December 23, 2007

French Olive oil

French Olive oil: A very expensive golden elixir, but worth its price. Some brands are available in the U.S.

Hey, Stéphane, I apologize for having waited so long to answer your request on French olive oil, but several recurrent nasty colds in October and November slowed me down quite a bit. I confess: I am an olive oil addict. But believe me, it is a topic that is dear to my heart of ‘’méridional’’ who was born and raised in an area full of olive trees, as you were able to see in July during our vacation in the département du Gard. We always used olive oil at home, even though my mother used a commercial brand, usually the very decent Puget, a very old family-owned company from Marseilles, that in the fifties and sixties sold its olive oil in conic containers made of carton that were both pretty and useful since they protected the oil from various sources of light. Light and heat are the worth enemies of olive oil, along with oxygen. This is why you should always keep a bottle of olive oil tightly capped or stopped, store it away from direct sunlight, and away from any source of heat, especially in the kitchen. Olive oil, especially the cheap kind, can become rancid very rapidly. In fact never keep an opened bottle of olive oil for more than 3 months. Nowadays, Puget is owned by a megagroup, Lesieur, and it is probably the best selling French brand of commercial olive oil. Among its 3 extra-virgin oils I prefer the ‘’fruitée’’, that I used to prepare the baked fresh thyme and garlic chicken that we ate in the house we rented in Pompignan in July. But, even though Puget is still quite fine for everyday use, its quality is not the same as it used to be and it does not have the subtle, and exhilarating aroma of a 100% French olive oil. The reason is that it is no longer made exclusively from French-grown olives, but probably from a blend of olives coming from other countries from the European Community.  

The French production (4,000 metric tons) is so small that it does not even cover 5% of French domestic consumption. So France imports 95% of the olive oil it needs from Spain, Italy, Greece, and North-Africa. As you know I use a large amount of olive oil in my cooking, since we would never use a different oil to make salad dressings, bake or broil chicken-based dishes, or even fry eggs. I love making mashed potatoes with olive oil instead of butter. And naturally, between May and October, I pour it liberally on tomatoes, and other cold or warm vegetable dishes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and crusty baguette. I use it, along with Dijon mustard and thyme, as an emulsion to coat a leg of lamb or a pork tenderloin. And of course it is a very important component of my ratatouille. So you will not be surprised that I buy about 2 full liters per month during the summer months. But if you want to know the truth, I do not use French olive oil in my everyday cooking, it would be too expensive. I use a very decent Greek olive oil, made 100% from Kalamata olives, that I buy at Trader Joe’s for 7.99 dollars a full liter. I tried other cheap extra-virgin olive oil from Spain and Italy, like the ones you find at Whole Foods, but none, except maybe the Spanish Zoe, of them was as flavorful as my Greek oil, which by the way is always sold in a slightly greenish glass bottle, and has an expiration date clearly marked on the bottle.  

It is very important to buy an olive oil that is very young, no more than 18 months after harvest time. As a matter of fact the optimum taste of an extra-virgin oil lasts only a few months. That is why you should never buy an olive oil that does not have a date either of production, or of limit of consumption. Before you choose one that you like, go to a store where they have open samples, and try a few different oils. Remember that a fine olive oil, like a fine wine, needs to be looked at, smelled, and tasted very carefully. It is best to taste it straight from the bottle in a small plastic spoon, and not on bread. Once you put the content of that small spoon in you mouth, do not swallow it right a way. Let some air enter you mouth and roll it around your tongue and back to your taste buds, and let the full power of the fruit slowly invade your palate and your soul. If you close your eyes you can actually hear the provençal cicadas sing in your head. Learn to recognize the different aromas and organoleptic characteristics of the oil: Is it peppery, fruity, herbaceous, bitter, complex, very mild or very ripe? Does its bouquet (like for a wine) have notes of fresh artichoke bottom, of anise seed, of raw almonds, of lavender, of apples, or is it slightly citrussy? It will take time, but eventually, you will enjoy the ‘’degustation’’ of fine extra-virgin French olive oil as much as you derive a lot of pleasure from wine tastings.  

About that delicious olive oil that we bought at the farmers market in Saint-Hippolyte-du Fort last summer 

  Me too Stéphane... I mourn the end of that great bottle of ‘’L’Olivette’’, this very silky and fruity extra-virgin olive oil that we bought at the farmer’s market in Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort, during our summer vacation. I wanted to call the very informed salesman who took care of us, since I was curious to know what variety of olives were used to produce that oil and in what village they were harvested. But I could not find any phone number corresponding to the address mentioned on the bottle: L’Olivette des Garrigues, 34690 Fabrègues. Fabrègues is a very small town a few miles West of Montpellier. But we cannot be sure that this ‘’brand’’ of oil, that is not sold in stores, is made from olives harvested in the Fabrègues area, even though some olive trees planted around there produce good fruit. I would guess that this guy, who is probably a small broker or wholesaler, buys its oil from a cooperative or independent ‘’moulin’’ (mill), bottles it and stick that fancy pretty label bearing the rather common name of ‘’L’olivette’’ on it . Anyway, it was very smooth and probably barely filtered. Its very low level of acidity, less than 0,5% according to the label, and the fact that it had been extracted and bottled just a few months before we bought it, were the main reasons for its suavity and fresh fruity aftertaste, with just a faint note of spice in the finish. Judging by that taste, I would say that this oil was not produced in the neighboring area of Nimes, the youngest (2004) of the 8 government-certified AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) areas of production of French olive oils. These AOC ‘’ Huile d’Olive de Nimes’’ oils that are produced by 7 coops or privately owned mills, derive for more than 70% from ‘’Picholine’ olives, that give them a more assertive, slightly bitter and peppery flavor, than the one we had in l’Olivette. Its aroma reminded me more of a ‘’huile d’olive de la Vallée des Baux’’, another AOC located between Maussane-Les-Alpilles and Les Baux-de-Provence, not too far from Saint-Rémy (where Van Gogh painted some beautiful olive trees). In any case it did not bear any mention of the area of origin, which would indicate an AOC, or even the label ”Huile d’Olive de France“ guaranteeing that it was a 100% French olive oil. But I am ready to bet that it was an authentic French olive oil and not one of these cheap blends of dubious origin that too many unscrupulous traveling salesmen sell to ignorant tourists during the summer at their stands in open and farmers markets in Provence and Languedoc.
My friend Kiki last year brought me back a bottle of a very silky olive oil from the well-known Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille from Maussane, in the Alpilles, near Les Baux-de-Provence. It is one of my favorite French olive oils and belongs to the category of ‘’fruité noir’’ (fruity, coming from mature black olives). This oil was awarded the Gold Medal at the 2007 Concours Général Agricole in Paris, in that particular category of oil.  

What make French olive oils different from olive oils from other producing countries? 

To answer the second part of your question as to what make French AOC olive oils different from olive oils from other producing countries I would say: To me they are better because they are produced in much smaller quantities than in other countries, under very strict production and quality standards. These standards are as diverse and constraining and deal with several factors such as the density of olive trees planted per acre, or plot, the yield, the method of harvesting, and the production techniques guaranteeing the non usage of heat and chemicals in the process, etc. Also because, like it is the case for French AOC wines, these oils are made from specific varietals of olives grown in very well defined geographic areas that reflect very distinctive terroir tastes and aromatic characteristics. The olives are harvested in the fall, then crushed, usually within 24 hours, between two granite wheels to create a paste, that is then pressed according to very old traditional methods to extract a mix of water and oil. Then this fluid mix is decanted or more ad more often centrifuged to separate the oil from the water. The oil will be stored first in metallic barrels and later bottled. So, French olive oils are made of pure fruit juice extracted by only mechanical means within a few hours after harvesting, at low temperature under 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They are not subjected to any heat or chemical treatment. The only accepted treatments are: sorting, washing, crushing, mixing to obtain a paste, extraction by pressing or other purely mechanical means, centrifugation, and decantation. They have a very low level of acidity (percentage of free oleic acids content per weight). In Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra, it always has to be inferior to 0,8%. And in most very good oils this acidity level goes down to under 0,2 to 0,5%. This very important factor, and the total absence of organoleptic defects, contributes to their smoothness and fruitiness. Most of the time, the olives are harvested by hand, which preserves their structural integrity and original characteristics. They fall on nets or plastic tarps placed on the ground under the trees. Nowadays, a few growers use mechanical harvesting means, but more often in larger groves. And when a year turns bad, for climate or infestation-based reasons, some small traditional producers prefer not to extract oil at all from their olives. One reason for the high price of French Extra Virgin olive oils, especially the AOC is the need to use between 5 and 7 kilos of olives to obtain one liter of oil. And the mills still crushing olives through granite wheels and using traditional presses rather than more modern, efficient and productive centrifugation-based systems, need to be even more selective in their mostly hand-picking of adequate olives with a low water content. Besides, in French stores most of the time you will find only Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, and sometimes “Virgin” (a blend of extra-virgin oils with a higher level of acidity but less than 2%). But no so-called “pure”, “refined”, or ”light” olive oils that you find in American stores. These inferior oils are in fact blends of various low-quality olive oils containing very little extra-virgin oil, and a large percentage of refined oils, that most of the time have been chemically processed trough non-mechanical means, and heated. This is a big ‘’no-no’’ for connoisseurs and serious professionals. I will not elaborate on pomace olive oil (huile de grignons), produced from pulp, skin, and solid materials like broken pits, left after pressing or centrifugation, mixed with a little virgin olive oil, and processed with heat and solvents, that is often used in cheap restaurants offering Indian or Middle-Eastern cuisine. You should also know that nowadays, the label ‘’première pression à froid’’ (first cold pressing) does not mean much any more since no serious oil producer, especially in AOC zones would proceed with a ‘’second pressing’’, and in any case all bona fide Extra-Virgin oils are cold- pressed. Besides as said earlier, many modern oil mills do not use traditional hydraulic presses made of ‘’scourtins’’ (round discs) any more, but other types of mechanical and centrifugal extractors. So, in 2007, most of the time the label of an AOC French olive oil will bear that description: “ Huile d’olive de qualité supérieure obtenue directement des olives et uniquement par des procédés mécaniques’’ (Olive oil of a premium quality obtained directly from olives and only through mechanical process). You no longer will necessarily find the mention of ‘’first cold pressed’’ on the label. The essential info that you must find on the label, besides the name of the mill or the grower, are a geographical origin (Provence, Nimes, Nyons etc. or more simply ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’), the level of acidity , the year it was harvested or a date indicating when the oil will no longer be considered as fresh, the number of centiliters or milliliters contained in the bottle or the can, and the quality description mentioned earlier. On the label of some AOC oils, you might also see the following indications: ‘’fruité vert’’, ‘’fruité noir’’ or ‘’ fruité mûr’’, indicating that the type of aroma, specific flavor, and fruitiness of the oil comes from ‘’ripe black olives’’, ‘’ripe green olives’’ , or simply ripe olives that have reached a perfect level of maturity. Some of them might have been crushed and pressed a little longer than 24 hours after being harvested to increase precisely that ‘’mature’’ and extra-rich aroma and taste. Always keep in mind that the color of an olive is the result of its degree of maturity. They are no such things as varieties of green, purple, and black olives. They all start as green fruit.  

France’s production of olive oil is very limited, and it is concentrated in areas close to the Mediterranean Sea. 

  The fact that French olive oils are produced in small quantities partially explain their high price. France produces only 4,000 tons of olive oil per year, making it only the 15th producing country in the world. Per comparison, the largest one, Spain, produces 1,179,100 tons (43,3% of the world’s total production). Italy come second with 550,000 tons (20,2% of the world output). Greece, which is the largest consumer of olive oil per capita in the world, is in third place with 367,000 tons (13,5%) and Morocco 4th, with 280,000 tons (10.6%). Olive growers from Turkey, make an enormous marketing effort to promote their olive oil in the U.S (they have a beautiful store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago), are the 5th world producer with 120,000 tons (6,6%). The next largest producers in decreasing order of gross annual tonnage are Tunisia, Syria, Algeria, Portugal, Jordan, Argentina, Libya, Lebanon, and Croatia. Brazil intends to become a major producing country in the near future. As you can see, even though California’s production is expanding rapidly, the United States are not yet ranked among the top 15 producing countries. There are approximately 30,000 olive growers in France located in 12 départements : Alpes-maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence, Var, Bouches du Rhône, Gard, Hérault, Aude, Pyrénées Orientales, Ardèche, Vaucluse, Drôme, Corse. But not all of them produce oil. A lot of their olives are either used as edible food, or in condiments and apetizers. The others are used to make commercial oil used in the soap and cosmetic industry. Except for a microscopic production of olive oil, used exclusively by the locals, in the tiny Island of RÉ, just off La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast, practically all the French “oliveraies” (olive groves), ‘’domaines et coopératives oléicoles” and “moulins” (olive growers, cooperatives, and privately-owned mills that process the oil) are in the south of France between the Italian and the Spanish borders, often a few miles off the Mediterranean coast. Two areas of production, the region of Nyons in the département of Drôme, and the Southern part of Ardèche, are a little farther north, about 50 km north-east and north-west of Avignon. Even though it is not yet recognized as an AOC, the region of Languedoc , including the areas of Minervois, where very good red and rosé wines are also produced, the area around Montpellier, and the Roussillon near the Spanish border, are other areas where very good and fruity extra-virgin oil producers can be found. The Minervois area is located north of Narbonne and East of Beziers, in Southern Languedoc. In fact, the whole Languedoc-Roussillon region is the 2nd largest producing area of olive oil representing 16% of the total French production.

Some of the best are produced in specific areas, and it shows on the label 

At this time, there are only 8 areas of production awarded the official AOC (Appellation d’origine Contrôlée) by the official French Institute of Registered Appellations of Origin (INAO). The 8th one, Huile d’Olive de Provence was officially recognized in March of 2007. And in 2008, a 9th AOC, Pays d’Oc, might be introduced But very good French extra-virgin olive oils can be produced or distributed without having an AOC label. The ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’ certificate granted by AFIDOL, the official French Association of producers of olives, olive oil, and olive-based products, is a guarantee that they are produced in France from exclusively French-grown olives, and according to strict standards. They are perfectly fine and some of them earn big prizes at the Concours Général Agricole de Paris, a very serious national show and competition for agri-food products. But for the AOC oils, the most prestigious competition, is the Concours des AOC, that is organized by AFIDOL in NYONS in May. According to AFIDOL, more than 220 mills extract olive oil in France, but only 75, for now, are certified as producing AOC-labeled oils. But many mills produce different qualities of oils: Some are Mono-varietal, some result from a mix of varieties of olives, sometimes from different French areas. Some bear the AOC label, some not, but it does not mean that the non AOC oil is not as good. Several of the mills mentioned here below produce both AOC and Non-AOC oils  

The 8 regions recognized as AOC are:

Nyons (and more particularly the area of Les Baronnies) in the département de la Drôme,

North of the Mont Ventoux, about 50 miles due north-east of Avignon. It was the first AOC officially recognized in 1994. The main variety of olives used there is the Tanche, that is pressed when it is very black, ripe to the point of having a wrinkled skin. They are well balanced, mild, and can be paired with practically every type of food. About 20 mills, coops, and private growers are producing good olive oils there but only 12 have the AOC ‘’huile d’olive de Nyons’’ label. One of the best is Moulin à huile DOZOL-AUTRAND. (available in the U.S,) . It got the gold medal at the Nyons competition for this AOC in 2007. The Coopérative oleicole du Nyonsais , in Nyons, Le Vieux Moulin in Mirabel les Baronnies (not an AOC), Huilerie RICHARD , in Nyons, Moulin Jacques RAMADE ( in Nyons, Ferme de BLUYE in Plaisans, that obtain the silver medal at the Nyons competition this year. The Moulin de Haute Provence in Buis les Baronnies, are also very good producers. RICHARD, Cooperative oleicole du Nyonsais, and Le Vieux Moulin are available in the U.S.  

Vallée des Baux-de-Provence

This AOC, that was recognized in 1997, is located in the northeast part of the département des Bouches du Rhône, in a very pretty hilly area called ‘’Les Alpilles’’ ,near the charming medieval village of Les Baux. This zone of production uses a larger panel of varieties of olives: Salonenque, Aglandau, Grossane, and Verdale, are the most common, along sometimes with the Béruguette. Most of these oils are made from several (often 5) varieties of olives which give them complexity and richness. They can be herbal, or peppery, always ‘’sexy’’. Some of the best producers are: CASTELAS (owned by a provençal couple, the Hughes, who lived for many years in Arizona, in Les Baux Moulin Jean-Marie CORNILLE in Maussane-Les Alpillles Both are available in the U.S. (see: Retail sources later) Other very good oils from that area are: Moulin Saint-Michel in Mouriès, and Chateau d’Estoublon, that produces also very nice wines, in Fontvieille (available in the U.S.)  


This area is not exclusively centered around the beautiful city of AIX, in the département of Bouches-du-Rhône, but expand to villages and small towns such as La Fare les Oliviers, Eguilles, Miramas, Berre, Lançon de Provence, or Salon de Provence. The AOC was recognized in 1999. The main varieties of olives used in that area are the Salonenque, Aglandau, Verdale and Grossane, along with the Cayanne and the Bouteillan. Pretty close to Les Baux in taste and texture, but with a little more spice. Some of the best producers are: Moulin des Costes, in the charming village of Pélissanne. Château Virant, in Lançon de Provence Mas des Bories in Salon de Provence (These 3 oils are available in the U.S) The oliveraie du Mas Mérici, in Berre, is another fine oil, but not available in the U.S.. Same for the oils from Moulin à huile de La Fare Les Oliviers in La Fare les Oliviers, and the Château Calissanne, that as far as know are not sold in the U.S.

Haute Provence

Recognized in 1999, this beautiful area is located along the Valley of the Durance River, Giono’s country, not far from the famous lavender fields, a little higher up. The main variety of olive there is the Aglandau. The oils are very sweet, floral and fruity, with a light touch of bitter almonds. I love them. One of the better known “moulin” is le Moulin de l’Olivette in Manosque , in the département of Alpes de Haute Provence, that you can sometimes find in the U.S.. It got a gold medal in Nyons in 2007. Another good one is le Moulin des Pénitents, in Les Mées, but I do not think it is available in the U.S.  


Recognized as an AOC in 2001, this small area is concentrated in the Département des Alpes Maritimes between Vence and Menton. The main variety of olive used is the Cailletier, a small olive harvested when it is quite ripe (black). The oils are very aromatic, almost pungent, but soft and with a low level of bitterness. Some of the better known Moulins are: Le Moulin de la Brague , in Opio, a very pleasant oil in a tin can widely available in the U.S, and ALZIARI, in Nice a very old mill that also produces olive oils from other regions than Nice. Available in the U.S. Also André Giauffret, in Colomars, who got the gold medal in Paris in 2007. And let’s not forget the the Oliveraie de la Sirole, in Colomars, that obtained the silver medal in Nyons in 2007.  

Corse (Corsica)

This AOC, recognized in 2004, is comprised of 4 areas of productions in two regions, Corse du Nord and Corse du Sud, that use mostly the Sabine variety in the North and the Germaine in the South. But over the last 20 years several growers have been planting Picholine, the variety from the Nimes area, in the Eastern part of the Island. . I have to admit that I never tasted an oil from Corsica, and that I do not know much about them. From what I read, the Cooperative Oleicole de Balagne , in Corbara that got a gold medal at the Concours agricole in Paris in 2007 is quite good. José Rioli, in Cervione, who got the silver medal Also the oil from Patrick BARTOLI, in Olmetto, that obtain the gold medal in Nyons in 2007 for this AOC. Also the oil from MARQUILLIANI, in Aghione that obtain the silver medal at the same competition. I do not think that any of them are available in the US.  

Nimes (Yeah....)

This AOC area , label obtained in 2004, covers essentially the largest part of the département du Gard, from the Ardèche border, to Beaucaire along the Rhône River and from Anduze, at the foot of the Cévennes mountains to the Mediterranean coast. It also covers a small part of the North-Eastern area of the département de l’Hérault, close to Montpellier. The Gard is the second largest producing Département after Bouches du Rhône. The varieties of olives used are the delicious Picholine, (at least 70%), and in a much smaller proportion, the Négrette and the Noirette. Some of the best producers are: Le moulin de Villevieille in Villevieille (Coopérative oléicole de Sommières) This AOC is my personal favorite. it obtain the gold medal for this AOC in the Nyons Competition on 2007. Moulin à huile Paradis, from the Domaine du Moulin du Portal, in Martignargues. it is not an AOC but it won a gold medal in Paris in 2007 , as a Huile d’olive de France in the ‘’fruité mûr’’ category. Domaine de Pierredon, in Esterzagues. It obtain the gold medal in 2007 in Paris for this AOC. Moulin des Ombres in Meynes. a very good AOC that obtained a gold medal in 2005 Moulin des Costières in ST. Gilles. another great AOC Unfortunately, I do not know if any of them are available in the U.S.

This AOC was recognized in March of 2007, and the first oils bearing this new label have been bottled in November of 2007. So it is too early to have an idea of any specific style they might have. The mills and cooperatives oléicoles for this new AOC are in fact located on several dozens of villages and townships in 7 départements: Alpes- de- Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse, Gard (only 9 villages, though) , and Drôme (only one village).However I do not understand why the Gard and the Drôme, that do not belong to the Provence region, are part of this AOC. Besides many townships listed in the official document are already listed in 5 of the other AOC. And , since I do not have yet a list of the mills benefiting from the new AOC Provence label, I have no way to recommend any specific oil. I am glad though, that the Var and the Vaucluse are included since they have several good producers, that were not listed before since these two départements were not included in the first 6 AOC. I am thinking in particular of the Moulin à huile Gervasoni, in Aups (Var), that produces the very good oils of Eric Martin. They obtained two gold medals in Paris in 2007 in the Huile de France (fruité mûr and fruité vert) category. Also of the Moulin du Haut Jasson, in La Londe des Maures (Var) that obtained a silver medal in Paris in 2007 in the huile de France, fruité vert category. The Moulin à huile du Vieux Château, in Mérindol, (Vaucluse), is also very good and got a bronze medal in the Huile d’olive de France, fruité vert, in Paris. Now, as far as oils from other non AOC producing areas are concerned, let’s not forget what I said earlier: Very good or excellent extra-virgin olive oils that are not listed under an AOC label , but have at least a label ‘’Huile d’olive de France’’ certifying that they are made according to high standards from French grown olives exclusively, are produced by either individual growers and mills or ‘’coopératives oléicoles’’, in many parts of the Languedoc and Roussillon regions.
You can find their addresses and a description of their products in the ‘’annuaire’’ section of the AFIDOL ( the French trade organization. A few French non producing companies, that have very nice stores in Paris and other large cities, like ‘’A l’Olivier’’ ( ), Huilerie Leblanc ( ), and OetCO (Oliviers et CO) ( ), distribute and sell in their shops or on line very good olive oils from all over Europe, including France of Course. Some of their oils are sold in the U.S. OetCO has more than 50 stores in the world, including 11 in the United States. The company was created in 1996, by an authentic Provençal gentleman, by the name of Olivier Baussan, who also created the L’Occitane chain of provençal products. Its selection of French AOC oils is relatively small but excellent  

Where can you buy French olive oils in the United-States?

First a reminder: Do not be surprised by the high price of the French olive oil you will find in this country. As I said earlier, good quality French olive oil is very expensive, about 3 times more expensive than the Italian, and 5 times more expensive than the Spanish oil. But if it can comfort you, that same premium oil is also very expensive in France. A liter (100 cl or 33.6 fl.oz) of good Extra-virgin AOC will cost between 20 and 50 euros ( 29.00 to 73.00 dollars). So it is better to limit yourself to buying bottles, or even better tins, with a content of 16.8 fl.oz =half a litter or 50 cl.) So it is an oil that you will not buy for everyday use but rather to give that extra-fancy and tasty finish to a salad, or a pasta dish, to douse on a good goat cheese, or to add at the last minute on a broiled filet of halibut. And of course, in the summer time, it will be perfect with a buffala mozzarella and tomatoes salad (caprese), or in a good niçoise salad. A few drops will also enhance the taste of a fresh artichoke bottom, or grilled red peppers and zucchinis. And I love to rub some on a lamb chop, before grilling, or to mix it with some lemon juice and pour it over some taboulé, hummus, or smoked salmon.

1. In stores 

As mentioned earlier, your safest choice would be to buy it in one the OLIVIERS & CO stores (O&CO). Unfortunately, for the time being they have stores only in the following cities: New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Newport Beach, and Short hills, NJ. You can also buy from them on line ( ). But you will have to add the cost of shipping. They sell: Moulin Fortuné Arrizi, from Haute–Provence, 45.00 dollars for a 16.8 fl.oz (half a liter) La Cravenco, AOC from Les Baux-de-Provence, 41.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Dozol-Autrand, AOC from Nyons, 42.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz or 24.00 dollars for 8.4 fl.oz ( = ¼ of a liter ) Château Virant AOC from Aix-en-Provence 37.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz If you are lucky to live in a big city, you might find, like we have in Chicago, stores specializing in oils and vinegars. OIL AND VINEGAR ( ) is a Dutch-owned company that has franchise shops in 11 countries, including the U.S (Chicago, Seattle, Missoula, Bozeman, Houston area, and Charlottesville) Or in large fancy food and grocery chains like Whole Foods and Wild Oats. But in Chicago, these stores have given the preference to Italian and Spanish oils.
KERMIT LYNCH in Berkeley, CA , the famous wine merchant who introduced lesser known but good wines from Languedoc and Provence to American wine drinkers , sells oilve oil from Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille 

2. On the web

The only potential problem is that you cannot be certain that the bottles they have in stock are from the most recent harvest (2006-2007), unless it is specified on their site. E-mail them to inquire and make sure. Otherwise do not buy. Several sites are worth exploring: WORLD HARVEST ( in Columbia, Missouri They sell: Château d’Estoublon, AOC Vallée des Baux-de- Provence 35.00 dollars for a tin container of 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Jean- Marie Cornille, AOC Vallée- des- Baux, from Maussane les Alpilles, 34.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz They also sell monovarietals (picholine or Grossane) from the same mill for 40.00 dollars Castelas, AOC Vallée des Baux-de-Provence, 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (50 cl) Moulin de la Brague, an AOC Nice from Opio in the Alpes Maritimes 28.00 dollars for 16.8 fl. oz GOURMET.COM ( They sell : Mas des Bories, a very good AOC Aix-En-Provence, 24.99 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz They also offer a monovarietal made from Aglandau for the same price. This oil is also sold in Milwaukee, WI at Larry’s Market , 8737 N. Deerwood Drive, Milwaukee WI, 53209 Tel: 800-355-9650 The reason is that Nico and Roxanne Derni, the owners of Mas des Bories, lived in Milwaukee for many years before Nico decided to go back to his native country, and bought the Mas. ZINGERMANS. COM ( in Ann Arbor, Michigan They sell: Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille, AOC Vallée-des-Baux de Provence 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz and 65.00 dollars for a full liter. Castelas, AOC Vallée- des- Baux 35.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Moulin Alziari, AOC Nice, 30.00 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz
Eric Martin, from the area of Tourtour, Var 55.00 dollars for a full liter FORMAGGIO KITCHEN, ( They sell: Château d’Estoublon, AOC de la Vallée des Baux. A pretty large panel of their oils ( AOC and monovarietals) ranging from 47.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz to 71.95 dollars for a full liter of AOC, and 89.95 dollars for a special bottle (50 ml) of Estoublon Couture, made from Picholine olives. Moulin Jean-Marie-Cornille, AOC Vallée-des-Baux de Provence, several sizes from 8.4 fl.oz to a full liter, from 19.95 dollars to 67.95 dollars CYBERCUCINA ( ) Tel: 800-796-0116 They sell: Le Moulin de la Brague, AOC Nice, Opio, 29.79 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Château Virant, AOC Aix-en-Provence Life in Provence, a private label from the Nice area, 19.95 dollars for 16.9 fl.oz A l’Olivier, garlic and herbs infused olive oil in tin , 16.50 dollars for 8.3 fl.oz SHOPOLIVES.COM ( ) They sell: An AOC from Aix-en- Provence (I could not read the exact brand) 20.87 dollars for 25 fl.oz (75 cl.) a real bargain if it is fresh... An extra-virgin from MarquOlive, that I believe come from the Nyons area for 9.56 dollars for 17 fl.oz. another bargain if it is fresh and good. But better inquire about it. And check the shipping price that might be as expensive as the oil... AMAZON.COM ( ) They sell: Castelas AOC Vallée-des-Baux 44.99 dollars for 25 fl.oz (75 cl) Moulin de la Brague , AOC Nice, huilerie d’OPIO, 29.99 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (in tin) or in bottle. A l’Olivier, Extra-Virgin, 26.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz Huilerie J. Leblanc, Extra-Virgin, 31 dollars for 1 liter (32 fl.oz) and 19.00 dollars for 16.8fl.oz (500 ml) SUR LA TABLE ( They sell : Castelas, AOC Vallée-des-Baux 34.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz A l’Olivier, Extra-Virgin 18.95 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz (in tin) ZABAR , New York , ( ) 800-697-6301 I was a little bit disappointed that this famous food emporium where I used to spend hours, offers only 2 brands of French Olive oil: They sell: The extra-virgin from A l’Olivier , 28.98 dollars for 750 ml (25 fl.oz) Castelas, unfiltered AOC, 21.98 dollars for 16.8 fl.oz
3. In Chicago

When I arrived in Chicago in January 1970, the only olive oil I could find when I was lucky was a decent but very boring Italian extra-virgin in funny plastic containers from Pompeian. Thirty eight years later, the choice of olive oils in grocery stores, supermarkets and specialty food stores or wine stores is very wide, and in a very large panel of geographical origins, and prices. We even have a few specialized stores that sell all kinds of fancy oils and vinegars, as well as ‘’gourmet” products using olive oils such as tapenades, spreads, condiments, flavored and infused oils etc. Some of the best ones are: OLD TOWN OLIVE OIL, 1520 North Wells St. Chicago, IL 60610. This a nice store that sells very good quality extra-virgin olive oils in bulk from various countries like Italy, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey , Australia, and Spain, as well as from California. But they do not sell yet French olive oil. They assured me they were working on it. You can taste samples. CITY OLIVE , 5408 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640 Tel: 773-878-5408 The very pleasant and competent owner, Karen Rose has not only showed a lot of taste in furnishing and decorating her very seductive boutique at the heart of Andersonville, but she also was able to put together a very intelligent panel of olive oils, salts, and vinegars, as well as appetizers and condiments, from some of the best independent growers and producers of quality products from 3 continents. She knows her stuff and can expertly provide good advice to the neophyte as well as the “advanced gourmet or cook” . Besides, spending time in that store has a very relaxing effect and tasting the various oils, vinegars and salts, can stimulate the potential creative cook in you. As far as French olive oils are concerned, she sells: Moulin St. Michel, a beautiful AOC from the Vallée- des- Baux-de Provence Moulin de la Brague, Huilerie d’OPIO, AOC Nice 29.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Castelas , AOC from la Vallée des Baux de Provence, 39.99 dollars for 50 cl. Coopérative du Nyonsais, AOC from Nyons 37.99 dollars for 16.8 Fl.oz And a very good oil from La Fare les Oliviers , in the Bouches du Rhône. She also sells some infused and flavored oils (basil, chili peppers, etc) from OLIVIERS AND CO, 39.99 dollars for (16.8 fl.oz) Another store I like is :
OIL AND VINEGAR , ( 82 Old Orchard Ct. Skokie, IL 60077 Tel : 847-763-1446 It is located in the Old Orchard (Westfield)Shopping Center in Skokie) This very nicely appointed store, that belongs to a Dutch group of franchise stores located in various parts of the world, is also offering olive oil in bulk from a few different producing countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and France. The beautifully lit (from behind a glass panel) glass jars contain good quality extra-virgin oils. You can taste them, then buy a bottle of the size you prefer and have it filled with your olive oil of choice. When it is finished, bring it back to the store, and the pleasant staff will clean it for you and refill it. They have only one French Extra-virgin olive oil, but it is quite good, well balanced, fruity and mild. This ‘’huile d’Olive de France’’ is produced by l’OULIBO, ( a coop located in BIZE, Aude, in the Minervois, a wine producing area of Languedoc north of Narbonne and east of Beziers. This luscious oil is made, by very traditional pressing means, from the delicious Lucques olives, when they reach the ‘’fruité noir’’ stage, as well as other olives like the Picholine, the Bouteillan, or the Aglandau. . A 25 cl (8.4 fl oz) bottle will cost you 3.50 dollars and the oil content itself 15.00 dollars. It is not cheap, but the advantage is to always buy a small quantity of fresh oil. Right now, the store is out of stock but it should be back in about a month.

That olive oil from L'OULIBO is alos sold by the bottle in places like TEA TOGETHER in New York City. FOX & OBEL , 455 East Illinois St. Chicago, IL 60611 Tel : 312-410-73-01 This really nice food emporium actually has quite a nice selection of olive oils that you can taste; They sell : Castelas, AOC Vallée des Baux de Provence, 38.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Chateau Virant, AOC Aix-en-Provence 39.99 dollars for 50 cl or 22.99 dollars for 25 cl Le Vieux Moulin, an oil from the Nyons area, in Mirabel les Baronnies, 27.99 dollars for 50 cl (16.8 fl.oz) Domaine le Grand Servan, a good non- AOC, Provence oil from Tarascon in the Bouches-du-Rhône 21.99 dollars for 8.4 fl.oz SAM’S WINE & SPIRITS 1720 N. Macey St. Chicago, IL 60614 Tel : 312-664-4394 This huge wine store has a decent cheese and fancy food dept. They sell : Château Virant , AOC Aix-en-Provence in Lançon de Provence, 22.99 dollars for 25 cl Le Vieux Moulin, from Mirabel les Baronnies, 25.99 dollars for 50 cl. (16.8 fl.oz) TREASURE ISLANDS various addresses in the Chicago area They sell: Moulin de la Brague, huilerie d’Opio, AOC Nice 25.99 dollars for 50 cl. (16.8 fl.oz) Huilerie J. Leblanc Extra Virgin non-AOC 17.99 dollars for 50 cl. WHOLE FOODS various addresses in the Chicago area: Not a single French olive oil
My 5 personal choices:


P.S :Dec 30, 2007: Stéphane, I opened the bottle of Chateau Virant AOC olive oil , from Aix-en-Provence, that you got me for Christmas and it was fresh and delicious. Thanks. I put a few drops on the remnants of this goat cheese that you bought , the ''Clochette'' and it improved its taste considerably. In fact this cheese proved to be quite interesting.

October 11, 2007

Olive Oils

Hi Dad, I have built up a big list of questions since our family vacation to France this summer. One on the list is in regards to the olive oil we bought at the farmers market. I'd love to get a picture of what is special about that artisan oil we purchased as well as what makes French olive oil different than the rest? It's one of the best Olive oil's we've ever had and sadly we are nearing the end of the bottle. With the bottle almost empty I'm already reminiscing about all the nice meals we have created with the olive oil from the market. So what is it that makes this olive oil so delicious? Love Stephane

October 08, 2007

French films in Chicago

FRENCH FILMS in CHICAGO this summer: The Bad, the Good and the Beautiful:

1. The Bad.

Three months ago, on a rainy day, my wife and I went to see La Môme (American title: La vie en Rose), an overlong biopic concocted by 40 year-old French director Olivier Dayan, that retraces sometimes painful and sometimes glorious moments in the life of Edith Piaf, the famous French singer who died prematurely at age 47. More than 80% of the French press raved about this film when it was released in February and according to Rotten Tomatoes 75% of the American film critics and reviewers loved it. Only a few, like A.O Scott of the New York Times, who dares at one point of his review to call the film ‘’ a complete mess”, or Richard Schickel of Time who confesses that during some scenes he was closing his eyes..., shared my own impression: This is a schlocky treatment of what should have been a great movie story. The script lacks coherence and precision. There is no attempt to describe or question the various characters and the real motivations behind Piaf’s emotional turmoils and her natural tendency to self-destruction. But the worst offense to the cinephile that I am is the fact that this film is bloated from beginning to end. The production is over-designed. During the first part of the film, that is so dominated by exploitative miserabilism that you may think that Olivier Dayan is trying to compete with Les Misérables and recreate Cosette’s or Fantine’s pathetic stories, there is an accumulation of scenes that are grossly over-directed. Sometimes you can visualize in your head the second assistant-director gesturing, bullhorn in hand, to the numerous extras to cross the set. In fact the whole production, shot both in exteriors and in studios in Prague, Paris, and Los Angeles, is too often shamelessly trying to imitate some Hollywood sentimental melodramas from the late fifties. And there is nothing worse that a French film trying to mimic an American filmic style. Unfortunately, it is a phenomenon that has occurred more and more frequently in French major co-productions over the last ten years. (The only exception is the marvelous “Coeurs”, shot last year entirely in studio by the great 85 year-old Alain Resnais and released in June in Chicago under the title of “Private fears in Public Places“. This film is full of visual references of great Hollywood melodramatic films of the forties and fifties. In any way it says a gazillion times more about human sentiments and despair than La Vie en Rose, and is a “must see” for any serious cinephile, even though it is not, by far, Resnais’s best film.) One of the father figures of the French New Wave of the early sixties, Jean Luc Godard used to say that “Le travelling est une affaire de morale” (A tracking shot should have a moral implication). In La Vie en Rose we are constantly subjected to artificial camera movements, including lots of elaborate tracking shots, that have absolutely no justification and have no connection whatsoever with the sequence and the story. Speaking of story, why did Dayan base his construction, or rather deconstruction, of the sequences of events on only the most depressing and ‘’clichéd” aspects of Piaf’s life: Alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, sickness, betrayal, temper tantrums, bad mouthing, and sometimes unjust treatment of her friends and managers. He should have instead described and explained some of her inhibitions, fears, need to be loved, deep feelings of inadequacy and depression, and her constant need for compensating for the parental neglect and abandonment? Dayan seems to have completely forgot to show her love of the pure joy of singing and her love for France. Now, about Marion Cotillard, the young actress that plays Edith Piaf. But maybe I should say “overplays”. She was my main reason to see this film, since I had been quite impressed by her great performance in the strong role of Tina Lombardi in “ A Very Long Engagement” the 2004 film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And a year before I was under her charm in “Big Fish” of Tim Burton. I did not see her most successful popular films, “Taxi” 1,2, and 3. I have to admit that she deploys an incredible energy and determination in trying to inhabit Piaf’s persona. In some sequences, especially the few good ones that involve her love affair with the French boxer Marcel Cerdan, very efficiently interpreted by Jean-Pierre Martins, she really manages to create a special aura around her and we believe in her. But too often she tries too hard to BE Piaf. And it becomes a bit embarrassing, as though she had escaped from the control of her director. But I have no doubt that she has the potential to be a very good actress. All in all, I was very ashamed of the perverted image that this film projects of the contemporary French cinema. I have nothing against ”popular commercial films” if they are well made and bear a distinctive mark. But I cannot stand exploitative blockbusters that have absolutely no redeeming artistic value to offer. Fortunately there are still several French directors of all ages who are battling very hard to continue, in spite of the pressures from the French production and distribution system, to make original and sincere films that reflect artistic integrity and creativity. I am thinking about directors like Claire Denis, Pascale Ferran, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Garrel, Christophe Honoré, Arnaud Desplechin, Patrice Chéreau, Olivier Assayas, André Téchiné, Otar Iosseliani, Alain Cavalier, Laurent Cantet, Dennis Dercourt, Bruno Dumont, Patrick Grandperret , Bertrand Bonello, Jean-Pierre Limosin, Benoit Jacquot, Jacques Doillon, Eric Rochant. And of course the 6 survivors of the very important period of the late fifties-early sixties, and the ‘’ New Wave’’ that still make films nowadays. I am referring to Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Agnes Varda, and in a slightly less significant mode Claude Chabrol. You can see many of their films on DVD and in art houses.

2. The Good

Good French films a rarely shown in town at the end of the summer. But this year was an exception. In early September, I was really excited to discover a creative young director, 37 year-old Christophe Honoré, who in some way is a direct heir of the French New Wave of the early sixties. As a matter of fact he does not hesitate to quote his famous references (Demy, Godard, Truffaut, and Rivette in particular), in his films. But in Dans Paris, (In Paris), he shows, with a lot of assurance, a definitively very personal and precise directing style, sometimes a little too obviously influenced by the New Wave, but nevertheless quite original and contemporary. This film had received very good reviews when it was shown at the Cannes film festival in May 2006, and later on when it was released commercially in November. When I saw Dans Paris, I had not seen his previous feature films, the made-for TV Tout Contre Leo (2002), Dix-Sept fois Cécile Cassard (2002), with Romain Duris who plays the main character in Dans Paris, and Ma mère (2004) with Louis Garrel who plays the brother of Romain Duris in Dans Paris. But I had enjoyed reading his articles in the French monthly “ Les Cahiers du Cinéma’’ a very interesting magazine that I have been reading since the late fifties, and which now publishes an English edition. (Go on their site to know more about it: .) Dix-Sept fois Cécile Cassard and Tout contre Léo, both deal with gay themes that present a specific interest to Honoré. He had also published several novels, including a few for children, and was a co-scriptwriter for Gael Morel (for Le Clan), Anne-Sophie Birot (for the very nice Les Filles ne savent pas nager), and Jean-Pierre Limosin, another very original French director, for NOVO (2002) a must-see if you did not see it yet. These films are available at NETFLIX. His most recent film, another homage to Jacques Demy, Les Chansons d’Amour (2007) got mixed reviews at Cannes this year, and will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival next week. After screening Dans Paris in a Chicago theater, I wanted very much to see some of his previous films, and I selected Ma Mère, from NETFLIX that also has Tout Contre Leo in its catalog. Adapted from a short novel by the great French writer Georges Bataille, that was published posthumously after his death in the mid-sixties, this strange and disturbing film, rated NC 17, got its share of success, largely due to its ‘’scandalous’’ subject matter. A mother, played with lots of bravery by the great actress Isabelle Huppert, shares her secret totally unorthodox sexual life with her very pious and innocent loving post-adolescent son, played by Louis Garrel, after the death of his alcoholic father, and leads him into a pathologically neurotic discovery of all kinds of physical pleasures and painful emotions, quite often sado-masochistic. Of course the ultimate experience will be death. This film was beautifully shot in the Canary Islands, and it offers some very fascinating, very well directed sequences. But its very unbalanced script cutting and editing, in addition to some often brutal and not always necessary too graphic material, makes it difficult to watch. To get back to Dans Paris: Like so many films of the early sixties, it is a film about ruptures. Ruptures between generations, ruptures between life styles, ruptures between sexual tendencies, ruptures within families, ruptures between men and women. In this case two brothers are involved. Paul, the oldest, beautifully played by Romain Duris is returning to Paris, in an advanced state of depression, to live in his divorced father’s apartment, after the end of a difficult love affair with a beautiful, but demanding, young woman (Joana Preis), and the failure of an experiment consisting of living alone in a rural and supposedly peaceful environment. He spends his days in or on the bed of his younger and much livelier brother, Jonathan, played by Louis Garrel. Jonathan (Jo) tries to help him to emerge from his mental solitude and suicidal tendencies. He even reads him children’s books that they use to read in their youth. In the meantime Jo is pursuing a not too focused life consisting mainly in running the streets of Paris and partying in search of brief affairs with pretty girls. The father, played by the great Guy Marchand (remember him in Cousin Cousine?) does what he can to help, but he is not even able to take care of himself and lives a very boring and limited life. The brief visit by the mother (still stunning Marie-France Pisier) called to help in a crucial scene, is a very emotional moment where we realize that she is perhaps the only person able to instill some new life into this claustrophobic apartment and into her son. The relationships between the characters are described with a lot of finesse and maturity, that sometimes remind us of Eric Rohmer’s style. All these movements inside and outside of the apartment are filmed with an evident cinematic pleasure and great elegance by Honoré. But do not count on seeing much of Paris, like you do in Julie Delpy’s film or in Paris Je t’aime. This is a not a film about Paris, but about characters whose lifves evolve within a restricted area of Paris. And for a cinephile it is a real treat to detect all the references to these directors of the New Wave that Honoré idolizes so much: Godard (who in some way could be partially identified with Paul) and Truffaut, or more specifically his ‘’projection’’, Antoine Doinel-Jean-Pierre Léaud, that sometimes look like a cousin of Jonathan. But the marvelous sequence where Paul sings on the phone a love duo with his former mistress, is a direct homage to Jacques Demy.

3. The beautiful

To me, the real sunshine of this summer, was Lady Chatterley, a very powerful and intelligent piece of cinematic beauty that was directed in 2006 by Pascale Ferran, a very gifted film maker who, unfortunately, does not make films very often, due to difficulties in finding sources of financing for her projects that probably do not appear commercial enough to potential producers. Fortunately, she found a very intelligent producer in the person of Gilles Sandoz, who accepted her idea to make two versions of her adaptation of Lady Chatterley. One was produced for ARTE, the European cultural channel, that was shown in two episodes of 100 minutes each, and the other was the film I saw, whose duration is 2 hours and 38 minutes. I was very moved but a bit disturbed by her first feature film, Petits arrangements avec la mort (Coming to terms with the death), an intimate study on grieving the death of loved ones, that revealed a real ‘’auteur de films’’ and was justly rewarded with the ‘’Caméra d’or’’ prize at the Cannes film festival in 1994. But I did not see her next film, the made for TV L’âge des possibles (1995). It is unfortunate that none of them is be distributed in DVD by Netflix or Blockbuster. I have to check FACETS out to find out if they have them. From the first 5 minutes of Lady Chatterley I felt a pure cinephilic joy. This film is so intelligently composed, framed, and directed, that you do not SEE the ‘’mise en scene’’, you are literally swept away with the rhythm and the beauty of each scene, and forget about its construction. That for me is the proof of a very clever ‘’mise en scene’’. When you start thinking about the way such and such shot or sequence is organized and when you marvel about a specific camera movement or special effect, it shows that the ‘’mise en scène’’ is too over-composed and not subtle enough. I will not discuss the question related to the fact that this film is an adaptation of an earlier version of Lawrence’s novel. A review by Dennis Lim in the June 17 edition of the New York Times is sufficiently explicit on that matter. I will not expand either on the merits of Marina Hands as Constance: Her beauty is luminous, she is a ‘’perfect’’ Constance, and I am looking forward to seeing her again in Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, to be released at the Chicago film festival. Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, a non-professional actor has the necessary physical presence as the gamekeeper, and his awkwardness is often very touching, no pun intended. Hippolyte Girardot, as Sir Clifford, is perhaps the most surprising choice of the casting. But after a while I found it more credible than during the first half hour when his character is sometimes too schematically developed. His role was much more important in the TV version of the film. I prefer to insist on the fact that Pascale Ferran was very successful in establishing a perfect balance between the sensuality, that is never too erotically charged, of the couple and of the situations in which the evolve, and the immense impact of the nature in which they move. Rarely a director will have used natural settings, like forests, meadows, rivers, rural houses, etc. as powerfully and authentically as Pascale Ferran did in this movie. Nature, beautifully shot by Julien Hirsh, and the protagonists of the story are totally and perfectly intertwined, and never appear as being two different elements of the same film. (The only case where I had the same impression of a director being in full control of the integration of humans in a natural environment was when I saw the two mesmerizing films of the Thai director Apitchapong Weerasethakul, Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady.) What is also incredibly strong in this film, is the respect that Pascale Ferran has for the characters and her actors. Not a single time do you have the slightest feeling that she may over expand the erotic content and exploit the physical acting of her interpreters. Everything is perfectly honest but restrained and the sensuality remains beautiful and exhilarating all the time, never threatened by any faux-pas or risqué move. Whatever your age, you can project yourself in to these two marvelous characters without feeling embarrassed or voyeuristic. D.H Lawrence would have been proud of her.

August 31, 2007




A party of 6 including a 2 year-old boy? Better find a restaurant with spacious surroundings.
We were all a bit concerned about eating out in restaurants since our barely 2 year-old grandson was travelling with us during this French vacation. We were wondering how he would react to French food and behave in restaurants where you usually spend more time to eat than in an American family diner or fast-food franchise. And we had no idea how restaurant staff would interact with this young American guest.
We thought that it would be better to go to restaurants with him for lunch than for dinner, at a time when he would be tired and perhaps a bit impatient and fussy. And we tried to locate, as much as we could, restaurants with an outdoor ‘’terrasse’’ or patio, where we could let him walk and play around the table if necessary while we finished our meals. We also tried to choose restaurants that would offer simple dishes that may look edible to a child that age, or would have children’s menus. Obviously we were not going to eat in ‘’restaurants gastronomiques’’, or fancy and sophisticated bistrots, the kind I usuallly prefer when I travel to France by myself or with my wife.
So, when we decided that the 6 of us would go out to eat, we would rather choose ‘’brasseries’’ (restaurants that serve traditional French dishes from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM), small local neighborhood’cafés-restaurants’’, pizzerias that in France can be quite good italian eateries serving much more than pizza, and nice small friendly bistrots. We made only one exception when we ate in a very good gastronomic restaurant in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort, that was specializing in regional cuisine. But we went there for lunch during the week when it was not very busy and reserved a table outside in a charming patio overlooking an enclosed garden where he could run around and come back to the table whenever he wanted. This restaurant provided the best meal of our whole vacation. I will come back to it later.

So many negative and sometimes unjustified comments have been made in the American media and on the web about the difficult experiences that numerous American families had while eating in French restaurants, that I have to make a few personal observations right away:

- In practically every place we went, even in Paris that for a long time suffered from a bad reputation with American diners, we were always treated in a very courteous, and even sometimes friendly manner, and the service was usually efficient. The staff was most of the time patient, knowledgeable, and professional. Only once, in a Parisian bistrot owned by a famous chef, did we get very poor and unprofessional service. Fortunately, that day, we were only 3 adults eating lunch, and not the 6 of us including the child. And the food was good. I will also get back to this restaurant later.
- The prices that were clearly indicated on the menus or on the ‘’ardoise’’ (blackboard) were always the same that we found on the bill.
- American Express is now very often accepted in French restaurants and when I used the card as payment in restaurants the exchange rate that they used when billing me in dollars was quite honest.
- Many menus had an English translation.
- Most restaurants offered children’s menus
- Even though we sometimes took some time to decide what everybody in our party wanted to order, since 3 members of our family did not speak French and we needed time to translate and explain the description of the dishes to them and answer questions, the waiters were always patient and did not push us to order rapidly. Some of them even offered explanations in English spontaneously.
- In most places where we ate, we paid more or less the same amount of money that we would have paid in Chicago or San Francisco for an equivalent quality.
- We found that choosing the various ‘’prix fixe menu-cartes’’ (a prix-fixe menu with several options for each dish) or ‘’formules de déjeuner’’ (usually one apetizer and one main course dish + coffee or one main course dish and one dessert + one coffee) , that are nowadays frequently offered in many French restaurants, was the best economical solution. It allowed better food options for the best price than selecting different dishes ‘’ à la carte’’.
- I have to admit that if you try to translate in dollars the amount that you pay in French restaurants, you will think that prices are higher in France that in the U.S. But it is sort of a false calculation. It is the exchange rate that makes these prices look higher. In fact there were price increases in restaurants since 2005 in the U.S as well as in France. Besides, always remember that in France there are no taxes added and that the service charge (tip) is already included in the price.
These two factors put the cost of French restaurant meals at about the same price level as their American equivalent.
For example: Let’s suppose that you have a lunch for two, consisting of two courses (one entree + 1 dessert and 1 coffee) with one glass of wine each in a Chicago bistro, let’s say Kiki’s Bistro. It will cost you approximately 60 dollars before taxes. If you add 10% taxes, this amount raises to 66 dollars and after you leave an 18% tip, you reach a total of 78.80 dollars.
Now, an equivalent lunch in Paris, let’s say at ‘’Café Constant’’ (see my comments on this restaurant later) will cost you approximately 60.00 euros for two. But with no taxes or tip to add, once you translate that amount in dollars (at an exchange rate of 1.37 dollars for 1 euro), you reach a total of 82.20 dollars for 2 persons. That is only less than 2.00 dollars difference per person.

About typical French menus:

The portions there are smaller than in American restaurants but more than sufficent for a normal appetite.

The French, generally speaking, eat more courses during a lunch meal than Americans, but the portions are much smaller. In the ‘’province’’ where people still devote a little more time than Parisians, who are always in a hurry, to their meals, it is not abnormal to have a 4 course lunch.
For example, in a ‘’brasserie’’, the first course (called hors-d’oeuvre or entrée) could include some pâtés or other type of ‘’charcuterie’’, or a hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise and a few leaves of lettuce, or some kind of ‘’crudités’’ with a vinaigrette (cold raw vegetables), or some warm goat cheese on lettuce, or shrimps, or snails, or marinated herrings, or a terrine of leeks, or a carpaccio of beef or duck with shavings of parmesan cheese.
The second course (called Plats) would include a choice of: Steaks, like ‘’faux-filet’ (sirloin steak), ‘’bavette’’ (skirt steak), ‘’entrecôte’’ (rib steak), or ‘’pavé de rumsteak’’ (a thick cut of steak from the rump) garnished with some kind of potatoes (au gratin, fries, sauteed, mashed, steamed, etc.) and one warm cooked vegetable, like zucchini, cauliflower, baked tomatoes, ratatouille, green beens, petits pois. Or a meat stew like ‘’blanquette de veau’’ (veal stew in a white cream sauce)or ‘’ boeuf bouguignon’’ beef stew in a brown red wine sauce. Or a ‘’ steak Tartare’’ (raw ground beef mixed with various spices, chopped onions and parsley, an egg yolk, and Worcester sauce. Or a ‘’ magret de canard’’ (duck breast). Or an ‘’andouillette grillée’’ with pommes frites (a grilled chitterling sausage with fries). Or a ‘’choucroute garnie’’ (an Alsatian specialty made of cooked sauerkraut in Riesling wine with boiled sausages, hams, salt pork, and other types of deli meats). Or ‘’côtes d’agneau’’ (lamb chops). Or some kind of chicken- based dish like roasted chicken (poulet rôti), chicken in the pot (poule au pot), coq-au-vin, etc. And in a brasserie, you always would be able to choose from some kind of organ meat-based dishes like rognons de veau ou d’agneau (veal or lamb kidneys), foie de veau sauté aux oignons (sauteed veal liver with onions), cervelle (brains), boudin noir (pork blood sausage) served with baked apple, ris-de-veau (veal sweetbreads), or tripes.
The main course dish can also be fish or shellfish-based, like roasted or sauteed codfish (morue), bass
(bar), salmon (saumon) , skate (raie au beurre noir) sauteed in ‘’beurre noir’’, scallops (coquilles Saint-Jacques), or large shrimps (scampi). Most often this seafood dish would be served with boiled or steamed small potatoes and fresh cooked vegetables like asparagus, spinach, zucchinis, fennel, or even fresh pasta.
Often, a little side dish of lettuce seasoned with a vinaigrette could be part of the main course.
The third course (fromages) traditionally is made of a single, or 2 or 3, pieces of good AOC cheeses such as Camembert, Brie, Cantal, Roquefort, some kind of Chèvre, Saint Nectaire, Reblochon, Munster, Pont- l’Eveque, to only mention those most frequently served in brasseries. Sometimes you can order a larger selection of several cheeses, from ‘’ Le plateau de fromages’’ (the cheese tray). But this offer is more common in full-service restaurants and good bistrots than in café-restaurants and brasseries.
The cheese course can vary according of the region where you are, where only local cheeses can be served.
The fourth course is dessert. All brasseries offer a choice of fruit tarts, fresh fruits, ‘’flans’’ (custard), crème brulée, mousse au chocolat, sorbets and ice-creams, nougat glaçé, profiteroles. Fruit crumbles have become very popular.

We had a very pleasant meal in such a very traditional brasserie, the Brasserie du Boulingrin in Reims, a city of 200.000 people 90 miles North-east of Paris which is the capital of the Champagne district and has one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in the world where kings of France were crowned.
We were in Reims for a one-day family reunion at my brother’s house, an old 17th century farm located in a small hamlet at the heart of the Champagne vineyards.
This beautiful and very lively art-deco brasserie with is authentic frescoes on the walls, big mirrors, and confotable banquettes (leather seats) has been in the same spot, near the old food market hall, since 1925. When I lived in Reims from 1947 until 1958, I never had a chance to eat there since we did not eat in local restaurants.
The 6 of us just wanted to have a quick lunch on that very grey and rainy day before driving back to Paris, since we had been eating a lot of food and drinking several bottles of champagne and wine the day before. And as in well-managed brasseries, we were promptly seated and, the time to study the menu and to order one main dish each, we were served relatively fast when we told the waiter that we did not have much time. The quality of the 9 oz (265 grammes) faux-filet was very good. It was served as ordered ‘’à point’’ (medium-rare) on a wooden board and served with a roquefort sauce on the side and a very good ‘’gratin dauphinois’ (potatoes au gratin in a cream and cheese sauce) at a cost of 18.50 euros (25.50 dollars).
The ‘’côtelettes d’agneau’’ (lamb shops) were nicely trimmed, meaty and very tender and juicy. At 16 euros ( 22 dollars) for 2 pieces, they were served on an individual wooden board with some ‘’modern’’ ratatouille (meaning reconstructed as a cube made of several slices of vegetables without a sauce), and gratin dauphinois. The ‘’magret de canard et son jus de romarin’’ (duck breast with a natural rosemary jus) was also very attractively presented, very flavorful, and once again was served as ordered (medium-rare) with gratin and ratatouille. A ‘’plat du jour’’, special of the day, was a filet of pike in a champagne sauce with mushrooms and little shrimps. At 17.50 euros (24 dollars) It looked very good but did not pleased my older son too much who was looking with envy at his brother’s steak. I had half a roasted ‘’coquelet’’ in tarragon sauce (cornish hen) that was good but not worth lengthy comments, for 9.50 euros (13 dollars). The last dish, at 16 euros (22 dollars) was a very well cooked filet of bass sauteed in olive oil with tomatoes and herbs.
We ordered some very tasty home made ‘’pommes frites’’ (fries) for my grandson, and he seemed to enjoy this 2 euros treat.
With a bottle of Côtes de Provence and a litter of Vittel water, the total bill for 5 was 103 euros (141 dollars). One might consider that a bill of 28 dollars per person is relatively expensive for just one course lunch with a glass of wine. But it was a nice, well managed and traditional restaurant, not a hamburger joint . In fact the average client was a well-dressed local businessman.

Brasserie du Boulingrin 48 Rue du Champ de Mars 51100 Reims Tel: 03-26-40-96-22

You can find more complete lunches for less money in smaller and little less classy places.

For exemple, the day after our arrival in Sigalas, a Sunday, we decided to find a modest little restaurant in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort where the six of us could have a cheap but substantial lunch. I remembered such a little place with an outside terrasse, near the Temple, this is what a protestant (calvinist) church is called in France. Saint Hippolyte's temple is one of the two largest in France, the other one being in the small town of Anduze, 18 miles away. My father was the minister of this temple from 1937 to 1947. This restaurant is called ‘’Les Cévennes’’, the name of the nearby mountains. We were seated outside and could observe the activities of local young men racing each other and doing acrobatic moves on their noisy small motorbikes. The restaurant, owned by a family, whose customers were mainly local regulars, had "prix fixe menus" at 18 euros that included 3 courses. First they brought some complimentay ''amuses-bouches'' that included a very good home-made tapenade, and some ''popcorn''. As first courses we had various local country pâtés and sausages, warm ‘’Pélardon’’ des Cévennes (goat cheese) on a mesclun of lettuce, and mountain ham. My wife had a very tasty warm dish of eggplant baked in a meat tomatoe sauce. As main courses, we ordered entrecôtes (rib steaks) in a cream sauce, a duck breast in a apricot and pepper sauce, and lamb shops. They were all pretty tasty and garnished with fried eggplant, tomatoes and zuchinis, or fries, or provençal (oven-baked with garlic and thyme) tomatoes and green beans.For the third course we had a choice of either cheese or desserts, that were traditional: pear tart, chocolate mousse, ice-creams and sorbets. With 2 bottles of locally produced good rosé wine, two bottles of mineral water and a glass of milk, the total bill was 120 euros (165 dollars) for 5 (+) persons for full, not gastronomical, but well prepared meals.

Les Cévennes, Boulevard du temple. 30170 Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort

In Paris we had lunch in one of my favorite “café-restaurant”, “A la Tour Eiffel’’, rue du Commerce in the 15 th arrondissement.
I love this place where, when I arrive in Paris usually on a Saturday, I have my first lunch with the friends I stay with. They live in a house rue du Commerce. And before I went to CDG airport to catch my flight back to Chicago, when it was still leaving from Paris in the middle of the afternoon, I used to have a last solid French lunch there too.
It is one of these typical neighborhood cafés, owned of course, like many other bistrots in Paris, by people from the " département'' of Aveyron. They have a traditional zinc counter where local people, shop-keepers, and delivery truck drivers, or tourists, stop by to have a drink, eat a sandwich, or have a quick breakfast in the morning. But it has two small dining areas, one in a sort of low mezzanine with ‘’banquettes’’, and one at street level with the traditional bistro tables covered with white paper cloth, where they serve lunch, mostly to regulars. It is a very lively scene with very busy and friendly waiters and one waitress running back and forth between the kitchen, the bar where they order wine and aperitifs, and the tables of their customers, often zigzaging between coming and going patrons, with their platter full of smoking plates in a precarious balance up on their extended arms. In the summer time the French door-windows open to the street sidewalk where a few tables allow you to have a drink or eat a sandwich in the sun, facing the church. The decor is very simple but quaint, almost provincial, and could be part of the set of a French film, with its old photos of the Eiffer Tower at various stages of its construction on the smoked yellowish walls, an antique radio set, and some old mirrors. The mix of sounds from the conversations of customers s and from the exchange of orders between the staff, the bar, and the kitchen are also very typical and picturesque.
My two sons and I started with traditional ‘’oeufs durs mayonnaise (hard-boiled eggs with mayonaise on lettce), jambon cru d’Auvergne (raw dried ham from Auvergne), and pâté de campagne (country pate). The ladies did not order appetizers, and we ordered some very good frites and haricots verts au beurre (green beans sauteed in butter)for my grandson. Then we had ‘’confit de canard aux pommes sautées à l’ail’’ (a leg of duck confit with potatoes sauteed in duck fat with garlic), entrecôte frites (rib steak with fries), roasted farm-raised chichen with mashed potatoes, and a steak with a peppercorn sauce and fries. For dessert the ladies had a very tasty and smooth mousse au chocolat, and my two sons shared a pear sorbet doused with eau de vie de poire william (bartlett pear brandy). I had a marvelous piece of ‘’entre-deux’’ Cantal cheese . With a bottle + ¼ of a litter of red Marcillac, a wine from Center France, a bottle of Vittel and a glass of milk, we paid 121 euros (65 dollars) for 5 adults and one child.
And it was a very good, simple and almost slightly rustic, Parisian lunch.
I was however very surprised to read on a special blackboard on the wall the geographical origins of the meats served that day in the restaurant: The entrecôte was from Germany, the ‘’onglet’’ from Holland, and the ‘’Pavé’’ and chicken from France. I do not know where these new European rules and regulations are taking us, but I do not feel comfortable with this kind of info. It sort of spoiled my appetite. Let’s return to the nice traditional sources of beef in Charolais or Salers.

A la Tour Eiffel 96 Rue du Commerce 75015 Paris Tel : 01-45-33-77-11

Once, my wife and I decided to go by ourselves to the
Camargue,a beautiful wild marshy area in the Rhône delta where this river ends its long run that starts in the mountains of Switzerland, into the Mediterranean sea, near Arles. It is a fabulous landscape full of thousands of wild birds and white horses. You can also see the famous bulls that are raised there to be used in bull races and special events all over South of France. We love this area and the charming little coastal city of Les-Saintes-Maries-de la Mer, which is the site of an annual pilgrimage for Gypsies from all over Europe.
We also wanted to have lunch in the nearby old fortified small town of Aigues-Mortes built in the 13th century where St Louis left for the Crusades. The town is entirely enclosed between high walls dominated by a famous tower, La Tour de Constance, an old state prison where a group of very courageous Huguenot women were imprisoned in the 18th century. Among them, Marie Durand spent 38 years there and engraved the famous ‘’resister’’ (resist) word in the stone of their cell.

It was a sunny and warm day and we had a great lunch, outside on a small patio in the street at ‘’ La Guinguette de la République’’ a modest but very pretty bistrot in the charming Hotel des Templiers, that I recommend to anybody who wants to spend a couple of days in that area. La Guinguette is owned and managed separately . This place, away from the main streets that are packed with tacky tourists at this time of the year, was quiet and restful. The owner, or manager, was obviously the only staff that day, except for the chef of course, and was a very discrete but helpful and gracious host. He was willing to provide interesting pieces of info about the way they prepared some of the delicious, very Mediterranean dishes that were simple but sophisticated from a taste and presentation standpoint. For the first course my wife had a ‘’mandarlate’’, a very colorful and complex dish, that we understood was an old recipe from the Italian family of one of the friends of the restaurant. It was a mix of ‘’confiture d’oignons’’, dry raisins, red peppers, almonds, very slowly cooked for 6 hours and deglazed with balsamic vinegar. The combination of flavors was positively unique and stunning. I had beautiful ‘’aubergines provençales’’, ultra-thin (they used a ham slicer to have them perfectly cut and shaped ) and lengthy slices of eggplant, lightly fried in olive oil, and artistically presented in a small portion of very aromatic pureed tomatoes.
As a main course, She had lamb chops, perfectly grilled and served with an unctuous and very tasty purée de pommes de terre à l’huile d’olive (mashed potatoes in olive oil). I had a spectacular home-made canneloni, that will remain in my memory as one of the tastiest I ever ate.
She had a very well-made apple crumble for dessert, and I drank a fragrant italian expresso.
With a great bottle of Costières de Nimes rosé, nicely priced at 16 euros, the cost of this delicious meal was 62 euros for two. (85 dollars)
I will not hesitate to go back there the next time I travel through this area.

La Guinguette de la République 25 Rue de la République 3022 Aigues Mortes Tel: 04-66-51-66-09

Also in Paris, I wanted to go to a place that I had never tried before during my numerous trips to Paris. So my wife, my younger son Theo, who loves to eat too, headed to Rue Saint Dominique, in the 7th arrondissement, to have lunch at CAFE CONSTANT. Christian Constant is probably one of the most well-known and respected Parisian chefs who has trained some of the most successful young chefs of the new generation that started to open their own restaurants in Paris in the late eighties and mid-nineties, when he was the chef of the famous restaurant of the Hotel Crillon, Les Ambassadeurs. Some of these very successful chefs are Eric Fréchon, at the Bristol, Yves Camdeborde who got famous at La Régalade, Alain Péguret at Laurent.
Constant has now 4 restaurants on the same sidewalk of Rue Saint-Dominique within one or two blocks: The very good Violon d’Ingres, his flagship, Les Fables de la Fontaine, Café Constant, and the latest one that opened in June: Les Cocottes. Café Constant is a simple unpretentious neighborhood café-bistrot with a street-level room that is really lively and populated by regulars, many from the neighborood. It has a traditional ‘’zinc’’ (bar) and some pleasant ‘’banquette’’ seats where you can relax while eating and watching people come and go. The waitress downstairs is very competent and seems to know her regular customers. This is where you should eat if you do not mind the smokers. We went to the small smoke-free room upstairs and that was our mistake. As a waiter, we had a young man, poorly shaved, dressed in a not too clean tacky soccer T-shirt and jeans, who did not know how, or was not willing, to explain anything from the menu that was on a blackboard that he carried around. He did not seem eager to communicate in any way with us, was totally aloof and unconcerned, and was very slow to react. Obviously he had not been trained properly for this job, and we were very surprised by his unprofessional attitude, a rare occurence in a Parisian restaurant owned by a respected professional chef.
As a first course my wife had a ‘’millefeuille de tomates’’ that was in fact just a small mount of a few slices of very good tomatoes sandwiched with 2 or 3 slices of fresh mozarella cheese and toped with two leaves of fresh basil. It was O.K but she expected something more sophisticated with some puff pastry layers and it was not worth its price of 10 euros. The waiter did not explain anything about this dish when we ordered it and asked him about the “millefeuille” component. I had an excellent home-made ‘’terrine de foie gras’’ that was very well prepared, smooth and subtle, that was well worth its 12 euros. My son enjoyed his ‘’salade d’artichauts’’, a very refreshing and nicely seasoned salad of fresh artichoke bottoms and mushrooms that was also priced at 10 euros, an appetizer made from first rate products.
Our main courses were very good: My son and I had very tasty ‘’escalopes de canette’’ (scalopini of youg duck breast), served with two types of young potatoes from Noirmoutiers (an island on the Atlantic coast that is famous for its potatoes): one mashed and very buttery, the other ‘’ rissolées’’ (gently pan-sauteed) priced at 14 euros. I could go back there just for the exciting taste of these potatoes. My wife, as usual, had ordered ‘’côtelettes d’agneau’’ (young lamb chops) served with fresh small green beans, also for 14 euros. The quality of the meat and the ‘’temps de cuisson’’ (cooking time) were perfect.
I had a cheese plate including a delicious and perfectly aged Saint-Nectaire fermier and a very fragrant small chèvre for 7 euros. My wife has a decent sorbet, half mango, half black currant, for 7 euros. And my son’s ‘’profiterolles’’ with a warm chocolate sauce on the side, also at 7 euros, were scrumptious.
With a very good bottle of Bourgueil at 24 euros, half a bottle of an excellent Lalande de Pomerol, and one liter of Thonon mineral water (a very good water, much better in fact than its famous neighbor from Evian), the total bill reached 139 euros for 3. (190 dollars). I found it a tiny bit overpriced for such a modest but good cafe-restaurant, but the meal was very satisfying overall. Perhaps you pay a little extra for the name. We did not see Monsieur Constant but we understand that he comes very often to have a late lunch downstairs. Also I read that most of the warm dishes are prepared in the kitchens of the nearby Violon d’Ingres and brought by a runner to the cafe.

It has a rating of 22 (out of 30 point) in the new 2007-2008 Paris Zagat

Café Constant 139 Rue Saint-Dominique Paris 7 Tel: 01-47-53-73-34

As I said earlier, the best meal we had in France during that trip was the lunch we had in Saint-Hippolyte du Fort in a very charming and excellent restaurant called ‘’ L’AMOURIER’’

The name, in case you wonder, has nothing to do with ‘’amour’’ (love). It is an old occitan word for mûrier (mulberry tree). This type of tree was very common in the area of Saint-Hipolyte du Fort, a town that for two centuries was well-known for its production of natural silk. The silk worms in order to become cocoons had to feed on the leaves of these ‘’murier’’ trees. As a matter of fact, Pasteur lived for a while in Saint-Hippolyte when he was trying to find a way to eradicate a terrible disease, the Pebrine, that affected the silkworms and practically destroyed for a while the silk industry in that area. The production of silk was the main industry of the Cévennes region until the end of the 19th century. Nowadays, you can visit a very informative ‘’ Musée de la Soie’’ (Silk Museum) in Saint-Hippolyte.

You reach the rustic but confortable, very sunny, air-conditioned, main dining room, with high ceilings and wooden beans, nicely appointed with provençal-styled furniture, through a beautiful garden full of interesting trees, plants and flowers. We had reserved a table outside in a shaded patio covered with a ‘’tonnelle’’ that, in the summer time, provides a natural resfreshing shield against the very warm rays of the Southern sun.

The owners, Mr and Mrs Mathis, are very professional and gracious hosts and they did everything they could to be informative and helpful while we ordered as well as during the meal when I asked questions about the way they envision their type of ‘’mission’’ as serious restauarteurs proud of French and regional traditions, about their local suppliers, and about the regional wine producers they buy from.
The chef is very proud of his buying the best products from local farmers and meat and fish suppliers, and the fact that his menus reflect what is available in each of the four seasons. I believe that he forages himself the wild mushrooms and herbs that he uses in his very aromatic cooking.
The restaurant offers 4 different menus from 19 euros (Menu Tradition) to 39 euros (Menu du Chef) + a little children's menu at 12 euros.
We opted for 2 Menus du Terroir at 26 Euros and 3 Menus de Saison at 26 euros. We started with a complimentary colorful amuse-bouche made of three different layers of red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini mousse, served in small antique glasses.
In the Menu du Terroir the first course was a ‘’millefeuille de panisses marseillaises, tapenade, et sauce provençale’’, a Napoleon of fried tiny cakes made of chickpea flour,sandwiched with olive and capers tapenade, with an herb-seasoned provençal sauce based on a tomato-based kind of coulis. Absolutely flavorful.
The Menu de Saison offered, as a first course, a spectacular home-made “foie gras mi-cuit au torchon”, with roasted fresh figs, and black Java Hawai granulated salt. My two sons loved every gram of it.
My daughter-in-law had a ‘’papeton’’, a typical provençal specialty, which is a round molded cake of small fried and pureed eggplant with a tomato coulis and fresh basil. Beautiful to watch and very tasty.

The main course of the Menu de Terroir was a ‘’charlotte d’agneau en habit d’aubergines’’, a ground lamb and eggplant sort of crustless pie, that proved to be full of subttle mediterranean classic flavors.
In the Menu de Saison, my daughter- in- law had an artistically designed “fan” of duck breast surrounded by peaches preserved in Xeres wine. The other choice, enjoyed by my two sons, was roasted leg of lamb encrusted with Java pepper, a very original rendition of this classic lamb preparation.

Both menus offered a plate of cheeses, that were mainly local goat cheeses including the famous ‘’Pelardon’’ des Cévennes.

The dessert in the Menu du Terroir was a custard pie made of very flavorful chesnuts grown in the local Cévennes mountains. I normally hate custardy cakes and do not like chestnuts too much, but eating half of this silky and voluptuous dessert plunged me in some kind of rapture.
An other dessert from the Menu de Saison was a slightly spicy carpaccio and sorbet of fresh pinneaple, with tiny dices of papaya and an etheral foam of coconut. The presentation was beautiful, and this dessert, from what my daughter-in-law told me, had a very original and exciting combination of flavors.
Ther was also a ‘’parfait’’ (a mousse-type of ice-cream) flavored with fresh mint from the restaurant’s garden, with a ‘’coulis’’ of exotic tea, with a touch of chocolate.

Little Sébastien seemed very happy with his macaroni and cheese. (5 euros).

We drank 2 bottles of a very exciting and very aromatic Mas Bruguière rosé, from the nearby AOC of Pic Saint Loup. A pure pleasure and a bargain at 20 euros a bottle. And of course a couple of bottles of Evian.

With a total bill of 199 euros (272 dollars) for the five of us and the child, we left this restaurant with the very happy and comforting feeling that you could still find very satisfying, creative meals, well-crafted by professional chefs who love their art, in French restaurants for a very decent price.

L’ AMOURIER, Route de Monoblet 30170 Saint-Hippolyte du Fort Tel: 04-66-77-26-19

As mentionned earlier, we had a couple of very decent early dinners or late lunches in pizzerias, where the “pizzaiolo” still knows how to make real pizzas from scratch and bake them in wood-burning ovens. They usually also serve good pasta (sometimes fresh) dishes, and offer interesting wines at moderate prices. We recommend without any reluctancy the 2 following restaurants:

5 Rue Thoumayne
30000 Nîmes
Tel: 04-66-76-16-8
Our discovery of the year in Nîmes, 300 yards from my old High School.
Very pleasant staff. We ate outside in a ‘’terrasse’’ literally in the street,with people walking by, but it was very nice and relaxed.
Very good “Reine” pizza with ham, mushrooms and cheese.
They also make a great fettucini with home-made pesto sauce, that both Sebastien and I loved.
Excellent Domaine de Gournier rosé. A vin de pays du Gard that I discovered... in Chicago.
Quite affordable and enjoyable experience.

1 Rue Gozlin
75006 Paris
Tel: 01-43-54-94-78

We have have been eating in this modest but much ‘’sympathique’’ pizzeria since my wife and I moved to the Saint- Germain des Prés area in the mid sixties.
And in 2007, 40 years later, the place is owned by the same Italian people who still shake my hand when I come in, even if they did not see me for 2 years.
The pizza is always the same: hand shaped and cooked individually in the same old wood-burning oven that they had in May 1968 when we were running away on nearby Boulevard Saint-Germain from the charges of the CRS (riot police).
It is located practically across the Saint-Germain-des-Prés church.
As before, nothing to write home about, no fancy food or creative dishes. But we still enjoy the good “Quatre saisons”, “ Reine” and plain “Margarita” pizzas.
Good cheap valpolicella.
The check is easy to pay.