Saturday, November 24, 2012

Au Fil du Temps, a special restaurant in Pernes-les-Fontaines

On Sunday a few months ago, late in the afternoon and thinking about dinner, I flipped through Michelin's "Bonnes Petites Tables" and the "Guide Gantié" to restaurants in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur looking for restaurants where we hadn't dined and most importantly, restaurants open on Sunday nights. For readers in the US, many restaurants in France are closed on Sundays nights.

After calling some recommended restaurants and listening to messages saying they were closed on Sunday nights, I reserved a table at Au Fil du Temps in Pernes-les-Fontaines. I was doubly pleased with myself because we had not dined there before nor had we visited the town. Pernes-les-Fontaines is located about 25 miles south of Sablet between Carpentras and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Pernes-les-Fontaines is an old medieval town with defensive walls and portal gates that remain in tact dating to the 16th century. As the name implies, Pernes-les-Fontaines takes its name from the many fountains that are located around the town. We drove into town through one of those portal gates and parked near St Augustine church, today transformed into a cultural center.

We parked just as the sun was setting and then we discovered that across the street from St Augustines, was the restaurant Au Fil du Temps. It's a tiny place with room for 18 diners owned by the chef Julien Drouot and his wife Clair who works the front of the house. In warm weather, dinner is served on a small terrace next to a fountain.

The dining room is simply decorated and the tables are well-spaced. Shirley sits at the table waiting for dinner to be served. While waiting, we chatted with Clair Drouot and discovered that they have owned the restaurant for about 2 years and were previously in San Francisco where both worked for chef Philippe Gardelle at Chapeau restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants in the City.

I spotted one of our favorite wines on the Carte des Vins (wine list) and happily ordered a bottle of the 2009 Domaine la Soumade Rasteau, Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages, Cuvée Prestige, a delicious blend of Grenache Noir (70%), Syrah (20%), and Mourvèdre (10%). The winery is close to Sablet.

Unfortunately, I can't find my notes about our meal so I will tell you what we had based upon my recollection and the pictures. First off, we started with a very creamy asparagus velouté (soup) sent out by chef Julien as an amuse bouche to get our appetites charged up.

It was asparagus season and we started with what the menu called Méli mélo (translated as mish mash), a beautifully plated asparagus salad. Since Shirley doesn't eat red meat or poultry, the chef made her a vegetarian salad off the menu which I didn't get a picture of.

For Shirley's main course, she chose a grilled white fleshed fish set on asparagus and served with a large baked cannelloni.

For my main course, I chose the pan-roasted duck breast. Unfortunately, I don't remember what the puree or sauce was made of.

To finish, we shared the chocolate dessert, yummy chocolate ganache with pistachio cake. Unfortunately, I don't recall whether it was sorbet or ice cream which accompanied the creamy chocolate.

We also shared a selection of cheeses which I recall the menu said were aged by Josiane Deal in Vaison-la-Romaine.

To send us on our way, the chef sent out house-made chocolate truffles and a glass of port. A very nice way to finish a wonderful meal.

Au Fil des Temps lost one Michelin star when the restaurant was sold to Julien and Clair Drouot. Our meal was excellent and worthy of its Michelin Bib Gourmand designation.

At some point during the meal, there a was cracking sound and down I crashed on my little wooden chair to the floor. There were only one or two other tables with diners but the experience was certainly most embarrassing. Clair sweetly said that the chair leg had been cracked, have no idea if that was true or not, but at least she tried to make me feel better. Thankfully, I was not injured except for my ego which was deeply bruised. I guess that means I need to start la régime (diet).

Regardless of my embarrassment, we will return again to dine at Au Fil du Temps; it is definitely worth a trip to Pernes-les-Fontaines if you are in the area. Since we got there at dusk, we returned the next morning to actually visit the town and see all of those fountains, more about that visit in my next post.

I hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great week.

Au Fil du Temps
51, Place Louis Giraud
84210 Pernes-les-Fontaines
Tel: 04 90 30 09 48

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Fall Day at the Market in Vaison-la-Romaine Including a Visit to the Roman Ruins.

In a few days we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday full of tradition and centered around family and a special meal to celebrate our many blessings. As readers in the US know, the traditional center piece of the Thanksgiving meal is turkey accompanied by a smorgasbord of salads, side dishes and desserts.

Preparation for this special meal includes ordering the turkey 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 here in Northern California that offers as wide an array of meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables as we find at the Vaison-la-Romaine market. Last month, we went to that market with Shirley's friends from the 2-East unit at Santa Rosa California's St. Joseph Memorial Hospital.

Vaison-la-Romaine is a quick 6 mile trip from Sablet along a winding road and across the Ouvèze River. Vaison-la-Romaine is divided by the Ouvèze River; on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town and on the left bank on top of a rocky spur is the old medieval town.

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.

This is one room of the public bath, most of the ruins are covered by modern buildings.

Our little group walked past a row of yellow postal trucks parked on the street near the post office into the market area. Provencal cooking uses a lot of garlic and there are tables piled high.

A pretty display of fresh figs and delicious Reine Claude plums also known as Greengage plums.

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

What is your favorite way to prepare squash? We like to roast squash in pieces and eat them that way or mash the roasted squash and then add crème fraîche or pure maple syrup and butter. Roasted squash is great in soups too and a favorite of diners at our Bistro Des Copains.

Fall is mushroom season in the Vaucluse and there are tables throughout the market including this one with girolles and chanterelles.

More mushrooms including this display with Cèpe mushrooms known here in Northern California as porcini mushrooms.

Olives are part of everyday life in Provence and olive tapenade, both black and green is frequently offered as the amuse bouche at local restaurants. Our favorite varieties are the green, almond shaped Picholine, the Salonenque, a green to tan, cracked olive, the fat, round and wrinkled Nyons and the Nicoise olive, a tiny, smooth purple-black oval.

A basket of freshly laid brown eggs are offered by this vendor.

With so many olive groves, it is not surprising that there are kitchen utensils made from olive wood for sale in the market. We have several pairs of fork and spoons for serving salads.

A variety of colorful peppers and fennel bulbs, both of which appear frequently in Provencal dishes.

There is lots of very good prepared food to take for a quick meal including these chickens roasted on the rotating spits.

A variety of dried beans and lentils are offered by this vendor.

Canned duck confit and foie gras, the latter is now illegal to produce or sell in California.

A vendor selling olive oil and braids of garlic, both products are used extensively in Provencal dishes.

A variety of locally made jams and jellies.

More mushrooms.

A fall collection of fresh nuts, clementine mandarins, and chestnuts.

You have to have spices for your cooking. In Provence, spices are not sold in the market in little jars or packages.

More spices. 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.

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

A seafood paella, one of several vendors that sell paella's at the Vaison market. This one at least was not as tasty as the wonderful paella our friend Gerard makes at the Occidental farmers market on Friday evenings during the summer. For those of you who watch Food Network, Gerard beat Bobby Flay in a paella throwdown shown on Food Network

Fresh salad greens.

Freshly baked breads.

Dried sanglier (wild boar) 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.

Sea Urchins. Have you ever tried a sea urchin or cooked these yourself? Me no, but would like to try them sometime.

A vendor selling a large variety of Middle Eastern and North African ingredients.

More of those beautiful Cèpe mushrooms.

Still more Cèpes.

A variety of mushrooms are offered by this vendor. My friends in Western Sonoma County are so happy when they go out and come back with a few porcini mushrooms they find in the woods. I am sure none of them have ever seen so many porcini mushrooms in one place.

It's fall and of course there are a variety of apples offered for sale.

The streets of the market are crowded with shoppers every Tuesday morning throughout the year.

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

The last of this year's melons from Cavaillon, a community known for their super sweet melons.

A variety of peppers, an essential ingredient in Provencal dishes.

Of course no market in Provence would be complete without some type of artwork for sale.

The ladies in our group really liked these colorful flat pocket shoes.

The ubiquitous Provencal fabric seller.

Le Festival is the perfect place to take a break from the market and catch up with friends. The server in tan shirt on the right side of Le Festival is the son of our friends Bruno and Sylvie who own Café des Sports in Sablet.

More fabric.

Local handmade pottery.

More handmade pottery.

Another busy street at the Vaison-la-Romaine market.

Shop keepers set up stands in front of their stores on the street that leads down to the Roman bridge.

There is a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors of fabrics sold at the market.

The flower sellers set up their stands as well too.

More flowers. We bought some to plant in the planters on the terrace off our kitchen.

Roasted meats and stuffed vegetables to go.

From the market, you can look down over the La Villasse ruins toward the cathedral in the distance. At the front is the central street and shops.

Colorful pottery that will definitely brighten your Thanksgiving table.

The castle of the Counts of Toulouse towers over the medieval half of Vaison-la-Romaine on the left bank of the Ouvèze River and can be clearly seen from the market area adjacent to the Roman ruins in the lower town.

Roman ruins in Puymin.

House of the laurelled Apollo in Puymin near the Office of Tourism.

More of the Roman ruins in Puymin.

There are lots of ruins but the vast majority of them are said to lay untouched under the modern town of Vaison-la-Romaine. There is a total of 15 hectares or 37 acres in the archaeological site making it the largest site by far in France.

I wish I could go to the market in Vaison-la-Romaine this week to buy what we need for our special meal on Thanksgiving Day. It will be a different day for us this year as some are with family in Southern California and Shirley and daughter Stephanie will be taking care of patients at their respective hospitals.

Whereever you are, we wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving. Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt. Have a great week.