Monday, December 9, 2013

Vintrépide, my new favorite restaurant in Aix-en-Provence



When I finally met Jennifer, who creates Gustia - one of the most under-read and wittiest food blogs on the web - at an expat luncheon last year it was friendship at first sight. We talked for hours until, shivering on the sidewalk in front of the now closed restaurant, we promised to meet again. But Jennifer and her "Hubby" are tireless travelers who split their time between homes in Canada and Monaco, so a year flew by before we were able to get together, on this occasion with each party meeting up roughly half-way in my beloved Aix-en-Provence.



Now, I am no fool. I let Jennifer pick the restaurant, Vintrépide. She is not a Food E - such as yours truly - but rather the real deal, having trained at Le Cordon Bleu for baking in both Ottawa and Paris, the Cordon Vert in the UK plus at the Peninsula Academy in Hong Kong - all of which she puts to good use for her charity Cakes for a Cause.  

Amazingly, Remi and I were the first to arrive (ah, yes, just a tiny tendency to be late here, tiny). We were given a cordial welcome and settled in to the sparsely decorated yet light-filled dining room. As soon as I caught a glimpse of the menu, I did a little "yesssss" happy dance. Every. Single. Dish sounded great. Now honestly, how often does that happen? And at decent prices? For such a touristy town as Aix, it sounded too good to be true.



Much hugging (ah, to be lunching with fellow North Americans!) and excited chatter ensued upon our friends arrival. Kirs were consumed and a bottle of big red was opened to air. It was nearly as an afterthought that we hurriedly placed our order so as to get back to the rapid fire conversation. 


However, the four of us were hushed silent by the arrival of our entrées, so promising were the plates. Remi and I both ordered the foie gras, served lightly sautéed with poached pears. With its silky texture and yet firm bite, we agreed that it was exceptionally good.

Jennifer and her Hubby, both long-standing vegetarians, choose the poached egg floating in a frothy mushroom emulsion and were delighted by the surprise bonus of black truffles shaved on top. Don't you love watching the "melt moment" when a fellow diners face swoons with contentment? I do and they did.


Vintrépide is a new restaurant (barely five months old) and is just a two man operation, with a maître d'hôtel in the "front of house" along with the chef, both of whom work overtime to keep their guests in good humor. They are young and yet have plenty of Michelin-starred experience. I was impressed at how accommodating they were for our veggie-only friends, something that is not always a given in France. While Jenn and her Husband tucked into pillowy ricotta and spinach ravioli topped with baby market vegetables, Remi and I shared two different choices.


 I ordered the lotte, or monk-fish, as soon as I heard that it was wild-caught and not farm-raised (as are all of the fish that they serve, the other ingredients used at Vintrépide are locally sourced). You wouldn't think that would be such a rarity to find this close to the Mediterranean but you would be wrong. The fish itself was positively lush, the preparation simple and yet très goûteux

Remi chose the cannette, or female duckling, which was accompanied by caponata-topped panisses. Again, the cooking was perfect, very juicy on the inside with just the right amount of pleasingly crackly skin. As with the foie gras, it was a nice example of sucré-salé, or salty-sweet, played with a light hand.


Because we are gourmande (to read a charming description on the difference between French 'gourmandise' and Anglophone 'gluttony' please click here), we brave ladies carried on with desserts that received a satisfied nod even from Jennifer. 


We didn't leave until 4pm! Doesn't that say everything? It was a Saturday, I had popped back to chat with the chef and he assured me that it was fine as he had much to prepare for the evening. So we stayed. And laughed. A lot. It was wonderful. 


We instantly felt right at home at Vintrépide. And that, along with an amazing rapport qualité-prix (price for the quality) using such uber-fresh ingredients, not to mention a varied but reasonable wine list, is why this is my new favorite restaurant in Aix. As Jennifer suggested, if they are able to keep this up, perhaps they will be garnering a Macaroon of their own in the not too distant future...


Vintrépide
48 rue du Puits Neuf
13100 Aix-en-Provence
Tél.: +33 (0)9 83 88 96 59
Reservations are suggested for Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.


Bon appétite! 


PS. I want to also send a very heart-felt "merci" to all of you for your comments on my previous post. They left me so moved as to be uncertain how to respond other than saying, "Thank you."

32 comments:

  1. You're such a good writer....you did our lunch, the restaurant and our little reunion justice, both in words and photos. I'm blushing like a rosé for all your flattering praise! You're right about two things, one, Vintrépide deserves a line up at the door and two, we must see each other more often.

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    1. I do believe I am right about all of the above, wonderful lady!

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  2. Well, that settles it. I am definitely going to have to come back to Provence to give this place a try. Meet me for lunch? XOXO

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    1. I would be there with bells on! Are you kidding? :) Definitely your kind of food, Jeanne.

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  3. mmmm….i think i could have stopped right there at that poached egg and mushroom emulsion moment….sounds like a perfect combination of textures and flavours….you must have positively waddled out of the restaurant i suspect…but when food is that good, it's so difficult not to want to have a little taste of everything…looks lovely

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    1. It was V. And as David rightly guessed below, it wasn't heavy at all. So we left feeling just good but not overly stuffed. We had a nice walk around Aix after and it was perfect. We have to get you to Aix one of these days!!!

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    2. Oddly enough (and I may have told you before now, Heather)?....Herve and I have been to Aix en Provence only twice. Each time, we emerged from the Cathedral (I love that wacky, ancient, cobbled-together joint) to find ourselves in the middle of a bigass, 150-or-so guests, Iranian wedding reception (Trust me...I can tell these folks are Iranian, perhaps because, when I ask them, they reply in perfect, clipped Oxford/Cambridge British accents that they're originally Iranian). In each case (and these were, rather obviously, not exactly desperate, starving refugees), we extricated ourselves from the celebrating crowd and had lunch on the periphery of the square. Looking at the matrons?.....I've never seen so much gold in one place except for the time I visited the Cathedral treasury in Seville. I've always assumed that they're the sort of Iranians who high-tailed it (along with several truckloads of jewels and gold) out of Tehran along with the Shah. How they ended up in Aix, I suppose I'll never know.

      A few years ag, such a person showed up at one of my openings (in Durham, North Carolina, of all places). Turns out this regally hawk-nosed, imperious, somewhat-elderly, and bejewelled woman was the mother of a doctor at Duke. She lived in Paris and was visiting. We all quizzed her as much as possible and basically learned that she wanted us (Americans in general, more accurately) to attack and bomb Iran, presumably so that she could go back there and kill any survivors and get her stuff back. Ithought she was just sort of charmingly eccentric/cranky, but Herve (who, as member of Doctors Without Borders, is, as you might guess, rather more informed about such matters than I am)explained to me, after the opening, that I had just spent twenty minutes talking to A Very-Very Bad Person.

      In any case, I think Aix is beautiful.

      ---david terry
      www.davidterryart.com

      ----david Terry
      www.davidterryart.com

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    3. P.S. I know....I'm jerking this thread off-course, but I think you'll enjoy this, Heather.

      I was just recalling that, as I stood there in the gallery talking to (listening to, for the most part) that haughty, gold-laden woman, Herve stood behind her and, atone point, kept pointing at her head and mouthing something. Now, I'm reasonably fluent in French, but I can't READ LIPS in French.

      Turns out he was crossing his eyes, pointing his finger down at her head (he's 6'1", and she was about 5'1", at most), and mouthing "ANCIEN REGIME!!!! Look Out!"

      ----david terry

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    4. David, I just reread all of this in realizing that I hadn't responded and can I add that I am glad that you clarified the context? Merci.

      And yes, Aix never disappoints.

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  4. Wow!!! You certainly made me drool, Vintrépide sounds like the perfect place to catch up with your good friend! I bet they will be doing brisk business after your awesome reviews and pictures!
    Love, Julia

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    1. Julia!! It has been ages and ages! It is soo good to hear from you and I want to get caught up with you and your beautiful family. :)

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  5. Such a joy to discover those small, special places. Sounds like the perfect place to be on a Saturday afternoon!

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    1. It was! But they also have a wine cellar area in the back that would be nice for a romantic dinner for two.

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  6. Such beautiful food for such a reasonable price; restaurants in my part of town, sit up and take note please! What a lovely way to spend time with friends.

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    1. I agree! Everything in Arles has gotten so expensive, it is out of hand. If this were closer, we would go!

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  7. Certainly,it's wonderful to be with a gourmet chef who knows which restaurant to choose. Very nice food photos.


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  8. Heather,
    I recently found your blog while doing a search for Arles blogs. I've enjoyed reading through your posts. My daughters and I are in here for the month of December and my parents are joining us on the 22nd. We have been traveling through Europe since the beginning of September and this is our last stop before heading home to the US.

    Could you recommend a place to get a small Christmas tree? I've seen some at the Monoprix. I do not have a rental car so it will need to be a place I can walk. We have a rental near the Amphitheater.

    This restaurant in Aix looks great. Thanks for taking a picture of the outside to make it easier to find.

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    1. Well hello! What an amazing adventure you are on with your daughters--the trip of a lifetime! How fun to imagine typing to you just a quick walk away. I hope that you are enjoying your time in Arles. It is beautiful at this time of year. Do you have the rental right on the Arena? It is going to be lit up for the holidays on Friday. And the festivities for the "Droles de Noel" are always a treat as well. One other thought, the midnight mass at St. Trophime on the 24th is very special as at the end there is a true Provençal procession in the church with women in the Arlesienne costumes (beautiful) as well as sheep pulling carts--a living manger scene if you will.

      Ok, on to the Christmas tree. I would suggest that you wait until tomorrow if you can. Then you can go to "my guy" at the Wednesday market (across from Monoprix but the trees are in the parking lot across the street, you will see them). I wrote about him here:
      http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2011/12/monster-in-my-living-room.html
      But he has small trees too! ;) The other folks have a nice selection of holly and the like for decorating.

      Don't hesitate to write me a robinsonheather (at) yahoo.com if you have other questions, I love to help and there are traps to be avoided in Arles (such as eating on the Place du Forum). And if you see a redhead out walking two Golden Retrievers--that is me! So please do say Hi...
      With my Best from a couple blocks below,
      Heather

      PS. Have you eaten at the Cuisine du Comptoir yet? Do! It is super fresh and the best deal in town:
      http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2013/06/the-cool-tourist-at-cuisine-de-comptoir.html
      On the pricier side (we go for lunch) but similar to the restaurant in Aix is L'Autruche:
      http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2011/09/color-and-crunch-in-arles.html

      Enjoy!

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  9. Well,Heather......despite what you obviously think, I happen to think you ought to add "Food Writer" to "Travel Writer" in your self-description; that's the most enticing blog posting I've read in a while (granted, the photographs were as compelling as the writing).

    Sitting here at my kitchen table in North Carolina, I was just struck by a slight pang of wistfulness....recalling how wonderful it is to have a succession of small dishes, and to spend three hours having (in contrast to merely eating) lunch in a French cafe/restaurant....and to walk out afterwards, absolutely sure that you'd had just the right amount of everything.

    I'll admit to wondering, this past Thanksgiving Day, if I'd become an irretrievable snob. The fact is that I was born and raised in Tennessee, but I nonetheless sat there at a friend's table, looked at the HUGE plates everyone had giddily served up for him/herself.....and I wondered how in the hell folks were going to eat, in the space of perhaps 45 minutes, a mound of mish-mashed food as big as his/her head. They all did it, though. After that, they immedaitely plunged into pies....and, yes, everyone was encouraged/cajoled into having a piece of BOTH types.

    Well, I wouldn't be the first to have noticed that one of the greatest charms of the French table isn't necessarily so much what folks eat, but HOW they eat it.

    Thanks for the good posting,
    David Terry
    www.davidterryart.com

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    1. Absolutely, David. You are completely right. We left satiated but not in the least feeling overly full. The plates were so fresh and balanced--nothing was there as "filler"!!! And thank you for your compliment. I really love writing about food but just don't often get the occasion to do so. I will admit that it takes twice as long as my "normal" writing though. And I have Jenn to thank for the photos--she helped light them with her phone, something I would have never thought to do.

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  10. I never thought of you as a food writer...but more of a poet traveller....but of course anything through your words will capture the reader...My mouth is watering ...Lets' finally meet there during my next visit to Provence.

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  11. Ahh, quel bon tuyau. Ce sont les choses dont on a besoin. Cela a l'air delicieux et beau. J'aurais envie d'y aller toute suite...mais avec une distance de plus de 1000 kilomètres ... une autre fois!

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    1. Effectivement c'est un peu loin, Silke...un peu. :)

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  12. Oh Heather you have such a lovely way with words that you've dished up another mouth-watering post for us all. And I do have to admit to being a bit green at the thought of spending an afternoon sipping and dining with my favorite Provence blogger. . .Bon Appetit!

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  13. Yep, yep, yep, I will definitely be eating here! x

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    1. Sara! I thought of you about this. You really need to make the trip down. Hopefully I haven't built it up too much but I don't think I did!

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  14. You nearly had me falling off my chair Heather...that menu! As much as I love Vietnamese food...and we have quite a few good French restaurants in Saigon as well..there is nothing like the 'real deal'. To be in Provence or anywhere in France...eating French food...I would be in heaven! xx

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    1. Then perhaps we have to make it happen? I know a very good French chef, he cooks simply but it is not bad...

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  15. Oh my goodness, this is just down the street from my friend and business partner! I was there in June and saw the beginnings of some new enterprise, and this is it..I'll have to ask if she has eaten there. I most certainly will on my next trip! Small world indeed.

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