Saturday, September 25, 2010


I think you know Cassis is one of our favorite towns in Provence. With its narrow streets, pastel colored houses and Provençal street names, Cassis is a charming blend of the Mediterranean Sea and Provence.

Thankfully, it's an easy drive of about 1 hour and 4o minutes from Sablet to Cassis. The picture perfect town is tucked into a curve of the coast along the Mediterranean Sea amidst the calanques - little coastal fjords, 20 kms east of Marseille.

Cassis is a small fishing port with 8,000 inhabitants. The port is filled with little fishing boats, yachts and a collection of tourist boats for visiting the calanques, something we still have yet to do.

Cape Canaille which stands over Cassis, is one of the highest cliffs of Europe at 399 meters (1,309 feet) above sea level and the highest cliff in France.

Frederick Mistral famously wrote in his poem Calendal “Qu'a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, a ren vist”? (Those who have seen Paris but not Cassis, have seen nothing).

The port is lined with tourist shops, terrace cafés and restaurants, offering a variety of food and prices.

There are even more shops and restaurants on the little streets of the village away from the port.

We have tried a number of the restaurants along the port but except for being great for people-watching, we have yet to find one that has really good food.

If anyone has a restaurant(s) in Cassis to recommend, please share so we can try it out on our next visit which I am sure will be in the not too distant future.

At the outter most tip of the port stands the statue of Calendal. Calendal was a humble anchovy fisherman and hero of a work by poet Frédéric Mistral that recounts Calendal's exploits to win the heart of his true love. His memory is now honored by this statue made of Cassis stone.

Besides not having discovered any good restaurants yet in Cassis, the one bad thing is trying to find parking close to the port. Invariably, we've had to park quite a ways away and walk to the port.

The last time we were there, this plant was in full bloom around the parking lot where I (I drop off wife Shirley as close as I can to the port and then I go park) found an empty space.

A beautiful plant but don't know what it is despite my efforts to identify it. Anyone know?

We will return again and again to enjoy the beauty of Cassis and the surrounding area along with the wonderful white and rosé wines that are produced in the Cassis AOC.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ansouis, Luberon

We have been trying to visit all of the villages in the Vaucluse that are officially classified as a Plus Beaux Villages de France. The only village we have not visited is Ansouis which is in the southern part of the Vaucluse in the Luberon.

So each time before we leave for Provence, I dutifully print out directions from the Michelin web site for the shortest way to get to Ansouis from our home in Sablet thinking that this time we will finally make it there.

We think all of the Plus Beaux Villages de France in the Vaucluse are pretty but we wouldn't consider all of them to be the prettiest villages in the Vaucluse. There is a an extensive evaluation process to become a Plus Beaux Villages de France with two general criteria:

1. the village has to be small and the population can not exceed 2,000 inhabitants;

2. the village has to have at least 2 protected sites or monuments (either listed or registered on the list of historical monuments).

A few days ago, we decided to go explore Ansouis. Ansouis is located a little more than 100 km southeast of our home in Sablet between the Durance River and the foothills of the Luberon Mountains on a rocky slope crowned with a castle.

The sign as you enter Ansouis showing that the village is classified as a Plus Beaux Villages de France.

You enter into Ansouis through this pretty archway.

The Mairie - town hall is located right on the plane tree shaded village square.

Ansouis is well restored and has a number of little streets that are perfect for wandering during a visit.

The medieval chateau dating from the 12th century is located on the site of an old fortress. It has been privately owned for centuries. It is fairly stark from the outside.

One of several narrow passageways we discovered as we wandered around the village.

There is a beautiful clock tower dating from the 16th century topped with a campanile or bell tower built among the houses.

Wife Shirley enjoying one of the many beautiful views out in every direction from the village.

There are not many shops, always a disappointment to Shirley but there is a nice restaurant (which we will return to try on a future visit) and a terrace café

The beautiful interior of the 12th century Saint Martin's Church.

More beautiful views from the village.

Shirley taking a rest on one of the many walls that wander through the village.

Another passageway.

The monument to the children of Ansouis who died for France in WWI and WWII. Note the huge diference in numbers between the two wars: 32 dead in WWI and 2 in WWII.

The pretty gardens, terraces and views from the village make Ansouis a village worth visiting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

L'Oustalet Restaurant, Gigondas

We have been back in Provence for a few days now and we are loving each day in what is for wife Shirley and me a truly magical place. Yesterday, September 7 was my birthday.

For my first celebratory meal of the day (we were already scheduled to meet cousins in Nîmes for a birthday dinner), we decided to eat déjeuner - lunch at l'Oustalet Restaurant in the neighboring village of Gigondas.

As I have told you in a previous post, Gigondas is 6 km south of Sablet on the D-7 in the direction of Carpentras. Look for the small village up on the hill below the Dentelles de Montmirail on the left side of the road.

L'Oustalet Restaurant is located in the center of the village at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie -town hall, and the Caveau du Gigondas - wine growers cooperative are located.

Gigondas is absolutely an essential stop for lovers of big red wines. You can taste more than 100 different bottles of Gigondas wine at the Caveau du Gigondas free of charge and you can purchase any of these wines for the same price as they are sold at the domaine. But I digress.

L'Oustalet Restaurant has a pretty, small, wood-beamed dining room and a tree-shaded terrace where you can sit and watch all of the activities in the center of the village. The restaurant was recently taken over and refurbished by the Perrin family who own Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape. The chef is Aurélien Laget who was previously sous-chef at Maison Bru in Eygalières.

We arrived without reservations but were immediately seated at a small table. Right away, the young man who seated us walked to the open kitchen and announced "nous sommes complet" - we are full, although we were the first diners to be seated.

The table was simply set with a jar of bread sticks and a small dish containing black oil-cured olives and some sesame purée to enjoy with the bread sticks.

Wife Shirley ordered a glass of 2009 Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas rosé and I ordered a glass of 2006 Domaine du Terme Gigondas to enjoy while we looked over the printed menu and "Déjeuner à l’Ardoise", literally lunch on the slate menu shown on the slate blackboard.

We both ordered three courses off the "Déjeuner à l’Ardoise" menu for 28 Euros which features dishes based upon what the chef buys at the market that day.

Our first course was poached egg in cream of artichoke with sauteed mushrooms, a lovely combination.

For her main course, wife Shirley chose roasted St Pierre - John Dory served over eggplant purée and perfectly cooked and seasoned coco beans.

I chose filet of beef cooked à point - medium rare as ordered. It was served with a mousseline of artichokes, sautéed chanterelle mushrooms and garlic confit. I was very happy with my dish.

To finish her meal, Shirley chose Saint-Marcellin cheese marinated in garlic and thyme and served with a fresh greens and herbs salad.

To complete my meal, I chose poached white peaches served over pain perdu - french toast and delicious peach ice cream. The peaches were cooked just right, done but still had some bite so they were not mushy. A fabulous late summer dessert.

I told Shirley that based upon that meal, l'Oustalet Restaurant may be my new favorite restaurant in our little corner of the Vaucluse. I wouldn't recommend that you show up without reservations; you might not be so lucky as we were to get the last table.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Maison Bru, Eygalières

One of the reasons I stopped in Eygalières that morning was to look at the menu for Le Bistro d'Eygalières, a supposedly wonderful bistro I had read about in numerous publications. I went to the address and found a sign saying the restaurant had relocated to a spot outside of the village.

After a leisurely walk around pretty Eygalières, I headed out Route d'Orgon as I understood the new restaurant to be located in that direction. The Route d'Orgon is generally flat and takes you past pastures with grazing sheep and garrigue - scrublands with dense thickets of oak and aromatic shrubs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, and wild thyme.

After driving about 4 km towards Orgon, I spotted the sign for Maison Bru on the right hand side of the road.

I pulled in and read the menu with its mouth watering descriptions of the various dishes. It was after all, just before before midi - noon, and time for déjeuner -lunch. I was by myself and in no hurry so I decided to see if I could get a table without a reservation.

It was my lucky day and I was shown to a table in the wood-beamed dining room; it was overcast and too cold to sit on the large shaded terrace. If you couldn't see garrigue out the window, you could have easily thought you were sitting in a restaurant in Paris. There was not much to remind you that you were in Provence.

Shortly after being seated, I was brought a menu and some tasty bites to munch on while I read over the menu for the day. That day the bites consisted of fromage blanc with garlic and chives, tomato paste, a cilantro and almond paste, olives and green tapenade.

I should mention that on the menu board outside, it indicated there was a Menu Déjeuner for 55 Euros and a Menu Dégustation for 95 Euros. However, when I was seated in the dining room, the only menu offered was the latter menu. If I had been with a group out for lunch, I would have swallowed hard but since I was by myself I was happy to spoil myself.

After selecting a glass of wine from the Côtes du Rhône I looked around the room as it began to fill with diners. It wasn't long before I was brought an amuse bouche by one of the young staff dressed in all black attire.

The amuse bouche was a poached egg in its shell topped with chive cream accompanied by a french fry with pickle ice cream. The ice cream was the color of brine and had a distinct pickle taste. The little dish was unusual but very tasty.

My first course was a cold poached lobster marinated in ouzo served over asparagus spears and wasabi ice cream.

My first fish course was lightly seared tuna accompanied by anchovy mayonaise, foie gras and a frozen ginger mousse.

My second fish course was line-caught sea bass with asparagus mousse, and mushrooms. The exterior of the fish had a slightly crunchy texture from the bread crumbs that coated the fish.

My meat course was a perfectly cooked rack and saddle of lamb from the Pyrénées, the mountains of Southwest France. The lamb was accompanied by roasted garlic, eggplant caviar, roasted potatoes and vegetables.

A perfectly wonderful dish but I was surprised to see that the lamb came from the Pyrénées when there are sheep almost everywhere you look along the Route d'Orgon.

After finishing the lamb dish, I was brought a warm cloth to wash my hands, a nice touch.

Then out rolled the chariot de fromage, literally cheese chariot with a large assortment of cheese and nut bread to acccompany the cheese.

I chose four cheeses; Époisses de Bourgogne, Reblochon de Savoie, Roquefort, and Saint-Félicien.

My first dessert, unfortunately I failed to record the details of the desserts in my journal.

My second dessert.

And finally, out came an assortment of mignardise, an assortment of little cakes to finish my meal, not that I needed anything more but it was hard to not sample these wonderful treats.

I loved my meal and although pricey in my opinion for lunch, I will return. The Boxer at the neighboring table loved being there too. I am not sure if its my imagination but it seems that the breed of dog we see in restaurants most frequently is Boxer.

After I got home, I found out that Maison Bru has two Michelin stars which explains the high costs. I think the stars are deserved as the food and service was wonderful