Provence is known around the world for its cuisine. Even though we knew that Aix-en-Provence has really amazing restaurants and wanted to try a few of them, we enjoy cooking together and had looked forward to shopping in the local markets to prepare meals as well, so what we ended up with was a mix of food at home from the markets and visits to some wonderful restaurants, all of which were just steps from our Airbnb.
Il Etait Une Fois
Our first full day in Aix was my birthday. I chose the restaurant a few doors down from our place with the romantic name Il Etait une Fois, which translates to Once Upon a Time. As it was with all of the restaurants we visited, Il Etait une Fois seats only about 25 diners. I love the small size and the fact that, if there is music it’s quiet and tasteful, and there are no televisions. The noise and presence of television in restaurants has been a real disappointment to me in recent years in the U.S. There are no such disappointments at Il Etait une Fois. The other interesting feature of this restaurant is that there were only two people working the entire place: a man in the kitchen and a woman running the front of the house. I don’t know how the two of them did it, but did they ever do a great job! The food was sublime and the service was efficient and attentive. We ordered a lobster salad starter that was served in the lobster tail.
John ordered the lamb for his plat (what we call an entree at home), which was tender and delicious, and I ordered stuffed sardines, even though I couldn’t imagine what a stuffed sardine could be. The dish actually arrived in three stacks with the base being zucchini on one, eggplant on another, and pumpkin on the third, topped with burrata, a layer of mirepoix (mixture of carrots, onions, and celery), and, finally, sardines overlain on the top. They were served in a bowl with a delicious and light broth. We ordered a nice bottle of local red wine to accompany the food and, from the dessert tray, shared a tart with fresh strawberries and pistachio cream, which was delicious beyond description. What a wonderful birthday dinner.
Le Petit Bistro Verdun and Hugo
Nothing else in the week came up to the level of Il Etait Une Fois, but we did have a nice meal at Le Petit Verdun, which seemed like more of a typical neighborhood restaurant. Anywhere else it would be a sensation, but here it seemed solid, but not outstanding. John ordered pork cheeks (which were tender and delicious) and I had sea bass, also lovely. The best part of the meal was the Crème Brulee with lavender.
On our last night in Aix we ate at a restaurant that was literally right next door to our Airbnb. I don’t think I’ve ever had a shorter distance to travel to or from a restaurant. We had passed Le Zinc d’Hugo all week and couldn’t quite figure out what sort of place it was. Within minutes of arriving we understood that it’s very much a country Provencal type of place. Lots of meat cooked on an open grill in the open in the restaurant, large portions, and no pretense. The décor was simple too, rough-hewn wood ceilings and stone walls, likely original walls from the days when our neighborhood was a working district for leather tanners, sheep carders, etc.
John ordered the Menu, which included a really interesting starter. It was a bowl of light gravy with a poached egg in it with lettuce on top. It was scrumptious. His main was Uruguayan beef, cooked on the grill and sliced, potatoes au gratin, and a souffle of maybe sweet potatoes. Not sure. I ordered the Andouille with potatoes and a small green salad on the plate. The Andouille was nothing like our sausage at home. It was chopped meat, not ground meat, in a casing. Dessert was a strawberry and rhubarb crumble.
Each eatery we went to was different, but all had excellent food. We were glad we got to go to all three.
We ended up going to the market, which was less than five minutes from our place, almost every day, finding the ingredients for a meal of sea bass one evening and for a pasta sauce made of fresh eggplant, red and yellow peppers, onion, garlic, basil, and tomatoes for another. We also had lettuce for a salad from the market that was fresh and wonderful.
One very welcome surprise for me was that now is strawberry season in the south of France. I had been sorry to miss Louisiana strawberries and was thrilled to find that the French strawberries are as good as Louisiana berries at their peak. We ended up having strawberries every morning with our cereal and yogurt!
Bon appetit, y’all!