One of the reasons we were happy to move to France is food. The cuisine here is hard to beat. When we lived in Germany and were both working, hence a better income, we loved to make eating excursions to nearby Alsace. The dollar was stronger back then, too. Sometimes we would splurge and eat in a Michelin starred restaurant.
Since moving here and living on a fixed income, we’ve been happy with local restaurants, most of which are reasonable. But, since the dollar is faring better these days, and since it was Valentine’s Day, I wanted to try a Michelin one-star restaurant, La Petite Maison, in nearby Curcuron. I called and learned they had a special multi-course menu for Valentine’s Day – 120 euros ($159) per person. That did include wine and champagne, but nonetheless way beyond our budget. On regular days they offer a three-course menu for 46 euros ($61) per person, excluding wine.
We decided to celebrate Valentine Day’s in a more economical fashion, but try La Petite Maison a few days later. On February 14 we lunched at the restaurant at Lycée des Métiers Louis Martin Bret in the town of Manosque. This is a professional school with a department where aspiring chefs and restaurant personnel are trained. Several days per week at the school restaurant they offer lunches and dinner. The menu is fixed – few choices—but good and reasonable. The ambience is pleasing – fresh roses on the table, the young waiters and waitresses all looking spiffy in black jackets and pants, white shirts and baby-blue ties. This time there were two choices offered for each course. We chose the following. Our average rating on a scale of 1 – 10 (10 is tops) follows.
First course: Profiteroles à la mousse de foie gras sur roquette. Three rounds of chou pastry, each filled with a different type of foie gras mousse, attractively arranged around a mound of arugula, with threads of spun sugar on top for added flair. One was decorated with stripes of chocolate sauce. The others were accompanied by tiny mounds of chutneys. Yummy. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with foie gras. Rating: 8.5
Main course: Dos de cabillaud, semoule aux raisins, carrots fanes glacées. A slice of cod with a piece of the fried skin as decoration, served with a semolina/raisin mixture and glazed carrots. Tasty, but unfortunately we found the fish overcooked, which is too often the case with fish. Rating: 5.25
Dessert: Pêches flambêes sur glaces. Flambéd peaches served on ice cream. It was fun watching our young waiters, Nicolas, 15,(left) and Jimmy, 15, undertake the flaming procedure. They handled it like pros, and the result was delicious – the vanilla ice cream full of flavor and obviously homemade. Rating; 7.5
We began the meal with an ”apéro,” a before dinner drink that is de rigeur in France. We ordered the cocktail of the day, a concoction of rum, orange juice, coconut milk and sugar. With the meal, we drank a half liter of open white wine. After dessert, we each had a coffee. Total tab for two: 40 euros ($53).
Two days later we went for broke and had lunch in Curcuron at the renowned La Petite Maison with our friends Gayle and Ralph. We economized on the apéro – a pre-dinner drink at the village café next door. For two glasses of champagne, a beer and a Pastis, the bill was 14 euros ($18.50) La Petite Maison charges the same for one glass of champagne.
Two fixed menus were offered, at 46 and 68 euros each. We all selected the less expensive one. Beef was the main course. Bob is not big on beef, so he was permitted to substitute fish.
At this classy place, we were given an amuse-bouche ( appetizer ) a velouté de lentil et une tartine avec rillette de saumon. A creamy lentil soup topped with a toasted wedge of bread spread with a salmon pâté. Gayle thought it was outstanding. I wasn’t that overwhelmed. Rating: 7.8
First course: Céleri et pomme verte rémoulade rehaussé de dés de saumon fumé, oeuf au plat coulant. A colorful combination of diced celery and green apple topped with tiny morsels of smoked salmon, all crowned with the yellow of an egg. Definitely a work of art to admire, and it was good, but perhaps not as flavorful as it looked. Rating: 6.5
Main course; Pièce de filet de boeuf d’origine européenne poêlée au poivre, pommes de terre fondantes. Filet of beef ( European origin) pan fried with pepper and served with interesting potatoes. (fondant means ‘‘melted,” but there was nothing melted about these potatoes. Maybe this is just fancy restaurant vocabulary). We were not asked how we wanted the beef cooked. It was served rare, a tad on the bloody side. This is the way French gourmets prepare beef. I love beef, and this is just the way I like it, so I was happy. Bob, who went for the fish substitute, was horrified at the bloody meat and very glad he chose monkfish served on a mousse of cauliflower. Sharing the plate with the beef were sliced potatoes topping a tasty crumb melange which reminded Gayle of turkey stuffing. She noted that this dish would have been better with an added portion of vegetable – perhaps something green for color. Rating: 7.4
Dessert: Croustade aux pommes et figues aux parfums d’orient, glace à la rose. A crusty concoction of phyllo pastry filled with Oriental flavored apples and figs next to a scoop of rose ice cream. Bob is a dessert fan and this was his favorite. I thought it was good, although I did not detect any Oriental flavors and the rose ice cream did not send me. Rating: 7.75
The restaurant is in an old house in the center of a charming village opposite a pond. The dining room, all wood-paneled, is a bit on the bare side – no décor, just tables with white table cloths. Our waitress, all dressed in black, was pleasant – she even corrected my French. That I appreciated. Chef and owner, Eric Sapet, has impressive credentials in the world of cuisine.
We ordered the cheapest bottle of red wine on the menu: a 2007 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse, Domaine Hugues, Vendage des Chefs, 35 euros ($46). Total cost per couple, about $144.