Saturday, November 15, 2014

Market Day in Vaison-La-Romaine and Lunch at Le Bateleur Restaurant

In twelve days we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday replete with tradition and centered on family and a special meal to celebrate our blessings. As readers probably know, the traditional center piece of a Thanksgiving meal is turkey accompanied by a smorgasbord of salads, side dishes and desserts. This year we will be joined by cousins who recently moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Preparation for the Thanksgiving meal includes ordering the turkey, which I have not done yet, and several trips to the grocery store or if you are lucky, a visit to a local farmer's market for seasonal fruits and vegetables. If we were in Sablet for Thanksgiving, we would get most everything we need for our special meal at the Tuesday morning market in Vaison-la-Romaine.

Unfortunately, we don't have a farmer's market in Sonoma County that offers as wide an array of seafood, meat, cheese, fruits and vegetables, as we find at the Vaison-la-Romaine market. A highlight of our visits to Sablet are the weekly visits to this market and our visit last month was no exception.

Vaison-la-Romaine is a quick 6 mile trip from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River. As I told you here, Vaison-la-Romaine is divided by the Ouvèze River into two parts; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank is the old medieval town with the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse at the highest point, which can be seen from afar.

Castle of the Counts of Toulouse in Vaison-la-Romaine

The Vaison-la-Romaine market takes place in the center of the modern town. Like most towns, parking in Vaison on market day is not easy so we try to be there by 8:30 AM so we can park in the small lot near Notre-Dame de Nazareth Cathedral.

After we park, we walk along the north side of the Cathedral past a very large field of Roman ruins which border the path to the main market area. I am embarrassed to say we don't give any more thought to these ruins as we walk pass them then we do to walking past houses in our neighborhood.

What makes these Roman ruins unique is that they are streets with shops and houses, rather than individual ruins like the Arena in Nîmes or at the Pont du Gard, so you get a sense of the overall layout of the town.

The Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine are spread over two sites; Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) built in the first century AD and La Villasse which we see on our walk up to the market.

These are ruins of shops along the central street of La Villasse. The Romans were very practical and built one street for chariots and a parallel footpath for pedestrians covered by a portico (many of the columns remain in place) to shelter the stalls and people from the sun and bad weather.

La Villasse Ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine

Provencal cooking uses a lot of garlic and there are tables piled high.

Strands of Fresh Garlic

Different honeys made from local flowers.

Lavender, Flower, Acacia, and Chestnut Honey

Most of the fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable sellers set up their stands on Cours Taulignan or on one of the nearby cross streets.

Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine

You will find several small tables set up with displays of locally made artisan cheese like shown below.

Freshly-made Artisan Cheeses

A variety of saucissons sec (dried sausages) are available from artisan producers.

Variety of Sausages

Even though it was October, we were able to find some very nice fresh, tasty tomatoes, that were the base for several salads during our sejour in Sablet.

Tomatoes from Provence

Walnuts

Patrons line up to place their order for freshly butchered meat and poultry.

Mobile Butcher Shop

We were thrilled to find the first Cèpe (Porcini) mushrooms of the season on display. There were also Girolle (a member of the Chanterelle family) mushrooms.

Cepes Mushrooms

There were multiple displays of fresh figs for sale. I love figs, love to have fig jam to put on top of cheese. Yum! Shirley not so much.

Fresh Figs

There are olive groves every where so it is not surprising that there are kitchen utensils and dishes made from olive wood for sale in the market.

Kitchen Utensils Made of Olive Wood

Fresh Vegetables

Nougat is a family of confectioneries made with sugar and/or honey, roasted nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and macadamia), whipped egg whites, and sometimes chopped candied fruit. The consistency of nougat can range from soft and chewy to hard and crunchy, and it is used in a variety of candy bars and chocolates.

There are three basic kinds of nougat. The first is brown nougat ( nougatine in French) which is made without egg whites and has a firmer, often crunchy texture. The second is the Viennese or German nougat which is essentially a chocolate and nut (usually hazelnut) praline. The third, and most common, is a white nougat from Montélimar, made with beaten egg whites and honey seen below.

Nougat Made in Montélimar

Jams and jellies of all kind.

Locally Made Jams and Jellies

You have to have spices for cooking. In Provence, spices are not sold in the market in little jars or packages. Buy only what you are going to use for a week or two as there is no reason to use stale spices since you don't have to buy a jar which might last 6 months or more.

Spice Vendor

Several butchers come to the market every week and display their cuts of meats and charcuterie. I have never seen anyone selling Cheval (horse) meat at the Vaison-la-Romaine market, although we do see it elsewhere.

Mobile Butcher Shop

Seller of Artisan Hams

Our favorite poissonier, fish seller. He also comes to Sablet and sets up his truck next to the little grocery store every Thursday morning.

Our Favorite Fish Seller

Artisan Sausages

Lots of vendors offer a variety of vegetables and salad greens like shown here.

Cauliflower

There is a huge variety of different shellfish on sale from the various fish sellers.

All Kinds of Shellfish

Several cheese vendors set up shop at the market every week. Full disclosure, I don't buy from any of them since I am partial to the cheese that Josiane Deal sells at her wonderful shop called Lou Canesteou just a few steps away on Rue Raspail off Place Montfort, the town's main square.

Mobile Cheese Shop

The best place in our opinion to get chocolate, macaroons, or beautiful tarts and cakes in the area is at the Peyrerol shop on Cours Henri Fabre in Vaison-la-Romaine. I bet you can't walk in and come out without buying something.

The Peyrerol Shop in Vaison-la-Romaine

A great gift to bring to friends and family from Provence is bars of he wonderful olive-oil based soap locally made in Nyons. They have a shop, seen below, on Grande Rue in Vaison-la-Romaine. Our favorite soap aromas are lavender and lemon. We leave bars of lavender soap for our guests who stay at our home in Sablet.

Savon (Soap) Shop

Tourist Shop Selling Brightly Colored Bags

Le Bateleur Restaurant is located at Place Théodore Aubanel near the Roman bridge in Vaison la Romaine's lower city and modern town. The restaurant is owned by Adriana, she takes care of the front of the house and her husband Nicolas Boffelli, the chef. Prior to taking over Le Bateleur Restaurant, Nicolas was the sous chef at the Michelin starred Le Grand Pré in Roaix.

Le Bateleur Restaurant

As soon as we were seated, a plate of foods to nibble was placed on the table along with an amuse bouche of Porcini mushroom soup. Shirley opted to get a glass of 2011 Domaine Charvin Rouge Vin de Pays and I chose a glass of 2013 Chateau de Coulerette Côtes de Provence Rosé. You know what they say, when in Provence.

Amuse Bouche of Cepes (Porcini) Soup

Shirley

Our lunch was served as follows. For me, I chose a starter of shrimps in orange vinaigrette with vegetables.

Shrimps in Orange Vinaigrette with Vegetables including Carrots, Green Onions, Tomatoes and Squash

Shirley selected the pan roasted Ligne with Butternut squash and curry sauce.

Pan Roasted Ligne with Butternut Squash and Curry Sauce

I chose the pan roasted Merlu fish with Parmesan risotto and tomato sauce.

Pan Roasted Merlu with Parmesan Risotto and Tomato Sauce

Our desserts were:

Caramel Apples, Lemon Curd and Sorbet

and:

Pistachio Cream, Poached Pears and Financier Cookies

This was a truly excellent meal. Up to when Nicolas and Adriana took over the restaurant, it had been owned by the chef who owns Le Mesclun in Seguret. We ate there several times while he owned the restaurant, but this was much more to our liking. If you have been to Le Bateleur before Nicolas and Adriana took over, you should return. It is a great place to go after a visit to the market.

Upper Medieval Town of Vaison-la-Romaine

Le Bateleur Restaurant
1 Place Théodore Aubanel
84110 Vaison La Romaine
Tel: 04 90 36 28 04
Website: www.restaurant-lebateleur.com

Have a great week.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Return to Mormoiron and Lunch at Le Four À Chaux Restaurant

About six months after opening Bistro Des Copains, we took a winter break and traveled to Paris and the South of France. With us were our friends and partners in the Bistro, Tricia and Cluney, chef Melissa and server Julia and assorted friends. The purpose for our visit was to experience the foods, wine, and culture of the South of France.

After spending a few days in Paris getting over jet lag, we rode the TGV to Avignon. As we were scheduled for wine tastings in the Côtes du Rhône region including Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas, we chose as our first home base, a large house in the Vaucluse village of Mormoiron near Mont Ventoux.

Mormoiron is a rural Provencal village situated near the base of Mont Ventoux, a few miles east of Carpentras. It turns out that Mormoiron is only 20 miles from our now home in Sablet. Who knew? The principle economic activity of the village is agriculture with focus on wine, cherries and olives, although everything was dormant being it was late January when we arrived.

I did a lot of research before our trip and gave everyone a schedule showing our daily tastings, sight seeing visits and restaurant reservations. I didn't leave a lot of room for chance. I will admit that by the end of the trip, we had made a few adjustments due to the bitter cold weather we encountered and people wanted more time to just relax.

We got to Mormoiron late Sunday afternoon shortly before our reservations for dinner at Le Four À Chaux in nearby Caromb. There were not a lot of good options as I recall since it was Sunday evening in late January. Shirley and I remembered our meal as being good, so a few weeks ago one Friday, we went back to see where we stayed that January and eat lunch at Le Four À Chaux.

Mormoiron

As we got close to Mormoiron, I was surprised to see that the village was on a hill and more charming than I recalled about our visit that cold week in January. Granted, we spent very little time in Mormoiron except at night as we were constantly on the go as I told you above. We found the house easily and it didn't look like it had been changed at all.

Our Rental House in Mormoiron

Mormoiron Street

The area around Mormoiron is planted in vineyards, cherry orchards and olive groves. The wines produced from the grapes grown in the commune are classified Côtes du Ventoux AOC.

View toward Mormoiron

As I said, I had reserved for our group at Le Four À Chaux Restaurant in Caromb, about 10 km away from Mormoiron. I selected it not because it was on a list or in some guidebook but because it was open on Sunday night and not too far from Mormoiron.

On our recent visit, we arrived and were seated by a young lady on the covered terrace along with several other couples who were already there. I found out later, the young lady has owned the restaurant along with her husband the chef since March 2014.

Le Four À Chaux Restaurant

I did not have high expectations for our meal since I didn't recall the food being all that great when we dined there in January 2007. This time our meal started with a tasty amuse bouche of pumpkin soup served in a glass tumbler. The soup was delicious which I thought bode well for the remainder of our lunch.

Amuse Bouche of Pumpkin Soup

For entrée, a small course typically served before main course, we had a first of the season creamy chestnut soup with small pieces of chestnut and spice bread croutons which provided a nice crunchy contrast to the creamy soup.

Chestnut Soup with Spice Bread Croutons

For my main course, I had chosen what the menu referred to as Rabbit Crépinette, which was actually a type of rabbit sausage served with Wild Mushroom Risotto. The dish looked and tasted very good.

Rabbit Crépinette (sausage) with Wild Mushroom Risotto

For her main course, Shirley chose pan-roasted Maigre, a white fish, served over olive-oil crushed potatoes with tomatoes, green onions and black olives. The dish had lots of nice flavors and was an excellent dish.

Pan Roasted Maigre over Olive-oil Crushed Potatoes with Tomatoes, Green Onions and Black Olives

I am a chocoholic and of course I chose the mi-cuit (half baked) chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and raspberries.

Mi-cuit (half baked) Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Raspberries

Shirley chose an excellent warm apple crumble with spice bread ice cream, perfect for the season and tasty. Shirley was very happy with her selection.

Warm Apple Crumble with Spice Bread Ice Cream

Our meal was excellent and we will be adding it to the list of restaurants we recommend to our guests who visit our home in Sablet. It is only 20 miles from Sablet and it is perfectly located if you are in the area before or after a trip up Mont Ventoux or visit to Le Barroux which we could see in the distance as we drove away from the restaurant.

My friend Cluney sent me over some pictures from our meal back in January 2007, and it is clear the food and plating is more refined than on our first visit.

View toward Le Barroux Castle

Le Four À Chaux Restaurant
2253 Avenue Charles de Gaulle
84330 Caromb
Tel: 04 90 62 40 10
Website: www.lefourachaux.com

A very pleasant trip down memory lane. We will be back again before so many years. Have a great week.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ménerbes, Peter Mayle's First Village in Provence

I fell in love with France, or at least a tiny part of it, during childhood trips to the Metairie Neuve, the family farm located near Viane Pierre-Segade, a small hamlet about 15 km from Lacaune in the southeast department of Tarn in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France.

It wasn't until quite a few years later that I discovered and began a love affair with Provence and began to dream about owning a home there through the pages of Peter Mayle's charming book, "A Year In Provence" and his other books that followed.

If you don't know, "A Year in Provence," describes Provence, its culture and the people Mayle, a retired advertising executive, meets after he and his wife leave London, buy a stone farmhouse in a Luberon village, fix it up, and adopt the region as their new home.

The village where Mayle and his wife settled was Ménerbes, a small walled village perched on the top of a long ridge of the north face of the Luberon. Ménerbes is classified as one of the Plus Beaux Villages of France.

One day last spring, wife Shirley and friend Kari and I drove from Sablet to Ménerbes to visit Peter Mayle's village (I should mention that the Mayle's don't live there anymore). Here are a few pictures from our visit to Ménerbes that day.

Ménerbes

The city of Ménerbes and its citadel were the site of a major battle between Huguenots and Catholics, called the Siege de Ménerbes, which lasted from 1573 to 1578 during the French Wars of Religion. The Protestants finally agreed to negotiations, apparently because of a lack of drinking water, surrendering on December 9, 1578 to a "glorious capitulation."

Ménerbes

Narrow streets wind up and down between lovely old buildings.

Ménerbes Street

Pretty Ménerbes House

Ménerbes House

Saint-Blaise Chapel was built in 1734 by the Brotherhood of Pénitents Blanc. During the Revolution, it served as a gathering place for the Republicans and its façade was very damaged. Today, it serves as a place of worship during the winter.

Saint-Blaise Chapel

Ménerbes village street, looking southeast

Ménerbes Iron Cross and Fountain

At Place de l'Horloge at the top of Ménerbes is the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of Truffles and Wine) in a beautifully restored, grand village house. There you can find out all about the truffles and wines of the region, as well as take wine appreciation courses in the summer.

Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of truffles and wine)

Monument honoring the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1789

Ménerbes Town Hall

The clock tower and wrought-iron campanile at Place de l'Horloge were built in the 15th century. Through the arch, there is a magnificent view out across the plains with several villages visible.


Ménerbes town hall with its wrought-iron "campanile"

Ménerbes Town Hall

Saint-Luc Church was built in the 16th century on the foundation of Saint-Sauveur Church. It is currently undergoing renovation.

Saint-Luc Church

Iron Cross

Gated Entrance to Ménerbes Home

Looking back towards Clock Tower at Place de l'Horloge in Ménerbes

Ménerbes' ancient fortified wall and round tower

If you go to Ménerbes, you might want to stop by the Musée du Tire-Bouchon (Cork Screw Museum) at La Citadelle winery about 1 km outside Ménerbes on the road to Cavaillon. The museum displays 1000 cork screws from the 17th century to today.

I think the Mayles were attracted to Ménerbes more for the house and the surrounding area rather than the village itself. While Ménerbes and the surrounding area are very pretty, there is not much life in the village as far as we could see.

Have a great week. Chat soon.