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Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Jon and I just returned to London after a week in Provence. It was nice to get away, but the trip didn’t turn out the way I’d pictured. On the three days of sunshine we had, it was hard to relax because outside our rental house, workmen were chain-sawing the branches off gorgeous plane trees (WHY?). And then we had three days of rain. Not even light, drizzly rain. Full-on gale-force downpour rain. [On the plus side, during one of those rainy days, Jon and I took refuge at the Thermes Sextius Spa, whose treatments were very good, but whose bath facilities weren’t half as nice as those of the Bath Thermae Spa)].

In any case, after two days of exploring Provencal villages in the rain, Jon and I needed a Michelin-pick-me-up. Staying as we were in St. Cannat, there were “only” three Michelin-starred choices: La Table de Ventabren, Le Clos de la Violette, and Pierre Reboul.

I couldn’t get through to anyone at La Table de Ventabren, and Le Clos de la Violette was dinged for being listed in every guidebook about Provence; for being demoted from 2 stars to 1 in 2008; and for having been referred to in a September 2009 Chowhound post as having “sucked.”

So, off to Pierre Reboul. I had misgivings about going there after this July 2009 NYT article described a Pierre Reboul dish of chopped-corn “cocaine” that you eat through a straw, but it still sounded better than going to Le Clos.

And it turned out my skepticism was entirely unfounded. Our meal was great from start to finish. Every server was friendly and helpful, following our lead and generally speaking to us in French. And while I’m not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy (e.g., I didn’t enjoy eating at the Fat Duck), I thought the food at Pierre Reboul was creative and fun while still being something I’d want to eat. In short, I’d love to go back.

Jon and I chose the “mid-priced” 78-euro menu, somewhat insultingly named “Les Amateurs.” (The high-priced “Les Experts” menu is 120 euros a person, and the low-priced “L’Initiation” menu is 47 euros).

Highlights of our evening were the pot au feu, pan-seared foie gras, the filet de pigeon and the chocolat courses. All these dishes stood out for being unusually-presented, delicious and a lot of fun to eat. For example, the pot au feu was served (from left to right in the below photo) with the meat stew in gelatin form; the carmelized onions in a crispy shell and topped with vinegary, crunchy sprouts; the leeks in ice cream form; and the carrots in a foamy puree. Eaten together, the ingredients tasted exactly like pot au feu, and the variety of textures and temperatures elevated the dish from humble to elegant.

deconstructed pot au feu

deconstructed pot au feu

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit
Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

Dishes that were still pretty tasty but didn’t 100% work for me were: the sous-vide salmon (because it’s hard to get excited about salmon, no matter how silky), the Munster profiterole (because the Munster was just too stinky, stiff and cold), and the Granny Smith “ile flottante” (for the meringue bit being too spongy).

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

A wine pairing for the “Amateurs” menu is 52 euros, and I’d highly recommend it. The pairing choices perfectly heightened and/or complemented the flavors of each course (as they are supposed to do), and the options reflected a refreshing broad-mindedness (especially for a Michelin-starred French resto) with only three of eight pairings hailing from France and one even coming from Canada (!).

The one drawback of our meal was that I wasn’t a fan of the restaurant’s decor, which was too heavy on the pastels. Of course, when the food is this interesting and tasty, the decor is pretty irrelevant. At 78 euros, the Amateurs menu was great value, and next time I’m in Aix, I’d love to try out the 120-euro Les Experts menu.

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, 11 petite rue Saint Jean, 13100 Aix en Provence, +33 (0)4 42 20 58 26

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overpriced tea towels for sale at the "country market" - it can only be Provence

Overpriced tea towels for sale at the "country market"? It can only be Provence.

Jon and I are spending this week in Provence with some friends who have a five-month-old. We feel like we were “just” here, but really it’s been three years since our last trip to Provence, and this time we’re staying in a different part of the region, just outside Aix-en-Provence in a small, charming town called St. Cannat.

Because our friends are new parents, we’ve been cooking in a lot, rather than eating out, which means we’re now already well acquainted with local market schedules as well as with the locations of a hyper-marche or two.

Yesterday, though, we enjoyed a simple lunch outside in the sunshine, sitting beside the Sorgue river in l’Isle sur la Sorgue, a town famous for its Sunday antiques market.

I’d gone there hoping to find old mixing bowls or pretty knicknacks to brighten up my London kitchen, but instead I embarrassed myself by offering 40 euros for an old tin sign that the seller wanted 140 euros for. Needless to say, the seller was rather insulted, and I’m sure I managed to do further damage to the reputation of Americans as a clueless people.  [But really, 140 euros for a battered and rusty tin sign?  What do I look like?  A clueless American?]

salade Nicoise at Le Potager de Louise in l'Isle sur la Sorgue

salade Nicoise at Le Potager de Louise in l'Isle sur la Sorgue

At least there was lunch, though.  We chose Le Potager de Louise for the simple reason that it had riverside seating (plus the fact that the other restaurant with riverside seating, L’Ecailler, next door to Le Potager, was manned by a matire d’ who was obnoxious).

90% of the French diners around us were eating salads, so we followed suit.  And I’m glad we did.   The salads (all priced at around 13 euros) were huge, packed with crispy lettuce, beautifully dressed with a sweet vinaigrette, and chock full of toppings.  Salade Nicoise was a standout with just the right anchovy saltiness and creamy hard-boiled eggs.  Feeling indulgent, we ordered a side of fries, which were greasy and soggy, so who knows how the kitchen would do if they actually had to cook hot food.

So if you stick with the salads and it’s warm and sunny enough to sit outside along the river, Le Potager de Louise is a winner.  Our server was friendly (though she disappeared for long stretches), and nobody rushed us from our comfortable table, allowing us to lazily observe the market foot traffic going by.

Salads and a half-bottle of crisp rose cost us 16 euros a person, which puts our lunch firmly in the cheap-and-cheerful category.

Le Potager de Louise, 9 Quai Rouget de l’Isle, 84800 l’Isle sur la Sorgue, France; +33 4 90 20 96 56.

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