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Back from the Luberon--a long report

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Back from the Luberon--a long report

Jim Charney | Jun 5, 2003 06:54 PM

First, let me thank you for all your suggestions. My wife and I are just back from a wonderful trip to France—time spent in Paris, then on a Barge cruising the Camargue, and then a week in the Luberon. We stayed in a lovely apartment in the old village of Cadenet—perfectly located for day trips throughout the village-perches of the area. We visited Lourmarin, Bonnieunx (where we stumbled on the Feste de Cerise, and were treated to cherries in every form—best were the chocolate dipped…),Rousillon, Lacoste, Menerbes, Fontaine de Vaucluse (from which we did a canoe ride all the way to Les Isles sur la Sorge).
Cadenet is just ten minutes from Lourmarin (where Camus is buried), and some of our best meals. We ate twice there at L”Oustelet, a casual but sophisticated place with a very warm welcome. We were so intrigued by the appetizers we ordered an extra beyond the ones included in our 21 Euro menus—scallop and shrimp tartare with asparagus, salmon fume with egg and cepes in a cream sauce, and pain surprise—which turned out to be the best BLT of our lives—with some local cheese, grilled eggplant, rocket salad, smoked bacon and tomato . And that was just the entrees! Main course of Rougasse, Loup, and Tuna all grilled with aioli was also terrific. A Second dinner was just as good—this time scallops and gambas with two sauces, a veal tournedos with morille mushrooms, a salade with Gambas and Fois Gras (my wife likes to order two entrees instead of a main course) and wonderfully unexpected desserts—flan with pepper and grapefruit, and a “crumble” with apples and raspberries. A local wine, Chateau Val joanis went well with everything, and was moderately prices.
We ate well, also at La Table de Mamees in Louris, nearby. Beef Cheeks en daube-basically a beef stew with leeks—was delicious. Diane had a mild whitefish with cous cous thyme and an olive tapenade. But the service went cold half-way through the meal—a friendly welcome turned snippy—we have no idea why; one of our rare experiences of rudeness during our stay.
Our other wonderful meal experience was at Auberge de la Loube—which several of you recommended. Boy, were you right. We drove to Buoux (pronounced Byoo, we discovered) through switchbacks past Bonnieux into the rugged hills . We arrived at around 11:30 Am and were told that they were “complet”—fully booked for lunch. Please come back for dinner. Well this was out last day—so Diane pulled out her best French and told them they had come so well recommended and we had made a special trip there. And very graciously, they gave the two of us their last table for 4 on the lovely terrace. We had their specialty, which was a collection of hors doevres sized portions of 16 different salads and dishes—from hard boiled quails eggs to marinated mushrooms, tuna salad, beets, remoulade, tapenade, roasted peppers, etc—the perfect meal for a warm sunny day in the Provencal countryside. Diane also discovered Rinquinquin de las Peche—an local apperitif made with fresh peaches that she loved.
One of the great things about having an apartment to stay in, rather than a B&B or Inn, was that we could go to the market and cook our own meals. The market in Cadenet is on Mondays, and inspired us to put together a dinner of garlic chicken and white asparagus. The chicken came already roasted on a spit, we had St Marcelin cheese—my new discovery, lait cru, runny, pungent, and all together delicious, and a salad. And the most wonderful olives,everywhere—marinated a dozen different ways. I had never appreciated olives until I had them during this vacation!
Two more recommendations. In Aix we followed Frommers and ate at Bistro Latin (a 16E menu for lunch) and at Chez Maxim, in the hard-to find Place Roman. Both meals were very good, the service gracious and friendly, and the prices low.
One place we cannot recommend was our splurge in Provence, La Feniere in Lourmarin. The food looked great, but the taste never matched the stylish presentation. If a restaurant gets the bread and coffee right you can feel pretty confident of everything else, I feel. Well, there were three choices of bread—one was inedible, the other had no taste. The third was OK. The service was a combination of incompetent and supercilious—rather unpleasant considering the prices. For instance, I ordered cheese and there was no bread on the table. I had to signal the waiter (already a bad sign—they should anticipate this) to ask for more of the OK bread--and then he disappeared. It turned out that they had run out of bread and had to bake another batch. But he never told us (my wife’s French is fluent, language was not the problem), I sat forever with my cheese and finally ate it straight—only to have them show up fully 15 minutes later with the bread, unexplained. I have no problem with expensive restaurants—Taillevent in Paris cost twice as much, and was worth every centime, with great food and the best service, making you fell welcome and at ease—but La Feniere simply did not measure up. There was not a dish there that was as delightfully good as any of several at the neighboring place L’Oustelet—which has no pretensions and cost 70% less!
Anyway, we had a wonderful time. And I wanted to again thank all who gave recommendations—I’ll hold onto them for our next visit to Provence.
PS—Part of our vacation was on the Barge Saroche cruising through the Camargue. I highly recommend it. If anyone is interested, I ‘ll tell you more.
Jim C

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