Dining and Provence Restaurants
Dining in Provence
Many restaurants start you off with a local specialty called olives cassées au fenouil, in which the olives are broken and marinated in fennel. Puréed anchovy spreads such as tapenade and anchoyade also are used to whet the appetite at the beginning of a meal. Soupe au pistou a basil-laced vegetable and pasta soup similar to minestrone is popular as well.
Saffron is especially popular. Garlic plays a key role, as do tomatoes and olives. Almonds and chestnuts are featured when in season, and pungent truffles become a fixture on the menu throughout the late-fall and winter months. Most dishes contain at least a dribble of locally-grown and locally-pressed huile d'olive ~ especially in November and December, when the fragrant new oil has just come out.
Three of the leading regional meals in fact are soups, although they are hearty enough to be considered main courses. Bouillabaise originated in Marseille. It is served with a side order of toasted bread rounds and rouille (a tangy mayonnaise). The various mixed fish used to flavor the broth generally are served and eaten separately.
The second soup not to miss is ratatouille, featuring ingredients straight out of the vegetable garden stirred with infused olive oil. Probably the most filling of the three soups is daube de boeuf. Red wine brings out the flavor of the beef in this stew often accompanied by ravioli.
Whatever you order, be sure to save enough room for at least one of two other culinary delights distinctly French served at the end of the meal, fromage and dessert. Some chefs carefully select their favorite cheeses on a prearranged plate; some restaurants roll a cart laden with choices to your table. Brie de Meaux, Tomme au Marc Jura, Gourme d'Ambert, Beauport, Gruyere Savoie, Bleu de Brebis, and Tomme de Savoie are some of the common choices. Mixing the textures of hard and soft cheeses is considered most appealing to the palate, and if you enjoy the tangy taste of goat cheese, this local specialty should not be missed. Jams and Provençal honey are used to draw out the tastes of the hard, more pungent cheeses.
A sampling of restaurants
St. Rémy has some of the best dining in the area. One of the finest meals in town can be had at La Maison Jaune. The charming atmosphere in this blue-shuttered building extends to an intimate rooftop patio. Dining al fresco certainly has its appeal, but the food is the real draw. Some of the house specialties earning the restaurant two forks in the Michelin Guide include anchois frais marinés, semoule de blé épicée, filets de rougets de roche et bulots, and soupe de poisson, fraises et granité au safran et citron.
If you've had enough in the way of healthy Provençal cooking and crave something a bit heartier in a more casual atmosphere, L'Assiette de Marie is a local favorite. This quirky restaurant, brimming with flea market finds, serves a mouth~watering variety of lasagnas that may leave you wondering if you've just crossed the border into Italia.
For lighter fare, say a savory lunch, try the Charmeroy, which serves meals created from all-organic fruits and vegetables. The highlight here, however, is the tea, flavored with local and exotic spices. Flip through five pages of choices to narrow down your selection. Sip a tea laced with marigold and sunflower, or one that has been infused with orchids, or grapes, or even figs. Bring out the tea's piquancy with a wild bilberry or red-currant jam spread on crusty fresh bread.
About 15 minutes away from St. Rémy is the tiny town of Fontvieille with two delicious eating spots of note. La Regalido, a Relais & Chateau Inn, features a lovely garden and gastronomic restaurant under a vaulted ceiling. The plates are beautifully presented, and the gratin de moules de bouzigues aux epinards and la loup-poche emulsion aux olives cassées et côtes de blettes au jus are both delicious.
Around the corner, La Cuisine au Planet offers a more reasonable but just as delicious Provençal meal. Be sure to save room for the chocolate cake— it's unsurpassed.
The larger city of Arles offers an expanded variety of dining options. At the high end is the Lou Marques in the Jules Caesar hotel. Enjoy haute cuisine such as carre d'agneau or croustillant de Saint-Pierre in the formal dining room or on the terrace. Restaurant Plein Sud is very Provençal both in its interior design and in its menu. The walls are warmed by the rich shades of coral and marigold, while slowly-rotating fans hypnotize you into tranquility. Top off a tian de poisson a la Provençale, pave de toureau aux champignons, or lotte a la crème de thym with a chocolate soufflé.
For a lazy lunch spot, the Bistrot la Mule Blanche offers typical bistro food in a jazzy setting. If you're on the go and prefer just a quick bite to tide you over until dinner, Huile d'Olive is ideal for a takeaway sandwich made to order for under $5. This inexpensive lunchtime spot is the offshoot of a store next door that sells olive oil.
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