|Subject: restaurants in Provence|
First of all, I'd like to point out an excellent restaurant guide for Provence &Cote-d'Azur, called Guide Gantié. Unfortunately, it is only available in France. Perhaps you can find a copy, once you arrive.
Even though Michelin and Gault-Millau are reliable guides, I prefer this one (the tattered condition of my 2000 edition bears witness), because it gives wonderful descriptions of the food and atmosphere. Also it deals with lesser-known restaurants which you don't find in the standard guides. Above all, it's accurate, qua quality and price. I've eaten in 20+ of the places in the book and was never disappointed.
Here are some suggestions concerning some of the towns you mentioned (I give 2000 prices still in FF, divide by 7 for $): Aix-en-Provence: Le Bistrot Latin: 18, Rue de la Colonne (tel: 04 42 38 22 88) a simple but original rest. with bargain prices. Fresh, local products. lunch menu: 55-95 FF, dinner menu: 140-189 FF
Le Clos de la Violette: 10, ave de la Violette, 04 42 23 30 71 OK, this is not a cheap place, but perhaps the best in Provence. 2** Michelin. Very refined, very subtle. Once in one's life one should indulge in the best of French cuisine. You'll never regret or forget it. The lunch menu is 270 FF, dinner 500 FF.
St. Maximin-la-Ste Baume (40 km east of Aix): Hostellerie du Couvent Royal, adjacent to the Basilique, 04 94 86 55 66 Here you dine in the impressive 12th C. convent, either in the courtyard or inside under the vaulted ceiling. The food is excellent, light, refined. A perfect lunch place. Lunch menu: 120 FF. While there, you should visit the Basilique and admire Mary Magdelene's skull in the crypt. Read more about it in the archives of http://www.aboutprovence.com The convent has been turned into a hotel, completely renovated and looks very inviting. Plus the room price is reasonable: 320+ FF par nuit.
Les Baux-de-Provence: This is tricky, because it's such a touristy place. The first time I'd eaten in the village, it was so bad, that now I just grab a sandwich. But just outside Les Baux (in le Val d'enfer - Hell's Valley!), there are some renown places, such as lOusteau de Baumanière (very expensive) or La Cabre d'Or where the lunch menu of 195 FF might still be doable. BTW, when you visit Les Baux, descend a few km to Mausanne, and the olive-oil cooperative. The best in France, perhaps the world?
Avignon: D'Ici et d'Ailleurs (from here and from elsewhere): 4 rue Galante (a street behind, the main, Place de l'Horloge) 04 90 14 63 65 This is a pleasant restaurant with local dishes (d'ici) and more exotic ones, such as tuna curry or sushi (d'ailleurs'). A typical example of a restaurant that I would not have found, it it weren't for the Guide Gantié. Prices are very reasonable: 60FF for lunch menu, dinner menu 75 - 90 FF.
In general it's best to order a menu rather than à la carte, because it gives you the best value for your money. Also the lunch menus offer an opportunity to eat in top places for less money than with dinner. Many of the lunch menus offer a choice of first course (Entrée not to be confused with the American designation of main course) and main course. Or, main course + dessert. In the cheaper places, a caraffe of wine is often included, and/or coffee. Also, the prices include tax and service. If you like the food and service you can leave a tip, but the standard American 15-20% is not expected. Eating in a good French restaurant is such a pleasure. You're not being rushed, because the patron expects only one sitting per table. For lunch, don't arrive before 12 or 12:30, but after 2 pm most restaurants stop serving lunch (for new arrivals). Dinner: most restaurants open around 7 or 7:30 pm. but the best time to eat would be 8:30 or 9 pm, if you want to enjoy the busy atmosphere.
Hope this helps, Frieda Lekkerkerker