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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Restaurants of the Rhône

This trip I visited many old favorites, and found some new ones
Photo by: James Molesworth
Pavé de cochon and girolles at Le Mangevins, in Tain l'Hermitage

Posted: Jul 20, 2012 1:00pm ET

I did get a chance to try a few restaurants during my recent trip through the Rhône Valley, and following are my brief notes. Some have been covered before, but deserve mentioning again.

For additional notes on restaurants from my previous trips, you can reference my blog entries from November 2007, July 2008, April 2010 and December 2010, which cover many of the region's established dining spots, including Maison Pic, Bistro à Vin de Serrine, Auberge de Cassagne, Restaurant Schaeffer, Le Bateau d'Emile, Restaurant Umia, Restaurant Le Tournesol and more. Here are reviews from six restaurants I visited this trip, beginning with three in the Northern Rhône, and then moving south.

Le Mangevins

6 Ave. du Dr. Paul Durand
26000 Tain l'Hermitage

Telephone: 011-33-4-75-07-73-85
Website: www.mangevins.com

Vincent Dollat runs the front of the house here, his wife, Keiko, the kitchen. This s a charming, 20-seat jewel-box bar à vins that continues to hum along since it opened in 2007. It has become the darling of local vignerons and traveling wine trade for its excellent wine list, casual atmosphere, and pristine cooking, which marries local ingredients with a light Asian hint and a deft touch with contrasting temperatures. One night, slightly warm calamari was placed gently atop just cool squid ink noodles, roasted peppers and tomatoes. When I'm staying in Tain, it's not surprising to find me here for a few nights in a row.

Restaurant Le Vivier

Acticentre
800 Cours Fernande Peyre
84800 L'Isle-sur-la-Sourgue

Telephone:
011-33-4-90-38-52-80
Website:
levivier-restaurant.com

Owners Patrick & Céline Fischnaller and chef Ludovic Dziewulski manage this Michelin one-star restaurant, which sits perched atop the river running through the bustling town of L'Isle-sur-la-Sourgue. Watch the trout and ducks below, while the sounds of the streets flicker in the background. Highlights include a lobster and pea gazpacho and the hearty red wine–begging pigeon en croute with foie gras, mushrooms and spinach. The wine list is very solid, with an emphasis on the Rhône and the Languedoc.

Le Quai

17 Rue Joseph Péala
26600 Tain l'Hermitage

Telephone: 011-33-4-75-07-05-90
Website: www.le-quai.com

This brasserie, owned by the Michel Chabran team from Pont-de-L'Isère, sits along the riverfront with an ideal view of Tournon and the vineyards of E. Guigal's Vignes de l'Hospices across the river. The bistro-style menu features grilled U.S. black Angus steaks, Iberico ham and Andouillette. This is a casual, well-situated restaurant and both the food and the wine list are modest in scope, so don't go in with high expectations.

Restaurant L'Oustalet

Place du Village

84190 Gigondas

Telephone: 011-33-4-90-65-85-30
Website: www.restaurant-oustalet.fr

Chef Laurent Deconinck, the longtime in-house chef for the Perrin family, has slowly and steadily elevated this to compete for the best restaurant in the Southern Rhône Valley, on a level with Auberge La Fenière in Lourmourins and Entre Vigne & Garrigue in Pujaut, just outside Avignon. The food is classic French, but well-detailed and never oversauced or overseasoned. Service is friendly and thoroughly professional, the setting as charming as can be (particularly on a sunny day, under the plane trees outside) and the wine list superb. A must-visit when in the region.

La Mère Germaine

3 Rue de Commandant Lemaitre
84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Telephone: 011-33-4-90-22-78-34
Website: www.lameregermaine.fr

New owner André Mazy has the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape beating again. After lying dormant for a year, Mazy has reopened this long-standing vigneron and tourist hangout, located in the center of town. The bar is gone and the new dining room now has a bright, airy feel, with plenty of space between tables. The back terrace remains untouched and is a popular spot in summer. The menu has been shortened, food is average bistro fare. The wine list is still short, but growing, as boxes of wines sit by the front desk waiting to be moved to the cellar.

Le Verger des Papes

4 Rue du Château
84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Telephone: 011-33-4-90-83-50-40
Website: www.vergerdespapes.com

Tucked just under the Châteauneuf itself, this casual bistro has ample outdoor seating and the best view around. Service is standard and food is average, steeped distinctly in classic Provencal cuisine, with its reliance on eggplant, roasted tomatoes and olives in full effect. The wine list is solid on recent vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and, as there is a family connection between the chef and Domaine de Marcoux vigneron Sophie Estevenin, you can always find some Marcoux on the list.

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 20, 2012 10:39pm ET
Okay James, we just did a three-week tour through Northern-Eastern-Central France last year and now you're making it hard for me to hold off from taking another trip through Southern France this year. Give a guy a break!
Mark Horowitz
Brooklyn, USA —  July 25, 2012 10:08am ET
I have a great memory of a leisurely lunch under the trees at L'Oustalet a few years back. A carafe of "house" Gigondas was like silk on a warm, breezy summers day.
Thomas Swenson
Overland Park, KS —  December 1, 2012 8:26am ET
Your description of L'Oustalet was perfect. Just a few months ago we enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch under the plane trees on a picture-perfect day. The food and wine were outstanding and the service was indeed friendly and professional. It was the highlight of our two weeks in France.
James Molesworth
New York —  December 1, 2012 10:10am ET
Thomas: Thanks for the report - always glad to hear about someone else's positive experiences at my favorites places in the Rhône.
Austin Beeman
Maumee, Ohio —  December 5, 2012 3:18pm ET
I visited L'Oustalet in Gigondas upon the recommendation of the nice people at Saint-Cosme. It was the best meal of my entire trip. This is a place that I would give a Michelin star (maybe two or three.)

Every dish was superb and delivered on plates artistically designed for that specific dish. The order and structure of the recommended 'menu' were thoughtfully laid out and progressed smoothly. The dishes focuses on regional ingredients but showed a wonderful playfulness.

A few specific dishes that stick out.
1) Red snapper with baby morels cooked in a steaming light broth that is poured tableside.
2) 3 chunks of local goat cheese. 1 very old. 1 very young. And 1 inbetween.
3) Peach sorbet on a grahmcracker with whisps of marshmallow cream.

And we enjoyed l'Oustalet on a beautiful day outside in May 2012.

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