It is often said that it is hard to get a bad meal in Provence. Whereas it might be difficult to get a truly bad meal, it is not that hard to get a mediocre meal and really, who wants a mediocre meal? During my annual travels to the region, I continue to refine my list of favorite restaurants - those where you can actually get a fine meal at a fair price, coupled with friendly, attentive service and often a beautiful setting. Some of these restaurants have been on my list for years and others just made it onto my list recently and sadly, some of my favorites have closed or have a new chef who misses the mark.
Perhaps my new favorite restaurant is the charming Le Carillon in the tiny Lubéron town of Goult. Owners Laetitia and Bruce could not be kinder or more hospitable. The menu is small, nicely curated and inventive while still being true to the flavors of the region. The well-priced menu at mid-day offers excellent value. Whether dining outside on the small terasse or inside in a sleek modern space, a meal at Le Carillon is a pleasure to be enjoyed more than once.
For those seeking a high-end, fine-dining experience or looking to celebrate a special occasion, L'Oustalet in Gigondas fits the bill. L'Oustalet is a collaboration between Chef Laurent Deconinck and the Perrin family of winemakers. The vegetables are sourced from the restaurant's own garden insuring freshness. The plating, often featuring tiny baby vegetables picked that morning, is spare and dramatic. Although some might find the portions small and the plating a bit precious, the care and attention of the chef cannot be faulted. The restaurant offers a variety of "menus" ranging in price from 38 euros (lunch only) to 96 euros. Wine pairing will set you back an additional 36 to 62 euros. There are also à la carte offerings and a very extensive wine list.
If you've braved the hair-raising, white-knuckle drive on the narrow road through the Gorge de la Nesque, you deserve a really good meal. Nestled in the square of the tiny town of Monieux, Les Lavandes offers a frequently changing carte featuring iconic Provencal produce and provisions- truffles, honey, cheese, mushrooms, lamb and "petit épeautre" the native grain. Snag a table on the terrasse facing the statue and fountain of La Nesque, watch the cyclists whiz by and settle in for a long, leisurely lunch.
The 3-course formule du jour is attractively priced at 26 euros while the more extensive "Senteur et Saveur" menu will set you back 45 euros. I greatly appreciated the many gently priced wine choices available in full or half bottles.