A good vacation is nothing without good food, and I certainly had my fair share in Provence this summer. Here’s a little round-up of some of the things I ate…
La Gare de Bonnieux (Bonnieux, tel: 04 90 75 82 00)
This is Bonnieux’s former train station, now converted to a restaurant, and it’s one of those institutions that everyone seemed to know about, except me (for a long time) because it’s a little hard to find. It’s kind of a genius concept, though. The lunch formule starts off with a trip to the buffet froid, where you can load your plate with fresh and delicious French salady things like mesclun leaves, grated carrots, or lentils.
Then there’s a plat du jour, like this meltingly tender osso bucco, and finally desserts such as fromage frais with berry coulis or îles flottantes. Fine dining this is not. But it’s fresh, fast, casual, kid-friendly (there’s a terrasse, and green space for them to run around), and the formule is only 14 euros.
Les Deux Garcons (Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence; tel: 04 42 26 00 51)
On a rainy Saturday, we took a trip to Aix-en-Provence, and, yes, we ate at Les Deux Garcons. With former patrons like Picasso, Cézanne, and Zola, how could we resist?
I ordered the soupe de poissons, which was ladled from a giant tureen and garnished with grated Gruyère, croutons and rouille (a garlicky mayonnaise). It was too salty, but still soothing on a damp day. It was also 17.50 euros (for soup!) but after I’d finished one bowl, they offered to trot out the tureen for a second. (I declined.)
We sipped coffee from the cafe’s famous gold-rimmed cups and watched the crowds stroll by on the Cours Mirabeau.
I could almost picture a young Cézanne rushing by on his way to visit his father’s hat shop next door (it’s now a bank, but if you peer closely you can make out the words Chapellerie du Cours Mirabeau).
Soupe au Pistou luncheon, Bonnieux
It may be composed of mere humble vegetables, but soupe au pistou is taken very seriously in Provence. So seriously that the village where we stay has a lunch-time party to celebrate it. You bring 25 euros, and your own bowls, glasses and silverware, and gather at picnic tables in the main square.
The village brings the soup.
It was filled with fresh beans and garden vegetables and loads of basil-garlic paste known as “pistou.” Better than mine? Well, maybe.
Pinna (Route de Buoux, Chemin de St-Massian 84400 Apt; tel: 04 90 74 39 60)
I’ve waxed poetic about Pinna in the past, but time has not diminished my love for this Italian traîteur (take-away shop) near Apt. If anything, as evidenced by the stockage that I brought back to Paris, my enthusiasm has only grown.
Their canned sauces, pastas, lasagnes, breadsticks, raw-cured ham and handmade ravioli are perfect for a fast meal. Everything is fresh and delicious, and many of the ingredients are grown on-site. If you are renting a house in the area, there is no better place to shop than Pinna.
Etape du Promeneur (Buoux, tel: 04 90 04 60 21) I eat eggs only two weeks a year. During the remaining fifty, I dream about the tender, fluffy, golden, herb-flecked omelettes at this humble mom-and-pop restaurant in Buoux.
Do I have a favorite omelette? Please. Choosing between the Provencale (filled with ratatouille), champignon, and fines herbes is like choosing a favorite child.
Then there are the frites, crunchy shells giving way to a tender center. They’re fried with aromatic herbs like sage leaves and rosemary.
And don’t get me started on the salads! The leaves are perfect and unblemished, drizzled judiciously with herb vinaigrette, dusted with sesame seeds and slivered almonds.
The menu at l’Etape is very simple–basically salads, omelettes, and charcuterie–but this year we did something special. On Mondays and Fridays, you can pre-order a prix-fixe menu: four courses for 18 Euros, and Madame decides what you eat. First, we treated ourselves to kirs (one of earthy, sweet chestnut; the other blackberry slightly reminiscent of Kool-aid) and then we feasted on meltingly tender rabbit in mustard sauce and a gratinéed purée of chestnut and pumpkin. A peppery goat cheese followed, and then a refreshingly tangy slice of tarte au citron. It was our last night, an unforgettable meal, my favorite of the trip, in my favorite restaurant in the world (or at least one of my top five).