Saturday, February 25, 2017

A visit to Cairanne and lunch at Le Tourne au Verre Restaurant

As I have told you previously, we were in Sablet last fall with our Michigan friends Steve and Mary. The wines of Cairanne have recently been elevated to cru status—placing them in the same category as those of Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (though they cost far less).

Our friends had not tasted in Cairanne so we headed there one morning to explore the village and taste the wines. Cairanne is an old village set in the heart of wine country, on the D8 road crossing the broad Aigues River valley, northeast of Orange and 8 kms west of Sablet.

The oldest part of the village seen below sits on a low hilltop with a magnificent view out across the broad landscape of fields and vineyards, with views of other tiny villages scattered out in the distance. The old village is beautifully restored, keeping the feeling of when the Knights Hospitalers lived here in the 12th century. Only some of the walls remain from the days of the Knights.

The newer part of Cairanne which includes a few shops, the Town Hall, and school sits below the old village on the top of the hill.


Cairanne church

Cairanne defensive wall and tower

The Saint Roch Chapel, built into the old wall besides the Autanne Gate seen below was constructed in 1726 at the end of an epidemic of plague that spared Cairanne. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Roch the patron saint of plagues.

Autanne Gate

The ancient bell tower seen below belonged to the Knights Hospitalers. It dates from the 11th century. The building houses a wine museum. It is the oldest building in the village. The door was built at a height that was only accessible by ladder.

Ancient tower of the Templar Hospitaliers

The restaurant Le Tourne au Verre is in a strategic location in the center of new Cairanne on Route de Sainte Cécile which is where we headed for lunch. Le Tourne au Verre is a restaurant wine bar with a terrace shaded with 100 year old Sycamores for outdoor dining and a large bar where lunch is served and an adjoining dining room.

Le Tourne au Verre Restaurant

The menu changes daily and is presented on a blackboard. There are three choices for starters, main course and dessert. We chose the three course option for 17€, about 18 USD. Diners can also get one course for 14€ or two courses for 15.50€. Prices are higher at dinner.

The restaurant offers over 350 selections of wine by the bottle representing all of the terroirs of the region and over 30 choices of wine by the glass.

Shirley seated at the table while we make up our minds about what to order

For our first course we chose the pepper terrine with aioli sauce with greens and

Pepper terrine with aioli sauce with greens

the beet and chopped egg salad.

Beet and chopped egg salad with greens

For main courses, we chose the fresh tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauce

Fresh tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauce

and the Charolais beef fillet with frites. This dish had a supplemental charge of 4.50€.

Charolais beef with frites

For dessert we chose the chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse

and the prune tart

Prune tart

and finally the apple clafoutis.

Apple clafoutis

This is simple cooking using locally sourced and seasonal products. Le Tourne au Verre Restaurant provides excellent value in terms of food quality, portions and presentation for the very reasonable price charged for the menu.

As a result, reservations are strongly recommended as the dining rooms fills rapidly. I have called to make reservations on short notice a number of times and heard the words "nous sommes complets" (translated we are fully booked).

Le Tourne au Verre
5 Route de Carpentras
84290 Cairanne
Tel: 04 90 30 72 18

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Le Poème de Grignan Restaurant, a worthwhile trip through the Drôme Provençale

We have been to Grignan in the Drôme Provençale several times, an area that falls between the Rhône River and the Alps north of the Vaucluse. So when we were in Sablet last fall with friends Steve and Mary, we took a day trip to Grignan and ate lunch at Le Poème de Grignan, one of our favorite restaurants.

We drove past olive groves and fields with row after row of lavender which a few months earlier must have been a sea of purple and buzzing honey bees. Grignan sits on a large rocky peak crowned by a huge castle, formerly owned by Adhémar de Monteil.

The defensive walls of Grignan were built in the 13th century. The circular protective wall included a dozen defensive towers and six gates. The Tricot tower seen below, also known as the belfry, with its arched passageway through the wall was extended upward in 1600 so the first public clock could be installed.

Tricot tower or belfry

The fountain seen below was built in 1840 at Place de l'Horloge. The statue of Madame de Sévigné was added in 1857.

Grignan became renowned in France during the 17th century when Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné, a French aristocrat, famous for writing letters, wrote about Grignan and the surrounding area in her letters; Most were written to her daughter Françoise, who was married to François Adhémar de Monteil, Comte (Count) de Grignan.

Madame de Sévigné caught a "fever" and died in April 1696 at Grignan and is buried in the Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church. She is revered in France as one of the great icons of French literature.

Place de l'Horloge

The medieval village is a labyrinth of picturesque, winding cobblestone streets and shaded squares.

Grignan street

In the middle ages, Le Four Banal (The communal bake house) indicated that it belonged to the local lord and that there was an obligation to pay a fee for baking, called "vingtain" or twentieth part removed when the bread was baked. The bake house was abandoned at the French Revolution and transformed into a house in the 19th century. It then fell partially into ruin in the 20th century.

Le Four Banal (The communal bake house)

Le Poème de Grignan is in an old village house on a narrow street in the historic center of Grignan. We originally found the restaurant in the 2012 Michelin Guide to Bonne Petite Tables, a listing of restaurants awarded a "Bib Gourmand" for being a "pleasurable" restaurant.

Le Poème de Grignan Restaurant

We opened the restaurant door and walked down the steps into a small dining room with maximum capacity for 22 diners seen below. The restaurant is owned by Valerie Dodane who greets you and serves in the dining room and her husband Hervé who does all the cooking. They have been in business for 17 years.

Le Poème de Grignan Dining Room

We started off with a house aperitif of blackberries and wine that we enjoyed with an amuse bouche consisting of asparagus cream topped with black olive, green olive, and sun-dried tomato tapenade. It was accompanied by a tasty parmesan cheese cracker.

Amuse Bouche and House Aperitif

We chose a red wine off the wine list from Domaine des Auzières Roaix, a winery located in Roaix which is just 7 km north of our home in Sablet.

Domaine des Auzières Roaix

We all elected to go with a three course menu consisting of a starter, either Gambas with prosciutto and tomato soup seen below

Gambas (shrimp) with prosciutto and tomato soup

or a Tomato goat cheese tart with tomato soup.

Tomato goat cheese tart with tomato soup

For main course, we had a choice of Grilled rumsteak with puree of celery root and pumpkin, fresh vegetables and a red wine sauce seen below

Grilled rumsteak with puree of celery root and pumpkin, fresh vegetables and a red wine sauce

of Grilled Scottish salmon with potatoes and ratatouille and beurre blance sauce.

Grilled Scottish salmon with potatoes and ratatouille and beurre blanc sauce

To finish, we had a choice of a Fig and pear phyllo dough purse with vanilla ice cream seen below

Fig and pear phyllo dough purse with vanilla ice cream

or Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and red fruit seen below.

Profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and red fruit

This was a wonderful meal. A couple things, you should make reservations, as I said the dining room is quite small, and don't go if you are in a hurry. The meal takes place at a leisurely pace because Valerie and Hervé work alone. The food and service are great and worth the 40 minute trip from Sablet.

Le Poème de Grignan Restaurant
Rue Saint Louis
26230 Grignan
Tel: 04 75 91 10 90

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Visit to Charming Villedieu and Pizza at Maison Bleue

One of our favorite villages near Sablet is Villedieu, a small village (population 514) built on a hill overlooking vineyards, olive groves and pine trees near the Eygues River on the border of the Drôme Provençale. Villedieu is located about 7 1/2 miles northwest of Sablet in the direction you would take if you were headed to Nyons.

Villedieu village

In the center of Villedieu is a square, with a fountain and plane trees, called Place de la Liberation. The Mairie (town hall), a café, a crêperie, and an excellent pizzaria called La Maison Bleue are situated on the sides of the square.

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

Place de la Liberation

Villedieu dates back to medieval times when the village was a Commandery of 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 stroll around the village.

Arched entry into center of Villedieu

The village walls are over 32 feet tall. Restored at different times, there are three majestic gates off Place de la Liberation. The middle gate seen below is topped by a belfry with a clock on the face which dates from the 12th century. On the arch is the papal coat of arms, the only authentic papal coat of arms still in place in the Vaucluse.

14th century town gate

Villedieu street with Saint Michel Church donjon in background

In the heart of Villedieu is Saint Michel Church with a 60 foot tall donjon (keep) and bell tower built on the nave of the church. At the top of the bell tower, there are three openings, each with a bell. The church is Romanesque and dates from the 10th and 12th centuries with later additions.

12th century Saint Michel Church

The oldest known relics (flint tools and weapons) discovered in Villedieu date the first settlement back to the Palaeolithic age. They say the odds are high that Villedieu was originally a Gallo-Roman villa near Vasio (Vaison La Romaine) bearing the name Villa Dei. There is no written account of the origin of its name, but probably, Villedieu, comes from the Latin "villa", which means country house and "dei" which means god.

14th century town gate

Villedieu became part of the "Comtat Venaissin" and annexed to France in 1791.

Villedieu street with chateau tower in distance

One of the great things about Villedieu is that although it is quite well known to locals, it is largely undiscovered by tourists as there is no mention of the village in the Michelin Green Guide and just one sentence in Rick Steve's infamous blue book about Provence.

Villedieu defensive wall

Statue in alcove on corner of building

Although we think Villedieu is a charming village, we go to Villedieu to eat at La Maison Bleue, a pizzaria owned by chef Daniel Roger. From a small kitchen with a large pizza oven he built, he turns out a variety of salads, large enough to share, and pizzas with a variety of toppings on dough that is perfectly blistered by the pizza oven. He also offers pastas and other specials. During the summer, he offers a selection of grilled meats.

Grandson Caedon next to defensive walls with Villedieu coat of arms and sign which reads "Don't Irritate the Lion

We have become friends with Chef Daniel as we go frequently to Maison Bleue during the months the restaurant is open. March, April, May, June, September and October, Maison Bleue is open for lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday. July and August, the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

La Maison Bleue Restaurant

We really like the large salads offered at Maison Bleue. Two in particular. The first is a salad called La Montagnard, with greens, a whole roasted Camembert cheese topped with tomatoes and pine nuts. Slices of toasted bread accompanies the salad; wonderful for spreading with the warm, oozing cheese.

Our other favorite salad is La Campagnard salad seen below, with greens, toasted wheat bread spread with chèvre cheese, toasted pine nuts, honey and herbs de Provence.

La Campagnard Salad

Pizza's are quite large so we usually end up sharing, That evening we shared one of our favorite pizza, a thin-crusted round pizza called l'Indigo, which is covered with tomato sauce and topped with mozzarella, chèvre, Roquefort, and herbs de Provence.

L'Indigo Pizza

We finished our meal by sharing a trilogy of ice creams; pistachio, coffee and chocolate. A perfect way to end a meal at Maison Bleue.

Trio of ice creams

Granddaughter Avery next to defensive walls with Villedieu coat of arms and sign which reads "Don't Irritate the Lion"

If you are in Sablet or the surrounding area between March and October, and looking for a tasty but simple meal, we highly recommend La Maison Bleue in Villedieu. Reservations are strongly recommended, especially during warm weather when Place de la Liberation becomes a grand terrace shared by the café and 2 restaurants.

Sitting under the plane trees with family and friends on the square during a spring, summer or early fall evening is a magical experience and makes the food and wine taste extra good.

La Maison Bleue
Place de la Libération
84110 Villedieu
Tel: +33 4 90 28 97 02