Provence - Days Three and Four
Beginning a new format for the blog today. Virginia has not had an opportunity to add her share of insights and observations to my jottings so, from today we will be adding some "She said" sections so that all points of view can be represented.
Weather forecast has been predicting rain for most of the next week so our day in Cassis may have been our only chance for sun in Provence. We drove into Aix-en-Provence and were very pleasantly surprised to find the Cours Mirabeau thronged with people in the midst of the Thursday morning market. The last time we here the whole street, one of the most beautiful in Europe, was under construction and being torn up and so it was wonderful to see it back to its usual self.
Wandered around the markets and stopped for lunch at a small bistro, on the sidewalk but under the awning and away from the drizzle. There were andouilettes, one of my favourite rustic dishes in France, on the menu and with a glass of beer, a very good lunch. Picture-taking at low ebb, overcast and drizzly with flat light and not particularly inspired to shoot anything.
Had dinner at a well-reviewed restaurant La Petit Maison de Cucuron which we had been told not to miss. I had the four course tasting menu, while V had the three course. The highlight was my entree, big bowl of fresh morels, lightly cooked intermingled with thin ribbons of asparagus for contrast. For my fish, a wonderful little piece of turbot on a bed of pureed fresh peas and my plat was ris de veau in puff pastry.
Desserts were equally wonderful and as we were getting up to leave at about 10:30, the chef presented us with what I thought was a little espresso cup of coffee which I was attempting to refuse since I was afraid of not being able to sleep, when he pointed out that it was a little caramel panna cotta made to look like an espresso for the surprise. Great finish to a very enjoyable meal.
It was an evening of culinary theatre; the restaurant seated 24 people and all reservations were for 20:00. The chef met everyone and took orders, since his work had all been done in the leadup to the meal. He disappeared periodically to keep the kitchen on track but was present for most of the meal to serve, pour and discuss. The courses were served to everyone at the same time and it really did feel like a 3 or 4 act play. There were continuing little surprises and amuses as the meal progressed, and in the end it could equally well have been judged by a drama critic as by a food reviewer. Very enjoyable.
Friday it really did rain and, wrapped in our raincoats, we spent the morning wandering around the very large market in Lourmarin, a really pretty little town about 15k away. Lunch in a very pleasant little brasserie in the town centre, L'Insolite and then an hour's drive over the mountains to Apt, the crystallized fruit capital of the world. My father loved crystallized apricots and plums so I come by my passion honestly. Whenever we are in this area, one of the stops is always Apt for the fruit and I know my dad would approve. Bought a box of candied apricots and a kilo of crystallized plums in the sure and certain knowledge that they will not ever pass muster on my low GI diet, but it was as much as anything, an act of nostalgia.
One of the things that has been most noticeable about spring in this part of the world is the ubiquity of wisteria, and at this time of year all in exuberant bloom. We love wisteria but have had no success growing it, so it has been a real pleasure to see it growing widely throughout the area and even more overwhelming, to see masses of deep purple flowers everywhere. Driving to Lourmarin today we passed a spectacular wisteria, growing as a tree, that we have been passing and wanting to photograph. Today, in spite of the rain, we stopped to shoot it because the light was stunning against a moody, black rainy sky. The shot needs work but I like it and don't imagine that I will have the chance to see a more perfect specimen.
Dinner was in La Cloiserie in Ansouis, another in the long list of very pretty little towns in the area. The name of the restaurant in the blog is a link to their site, do visit. There is a video of the restaurant kitchen in action on their site and its really fun to see a working chef at the top of his game.
We started with an amuse of a little pot of warm asparagus soup with a small dice of toasted fois gras floating on top and my entree was a little cloud of whipped chevre with a few splashes of pureed vegatbles, the pureed artichoke being the absolute best; my plat was roasted monkfish wrapped in a skin of crispy pancetta. We enjoyed the restaurant so well, small modern and very pretty, so that we made a reservation to return on Monday evening.
Virginia said: It really is too bad the weather is so awful, rainy and cold, because this truly is a beautiful part of the world. Gerry has mentioned the wisteria, but many of the orchards that surround us are also in bloom (although the rain has knocked off most of the flowers), and there are fields of yellow canola, spectacular iris and the lilacs just coming in to bloom. For reasons that elude us, the GPS is determined to send us everywhere by very circuitous routes, "she" never wants us to actually follow the signs but instead wants us to see the countryside. This is a bit of a mixed blessing...we have discovered a glorious field of poppies, a lovely old working windmill and have driven through the middle of innumerable vineyards, all sprouting infinitesimal new baby leaves on gnarled old wood. The downside is that we occasionally encounter farm vehicles on our shared narrow road and have had to back up until there was a place where we could pull over. Fortunately, we switched our original rental car for a tiny Peugeot, anything bigger would present all kinds of difficulties. The drive into our hamlet and house is exactly the width of the car and involves a couple of sharp turns, it is always an adventure!!