Sunday, December 17, 2017

Le Bistrot du Paradou, a Most Enjoyable Destination in the Alpilles

One Friday a few months back, we had a date for a rendezvous with cousins Jean-Marc and Christine for dinner. It was my responsibility to choose a restaurant somewhere between Montpellier and Sablet. After making some calls, I landed on Le Bistrot du Paradou. I was informed they had one table left but apologetically said it was out of the main dining room near the kitchen.

Le Bistrot du Paradou Kitchen

It was 75 km to the small village in the Alpilles Mountains called Paradou where the Bistrot is located. The last stretch of road took us past spots that offered spectacular views of Les Baux de Provence bathed in lights and the entrance to the Carrières de Lumières that I told you about here.

Le Bistrot du Paradou Dining Room

The restaurant is located in a traditional blue-shuttered house, just off the road, shaded by ancient plane trees. The terrace looks like a pleasant place to enjoy an aperitif or coffee after a meal, and there is convenient parking next door.

We were led through the dining room with vintage-tiled floors, stone walls, and timbered ceilings, to our table. When I said we would be happy to take the last table, I pictured a small raised table in an out of the way spot not usually offered to guests. Instead, we were led into the private room shown below with a large wood table set for 4. IMO, it was the perfect place for someone who loves to cook.

Our Table near Le Bistrot du Paradou Kitchen

There is only a single four-course prix fixe menu served at each meal. Tuesday, for example, might feature roasted farm-raised guinea hen, and Friday lunch is aioli, the traditional Provençal feast of steamed vegetables, salt cod, and local snails accompanied by the pungent garlic mayonnaise for which it is named. The price includes unlimited bottles of Côtes du Rhône wine—red, white, or rosé from Mont Redon.

House Red Wine

Our meal began with Soupe au Pistou, the Provence equivalent of minestrone, a seasonal vegetable soup — enriched with a simplified basil pesto (no pine nuts) brought to the table in a large earthenware dish, from which we served ourselves several times.

Tureen of Soupe au Pistou

Shortly after we were seated, our server stopped by to wish us "bienvenue" (welcome) and tell us about the menu for the evening. He said the Bistrot was offering two starters, the previously mentioned Soupe au Pistou and Escargots a la Bourguignonne (Snails in Garlic–Herb Butter). As you can see below, cousin Jean-Marc is ready to tuck into the tasty morsels.

Escargots a la Bourguignonne

The Soupe au Pistou was delicious, perfectly seasoned and we happily helped ourselves to second and third helpings including Jean-Marc who couldn't resist the aromas from the soupe.

Bowl of Pistou Soup

The main course that evening was Rack of Lamb with potato puree and ratatouille. When I called earlier in the day for reservation, I asked about a fish or vegetarian alternative for Shirley who doesn't eat red meat. They were happy to oblige and brought Shirley a generous portion of fresh cod served with the same accompaniments as our lamb. Since we could observe the goings on in the kitchen, we saw several plates of spit roasted Bresse chicken being sent out to the dining room.

Rack of Lamb with Potato Puree and Ratatouille

Although we were all quite full by now, we couldn't resist the temptation of the platter of cheese left on our table and we sampled the various ripe hard and soft cheeses shown below.

Cheese Board

A chalkboard with the dessert menu was brought to the table. Desserts included apple tart, ice creams and a few French classics including baba au rhum, crème caramel and the chocolate mousse I chose which was excellent.

As service wound down, we chatted with the all female kitchen team. They told us about the history of the Bistrot, the opening schedule (depends upon the time of year) and the various menu items offered on a seasonal basis.

Chocolate Mousse

I loved the food and ambiance at Le Bistrot du Paradou. They excel at simple food, done really well. It costs €51+ (depending upon lunch or dinner) and includes starter, main course, cheese, choice of desserts, wine and coffee. I can’t emphasize enough how essential it is to reserve in advance for a meal at this very popular bistrot.

Le Bistrot du Paradou
57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux
13520 Paradou, France
Tel: +33490543270
No website

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A night in Lyon and unforgetable dinner at Cafe Comptoir Abel

As we plan trips to the South of France, I look for good fares from San Francisco to Geneva, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Nice. Recently, it seems Geneva and Lyon have offered the best fares on our favorite airline. The first couple of times we flew into Lyon, we went straight from Saint-Exupéry Airport to Sablet and vice versa on the return trip.

This year we went to Lyon the day before we were scheduled to fly home so we could eat in one of the famous bouchons which Lyon is famous for. After all, Lyon is considered to be the gastronomic capital of France. As you know, I love food and that is the only thing that could make me leave Sablet one hour before we have to go.

Lyon is about 200 km north of Sablet at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its center reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu'île peninsula.

Place Jacobins is the center of what is now called “old money Lyon” – where the bigger fortunes live. This statue represents the religious Jacobins inspired by the Dominican faith who first developed the area. The statue seen below, "The Fountain of the Jacobins" was inaugurated in 1885.

Fountain of the Jacobins'

Place des Célestins seen below is located in the Célestins quarter, in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon. The square was named after the religious Order of Celestines who were installed there from 1407 to 1778. Before 1307, the square was located on lands owned by the Knights Templar, who had a command post there. After the Knights Templar were evicted, the Célestins installed a monastery which, despite some fires, remained for almost 400 years. Eventually demolished in 1778, it was replaced with the housing estate of the Célestins and a theater.

Place des Célestins

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884. Perched on top of the Fourvière hill, the basilica looms impressively over the city of Lyon, from where it can be seen from many vantage points. Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague, the Black Death, that swept Europe in 1643.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière on top of the hill

Every city in France has a monument of one kind or another commemorating King Louis XIV, and in Lyon he has been suitably and majestically immortalized in the form of a bronze statue in the middle of Place Bellecour, which is bigger than Red Square and is the largest downtown pedestrian zone in Europe. He is guarded by the Gods of War and Lions, as well as Marianne, who sits at the bottom of the base.

Statue of King Louis XIV, Place Bellecour

The Bell Tower seen standing alone below used to be the bell tower of the Charity Hospital. This was the second hospital of Lyon after Hotel Dieu. It was built in 1622 and destroyed in 1934 to make place for the Post Office. This is the enormous building on the south side of the square.

Belltower of Charity

As I said, Lyon is called France's gastronomic capital—probably a result of its geography. Alpine streams to the east supply pike, trout, and crayfish. The Dombes plateau, to the northeast, abounds in game, and the plain of Bresse, beyond that, produces France's finest chickens. Due north lie the vineyards of Beaujolais, which yield fruity, inexpensive red wines, while just a few miles farther, the Maconnais region makes chardonnay wines. Charolles, to the northwest, gives its name to the best French beef cattle—the white Charolais, raised in the pastures surrounding the town. Superb cheeses are close at hand, too: fourme d'ambert, cantal, and st-nectaire from the Auvergne, southwest of Lyon; st-marcellin, rumored to have been King Louis XI's favorite, from the Isere to the southeast.

We came to Lyon so we could dine at a bouchon. Bouchons are bistros of a sort, but with more limited menus. Their décor tends to be modest to the point of austerity. Some have paper tablecloths, and some don't change the cutlery between courses—and the food served in bouchons is almost always based on humble ingredients. The majority of these establishments are family-run, and most of the chefs are women—the spiritual descendants of Mere Brazier, Mere Fillioux, Tante Paulette, and other female master chefs who contributed so much to the glory of Lyonnais gastronomy earlier this century. Bouchon prices are always reasonable too.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is illuminated at night on top of the hill.

Most of the best bouchons are clustered near Lyon's City Hall, in the middle of the Presqu'Île, the three-mile-long peninsula, bordered on one side by the Rhone and on the other by the Saone, that extends through the middle of the city, which is where Café Comptoir Abel is located.

Café Comptoir Abel is one of the oldest, most authentic bouchons in Lyon. The bistro tables and chairs wear a patina of age, and the original wooden paneling and bric-a-brac make this bouchon a place that’s not to be missed. Hidden away near the quays of the river Saône, this bouchon has been an institution in the city since 1928. Chef Alain Vigneron has worked in the restaurant since 1976, and has been in charge of the kitchens for last 16 years.

Café Comptoir Abel

We were seated at a wood table without table cloth or placemats and to keep out experience authentic, we ordered a red wine from the Beaujolais village of Villié-Morgon.

Olivier Depardon Beaujolais

For starter, Shirley chose a green bean salad that included the bottom of an artichoke, some greens and peas.

Fond d'Artichaut en Haricots Verts

I chose the salade gourmande which consisted of green beans, diced artichoke bottom, sliced mushrooms, peas and foie gras.

Salade Gourmande

For my main course, I chose one of the signature dishes of chicken with a morel mushroom cream sauce. It was really good!

Le Fameux Poulet aux Morilles a la Creme

Shirley chose another signature dish of quenelles de brochet that was served with the same delicious morel mushroom cream sauce. Quenelles de Brochet is a large Pike dumpling that is finished under the broiler. It was very light and didn't taste fishy at all.

Quenelles de Brochet en Gratin Maison

Although my chicken came with rice, we couldn't resist ordering a side dish of gratin Dauphinois. Gratin Dauphinois is a traditional regional dish consisting of potatoes and crème fraîche, from the Dauphiné region

Gratin Dauphinois

The morel mushroom cream sauce was so good, we asked for a little more.

Supplement de Sauce aux Morilles

Chicken with Morel Mushroom Sauce with Rice Pilaf

The dessert menu was written on a slate black board.

Dessert Chalkboard

Café Comptoir Abel Bar

Café Comptoir Abel

I chose the Fondant au Chocolat with both ice cream and Crème Anglaise. It was literally a slab of melting chocolate with ice cream and Crème Anglaise. I could only eat a couple of bites after the other rich food.

Fondant au Chocolat with Ice Cream and Crème Anglaise

Shirley went with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Chocolate Sauce

Entrance to Café Comptoir Abel

If your travels take you to Lyon, the Hôtel des Artistes is a very reasonably priced 3 Star hotel in the center of Lyon on the Presqu'Île, near the Saone River.

Our Hotel

We were treated to the view of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière seen below as we walked out of the hotel before we headed to the airport to begin our trip back to San Francisco.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Morning Light

Café Comptoir Abel
25 Rue Guynemer
69002 Lyon
Tel: +33 4 78 37 46 18

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Jilian's birthday party at our house in Sablet

I mentioned in several posts, that we were the happy beneficiaries of a visit this summer from daughter Stephanie, husband Earl, and grandchildren Dylan, Madison and Jilian. This followed on the heels of a visit a year earlier of daughter Tricia, husband Alvin and grandchildren Avery and Caedon.

One of the fun coincidences of the visit was that the 3rd birthday of little Jilian occurred while we were in Sablet together. So we planned a special meal and invited friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of Café des Sports, to come celebrate with us.

Granddaughter Jilian on her birthday

Grandchildren Madison, Jilian, and Dylan in Sablet

Jilian blows out the candles on her lemon tart

Sylvie and Bruno

Jilian and her mom Stephanie

Jilian loved being the center of attention and was all smiles throughout the evening. Her happiness is infectious and we enjoyed a special evening with our wonderful friends and family.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fishing at the Lake of Sablet

This summer, daughter Stephanie and family spent several weeks visiting us in Sablet. Her husband Earl and son Dylan love to fish together and hoped to fish while they were in Provence. Since I don't fish, I didn't know where to go, whether or not permits are required or where to get tackle and bait.

Sablet from the road to Séguret

I know a lot about Sablet and the Northern Vaucluse, but didn't have a clue about fishing. A couple days after we arrived, it was granddaughter Jilian's third birthday and friends Bruno and Sylvie, the owners of the Café des Sports, came to celebrate with us. They arrived with packages for all three kids including a rod and reel, and tackle box for Dylan.

Sign for Sablet

We have learned over the years that Bruno is a fountain of information about the area and he knew fishing permits are sold at the Vaison-la-Romaine Tourist Office, where to get live bait, and surprisingly, that there is a lake in Sablet where you can fish. Who knew?

Lake of Sablet

The Lake of Sablet, also known as the Etang des Jardins, is located between Sablet and Rasteau off the D69. The lake is divided into two parts and has a surface area of almost 14 acres. The depth ranges from 6 to 9 feet.

Lake of Sablet

Several sites devoted to fishing on the web indicate the Lake of Sablet is populated with Black Bass, Perch and Trout.

Grandson Dylan fishing at the Lake of Sablet

Earl, Dylan and I got to the Lake early in the morning and we watched as Dylan cast from the shore at several places around the lake. We hadn't picked up worms yet so Dylan baited his hook with grasshoppers he caught in tall grass. He had several bites on grasshoppers but none on the hook so we went home empty handed.

Grandson Dylan

Dylan didn't catch anything that day but he did catch 3 good size fish in the Ouvèze River a couple days later below the Roman bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine. Dylan would be happy to fish every day so next time he comes back to Sablet, I am sure we will return to the Lake of Sablet to try our luck again.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sunflower fields are special places of beauty in Provence, worth seeking out!

Friday, July 21, and we were on the road to find a good vantage point to watch the Tour de France near Lauris. As we drove toward the town of Orange to get on the A-7 autoroute, we came upon a huge field of sunflowers. There is nothing Shirley likes more than sunflowers, except maybe a field of purple lavender or red poppies, so we stopped for photos.

You may not be aware that despite the fact that you find postcards, photos and paintings of sunflowers all over Provence, they are actually native to the Americas. Sunflowers seeds were brought to Europe by Spaniards in the 16th century where sunflower oil became a widespread cooking ingredient.

Sunflowers, tournesol in French, 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 generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to the end of July with harvest occurring at the beginning of August.

Sunflower field near Violès

When we come upon a beautiful field of flowers (sunflowers, lavender or red poppies) that are in peak season and facing the road, it is mandatory that we stop and Shirley and whoever is traveling with us run into the field and pose for pictures.

Daughter Stephanie and Shirley

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 a day; once mature the movements stop.

Sunflower field near Violès

You may not know that the Jerusalem artichoke also called sunchoke and topinambour, is a type of sunflower. It is cultivated widely across the temperate zone for its tuber, which is used as a root vegetable and delicious roasted or in soup.

More of the sunflower field near Violès

It's hard not to fall in love with a field of sunflowers: they give off a sense of happiness, like suns shining on a perfect summer day.

Sunflower field near Violès

I have read that the most beautiful sunflower fields in the world are in Tuscany. I have not seen those fields but until I do, I will continue to believe there are none more beautiful than the sunflower fields of Provence.

The family

If you are in Provence during July, make sure you stop and get a picture or two of yourself in one of the sunflower fields you will surely pass by. For me, I continue to look for a place where sunflowers and lavender grow next to each other so I can take one of those only on a postcard shots to share with you.