Tuesday, September 14th
We departed Maillane for Les Baux which is a short drive to the south. The view along the way was very scenic with orchards, vegetable farms and cattle crazing in the pastures. As we grew nearer to Les Baux we found ourselves winding upward in a dense forest gradually leading to the breathtaking lime stone cliffs this area is known for. Thousands of years ago, the hillsides directly outside of Les Baux, were used by the Romans to quarry lime stone used as building material. As a result there are large square voids left in the cliff faces everywhere you look where stone cutters had removed enormous quantities of the easily cut white stone. There are also naturally formed caves where people once lived throughout that are the source of many a medevil tail.
The town itself is situated on top of the highest of these cliffs and is an impressive site from anywhere in the valley. We found a spot to park and were sure not to get too close to anything behind us as not to repeat last night’s fiasco.
Our first item of business was to locate the restaurant recommended in our guide book. We worked our way through the narrow streets not having much luck finding our destination. Finally I asked a shopkeeper who informed me the place we were looking for was actually outside the city nearer the valley floor. So much for today’s well thought out plan. Once again, we found ourselves playing pot luck with our next meal. This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but when you plan an entire trip around the cuisine of a certain area for the purposes of finding inspiring dishes to bring home it can really put a damper on your mission if you choose poorly.
We found a small quaint spot right outside the ruins and attempted to decipher the menu. It was at this point we realized our choice may not have been the best. The menu was hand written which usually indicates it changes regularly, but in this case it didn’t seem likely since each page was tattered with age even though it was protected inside a plastic covering. There were also yellow sticky notes stuck here and there with additional menu items listed but when we tried to order the Brochettes on one of them we were informed they were out. Seriously, all you have to do is peel the sticky note from the page and we would have never known it to be a possibility. We decided to just order a platter of traditional appetizers for the table and move on to another more promising spot.
Our appetizers consisted of stuffed zucchini, eggplant and tomato, cold stewed eggplant, ratatouille, melon wrapped in cured jambon and a green salad. Everything was actually very good and other than being a bit repetitive with the meat used to stuff the various vegetables we enjoyed it very much. The service was also very good which was encouraging. Onward we searched for another spot to finish our meal. We found a brasserie that looked promising and had a nice view of the valley below. We started with a bottle of Mas de la Dame Rose. Wendy ordered the plat du jour which was filet de Bar (a mild white fish) served over quinoa w/ brown beans. Katy had a salad w/ breaded and fried goat cheese. Kirby and I both had a salad course before our entrees. Mine was fois gras with a sweet onion compote over mixed greens and Kirby had what ended up being raw duck breast over mixed greens with a cilantro chili vinaigrette. Both were great, with the raw duck surprising all of us. For our main course Kirby chose the veal cutlet and I decided on the steak. Both of our entrees were accompanied by au gratin potatoes and a baked stuffed tomato. We enjoyed all of our dishes and the service was again prompt. We all agreed that things seemed to be back on course.
We decided to take a quick history lesson and tour the castle ruins that are perched on the cliff above where we dined. We actually learned a few things and got some amazing photos of the surrounding countryside and bleached rock formations.
With one of the most two important events of the day (lunch) behind us we departed Les Baux to find some wineries in the valley bellow. Our first find came in the form of a road side stand positioned in an olive grove with a friendly French woman in a straw Fedora hat. She was representing her family’s wine, olive oil and honey under the name Mas de la Beruguette. We tasted a bit of everything and purchased a bottle of wine and olive oil to take home. The honey was not to my liking as it had a distinct flavor of the way pigeon poop smells. I am of course an expert on pigeon poop after discarding mounds of it to prepare 2017 Chouteau for construction five years ago.
Next stop was the Sainte Berthe winery right down the road. We tasted five different wines, perused the merchandise and purchased a few items to take along with us. Before departing the tasting room I found two tins of fois gras that were bigger than my head, which is pretty big. I really wanted to buy one to bring home but Wendy talked some sense into me and I settled for a photo instead. As we were ready to get back in the car Katy noticed the vineyards beyond the tasting room. She had never actually been in a vineyard so this made the perfect photo op.
We were heading back toward St. Remy de Provence and Maillane when low and behold a familiar name we knew well from several of our dining excursions appeared out of nowhere, Mas de la Dame a well known winery in the area. There were several other visitors in the tasting room with a group from Minnesota that really wanted us to know that they were from Minnesota. Our new found friends from Minnesota took several pictures of each other, of us and of everything the camera would focus on during the next 7 minutes. With their accents still ringing in our ears we made a feeble attempt at ordering our tasting in French as to distance ourselves from our native counterparts. By the way, did I mention they were from Minnesota? After several tastes we settled on a few bottles, one of which was for Scotty who has an affection for Grenach, Syrah and Mouvedre blends.
We decided to take it easy once we got back to the villa so I opened a bottle of Chauteau de Fontreuse Blanc to help get the creative juices flowing for the blog. Katy was just a glued to her computer as I was and I couldn’t let her get the best of me even though her picture posting skills were far superior. I finished day priors blog and it was time to get ready for dinner.
Our dinner tonight was the best so far. We dined at Alain Assaud which Kirby thought should be pronounced Alain “Ass Wad”. It was a beautifully restored dining room which could accommodate about 36 guests but tonight filled all the tables with a mere 18 due to several parties of two taking larger tables. This restaurant was a Provencal classic offering two three course plate du jour options with three choices within in each course. For starters we chose a Seafood Soup comprised of mussels, crab and calamari in a rich fish stock, Eggplant Flan w/ tomato coulis, olive oil and chiffoinade of fresh basil, classic Foie Gras served cold with lettuce and crusty bread and a braised sausage dish that came in the shape of a meatball. The soup was ridiculously good with whole marsh crabs and mussels in a fish broth that would rival that of what we had in Cassis. The eggplant flan was bland and our least favorite. The sausage meat ball had a consistency of blood sausage but with a much milder flavor. Although the soup took first place the foie gras was a close second and must have been at least a six ounce portion which in the grand scheme of things was too much for us to consume. Don’t get me wrong we managed to polish it off with little effort, but we would pay for this later.
Our main courses consisted of Duck Confit served with potatoes and fresh vegetables in a duck broth, Braised Ox Tail w/ natural jus and red wine reduction, Roasted Pigeon w/whole shallots, natural jus and vinegar and Le Loup (sea bass) in mariniere> Kirby and Wendy favored the duck more than I for its tender salty goodness. I felt the flavor had been diluted a bit with the unseasoned vegetables that had been added to the braising liquid. We all agree that the Ox Tail was our favorite. The portion served was in the shape and size of a large orange and from what I could tell was the first vertebra on the tail which would be the largest and most meaty. It was slow braised to perfection and the jus was out of control. The sea bass came in second for its freshness but the sauce mariniere really made the dish. It was perfectly prepared with a light buttery flavor that complimented the fish perfectly.
It was at this point that Kirby and I hit the wall. We were stuffed to the gills and could go no further. It was not quantity that held us back but the sheer richness of each dish presented. Our last course consisted of two cheeses, Roquefort and fresh Goat, apple tart and a pineapple napoleon. Like I said, Kirby and I had hit a wall so we left it to Wendy and Katy to finish. Their account of each dish was positive but beyond that I can give no more description.
Our drive home was absolutely miserable and Kirby and I vowed to not eat anything the next day until dinner. We were heading for the market in St. Remy in the morning to purchase food for our very own Provencal feast that we were going to prepare in the villa.