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Bouillibaise Recipe

Date: February 25th, 2012; By: Stacey


Bouillabaisse Broth

3 onions, sliced
3 heads fennel, sliced
20 roma tomatoes, roasted
1 cup orange zest
1 bottle of pernod
2 ounces saffron
4 bay leaves
4 quarts water
8 ounces of lobster stock

In a large stock pot, sauté onions and fennel until soft. Deglaze with pernod. Add tomatoes, saffron, orange zest, bay leaves, water and lobster base. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 30 minutes.


3 loaves of day-old bread, crust removed
Skim milk to cover
3 roasted red peppers
1 cup whole garlic
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak bread in milk overnight. Squeeze out milk and place bread in food processor with peppers, garlic and Tabasco. Slowly add olive oil to mixture until a smooth paste has formed.


2 ounces swordfish
2 ounces turbot
2 ounces sole
2 ounces corvina
½ cup yellow onion, sliced
½ cup fennel, sliced
8 ounces bouillabaisse broth
3 ounces pernod
¼ cup tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon tarragon
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ounce rouille
3 crostini for each bowl

In a large pan, sauté fish, onions and fennel. Deglaze with pernod. Add broth, tomatoes, tarragon, butter and salt and pepper. Boil until fish is cooked. Pour into serving bowls. Place crostini on top of bouillabaisse.


Spring Menu 2011

Date: May 3rd, 2011; By: Marion

Executive Sous Chef, Kirby Jones has released the Spring Menu for 2011! Here is a peek of our new menu items and be sure to join us to try these delicious new additions!

Savory Crepes
To Share

tomato-white wine butter
parsley  coulis
Chicken & Spinach
mushrooms & parmesan cream 
Prime Rib
peppers, onions & horseradish cream

Soups & Greens

Red & Green Leaf bacon, apples, shaved red onion,
cotswold & GPM buttermilk dressing
Baby Spinach strawberries, mango, bleu cheese,
candied pecans & white balsamic vinaigrette  
Roquette Salad roasted red peppers & mushrooms,
quinoa, goat cheese & raspberry vinaigrette   

By Land

 Pecan Encrusted Fried Quail
& greens w/ shaved red onion & GPM buttermilk dressing  quail


12 oz pork chop w/ mango salsa & seasonal vegetable

Pan Roasted Bone-In Chicken Breast
w/ wild mushroom-white wine demi glace
 & seasonal vegetable

Duck Confit savory strawberry compote
& roquette w/ apples, red onions & citrus vinaigrette 

By Sea

Grilled Versailles, Missouri Trout 
quinoa, ratatouille & roasted red pepper oil

Seared Grouper
brussels sprouts-apple-bacon slaw & parsley coulis

By Garden

Stuffed Tomato
quinoa, asparagus, spinach, parmesan



Lyon and our Last Supper

Date: September 24th, 2010; By: PAUL

Saturday, September 18th

We departed the villa early on our way to Lyon.  It was our last day in France.  Kirby and Katy would be flying home in the morning and Wendy and I were heading to London for a few days to visit her niece Brandy and her husband Asthika.  We had two more stops on our way, the first a town named Uzes and the second, one of the most famous wine producing towns in France, Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  We realized on our way to Uzes that it was very close to the Pont du Gard where we had been the day before.  Once we arrived in the heart of this gem of a town we thought about how much more we would have enjoyed our previous day if this stop would have been part of the agenda.  Then we realized we were in the midst of yet another market day which as mentioned previously changes everything about the character and feel of a French town usually for the better.  Had we visited the day before we would have missed out on what ended up being an even more impressive market than that of St. Remy.  Market or not, this town was cool both from an architectural and commercial standpoint.  Not too big but not too small, Wendy should have died her hair gold because she thought it was just right.

While the ladies made a last minute shopping spree, Kirby and I stopped at a café for some early morning espresso.  Luckily, Wendy found another suit case for all the wine I purchased so I certainly can’t complain about her bargain hunting.  It was still too early for lunch so we departed Uzes and headed toward Chateaunuf-du-Pape which was about 45 minutes away.  We arrived just after noon and decided to find a lunch spot before visiting the local wine makers for a few tastes.

Unfortunately, there were only a few options for lunch on Saturday so we based our decision on the spot which appeared to be serving the most locals.  It turned out to be a decent choice, nothing fancy but good.  Kirby had an omelet, Katy ordered a salad and I went for a light plat du jour option, steak and frites.  After lunch we tasted wine from two different producers, La Crau De Ma Mere and Domaine Durieu.  Of course I bought a bottle from each one which brings me to the subject of wine tasting etiquette and the dilemma it can cause when traveling abroad.

In my world the most enjoyable way to taste wine is to drive aimlessly through a wine region and stop at unfamiliar wineries that offer tastings and sales.  The satisfaction in this approach is realized by the purely unbiased tasting and discovery of wines that otherwise would not have been sampled by following a guide book.  In many cases these wines will never make it to the US market due to production size or lack of distribution.  Tasting them could be looked at as a waste of time for that reason, but to me it is part of the travel experience.  More times than not, while tasting wine this way I have met the wine maker, wine makers wife, husband, daughter or grandchildren, even the their dog.  It becomes a personal experience where the wine maker’s family welcomes you into their world to share something that they are not only proud of but that sustains their very way of life.  Because of this I feel obligated to purchase at least one bottle of wine wherever I taste.  95% of the time I find something I really enjoy so the purchase becomes self-satisfying.  Even when I am not impressed, I will still purchase something out of respect for the trade and hospitality offered. 

Therein lies the rub when traveling abroad in today’s age of airline liquid carry-on restrictions and luggage weight limits.  The more wine I taste, the more I need to drink while there or pay the shipping price to bring home.  In both Italy and France I was quoted anywhere from $150 to $180 euros per case of wine to have it shipped to Missouri.  Averaging this cost at about $200 US $ per case or $16.50 per bottle it just doesn’t make sense to buy wine for shipping unless it is very rare or a must have personal favorite. That leaves the last option of transport which is to carry it back in your luggage.  I guess my point in this whole exercise is that under my rules of wine tasting, I will always be limited to sampling opportunities outside the US unless I become an importer or change my overall tasting/purchase philosophy.  On this trip we brought back 24 bottles of wine that I declared through customs but still cost over $250 in luggage fees through the airlines.  I guess when you consider the alternative shipping costs it could be looked at as a deal, but my purchases were not made out of desire as much as out of respect for the tasting tradition.  I guess the biggest lesson learned on this trip is that we should have visited Chateaunuf-du-Pape on our first day not our last because I definitely missed out on tasting some great wines there.

As we departed the village on our way to Lyon we stopped at a hilltop vineyard for some pictures.  The amazing aspect of this wine region is the absence of visible soil and the abundance of round rocks that cover every inch of the vineyard surface.  This geological condition creates a growing environment different from anywhere else in France giving this region its unique wine characteristics.  The abundance of stone not only stresses the vines from a growing standpoint, which adds character, but it also keeps them warmer than they otherwise would be at night as the heat of the day is slowing released. 

We arrived in Lyon around 4pm and slowly made our way to the historic city center were we were staying the night before our departure.  This area is basically a medieval city within a city and offers many of the same charms of a small country village.  From a dining standpoint your options here are many, but most are considered tourist traps that overcharge and under deliver.  We were staying at a very nice boutique hotel named Cour des Loges which also operates two well respected restaurants with Café-Epicerie being the more casual. 

We started our last dinner together with a bottle of Chateau Petit Bocq, 2007 Saint-Estephe.  For our appetizers we shared Stuffed Baby Squid which was actually served in a sardine tin, Classic Escargot and Shaved Cured Jambon.  The snails were our favorite and we used our bread to soak up every last drop of garlic butter from the dish.

This being our last supper, we thought it only appropriate to order another bottle of wine with our entrees.  We chose a Cotes du Rhone from Domaine Phillippe Plantevin, 2006.  Our entrees were not overly adventurous as this restaurant was known more for its grilled meats.  We had a tasty “Simmental” Steak w/hotel butter, a Free Range Pork Chop from “Limousin”, Roasted Rack of Lamb w/ rosemary and Grilled Tuna w/ sesame seeds.  Our entrees were accompanied by a large bowl of Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes to share.  The pork chop stole the show as it had not been trimmed in the traditional manner leaving all the fatty goodness still attached.  It certainly wasn’t a low fat treat but boy did it taste good.  This being the entrée Kirby ordered he got the honors of chewing on the bone which made me very jealous.

I know this will be hard to believe, but it was getting late and we actually skipped dessert.  It had been a great week of sightseeing, shopping, wine tasting and of course eating our way throughout Provence and we had finally hit the wall.  Kirby and Katy had to leave very early in the morning so we said our goodbyes, wished each other safe travels and headed to bed. 

Tomorrow we fly to London, wine and all, to visit family and explore the birthplace of Gastro Pub scene which has made its way to cities all over the US.


Our last day in Provence

Date: September 22nd, 2010; By: PAUL

Friday, September 17th

We left early for the hour trip to the Pont du Gard.  The weather was not the best and was overcast, cool and windy.  Wendy and I had visited this site before, but we wanted Kirby and Katy to see this amazing example of ancient architecture and engineering.  To describe it simply, the Pont du Gard is a 160 foot high stone aqueduct that was built by the Romans over 2000 years ago completely of cut stone using no mortar.  Ironically, it carried water from one town to another over a river of water.  I think that if they would have put the same amount of effort in figuring out how to get the water from this river to the top of the hill the modern day pump would have been invented much earlier.  After snapping several pictures and climbing to the top of the monument we decided to head to Nimes on our way to Arles.

One thing we have come to realize while traveling in Europe is that we enjoy small towns over big ones any day of the week.  What a big town may offer in culture and diversity,  a small one will overcome with charm, personality and quality local fare.  This was never more evident today as we tried to find the historic city center of Nimes.  Mind you, road construction as we entered the city played a large part in our overall experience, but in the end size does matter and after driving around in congested traffic and hordes of tattooed adolescents we decided to move on to Arles.  Call me lame and pathetic, but our time was too precious to waste on trying to find a place to park or sitting in traffic.

Unfortunately, Arles wasn’t too far off from Nimes and did not hold the charm I remembered when visiting here four years ago.  One of the main attractions of this city besides Van Gogh art is the intact Roman amphitheater in the city center that is still used today for concerts, artistic performances and the controversial spectacle of Spanish style bull fighting.  We found out earlier in the week that the last bull fight of the season had been held here the week we arrived.  I can’t say attending this event would have made our experience in Arles better, but I guarantee it would have been more memorable, good or bad.

We had a very casual lunch at a touristy brasserie that consisted of Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame sandwiches and two different types of what I believe were frozen pizza shells with sub quality toppings.  If you can’t tell, we were not having a stellar day, especially considering how awesome the day before was.  Our one saving grace was that Kirby and Katy found some cool stuffed toys for their boys.  The first being a black bull that played a Spanish bull fighting song and the second a classic Provencal cidada bug that makes an annoying cricket sound every time its squeezed.  While the presents seemed cute at the time, I guarantee they will go mysteriously missing within a few weeks of being home.

We left Arles early and made our way back to the villa to get ready for what we hoped would be a better finish to our day.  We had decided to dine at another recommendation from the St. Remy shop owner that had been on the money with our dinner from the night before.  Tonight’s destination would be La Petite Table located in Eygalieres, a small town about 15 minutes west of Maillane.  We had some extra time on our way there so we stopped at “the olive shop” in St. Remy where I bought some framboise vinaigrette and white truffle olive oil.  Katy and Wendy had read about a famous chocolate shop owned by Joel Durand, one of France’s top ten chocolatiers that ended up being across the street.  The chocolates which were made of almost exclusively ganache were artistic and tasty with a price tag to match.  This was a fantastic find and really set the stage for our evening out.  Mr. Durand hand-picked the chocolates for the ladies.

The town of Eygalieres was well manicured and at first glance appeared to be more upscale than Maillane.  There were several restaurants in and around the small town center and our dining destination was situated on a narrow street with gas fired lanterns aglow at the entrance.  The name of the restaurant could not have been more appropriate.  There were four tables indoors accommodating 14 guests and an additional 4 tables outside accommodating 12 more.  We were greeted and seated promptly at a cozy indoor table.  We ordered a bottle of red wine from Domaine Hauvette 2004 from Les Baux de Provence.  We all chose the plate du jour which offered four different appetizers and three different entrees.   The starters consisted of Grilled Shrimp with barley/legume pilaf, Morel Mushroom Soup with foie gras and poached egg, Fresh Cured Salmon Cube over red onion, chilled potato slices and candied bacon and lastly, Foie Gras Terrene with sweet tomato compote.  The mushroom soup was hands down the best, but all four dishes were excellent.

For our entrees we ordered the Grilled Steak w/ red wine natural jus, fried leeks and individual au gratin potatoes, Lamb Loin Chop and Braised Lamb Duo with olive oil whipped potatoes and root vegetables and Seared Striped Sea Bass w/ grilled green onion, red pepper beurre blanc and olive oil whipped potatoes.  Once again, all three dishes were excellent but the lamb duo edged out the others as the top dish. 

For dessert we were served Panna Cotta with fresh berries, Chocolate Soup w/ olive oil ice cream and sea salt, Berry Sorbet with homemade marshmallows and fresh fruit and a Rum Baba with crème fraiche.  We also ordered espresso and as a bonus it was accompanied by a small glass crock of chocolate mousse that was just as good as the desserts we had just finished.  We could not have created a better restaurant to have our final meal in Provence.  Small and traditional, yet trendy and experimental with ingredients with excellent service that more than made up for any missteps we experienced earlier in the week.   

We drove back to Maillane totally satisfied and grateful that our day had improved and ended so well.  Tomorrow we head to what some have dubbed the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon.  Lyon is a planetarium of Michelin stars with Paul Bocuse holding on to the handle of the big dipper.


Gordes, Roussillon and Bonnieux

Date: September 22nd, 2010; By: PAUL


Thursday, September 16th

We departed early for our first stop Gordes.  It was a quaint town with interesting art and nicely preserved architecture, but other than that, not a lot going on.  We decided to head on to Roussillon which is known for its red ocher cliffs.  On our way, we found two wineries to stop and have a degustation.   Domaine Chapelle St. Heyries right outside of Gordes and Domaine de Tara near the town of Roussillon.  The first was not our favorite, but the wine from Domaine de Tara was excellent and very reasonable.  Their dessert wine which was not a late harvest variety was excellent and I purchased two bottles to take with us.

Roussillon is very picturesque and situated on a hilltop of red and orange painted earth.  There are several notable restaurants to choose from but we had been given the recommendation of Restaurant David for lunch.  The restaurant is inside the Le Clos de la Glycine hotel and situated directly on the edge of an impressive cliff face overlooking the valley.   We started with a bottle of Domaine de la Citadelle, Viogner 2009 from Vaucluse.  It was light and crisp with good fruit.  Our waiter brought us four small clear glass bowls with a chilled tomato soup drizzled with olive oil and a bowl of fresh green olives to share.  For starters we ordered Stuffed Squash Blossoms w/tomato gazpacho, Curry Lobster Salad and Grilled Red Mullet with a bean salad.  Before our appetizers were delivered a small cup of split pea puree topped with olive oil foam was served to each of us as an amuse bouche.  It was very tasty and a nice surprise.  Our favorite of the three dishes ordered was the Curry Lobster Salad. 

We decided to split two entrée courses.  The first being Stuffed Leg of Lamb w/ barley risotto and baby chanterelle mushrooms in a red wine lamb jus.  The second was Grilled Filet of Beef with vegetables and large potato gnocchi w/ demi glace.  Both dishes were excellent, but the lamb was the pick dish of the table.  Kirby and I both agreed that a version of this dish would make it on the menu this winter at Vin de Set.

Our desserts looked like edible sculptures with one being a cut piece of crème brulee, a mango sorbet quenelle, rhubarb sauce and sesame cookie.  The other was a whimsical version of French toast with wine poached figs, fresh raspberries and raspberry sorbet.

After lunch we walked the town a bit and snapped some photos and departed for Bonnieux.  On our way we found Chateau Les Eydins and decided it was time for another tasting.  We tried several blends of red all containing different percentages of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Carignan to change the flavor profile of the cuvee produced.  I purchased a bottle of their Cuvee des Consuls and after playing catch with the vineyard guard dog we were back on the route to Bonnieux. 

Bonnieux is another quaint, hillside village with trendy shops so Kirby and I decided to take a break at the local café while Wendy and Katy did some browsing in the local boutiques.  After our break we all made our way up to the highest point in the village where an ancient church stood overlooking the surrounding countryside.  There were enormous pine trees on the church grounds that looked almost as old as the structure itself.  They made for a nice photo opportunity before heading back to the car for our drive back to the villa.  On our way back we were lured off the road by yet another winery.  This one was named Chartreuse de Bonpas which intrigued us because of the infamous green liquor bearing the same name.  It turned out to be an amazing facility housed in an ancient monastery and offering tastes of a variety of wines from other regions around France that were represented by the owner Louis Bernard.  The wine was surprisingly reasonable and I purchased a bottle of Cotes du Rhone blended with Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault.

Dinner tonight had been arranged at a trendy spot in St. Remy called Grain de Sel on the recommendation of a shop owner in town.  It turned out to be one of the most memorable of the week.  We started with a bottle of Chateau La Verrerrie 2006 a locally produced wine on the recommendation of our server.  It was a mellow and well balance red that would go with a variety of foods.  Our starter course was a sampler of nine different small plates.  Morocco Crunchy w/ Turkey, Salmon Tartare, Scallops w/ Mozzarella and Ham, Duck Parmentier, Puffy Salt Cod Puree, Vegetable and Goat Cheese Mousse, Mixed Green Salad and a Seafood Bisque.  We had no idea of the sheer quantity of this appetizer when we ordered or we would not have selected a second dish of Heirloom Tomato Tartare and Gazpacho Duo.  Everything was awesome and really set the stage for our entrees which at this point we could have probably done without.   

Our entrees included Sautéed Chicken w/ a creamy brown sauce and whipped potato quenelles and vegetables, White Wine Seafood Stew in a creamy broth, Duck Confit w/ duck fat mashed potatoes and foie gras sauce and Stuffed Lamb Tripe and Feet stewed w/ potatoes.  Katy really enjoyed her chicken, Wendy went nuts over her Duck dish and Kirby really liked his ridiculously large seafood stew.  My dish being the most adventurous was a little harder to embrace.  It was very flavorful and you could tell it was made with much care and love.  The owner was extremely excited that I ordered this traditional old school dish.  It was his wife’s grandmother’s recipe and consisted of lamb’s stomach stuffed with veal and pork and then slowly braised with the feet until tender.  I can’t say it was my favorite dish of the night, but I am glad I tried it. 

If you can believe it, we actually got dessert after all of this.  Wendy ordered a Vanilla Caramel Cake with caramel ice cream and Katy chose the Warm Chocolate Cake with molten center and white chocolate ice cream.  Kirby decided on a Peach Puree Soup w/ peach ice cream.  Katy’s cake was fantastic.  Kirby’s peach dish was ok but could have used a bit more sugar.  Wendy’s caramel cake tasted like a salt lick and we wondered if maybe the chef mistakenly used salt instead of sugar.  Kirby seemed to like it however which led us to believe that he must have been dehydrated and his body was responding by craving salt.

We rolled ourselves out the door and made our way back home to Maillane.  Tomorrow we are heading to see the Pont du Gard and then visit the ancient city of Arles.


Market Day In St. Remy and Dinner in our Villa

Date: September 16th, 2010; By: PAUL

Wednesday, September 15th

Today was market day in St. Remy de Provence which we were all excited about.  Nothing brings a town alive in France like the weekly market.  Kirby and I had decided to look at all the ingredients available to us before purchasing anything.  Then, once satisfied we had seen everything the vendors had to offer we would collaborate on our menu for that evening, double back and purchase the necessary provisions.  What I had forgotten was that the market was just as much of a bazaar as it was a place to buy food.  Wendy and Katy were of course in heaven for the first half hour as they tried on scarves and jewelry in addition to shopping for friends and family back home.  It was a beautiful day and the entire town was bustling with activity. 

Once the ladies were satisfied that they had seen all that was available from the non-edible section of the market we crossed the street to a food lover’s dream.  Breads, pastries, sausages, cheeses, spices, nuts, olives, fresh fish, poultry, wild game, produce and fruit were available in every size and shape imaginable.  There was one stand alone that had no less than 30 different varieties of dried or cured meats and sausages.  You could sample each and every one.  It was amazing.  The seafood looked as if it had been plucked right from the sea.  The eyes of the fish were plump and as clear as glass confirming freshness.  The poultry stands sold both raw and cooked birds being roasted right in front of you on a portable rotisserie.  The best part was the sliced potatoes that were piled in the drip pan below the roasting chicken.  The potatoes were being slowly cooked by the rendered fat and tasty juices from the golden brown hens.  Certainly not a low fat option but who was watching calories at a time like this. 

We tasted foie gras, tried olives, ate paella and sampled olive oil, tapenades and honey.  As the morning wore on we came to the realization that we now had to narrow down what was available and decide on our dinner menu.  Oddly enough, there were no vendors selling beef or pork.  I am assuming they left this to the local butcher which was nowhere in sight.  Not to worry however with so many other great meat options.  As an appetizer we picked two different olive mixes and a deliciously aged cow’s milk cheese that had no name listed on it and the vendor spoke no English other than the word cow.  Our salad course would be red and yellow heirloom tomatoes with fresh goat cheese marinated in olive oil and pink peppercorns.  For protein, we decided on a small leg of turkey roast that was wrapped in bacon and tied, the back half of a whole rabbit which we affectionately referred to as our rabbit booty and six head on prawns half the size of our hand.  For veggies we opted to make our own version of ratatouille with eggplant, onions, zucchini, red and yellow peppers.  Baby fingerling potatoes would serve as our starch and we chose fresh currants and blackberries for dessert. Of course we couldn’t leave the market without a fresh baguette of bread to take home with us.

Before heading to the villa we decided to grab a quick bite to eat.  We chose a café to relax and people watch.  Katy and I both had a salad and Wendy and Kirby each had a burger.  These were not your typical salads or burgers.  What else would y0u expect in France but to have two simple dishes we take for granted turned into culinary masterpieces.  I am not going to bore you with all the ingredients in each of our salads but I guarantee there were probably over 35 to 40 between the two of them.  The burgers that were delivered were more like grilled patties of steak tartare on a bun.  The meat was not ground, but instead chopped and formed together with egg, seasoning and herbs.  They were delicious.

After lunch we decided to spend a lazy day at our villa basking in the sun by the pool.  It was a sunny day and had actually gotten a little hot so this seemed like a logical thing to do since we really had not spent much time enjoying our accommodations.  After all, this was hard work and even the most professional eaters need a break from time to time.

We started preparing dinner around 5:30.  I acted as Kirby’s sous chef and prepared the vegetables, peeled the onion and garlic and interjected my two cents here and there.  Kirby seared off the turkey and rabbit hind quarters and placed them in the oven to roast.  He sautéed a chopped leak in the same pan as the rabbit, deglazed it with rose wine (we didn’t have any white} and used half of the currents to prepare a sauce for the rabbit.  He boiled the prawns in a seasoned bath and finished them in a sauté of garlic butter.

Meanwhile, I assembled the heirloom tomato salads with olive oil marinated goat cheese and pink peppercorns.   Wendy and Katy put together our appetizer plate of olives, cheese and bread.  We chose a bottle of red wine from Mas de la Dame to have with dinner and we dug in.  It was a fantastic way to end a relaxing day.  Good food, good wine and good friends. 

Tomorrow we head to Gordes, Roussillon and Bonnieux to the north east of our villa.


Les Baux and Surrounding Wineries

Date: September 15th, 2010; By: PAUL

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.


Cassis and St. Remy de Provence

Date: September 14th, 2010; By: PAUL

Monday, September 13th

We departed for Cassis in the morning for an hour and a half ride south from our Villa.  It was a beautiful day and the scenery was pleasant.  Right outside the town limits we were greeted by the welcoming site of Chateau Fontcreuse vineyard nestled on the hillside overlooking the tiny port.  The winery sign had my favorite word prominently printed under the Chateau name, “Degustation” which means tasting in French.  We had visited this same winery four years ago and I remembered the quality being very good.  This vintage did not disappoint and we purchased a bottle of white and rose to bring back to the villa.

We made a few more attempts to stop at other wineries as we meandered our way down the hill side toward our destination, but it was slightly after 12pm and the lunch “hours” had arrived and they were all closed until 3pm. 

Our first item on the agenda was to find a certified bouillabaisse restaurant to have lunch.  Only in France can you take what originated as a simple fisherman’s stew and elevate it to a status that requires certification to serve it.  The restaurant that had been recommended to us was closed so we chose another one close by which was also on the port.  Our wine selection was Domaine du Bagnol Rose from Cassis.  We ordered a seafood salad and roasted picante peppers stuffed with shredded beef to share.  Both dishes were very good with our favorite being the stuffed peppers.  For our main dish Kirby and I had, of course, the bouillabaisse which was just as I had remembered it.  The broth was rich with saffron and had an incredible depth of flavor that you could tell had been developed over a great deal of time on the stove top.  Wendy and Katy both chose a fish dish as well, Rascasse which was simply seasoned and pan fried and Dorade which was stuffed with fennel and tomatoes and baked.  Of course our favorite was the bouillabaisse followed by the Dorade.

It is at this point in the blog that I feel compelled to make an attempt to describe the incredibly slow service we received at this particular restaurant.  There is a reason I have not included the restaurant name in this post and it has everything to do with the level of service offered or lack thereof.  I know we are in France and things take time.  I also know that the culture during a meal period here is more relaxed and is meant to be a slower pace.  It took us 3 hours to complete our meal at this restaurant and mind you it was no more than three courses.  Our bouillabaisse was served 30 min before Wendy and Katy received their meals and we waited no less than 40 min after cleaning our plates to have them removed.  The bottom line is that this service was really bad and did not sit well with us considering the ghastly expensive price of our bouillabaisse which we were well aware of before chosing to dine here.  Ok, enough negativity, we were off to try and taste more wine as we departed the village.

We were able to find one more place to taste wine right outside of Cassis, Domaine du Paternel.  The wines were good and we purchased a bottle of white and rose to take home.  The drive back was uneventful and as we discussed our dinner plans, we decided to only rely on recommended restaurant options from now on.  The problem with this decision was quickly realized once we started referencing recommended establishments online and found several contradictions in quality and service in just about every restaurant we researched.  It became clear that choosing our dinner spot for tonight would be a shot in the dark so we crossed our fingers and ventured back into St. Remy de Provence for whatever target we could hit.

For an off season Monday night the restaurants were busier than expected with several of them listing signs on the door stating “complet” meaning full with guests for the evening.  There are several option to dine in St. Remy so it was not difficult to find a place for dinner.  We chose a simple spot named “Brasserie les Varietes” which was busy with what appeared to be locals.  We took this to be a good sign which was confirmed later by our tasty meal and much better French style of service.

We began our meal with a bottle of red from Mas de la Dame, Cuvee Gourmande 2007 from Les Baux.  For starters we had a duo of Mushroom and Scallops Gratinee as well as Baked Goat Cheese wrapped in phyllo seasoned with thyme and drizzled with honey.  The gratins were very good but not so inspiring.  The phyllo wrapped goat cheese was awesome and a version of this will definitely end up as an option on the Vin de Set menu.

For our main course we decided on meat since we had OD’d on seafood in Cassis.  I had a filet of beef with maitre d’ hotel butter, molded ratatouille and baked potato.  Katy chose the duo of filet of beef w/ a mushroom sauce and roast duck breast served with a shredded potato and parmesan gratin.  Wendy ordered the Daube of beef which is a classic hearty beef stew from this region and Kirby took one for the team with the Steak Tartar to see how this version compared to the one we had yesterday at lunch.  It was good but we decided the earlier version was better. 

The steaks here are traditionally cut thin, as were these, which are easy to overcook however ours were prepared medium rare as ordered.  Wendy’s Daube, pronounced ‘DoB’, which rhymes with “robe”, was excellent.  It was served with seasoned rice from the Carmargue region and we all enjoyed it thoroughly.  We have served versions of this dish several times at Vin de Set as a special in the winter months.

Parking anywhere in Europe is an adventure and I had chosen a spot to park before dinner that really didn’t fit the size of our vehicle.  As we left, I had to back very close to a sign that was directly behind the vehicle and it caused the park assist alarm to sound.  Unfortunately for us the siren got stuck and we could not silence it no matter what we did.  I stopped the car, turned off the vehicle, removed the key, etc, etc, etc.  The noise would not stop.  We drove the 10 min drive back to the villa sounding like an emergency vehicle with an inadequate siren.  Kirby and I had decided that once we arrived home we would remove the battery cables in hope that this would reset the alarm and solve the problem.  As luck would have it, as I reversed the car into our parking space at the villa, the sensor must have reset itself and our wannabe emergency vehicle fell silent.  With this latest catastrophe averted we re-capped the day for the blog and headed to bed.

Tomorrow we were off to Les Baux, a fairytale town nestled in the lime stone cliffs just south of our location.


Our first day in Provence

Date: September 13th, 2010; By: PAUL

Sunday, September 12th

In Friday’s post I mentioned how I purchased several bottles of wine under the guise of having them for dinner so I would have wine to bring home with me.  This decision turned out to be a very costly one once we arrived at the airport.  Mind you, our tickets for both Wendy and I from Rome to Lyon on Easy Jet was $140 euros.  Our luggage was 14 kilos over the Easy Jet limit so we had to pay a penalty of $155 euros.  Southwest Airlines would have a field day over here and this is one blood sucking airline that would be sure to go under as a result.  Ok, I promise this will be my last vampire reference.

We arrived in Lyon at 10:45am and proceeded to the car rental lot to retrieve a car.  We chose a car suitable for the four of us and our luggage and opted for the navigation system which got Wendy and Kirby off the hook as navigators.  Ivy will not be happy when he finds this out as he was forced to be the navigator on our trip which tends to be the recipient of abuse by the driver.

We made it to the villa by 2pm and met up with Kirby and Katy who had arrived the day before from Paris.  This villa is smaller than the one we had in Tuscany but it is very well appointed with a well manicured courtyard complete with a small pool, several sitting areas and a BBQ.  We had told Kirby to have lunch without us because of our arrival time, but Maillane, the village we are staying in, only has two restaurants and they waited over an hour to be greeted at one of them and decided to return to the villa without eating. 

With all of us hungry we decided to head to St. Remy de Provence to find substanence.   There was an art festival in town which made for a lively feel.  We chose a sidewalk café and started with a bottle of local Rose.  I recognized our server from four years ago, who at that time was working at a different establishment.  It was nice to see a familiar face so far away from home.  For lunch we shared a Charcuterie plate of mixed cured meats and pate.  Katy ordered a Salad Nicoise, Kirby tried the Croque Monsieur and Wendy and I split the Steak Tartare.  All were beautifully prepared and tasty.  Ironically, this restaurant was right across the street from where Ivy, Sarah, Wendy and I had our first version of Provencal steak tartare and this preparation was almost identical.  The main difference between this tartare and the Parisian classic is that the meat, egg, onions, capers and spices are all mixed together for you and formed into what resembled a thick center cut filet.

After lunch we perused the artwork, visited the birthplace of my idol Nostradamus and started a trend that will be sure to haunt us throughout our trip.  Kirby and I had our first absinthe tasting in Provence.  We were in the same shop that Ivy and I had tasted our first Provencal absinthe.  The owner at that time was very friendly and guided us through all the nuances of Absinthe.  As it turned out, the woman tending to the shop was his wife and was just as helpful.  We tried three different varieties and almost chose one to bring home when we found out it was a variety favored by woman due to the alcohol content.  Of course Kirby and I did an immediate about face and bought a more robust variety.   We purchased a small bottle of Verte de Fougerolles which was a mere 144 proof, perfect for manly men like ourselves.

We returned to the villa to relax, blog, shower and of course decide where we were going to have dinner.  We departed later than normal due to our late lunch and arrived at Bistrot de Marie which we had also dined at four years earlier. 

We ordered a bottle of 2007 Chateau D’Estoublon, a local red from Le Baux which was a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre and Cabernet.   We shared two appetizers of marinated sardines and fois gras de canard served cold as a pate.  The sardines were uneventful with little flavor and not something I would care to order again.  The fois gras and all of its fatty goodness didn’t disappoint and we decided this was an item we needed to purchase at the market for our villa.

For our main course we ordered Roasted Rabbit hind quarter, Sautéed Sea Scallops, Roast Leg of Lamb and Legume soup.   The lamb was good, the rabbit ok but the scallops were excellent.   The preparation was fairly simple with caramelized onions and leaks in a white wine cream sauce.  The soup was rather bland with little seasoning.

For dessert we ordered Wendy’s favorite, Panna Cotta, which Bob did not want to let her have in Italy and Crème Brulee which of course is the most obvious French dessert ever duplicated in the US.  The Panna Cotta was actually very good but the Crème Brulee was too eggy.  We returned home and decided that we would head to Cassis in the morning to give Kirby a certified French version of Bouillabaisse.    


Castillo del Lago and Assisi

Date: September 13th, 2010; By: PAUL

We woke bright and early, finished packing and met with Maurizio to tally the utility usage and settle our bill.  We asked his recommendation for towns to visit on our way back to Rome and he suggested Castillo del Lago and Assisi both of which are in Umbria.  The first town which translates to Castle by the Lake is located on the western shore of Lake Trasimeno.  It was a very nice little town where every shop keeper offering the local specialty of sausage and cheese forced you to take a sample whether you wanted it or not.  The town of course sits on top of a hill that overlooks the lake but really didn’t have any restaurants with a view of the water.  We descended the hill toward the lake and found a nice spot on the shore line to have lunch that specialized in fresh fish caught from the local waters.   

During our drive to this spot I inadvertently drove down a road that was apparently one way even though it had two lanes, one of which was apparently a designated bike path.  Wendy, being a staunch non-rule breaker, of course chastised me for this not for the accidental wrong turn but because after realizing my mistake I continued to go the wrong way in an effort to save time in reaching our destination.  It didn’t matter that there were no vehicles or bikes anywhere to be seen and the road had ample width for even large trucks to pass, I had broken an obvious rule and had to be tongue lashed for my rule breaking ways.

Once seated at our restaurant my infraction slowly turned from a life threatening experience to a humorous event and we moved on to selecting our wine.  Since we were having fish the waiter suggested a bottle of Verdecchio.  Four our first course we shared Linguine w/ clam sauce and Spaghetti w/ seafood in a tomato sauce.  For our main course we chose two versions of the local fish dish, one being fried and the other one grilled.  The fried version consisted of what looked like smelts and small filets of perch.  The grilled version was comprised of four different lake fishes that had been drizzled in olive oil, dredged in seasoned bread crumbs and grilled to perfection.  We all agreed the quality of the grilled dish far exceeded that of the fried.  In addition to the fish, we tried Pici one last time as well as some expertly roasted potatoes that actually came in second place behind the grilled fish due to the perfect preparation.

We were now off to Assisi which is known throughout the world as being the resting place of the Catholic deacon and preacher Saint Francis, who founded the Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans.  As you can imagine this is a very crowded tourist town with many people visiting the famous cathedral to see the tomb of St. Francis.  Before departing the city for Rome decided Bob needed one last Gelato fix which we all decided to join him in.  As usual it was delicious and the perfect way to finish off a wonderful week together.

The drive back to Rome was efficient and uneventful until we reached the city limits in search of our airport hotel.  This is where I could bore you for hours with our many missteps and frustrations but I will spare you of that.  Let’s just say we had a very frustrating and tiring evening getting situated for our early morning departure that ended well with a better than expected dinner at our hotel restaurant and a bottle of wine shared in our room as we said our goodbyes to Bob and Lisa. 

We set our alarm for 5am and went to bed.



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