gigondas. Again, I have pictures somewhere but, suffice it to say, this is a good choice for upscale lunching, well worth going. Also was on my Michelin list when I checked it later on. Each of the 4 courses was a winner & they served very nice wines as pairings.
That's it for now. I'm checking my dinner listings & will start on them next. Did I mention the lunches in the apartment with runny cheeses, bottles of good wine, sausages, radishes, tomatoes and greens from the local market, olives (& olive oil) from Nyons, bread from any of our local places & even a pate or two? I have not lost weight & do not want to convert the found kilos to pounds.
Some places stand out as total winners and I'll start with them. Remember, the deal for us during our 3 weeks was to find places within walking distance so that we could easily stumble home after drinking without having to drive. Self limiting perhaps, but there are quite a few good meals to be had in Vaison-la-Romaine...at least in my opinion.
My favorite was a bittersweet situation in that we wanted to go to Le Grand Pre while here (we would call a taxi) but the owner had permanently closed shop to everyone's amazement. Well, we went to Le Bateleur (at the foot of the Roman Bridge) & had a great meal outdoors on their street side terrace. From start to finish, what I thought might be an overpriced set menu turned out higher quality dishes that showed skill in the kitchen & made it a very good deal. During the meal, we were told that some of the wines on the list were out, as they were not replenishing their stock, since this was their last week in business. The owners were consolidating into Le Mesclun, their other place (in Seguret: see above lunch post). Why? Well, the owner of Le Grand Pre had bought the place and would be opening there. As I said, bittersweet. For under $100/person (at 1.4 euros to the dollar?), we ate & drank extremely well and would be telling everyone to go if there was still a place to go to. Hopefully, the new owner will do the site proud. And, hopefully, Le Mesclun will get even better because of the change.
We went to Bistro D'Ou (on the old city side of the Roman Bridge) twice, even though their menu didn't change one bit and there were only 3 choices for each course. And we loved our meals both times. The duck breast main stands out in my memory and, although I won't be idiotic enough to call it the best duck ever (which I sort of remember feeling about the one I had several years ago at Eleven Madison Park, back home in NYC), I gotta say that it was damn good. The fish main was very good as well & we each reversed our orders the 2nd time, having loved the tastes we got from each other the 1st time. The 1st courses and the desserts were both excellent with wine (their wine list is a page of bottles for 20euros, a page for 25euros, a page for 30euros and an above that page - an interesting way to give folks solid choice at standard price points) a strong point as well. Our 25euro selection (a red the first time & a white the 2nd, supplemented by glasses beforehand and drinks after), were all very good. Total price barely hit $150 for the two of us and, to us at least, this represented major value.
The 3rd top meal we had was in a "bio" (same as "organic"?) restaurant called "Le Bonheur Suit Son Cours", run by a husband/wife team (she's been the chef & he front of house for several of their 8 years now; it was the opposite when they started). We both had the "butcher's cut" steak as our main, supplied by the local bio butcher down the block, whom everyone in town (including our landlords) seems to love. The steaks were just about perfect, the apps. & desserts excellent & we gave him permission to choose our wine without telling us what it was (red, reasonably full bodied, was our request) for 40euros or so, and what we drank went perfectly with the food. It was a "Domaine Viret" 2010 Mareotis, which I've never heard of and was charged only 27euros for (I love being down sold). We were worried going in, as it's a small place on a side street and doesn't get much love from TripAdvisor or mention from Michelin...unfounded worries. Go, be friendly & it'll be a very good meal.
More to come...
Hi Steve, I was happy to see the lovely review you did of eating around my town, Vaison. I wonder if you stayed with my friends Colette and Jean Claude on the rue Couradou.
Regarding the Bateleur, my guess is that they closed because business was not great. Locals did not enjoy the place and there was absolutely no buzz about it. The last time I ate there was a few years ago; the food was not good and the hostess/waitress couldn't /wouldn't give a straight answer about anything.
I agree the the Bistro du'O is outstanding now, since the new owners took over in July 2013. Even area chefs send clients here, since the chef has been winning regional cooking competitions.
I spoke to the owner of the Grand Pre about a month ago and he told me he was not staying around Vaison since some of his former staff were opening places in the region; he was planning to work elsewhere. His former manager/maitre d' Jean Francois Sylvestre has re-opened the restaurant L'Eloge, at the Vignerons de Caractere wine co-op in Vacqueryas. Perhaps one of his staff is opening at the Bateleur.
Giles Digle is the well loved owner of the Gargantua Butcher shop--corner of Cours Taulignon and rue du Maquis. He does have great meats, sausages, pates, etc.
Yes, we rented from Jean-Claude & Colette...2 of the best people we've ever met. Thanks for the comments on some of the places, as it's always nice to get some (accurate) backstory on these things. Le Bateleur served us an exceptional meal &, as I said in my post, my expectations were not high going in. Had I known about the local opinion, we might have stuck with our 1st impression, not gone, & missed out. Lucky break.
You have a lovely town & we're thrilled to have chosen it as our base for 3 weeks. Other nice places that I didn't write up but enjoyed were Brin d'Olivier, Belle Etoile & La Lyriste. Very different levels of course, but enjoyed all the same. Thanks for your comments.