Tag Archives: restaurant reviews

Bonnieux: Le Fornil

I know it’s a lot on Bonnieux, but I really think Bonnieux is worth it.

Le Fournil is one of the restaurants featured in Gilles Pudlowski’s guide to Provence and the Cote d’Azur.  This place is an absolute pleasure.  It fits in perfectly with the relaxed atmosphere and beauty of Bonnieux.  The food is refined yet unpretentious.  The service is friendly and on the lively side, which gives the place a bit of a younger vibe–totally welcome after a week at Mas de Guille (“Relais du Silence”) where we were the youngest people by twenty years.  And judging by the stares I got when I was taking pictures, this place is equally appreciated by tourist and locals alike, which lends credence to the chef’s work.

fournil sign

fournil1

Le Fournil at 7:30pm

We’re early eaters at home, it’s no secret.  But I swear we were eating at 9 and later in Guethary!  But during that first week away in Provence, we were still adjusting.  Add to that the heat and our minimum of five miles of walking per day (assessed by pedometer no less) and we ended up really needing that first reservation of the night.  Plus it made for good pictures right?

fournil menu

Le Fournil’s menu

fournil amuse

Fish paté amuse bouche

I’m a little bit of a wuss when it comes to something like fish paté (and I. even more so) but this was absolutely delectable.  I never expected such a texture to work–but Le Fournil made it so.

fournil salad 1

Petits farcis provençaux servis tíèdes

I have no translation for “petits…” but based on the little I know about Provençal cuisine, stuffed crudité appears to be somewhat of a tradition.  We had several incarnations of this dish at different restaurants and this was indubitably the best.  The stuffing is bread crumbs, herbs, and other fabulous Provencal things.  Sorry I can’t be more specific, but aren’t the colors great?

fournil salad2

Bouquet de haricots vert et cocos frais, ris d’agneau poêlés vinaigrette d’herbes

If only this could be recreated.  I’m not sure what the cut of lamb was, but it was so tender.  Perfect with vegetables and some aged balsalmico.

fournil beouf

Contrefilet de beouf poêlé, chutney de cerises, blettes au jus

The pièce de résistance: contrefilet.  Although my favorite steak of the trip was at Le Madrid (Cote de Beouf with Bearnaise) due to its total simplicity and melt-in-your-mouth qualities, this contrefilet is a very, very close second.  The cherry confit had the perfect balance of sweet and tart to the meat.  Every bite was a pleasure.

As we left everyone was still enjoying.

fournil scene

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A Different Alameda

For our last night in Spain we went to a restaurant in the old quarter of town called Alameda (not to be confused with the small island city off the East Bay of San Francisco, nor the county in which I reside), which boasts one Michelin star.  On a previous evening we had returned to Sebastian, also in the old quarter of Hondarribia and had the chef’s tasting menu.  I thought to myself, “this is as good a meal as I’ve ever had.  If I lived here I would eat at here all the time.”  While the second sentence holds true, Alameda blew the former sentiment for lovely little Sebastian.

While I managed to take a few pictures, they relate nothing of the scale of this meal.  Alameda is run by two brothers, Gorka and Kepa Txapartegui.  The cuisine has Basque roots, but is classified by Michelin as “Inventive.”  We had two lovely, attentive, and friendly servers, but it was one of the matriarchs of the Txapartegui family who came to ensure our meal met our expectations after our entrees arrived.  Although I consider description of this meal to be a futile pursuit, I will attempt to depict some of it here.

alameda table cloth better

Often, when my dad comes to visit and I am trying to convince him of the legitimacy of my choice of restaurant on any given evening, he’ll say quite seriously, “does it have a tablecloth?  I need a white tablecloth.”  In honor of dad we’ve taken to documenting the tablecloths at various restaurants.  Alameda’s are high-quality starched linen.

amuse bouche

The amuse-bouche was a delicate, super-fine gazpacho, topped with cheese foam, parsley-infused oil, and a parmasan crisp.

spider crab

I began with the spider crab salad arranged atop a tomato reduction and topped with green apples and micro greens.  The crab was absolutely beautiful in texture.

tuna

My entree–the tuna.  This picture hardly does it justice, but eating last night was much more important to me than picture-taking, which I take as a good sign.  It’s funny I just realized that from the blog it appears that I’ve been eating a lot of tuna.  I have I suppose.  The seafood is really what to eat in the Basque country.  I have no words to describe the preparation of this dish; I can’t even remember how it was described on the menu.  All I know is what appears to be a simple tuna fillet transformed into the most unbelievable tasting thing in my mouth.  The flavors of the tomatoes, salt, fish, oil, and potato were beyond this world.  Each bite I took made me crave one more.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way before.  It was if nothing would be enough, and each time I took a bite I wished I could continue tasting what I was tasting forever.  Quite an experience.  Sort of Veruca Salt-esque I guess.

mint and melon

Dessert was fruit and cheese.  The fruit is above–a medley of melons and apples in a mint-melon sauce.  Amazing.

new cheese

Finally, the cheese plate.  From top right: a semi-soft cows milk, Roquefort topped with a dried apple slice, brie, quince paste, and the last two are two different dry manchego.  The Roquefort was especially beautiful.  There is no better way to end a meal than with Roquefort I believe.

Well, like I said, a futile pursuit.  But, perhaps if you’re ever in the area you’ll have a chance to experience it all for yourself.

At the Biarritz airport, embarking on many hours on various planes.  Ciao!

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Lunch at Le Madrid, Guéthary

You might start to notice that I’m working backwards now, which is slightly awkward, but I’ll make do.  I’m finding it less awkward than starting from the day I stopped blogging and working forward.  I hope you’ll stick with me on this strange anti-chronological journey.

Le Madrid was the unofficial (official?) hang of our stay in Guéthary.  Our first two days in Guéthary it was closed for two days before officially opening for the summer season, but Le Madrid was all I heard about for those two days from our Parisian friends and hosts.  It was so inflated as a “spot” that it hardly occured to me that the food would be any good.  When I ate dinner there for the first time on the night of the 8th I was absolutely blown away (some of you might remember a tweet of mine about the Cote de Beouf melting in my mouth).  Those kind of dinners aren’t for stopping every few minutes to photograph.  We were among friends, telling love stories, and sharing wine and Cote de Beouf (with Bearnaise of course), and since the best parts of the ephemeral meal were only captured in memory, I pledged to return in a more alert state so that I might record some of my meal for ARL.

Of course, the real way to do Le Madrid is this: aperitifs at home (our aperitifs of choice on this trip were foie gras (forgive me), radishes, and wine).  Savor all this from approximately 7pm-9pm, then make your way to Le Madrid for the real meal.  Oh, and having Manzana Verde post-Cote is the digestif de riguer.  The few images I have from Le Madrid at night:

le madrid 9

Customers entering Le Madrid behind lovely Martine at approximately 9pm

sunset

The view from outside Le Madrid at approximately 9pm

So, that said, on to lunch.

le madrid day

The view from the terrace

le madrid menu

The menus

It is worth explaining that I. and I fell in love with the menus as pieces of art in and of themselves.  We loved the fonts, the illustrations, and the color.  When we mentioned this to our friends they explained that the menus are designed by Martine, one of the owners, who was a graphic designer before she was a restaurateur.

lunch menu

The lunch menu

rose

The essential rosé

le madrid signage

Looking back towards the restaurant from the terrace

club

My companion’s club sandwich (I had a bite–absolutely delectable)

maigre

Maigre a la Plancha, pate fraiche & herbes

The perfect lunch.  The oil for drizzling has parsley and tarragon, the cherry tomatoes are roasted, and the pasta has a crisp piece of bacon artfully arranged at an angle atop.  And, how is it that the French know how to salt meat so perfectly?  You can see the small crystals of sel de mer on the maigre here.  Delicious.

Now that we’re in Spain it seems impossible, but I am actually missing Le Madrid.  If you are in the area go, sit for a few hours.  People watch, imbibe, and go back a few times to sample a variety of what’s on the menu.  You won’t be disappointed.

If you are as in love with Le Madrid as I am, you can click here to see the dinner menu: Continue reading

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We Made It To Spain

Of course between Paris, Marseille, Lourmarin, Guéthary, and Hondarribia (Hondarribia is the Basque, but the town is also known as Fuenterrabía in Spanish and Fontarabie in French), much is missing from my typically daily entries here.  That noted, we are very happy to be in Spain.  This part of Europe is especially striking due to the stark constrast in food, language, and terrain found just across the border from one country to another.  A twenty or thirty minute drive from Biarritz and we’re in a whole other world.  We landed in Hondarribia, in the old quarter of town at an amazing hotel called Obispo, housed in what was a 15th century palace.  I love this place.  It’s charming–old yet comfortable, and impeccably kept including all the amenities a modern girl could want (WiFi!  while it was fun to be liberated, it is fun to reconnect too).

We arrived slightly exhausted from all the fun we had with our friends, the vacationing Parisians, in Guéthary (is it possible to have too much fun?) so we did the unthinkable and sat down to dinner at 8:30 (does it count that it hasn’t been before 10PM or finished before 12AM for the last week?).  The Hotel Obispo recommended Sebastián, which happens to be just around the corner (no walk or drive to the new part of town necessary).  It looks beautiful from the outside, so it wasn’t hard to draw us in.  Here is our meal in pictures and a few words (I was too relaxed to remember to take any establishing shots, but the restaurant’s website has a good virtual tour and great historical photographs too).

sebastian window

The restaurant’s website states that “[the space] was a grocery shop several centuries ago [and] the most representative elements of the shop are still conserved, such as the window displays and glass cases once displaying the groceries which supplied numerous generations of residents of Hondarribia.”  Here are various bottles (age unknown) in the window display case.

our view

We ate upstairs.  This was our view; a window box planted with purple amaranth and ivy.  Across the street are window boxes with red and white geraniums.

upstairs

The upstairs dining area.  Note that we are among the first present for dinner…there was one other couple across from us.  The benefit of the early hour is great photographs.  I loved the alternating colors between the beams on the ceiling.  Only a Spanish chef/restaranteur could pull that off.  Honestly.

chefs suggestions

These are the beautiful cards containing the chef’s suggestions for the evening.  Qué bonita!  Las ilustraciones sólo!

tablecloth

An essential component of any fine dining experience: fine linens for the table.  I found Sebastián’s particularly soothing due to a delicate pique.

txacoli

Txacoli: it has become as essential to my existence as Almodóvar.  Sin txacoli lo que es la vida?  These tall cups (unlike the shorter versions I am used to drinking Spanish wine in) are very cool.  It is like drinking liquid ambrosia, the liquid of life.  The wine is produced in the countryside outisde of Hondarribia.

txacoli autentico

Don’t be fooled by any imitations; the “Getariako Txacolina” sticker across the foil is as essential as any Bordeaux A.O.C.  It is an extremely limited area in which these special grapes are grown, and the special wine produced.

gazpacho

Ah gazpacho, con una anchoa y algún aceite de oliva bueno

monkfish

Monkfish and shrimp–preparation unknown, rather forgotten, in a good bottle of Txacoli

tuna

The “taco de atun rojo de Hondarribia a la parilla.”  With my limited Spanish I have little clue what I ate (sorry).  I half expected some tuna in a corn tortilla.  Wrong.  What came was 1,000 times better.  It tasted like the most beautiful tuna steak seared in a deep seasoned pan of pork fat–there was surely a strong bacon-ish element that was delicious.  On the side are some crispy onions and a drizzle of parsely-seasoned olive oil.  Amazing.

brick of chocolate

I can’t be sure because I forgot to photograph the menu, but I am fairly certain that this dessert was advertised as the “chocolate brick.”  It delivered as advertised.

Overall an extremely successful first night in Spain.  We will indubitably return to Sebastián–did I mention the service is impeccable?  If, for nothing else, the fine pique linens!  Salut!

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