Monday, December 5, 2022

Francis Mallmann's Gastronomic Restaurant at Chateau La Coste

Dear friends, we are in Northern California and enjoying fall weather in contrast to the crazy hot weather we experienced this summer, both here in California, and in Provence. We certainly appreciate that we now have a/c in our house in Sablet.

You will recall that I told you about our visit to Chateau La Coste in Le Puy-Sainte-Reparade in early January to see the unusual art installed around this 600-acre organic winery and art center which includes a luxury hotel and 4 restaurants.

This past August, we were invited by new friends Cesar and Danielle to eat at Francis Mallmann's restaurant at Chateau La Coste. Francis Mallman is an Argentine celebrity chef, author and restauranteur who specializes in Argentine cuisine, especially Patagonian cuisine with a focus on Patagonian methods for barbecuing food.  

He currently operates 9 restaurants worldwide including Francis Mallmann at Chateau La Coste. 

Francis Mallman at Chateau La Coste

One of the first things you see when you walk into the restaurant are the cooks in the open kitchen with its wood burning oven. The dining room is very comfy with wood ceilings and beams. 

Wood burning oven at Francis Mallmann restaurant
The menu is large, offering 9 entrees (starters) and 10 plats (main courses), and they all sounded delicious. I will be truthful; Cesar and Danielle and Shirley and I, we all love food. Cesar comes from a restaurant family in Nice, France, and you know my love of food; we went crazy ordering dishes to try.

Melon Salad, Goat Cheese, Radicchio, Cucumber and Fresh Mint.

Grilled Artichokes, cream of Gorgonzola, Raisins, Olives and Chicory

Fresh Nectarine, Iceberg Lettuce, Buffalo Mozzarella, and Hazelnut Powder

Grilled Octopus, Potatoes, "Anchoiade" and Spring Onions

Wood Oven Beef Empanadas from Mendoza

Butterfly Sea Bass

We don't eat pork, but I can vouch that the look and smell was awfully tantalizing. 

Slow Roasted Suckling Pig with Fennel, Rocket Salad and Grilled Potatoes

Vegetarian Tower

Sirloin Steak on the Bone accompanied by Mustard Potatoes and Grilled Onions

Mustard Potatoes with Grilled Onions that accompanied the Grilled Steak

We chose a lovely bottle of red wine from Hermitage.

2017 Delas Ligne De Crete Hermitage

Shirley and I with our friends Danielle and Cesar

The menu offered 8 choices for dessert. We really didn't have room for dessert, but we chose a couple to share to finish our wonderful meal. 

Dessert #1

Dessert #2

View towards the Chateau La Coste vineyards

We loved our meal and time spent with our friends driving to and from Chateau La Coste. If you are in Provence, we definitely recommend you visit Chateau La Coste and walk through the art installations that are spread around the grounds. It will take about 3 hours. Plan ahead and make reservations to dine at Francis Mallmann. 

If you want to try Chef Mallmann's food, but can't get to one of his restaurants, consider purchasing one of his cookbooks. I have tried a number of dishes from his latest book "Green Fire" and they turned out great.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Excellent Seafood Restaurant near the Port of Le Grau-du-Roi and a Water Jousting Match to Boot

On a warm Saturday a couple of weeks ago, we headed seaside to Le Grau-du-Roi, a fishing port and beach resort, with cousins Jean-Marc and Christine. We figured we would find cooler temperatures near the Mediterranean Sea and bonus, we could try out a new restaurant I had read about.  

Le Grau-du-Roi is a commune in the Gard Department about 1.5 hours south from Sablet. Le Grau-du-Roi is the only commune in the Gard Department to have frontage on the Mediterranean Sea. Le Grau-du-Roi is the second largest French fishing port on the Mediterranean. 

Port of Le Grau-du-Roi

I made reservations at Le Vivier Restaurant early in the day. As we made our way toward Le Grau-du-Roi, it became clear we would be quite late for our reservation because of heavy traffic on the A-9. So I called and they said come ahead, but get there as soon as possible.

When we finally got there, we were kindly welcomed and seated at a table on the terrace. The charming owner told us they didn't mind tardy arrivals but since the chef works by himself in the kitchen, they try to keep to their posted hours as closely as possible. 

Le Vivier in Le Grau-du-Roi

The menu offers a wonderful selection of seafood and fresh fish with very tempting accompaniments. I debated between Couteaux, Razer Clams in English, that were dressed with a Safran Cream sauce and Tellines also in a cream sauce. For those who don't know, Tellines are tiny triangular shaped multi-colored clams. 

Cousin Jean-Marc order a platter of mixed seafood that includes oysters, sea snails, and shrimp. The ladies passed on starters and said they would order dessert instead. 

The owner steered me to the Couteaux, saying the Tellines were really tiny right now. I didn't know what to expect as I had not tried Couteaux before but was really happy I took her advice. They were perfectly tender and delicious with their sauce. 

Couteaux (Razer Clams)

The main courses offer a nice selection of fish, any of which I would have been happy to try. Cousin Christine chose the "Poisson du Jour" which this day were Rougets accompanied by veggies and a sweet potato puree. 

Rougets with Sweet Potato Puree and Vegetables

Shirley opted for the filet of Daurade (Sea Bream) with a mint, dill and citrus broth accompanied by tomatoes and zucchini. 

Filet of Daurade (Sea Bream) with a Mint, Dill and Citrus Broth accompanied by Tomatoes and Zucchini

Jean-Marc and I both ordered Whole Wild Fish which were a duo of whole fish, which changes plate to plate with a citrus cream sauce accompanied by crushed potatoes and veggies.

Duo of Wild Whole Fish with a Citrus Cream Sauce and Crushed Potatoes and Vegetables

Our dessert selections were Frozen Citrus Souffle accompanied by a citrus coulis and fresh fruit,

Frozen Citrus Souffle with Citrus Coulis and Fresh Fruit

Lingot Glace accompanied by caramelized peanuts and fresh fruit,

Lingot Glace with Caramelized Peanuts and Fresh Fruit

Frozen Chocolate Souffle and fresh fruit. 

Frozen Chocolate Souffle with Fresh Fruit

After lunch, we walked along the canal that connects the fishing port to the Mediterranean to see the lighthouse at the entrance. As we walked, we watched the water jousters (Joutes Nautique in French) in combat on the canal. 

In water jousting, two wooden boats are rowed towards each other by eight or ten oarsmen. One jouster on each boat stands on a raised platform at the stern of the boat about 10 feet above the surface of the water. In addition to the jouster and rowers, the crew consists of a helmsman and two musicians, and jousters who will participate in the next match.

Water Jousting Team

Jousters carry a shield 70 cm high and 40 cm wide and a lance 2.8 meters long. They must wear white outfits and white shoes. As the boats approach each other propelled by the rowers, the jousters crouch with their lances directed towards their opponent. A direct hit will propel the unlucky jouster into the air before he falls into the water. 

Water Jousting Team

In case you think these matches have been created as tourists attractions, you will be interested to learn that jousts have been carried out since ancient times. There are records of jousts going all the way back to the time of Christ. This form of jousting is practiced in eight towns in the Herault Department and one town in the Gard, Le Grau-du-Roi. 

The Water Jousting Teams Meet in "Combat".

Our meal at Le Vivier with the dishes of very fresh fish and seafood prepared by an excellent chef made the trip from Sablet worthwhile. Finding out they were jousting on the canal was just icing on the cake.  

I would recommend making reservations at Le Vivier as its a very good restaurant and very popular, especially during tourist season. Parking is available a short distance away. 

Le Vivier Restaurant
7 Rue du Commandant Marceau
Le Grau-du-Roi
Tel: 33 (0) 4 66 53 23 36
website: https//

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Newish Bistro in one of our favorite villages

As long time readers of Our House in Provence blog know, one of our favorite villages besides Sablet is Villedieu. Its a small village (population 514), built on a hill overlooking vineyards, olive grows and pine trees near the Eygues River on the border of the Drome Provencale. Villedieu is located about 7 1/2 miles northwest of Sablet in the direction you would take if you were headed to Nyons. 

Villedieu Cafe

Villedieu dates back to medieval times when the village was a Commandery of the Knights Templar who owned a chateau with a single tower. The village was founded during a time when potential invaders would come around so defensive fortifications were built which you can see as you visit the village.

Villedieu Town Hall

In the center of Villedieu is a square with a fountain, recently dry to due to the extreme drought and plane trees call Place de la Liberation. The Mairie (town hall), a cafe, a creperie, and until just before the pandemic, an excellent pizzaria called La Maison Bleue were located on the sides of the square.  

Le Bistrot de Villedieu

During warm weather between April and October, the square becomes a grand terrace shared by the cafe and restaurants. Tables and chairs arranged around the fountain with the area for the cafe and restaurants defined by the color of chairs. 

Villedieu Place de la Liberation

Shortly before the start of the pandemic, our friend and chef/owner of the Maison Bleue Pizzaria sold the restaurant to chef Laurent Azoulay. He and his wife Rachel reopened the restaurant in June 2020 as the Bistrot de Villedieu.

Bistrot de Villedieu Server

Chef Azoulay retained the wood burning oven of Maison Bleue and most of the food served at the Bistrot is cooked in the wood burning oven. Because of the pandemic, we had not been able to dine the new restaurant. We made up for that during our current stay by dining there twice; once at lunch by ourselves and once with friends for dinner. Menu was identical both times.

Chef Azoulay is clearly a talented chef. In addition to the Bistrot de Villedieu, Chef Azoulay owns a one star Michelin restaurant called L'Ekrin by Laurent Azoulay in the mountain town of Meribel.

Zucchini Blossoms 

Mussel Soup in Saffron with Spelt

Spelt Risotto with Summer Truffles. 

Baked Tomato stuffed with Rice and Beef with Arugula over Rice and Beef. 

Apricot Crumble

With our friends, he and I split the 1 kg Angus Beef "Cote de Boeuf" which was expensive but delicious.

The owners of the Bistrot de Villedieu split their time between the Bistrot de Villedieu and their second restaurant in the mountains so the Bistrot de Villedieu is only opened during festival season from June 1 to September 30. 

The food was delicious and perfectly cooked and very attractively plated. The servers were very friendly, although service is a little slow when the square is full of diners. The only person who didn't seem to go out of his way to show any charm was the owner/chef.

Le Bistrot de Villedieu
Place de la Liberation
84110 Villedieu
Tel: 04 90 28 97 02

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Avignon and Delicious Lunch at Le Gout Du Jour

Avignon is 40 km southwest of Sablet, snuggled inside ancient walls along the Rhône River. The largest town in the Vaucluse, Avignon is very old, full of history, art, music and activity. I never get tired of wandering the narrow streets inside the fortified walls.

We come to Avignon to shop and meet up with cousins. Our stops always include a visit to the Nespresso Boutique, near Place de l'Horloge, to buy espresso capsules to take back to California (way cheaper). Shirley prefers to shop leisurely by herself so I go off to explore and take pictures.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral seen below is a Roman Catholic church located next to the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Avignon. It is a Romanesque building, constructed primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425.

Notre Dame des Doms Cathedral

The Pope's Palace seen in the picture below is a historical palace in Avignon, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. One time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palace, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394.

The Pope's Palace

In the center of Avignon on Place de l'Horloge you will discover the neo-classical town hall known as the Hotel de Ville seen below. It was built in the 19th century as a replacement for an older building. The 14th century Gothic clock tower from the original structure which gave the square its name was incorporated into the construction of the current Hotel de Ville.

Hotel de Ville and 14th Century Clock Tower

While Shirley shops, I choose our restaurant for lunch. We learned early on, that with the exception of cafes that are mostly frequented by tourists, it is not a good idea to drop into French restaurants without reservations. 

You will probably find they are "complet" (full) even if they have empty tables. You might get lucky if you show up just as they open their door for service. Most local restaurants with the exception of the aforementioned cafes for tourists do not turn tables like is customary in the United States.

It appears the pandemic has been hard on restaurants in Avignon like the United States. So some of the restaurants that we have enjoyed over the years are now "permanently closed". So on our visit in January, I decided we would try a new-to-us restaurant called "Le Gout De Jour" which I found in the Michelin Guide.

Shirley and I at "Le Gout Du Jour" with a glass of Mont Redon Gigondas 

Le Gout Du Jour restaurant is located just a few steps from the Hotel de Ville. The chef is a young Avignonnais (born in Avignon) by the name of Julien Chazal. He offers diners a variety of menu options including a vegetarian menu. The following photos show the dishes we enjoyed at lunch.

Pumpkin Soup

Salmon Fillet for Shirley

Venison Loin for Me

Dessert for Me

Dessert for Shirley

Espresso and Brownies to Finish the Meal

I am happy we discovered a new restaurant to recommend to friends who visit Avignon. The restaurant is opened daily for lunch and dinner except for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. As I mentioned earlier in the post, I highly recommend you make reservations and don't show up hoping to get seated without one.

Le Gout Du Jour
20 Rue Saint-Etienne
84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 32 76 32 16

Monday, March 14, 2022

Hunt for Sunflowers and Hike to the Fortress of Mornas

Last July, we went to Provence for the first time since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. As I wrote in this post, shortly before our trip, about our favorite things in Provence, seasonal "floral" attractions such as red poppies, lavender, and sunflowers are high on our list. 

Since July is sunflower season, we set off one morning to look for sunflower fields around the town of Orange. We had been told there were large sunflower fields north of Orange and while we were there, we should take the time to hike up to the Fortress of Mornas.

Sunflower field near Mornas

Sure enough, we found quite a few fields as we drove toward Mornas. Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile, and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds, from which oil is extracted.  

Sunflowers near Mornas

Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to end of July with harvest occurring beginning of August. A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of the day; once mature, the movement stops.

We arrived in Mornas, a medieval community that sits along the Rhone River halfway between Orange and Bollene. The village is longer than it is wide with a single street that runs end to end. At each end of the village, are magnificent, fortified stone gateways which guard the entrances to the village. Above Mornas, on top of a 450 foot cliff is the Fortress of Mornas. 

14th century Saint Nicolas gate

We had come to visit the fortress, so we headed up a very steep narrow road. About half way to the fortress, past the village cemetery, we came to Notre-Dame du Val-Romigier, a Romanesque church dating from the middle of the 12th century. It was enlarged during the Gothic era and restored several times over the years. 

Notre Dame de Val Romigier Church

After pausing our walk to stroll around the cemetery and visit the church, we continued up the very steep road to the fortress. Note, the walk up to the fortress takes about 15 minutes. The first part of the walk to the church is steep, the walk from the church to the fortress is very steep, on a wide, flat cement roadway with no shade. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The large fortress, with stone walls, towers, chateau and chapels was constructed on top of the cliffs in the 12th century by the Earl of Toulouse. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The fortress ruins are visible for a long distance to the west. If you have ever driven down the A-7 autoroute from Bollene past Mornas to the Rhone valley, you have surely observed it as you passed below. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Mornas was passed to the Avignon Popes at the beginning of the 14th century. The fortress was restored and improved with an outer wall built around the top of the hill to protect it from highway robbers that were looting and devastating the land at that time.

The Fortress of Mornas

Protestants and Catholics fought fiercely over Mornas during the wars of Religion. In 1562, after killing women, children and elderly in the church, the Protestant troops forced the Catholic brigade to throw themselves off the walls. The Protestant Huguenots met the same fate when the Catholics recaptured the fortress in 1568. 

Shirley below the Fortress of Mornas

After the French Revolution, the fortress was abandoned and fell into ruins. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Starting in 1978, the "Les Amis de la Forteresse" association has been restoring the fortress back to medieval times. 

Shirley at bottom of the path leading up to the Fortress of Mornas

If you want to do an serious climb, or look for sunflowers, then head to Mornas. You are probably curious anyway about the fortress on the hill if you ever drove past on the A-7 autoroute.  If you go there during truffle season, there is a very good restaurant that is famous for their truffle menus in Mondragon that I told you about here