Provence has long been the agricultural garden of France. When it comes to restaurants, the region offers France's best olive oil–based Mediterranean cuisine. Provençal cuisine is full of vegetables and aromatic herbs, local seafood on the coasts and game, fowl and lamb specialties in the mountainous interior. Though prices in French gastronomy have soared in recent years, many restaurants offer less expensive lunch menus on weekdays. Local wines are still bargains, with very low markups by U.S. standards.
Please note that owners, chefs, menu items, prices and other details can often change, and we recommend that you call ahead before you go.
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Vallon des Auffes, Marseille
Telephone (33) 4-91-52-17-82
Open Lunch and dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $28–$90; prix-fixe menus $97–$173
Credit cards All major
L'Epuisette is set on a rock promontory at the edge of a tiny fishing hamlet, with views of Château d'If, a 16th-century island fortress. Over more than 50 years , this spot has grown from a seafood shack into an elegant restaurant finished with light woods and polished travertine. The menu offers both tradition and innovation. "Tradition" means the Provençal classic bouillabaisse is served as two courses: First comes a deep brown bouillon made from small, bony rockfish, infused with spices such as saffron and garlic. That's followed by fillets of five stewed fish (John Dory, weever, monkfish, scorpion fish and gurnard) sauced at table with more bouillon. Chef Guillaume Sourrieu's innovations include a decadently rich appetizer that pairs slices of rare-cooked tuna and foie gras, all topped with raw root vegetables and a tangy passion fruit vinaigrette. Affable sommelier Bruno Dukan's list of 560 seafood-friendly wines features whites from every corner of Europe, along with small-production Provençal bottlings such as the white Domaine Henri Milan Vin de France La Carrée 2011 ($118) and red Château Ste.-Anne Bandol Cuvée Collection 2006 ($104).
Le Môle Passédat - La Table delivers a one-two punch with spectacular dishes and an incredible panorama.
LE MÔLE PASSÉDAT – LA TABLE
1 Esplanade J4, Marseille
Telephone (33) 4-91-19-17-80
Open Lunch, daily except Tuesday; dinner, nightly except Sunday and Tuesday
Cost Entrées $32-$42; prix-fixe menus $72-$101
Credit cards American Express, Visa
Chef Gérald Passédat, of Marseille's three Michelin-star bouillabaisse house Le Petit-Nice, rocked the city's culinary scene last year when he opened this sleek, modern restaurant atop the MuCEM. The best views in Marseille—of the sea, the ancient port entry and cathedral-topped hills—would alone be worth the reservation. Inside, the 80-seat space with white floors, light, modern woods and brown-paper place settings can feel as cool as an airport lounge.
But the food here is some of the most creative in Provence. Executive chef Philippe Moreno uses locally sourced fish and other ingredients to make deliciously intricate Mediterranean fusion dishes, with inflections of France, Italy and North Africa. Start with local tuna, prepared sashimi-style, accompanied by a dipping sauce of basil and coriander chermoula and a seaweed salad. Then move on to the day's catch of whole local fish (such as sea bass), braised, slow-cooked and deboned, served with a spicy olive oil-tomato sauce and aromatic fennel confit. A list of 70 wines is dominated by Provence, including white Château Barbanau Clos Val Bruyère Cassis 2011 ($51) and Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol Rosé 2011 ($79).
LA MAISON DE BOURNISSAC
Montée d'Eyragues, Paluds de Noves
Telephone (33) 4-90-90-25-25
Open Lunch and dinner, Wednesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $44–$66; prix-fixe lunch $46; tasting menu $120
Credit cards All major
Chef Christian Peyre's hotel and restaurant sprawls eccentrically over a 14th-century farmhouse and gardens situated at the end of a long, dusty road north of St.-Rémy. The country decor is unpretentious, the service is chattily friendly, the terrace views to the Lubéron are expansive, and the food takes Provence terroirs to the right level of refinement. With every season, Peyre gets so revved about products from his suppliers in the nearby countryside—the first strawberries of spring, the tomatoes of midsummer, the truffles of winter—he goes on a cooking spree.
On a recent visit, he prepared a tastebud-awakening survey of asparagus, prepared six ways: raw, grilled, enrobed in Parmigiano-Reggiano, and turned into gazpacho, mousse and sorbet. That was followed by the deep, gamy flavors of his whole roasted pigeon, served in a Côtes du Rhône sauce balanced with a zingy dollop of cool ginger sorbet; dishes like this may inspire restaurant visitors to check in to the hotel for a few days. The Southern Rhône-accented list of more than 300 wines includes 18 bottlings of Les Baux's pioneering Domaine de Trévallon ($131 to $623) and regional whites such as Mas de la Dame Alpilles Coin Caché 2011 ($72).
Excellent cuisine, a relaxed setting and reasonable prices are at hand at Sous les Micocouliers.
SOUS LES MICOCOULIERS
Traverse Montfort, Eygalières
Telephone (33) 4-90-95-94-53
Open Lunch, Tuesday to Sunday; dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Cost Entrées $25–$50; prix-fixe menus $43–$109
Credit cards MasterCard, Visa
This is an experience you'll daydream about upon returning home: a laid-back meal on the terrace of a 17th-century farmhouse, shaded by hackberry trees (micocouliers). Chef-owner Pierre-Louis Poize, who studied in Paris under Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon, doesn't make his menus complicated. Poize serves satisfying comfort food—heavy on Provençal and French traditions—in a relaxed setting and at reasonable prices. The $43 prix-fixe menu opens with a selection of seasonal appetizers such as an airy pumpkin mousse or the foie gras with fig chutney, followed by a choice of entrées. Among them is his signature Civet de Coq—a fall-off-the-bone tender take on coq au vin. Here, the meat is slow-cooked in red Alpilles wine and bacon and topped with raw fennel and rocket. The short wine list is dominated by local producer Domaine de Valdition's bottlings of reds, whites and rosés ($35 to $64), and includes a handful of Rhône and Burgundy selections.
Les Bories chef Pascal Ginoux produces outstanding fare encompassing classic and seasonal Provençal cuisine with modern twists.
Route de l'Abbaye de Sénanque, Gordes
Telephone (33) 4-90-72-77-51
Open Lunch and dinner, daily
Cost Entrées $57–$65; prix-fixe menus $79–$108; tasting menu $131
Credit cards All major
Perched outside one of the Lubéron's most scenic villages, Les Bories has long been a great place to while away an afternoon over a luxurious meal. Now part of a five-star hotel and spa, with formal, black-suited service, the restaurant continues to deliver classic seasonal Provençal cuisine with modern twists, pairing perfectly with complex wines. Pascal Ginoux, chef here for the past decade, produces standout dishes such as the explosively flavorful surf-meets-forest appetizer of seared scallops served with a cream of butternut squash and topped with a hazelnut emulsion and grated chestnuts. Another hit is a simple but intensely aromatic main dish from two ingredients: roasted rack of local lamb, smoked with fresh thyme. The list of 500 French wines, focused on the Rhône and the south, is peppered with local bargains such as Domaine de la Citadelle Lubéron Gouverneur St.-Auban Red 2009 ($76). Dine on the shaded terrace, or if weather pushes you inside, ask for the oldest part of the farmhouse—the intimate stone-vaulted borie, the style of dry-stone agricultural hut for which Gordes is famous.
Place du Village, Gigondas
Telephone (33) 4-90-65-85-30
Open Lunch, Tuesday to Saturday; dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
Cost Entrées $36–$61; prix-fixe menus $47–$165
Credit cards All major
Provence unfolds with Rhône Valley views at this modern restaurant, tucked in an old building on the small central place of Gigondas. Here, you'll find great wines to pair with attractive seasonal food in the contemporary bistro. Opened by the Perrin family five years ago, it has become a go-to address for winemakers and wine pilgrims alike. Settle into modern leather chairs at wood tables in the 30-seat dining room, or take in views from the terrace out front. The 600-label Rhône-dominated wine list includes nearly 100 Gigondas reds, such as Domaine Montirius Confidentiel 2006 ($82) and Château de St.-Cosme Valbelle 2010 ($83).
Even before you order, extras such as thin slices of cured pork loin arrive to rev the palate. Seasonally changing menus are short on selection but long on quality, generally offering only a choice between a pair of appetizers and main courses. The simple, robust cuisine hits a range of notes, from sweet to savory to spicy—perfect for some exciting wine pairings. On a recent visit, an appetizer of duck magret, smoked in thyme, served atop curried cabbage and accompanied by candied beets, was followed by a main dish of tender-cooked roast pork, with a side of garlic puree and sautéed gnocchi. Next door, L'Oustalet has opened a sleek wineshop and tasting bar, as well as three nicely appointed guest rooms (one double and two suites).
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