The Trees of Provence Will Sleep a Little Easier Tonight

There’s a lot to be said for the street foods of Provence. I’m happy to snack away on scourtines, wedges of pissaladière, and socca…except when I make a beeline from the airport to my favorite socca shop in Nice only to find FERMETURE EXCEPTIONELLE in a note on the door.

It’s a fairly common occurrence in this part of the country, where life is far more laid-back than in Paris, and an afternoon lunch can turn into a game of boules, then a few more glasses of pastis or rosé, and by the time you know it, it’s time for la sieste.

And then—voilà, it’s time for dinner. And you wonder…where did the day go?

john dory fish salad

But when it’s warm, I agree that a long, lazy lunch is much more interesting than working. And that’s how we ended up at Les Bacchanales in Vence.


Perched on a balcony overlooking Matisse’s modernist chapel, with a bottle of rosé buried up to its neck in a bucket of ice, our salad of St. Pierre* with brined capers, scattered herb leaves, croûtons, cockles, pastel pools of tomato coulis, and tangy dollops of housemade tartar sauce made easy grazing around the plate.

butter

Americans are often surprised that the French don’t usually serve butter with bread. And they also wonder why the French are slimmer. (Hmmm, let’s see…) But the French are happy to indulge when the butter is extraordinary, and even though tomorrow is officially The First Day of Wearing a Swimsuit around here, the curl of salted butter with fresh sarriette (savory) wasn’t ignored. And at my age, since no one’s going to be evaluating my physique on the beach, what the heck. It was a done deal and I dove in.

milk-fed veal

The milk-fed veal was lovely, but the liver had a particular flavor that I remembered fondly: the taste of being charcoal-broiled on a Weber bbq. And sure enough, when I excused myself to go to the petit coin, there it was out back. The plate was very nice, but even though they were blackened, the flesh of the apricots was rock-hard and flavorless. We knew that if we didn’t eat them, the kitchen would wonder why not. And that young and expertly-tanned staff, Provençal-style, were very nice, so although we tried to politely put away a few slices, they really weren’t edible at all, so we sheepishly left the rest on the plate.

Just after our dishes were cleared, the chef bounded out to our table and apologized profusely for the state of the apricots, saying that a stagiaire (intern) hadn’t prepared them properly. So anyone who thinks French chefs are uptight, they haven’t met Christophe Dufau. (Oh, and I don’t think schwing is translatable, but that’s fine because I don’t want to share.)

rhubarb crumble

Dessert was a refined version of rhubarb crisp topped with a quenelle of house-made ice cream made of le Petit Suisse. Both were not heavy, but the scattering of teensy, intensely-flavored fraises des bois made me want just a big heaping bowl of them with a perfect scoop of that cool ice cream, and nothing else.

Still, we were happy and puttered off. Although if you go, and see a dent in the tree incongruously planted in the middle of the driveway, it was because were we weren’t quite floating away, but were earthbound by our Renault. And since we’re not driving, tonight we’ve got a few bottles of rosé chilling in the fridge and we’re making our own socca at home. And I think the trees of Provence can breath a little easier tonight, knowing they’re safely out of harm’s way.

Les Bacchanales
247, avenue de Provence
Vence, France
Tél: 04 93 24 19 19

Related Links and Posts

Ville de Vence

Nice

Panisses

Nice and the Côte d’Azur

*The Sustainable Seafood Guide lists St. Pierre, or John Dory, as ‘avec moderation‘.

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38 comments

  • Those fraises de bois are jumping out at me. They look scrumptious.
    Out of curiosity, what did he rim that plate with?

  • God, you live well! And you write charmingly.

    Thank you for allowing us to enjoy what sounds like a wonderful day.

    Regards,
    bcarter3

    PS “…expertly-tanned staff”?

  • Ahh… I lived in Provence as a kid and every time I go back I have to go to Vence to relive some happy memories. Last time, about 4 years ago, I took my wife to show her my old haunts. We shared a bottle of rose and a butter-less baguette while sitting on the wall around St. Paul and watching the sun set. We missed our chance to hit the Matisse Chapel but it was all good.

  • Hi David,

    What a delicious post – I was JUST going through my iPhoto library to tidy it up a bit and came across my photos from the market in Aix-en-Provence – posted here:

    http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/2009/06/marches-de-france.html

    (sighs….)

  • What is it about apricots (and blackberries) that is so difficult to find good ones? I don’t think I’ve ever had a fresh apricot that made me happy. They always look gorgeous but they never taste as good as they look. Maybe I’m expecting something that a fresh apricot just can’t give: juiciness, sweetness, full flavor? Last summer, I ate tons of black apricots and those were awesome.

  • I am bookmarking the name of this restaurant for next summer, even tho’ the apricots were rock-hard ( That is why I have begun buying canned apricots. I can’t find a good, tender, juicy, fresh apricot anymore! ). I am really missing the summer markets in Provence right now…

  • great looking food, real shame about the apricots :(

    Been 20 years since I have been in Provence. I miss it. Lovely photos BTW.

  • I thought that was a pretty funky lump of foie gras underneath that butter, but I guess it’s just an artsy butter dish, a.k.a. a rock. Hmm, maybe I could make my own.

    Off to search for a translation of ‘schwing’…

  • Looks aren’t everything, but that is some beautiful, beautiful food. Bonnes vacances, David.

  • Thanks for transporting me to Provence. I don’t know when I’ll get there next, but I’m already planning a long weekend lunch complete with bottle of rose. . .

  • I thought that was foie gras under the butter as well! I just thought, “ah, those French sure do know how to live!”

    We’ve haven’t been out of Paris yet in 3 trips, but you are sure making Provence look and sound like it would be worth a side trip next year!

    Keep having fun and schwing away…………..Jo

  • You make me miss apricots the most, they are tasteless here…Once in a while I’ll burst a few Provencal idioms (I’m from Apt) to the husband and he’ll shake his head. If I say them with the provencal accent, he pulls out the dictionnary!

  • I love the dessert here! And I love how funny you are when you say “And they also wonder why the French are slimmer. (Hmmm, let’s see…) “. :)

  • I love Vence and will be there at the end of the month. I spent many weeks in Mougins as an exchange student and fondly remember the area.

    I am in Paris now and have to say un grand merci a toi! I had not unpacked your list of “My Paris” yet, and our first meal was near the Rue Cler and only memorable because I felt like I was in Des Moines, Iowa. Every table was American and the food was a slight cut above the restaurant in a Ramada. I peeled back to the room, found your articles, and I am happy to report I have had two delightful meals – last night at Chez Paul and tonight at Le Biche au Bois. Excellent. I had the cote d’agneau tonight that were hands down the best I have ever had. All thanks to you!

    We need a recommendation for Montmartre tomorrow and I will scrape one up. Our last meal before we leave for Bretagne will be at Bistrot Paul Bert. Could I be more excited!?

    I just need to find a cooking class! Toutsuite.

    And it is good to know you are out of town. I keep looking for you around each corner in the Marais. My husband thinks I am nuts. He just has not yet fallen for your lovely prose!!

  • Your encounters are very tastefully written and hillarious at the same time. I’m imagining tremendous amounts of oohing and aweing over the food and equal amounts of laughter all with a slow pace of taking it all in. Thanks for recreating your moments with all of us!!! Love the pics and the recipes you send our way especially since the middle-of-nowhere Indiana lacks fun and flair!! Luckily some of us LEAVE to see the world and return for gardening and r&r, parties on the farms, and our own version of sharing good times. Really digging yours!

  • So, I’m curious…did you ever perfect your recipe for socca? (‘o’)

  • The only way I know to get great, intense and sweet apricots is to have your own trees–which I do. Unfortunately, if there is a bad winter, or a late spring frost, or the trees just have a whim, they don’t bloom. I get about a thousand apricots all at once about once every three years. Feast or famine.

  • I’m just so tempted to keep a little notebook of David-isms, for those times when I need a giggle and can’t get to a computer . . . “expertly-tanned staff” indeed!

  • I had to snap out of it to get typing here….your verse was well-written and very laid back, I could almost imagine being there.

  • How do you have the will power to take pictures before diving into those palates of great food?

    Some of the best apricots in Europe do grow in the Wachau region, 45 minutes west of Vienna, along the Danube. And of course in the Ararat valley, Armenia.

  • Sounds like a lovely relaxing day. The food looks beautiful, too. Sorry if this is a silly question, but what do you eat the butter with if not bread?

  • Apricots? Good.
    Fraises de bois? Off the frigging chart!
    Or to put it another way…… Schwing!!

  • Mr. D, I am heading to France in a few days, just south of Royan, and was wondering if you have any suggestions about the local cuisine? Any food I should try and maybe bring(smuggle) home? Thank you.

  • I daydream of life in Provence. I wish I was with you, except for the running into the tree bit :-) Be nice to the beautiful trees. Drink and walk, not drive.

    Have a wonderful time. And please post all about it for me and my daydreams.

  • The Matisse Chapel is unbelievabley beautiful and serene-that whole area of Nice is so verdant and gorgeous. Hope you have another opportunity to find a marble mortar and pestle this time.

  • Hi Sarah: We definitely are nice to trees, and don’t drink and drive. We split a bottle of low-alcohol rosé over the course of a 2 1/2 hour lunch, so it wasn’t much. It was just odd that they had a thin tree planted in the middle of the driveway (?!?) Obviously, from the looks of things, we weren’t the only ones who’d hit the poor tree. I hope they move it!

  • Hello David!
    When my friend got me an ice cream maker for Christmas I was a little hesitant to venture into the world of ice cream making! Then about a month ago, I got your book, “The Perfect Scoop” and now I don’t even bother putting the ice cream maker away, as I know my next batch is probably only a day away! It has changed ice cream making forever for me and I love it! I’m about half way through “The Sweet Life in Paris” and can’t seem to put it down so I’m sure I’ll be done by tomorrow! I was writing to ask you about a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie I had at Eric Kayser’s shop while visiting Paris back in March. I am a chocolate chip cookie fanatic and this one was by far the best one I had ever had…busting w/ chocolate chunks and pecans and had the perfect ratio of dough to chocolate and walnuts and the best texture! It was almost flaky, is it possible they used shortening?! In the URL spot I’ve put a link that will send you to a picture of the cookie that I took while eating it out on Pont Neuf. I was thrilled to find out that Eric Kayser owns a Los Angeles based bakery, BreadBar, and went there in search of this perfect cookie only to find that the chocolate chip cookie they make is nothing like the one in Paris. Do you know his secret?! How can I get this recipe? I don’t think I can wait until my next trip to Paris to have it again, and I’ve made countless batches of chocolate chip cookies in an effort to replicate it that it borders insanity!
    Thanks for your humor and for the ice cream :)
    Nicole

  • hey, hi david , i was reading your book, i had to laugh out loud, really, it reminds me of when i was going to the ferrandi, on the way home from school every night i would stop and buy a cooked chicken and potatoes from the butcher, his wife would try to teach me some french, but her husband would not speak english to me, but he would speak english to his wife in front of me, and then i think he was yelling at me in french, so i can relate to your book, i really dont understand the french, but he did cook a mean chicken, so i think maybe it was worth it, plus now i would not dare try to roast a chicken without duck fat ! later see you in paris………..bon jour

  • WOW love the way you’ve captured all the food in the pictures. Makes them all look so tasty. I remember visiting Nice two years ago. The pissaladière was so tasty. I wanted to have more but I was in Nice for one day before heading off to Italy. I want to go back and enjoy Nice and the surrounding cities more.

  • maria: Glad you’re enjoying the book…and the ice cream maker!

    Nicole: Eric Kayser wrote a a few books. I only have his professional-series on bread and pastry-making, but perhaps his chocolate chip cookie recipe is in one his regular cookbooks.

  • I’m a poor writer and my, likely humorless, joke fell flat. I never meant to actually imply or even honestly thought you would ever drive drunk. I was being silly about the tree bumping. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear. With the whole David Letterman vs. Sarah Palin fiasco still (insert eye-roll here) on the nightly news I should know better. I sincerely apologize if you felt maligned in any way. It was not at all my intention.

    I am often the designated driver and take that role very seriously. On the other hand I have “walked” while tipsy and that can be a whole other kind of risky. High heels, city streets, a buzz and me don’t mix very well. Again, a joke. But I have indeed broken a heel on a missed curb after a night out w/ adult beverages. Also, totally sober I once fell backwards into a summersault off a people mover at an airport. So hitting an oddly placed tiny tree is hardly eventful to a klutz like me.

    I love socca and pissaladiere, especially the hot socca in a wrapped paper cone at the market in Nice. But I never heard or tried a scourtines. What are they?

    Actually, I was going to bring that up in the post, about drinking & driving, so it’s good to let people know that we weren’t overindulging during lunch. (Dinner at home was a different story.) Scourtines are olive cookies meant to be eaten with apéritifs. -dl

  • hey david!

    those photographs are amazing! they just jump out!!! now if only i could just taste them!

  • We arrived in Vence on the 16th, and per your effusive recommendations, we headed straight to Chez Pipo the next day – only to find that same fermeture exceptionnelle sign! Luckily, we were spending more time in the area, so Friday night after a whirlwind tour of the corniches, San Remo, and Monaco, we headed straight there for the socca and rose, and were blown away. Will try to duplicate the efforts but I fear disappointment. We were also quite amused by the very tendance-looking staff there – socca-purveyors by day, clubsters by night? Lots of grand dining dans la region, but our favorite was Les Templiers in Vence – http://www.restaurant-vence.com/. Gorgeous room, lovely welcome, and, like virtually everywhere save Chez Pipo, they really seemed to need our business. And thank you from another vigilant reader – our last trips to France have been infinitely enhanced with your insight and recommendations.

  • Jessica: Aside from Chez Pipo being closed, my other favorite socca source, the guy at the market in Vence, wasn’t there the day we went either! If you ever go back, be sure to try and hit the market and taste his socca. It was amazing…

    (Btw: A friend told me Chez Pipo is under new ownership. I doubt they’re change anything, at least I hope they don’t)

  • This is beautiful!

  • What a wonderful post this is. Those fraises des bois bring back so many memories of being a child in provence just walking around with my grandmother picking them right off the little bush. They are oh so good and make me want to take a trip there immediately. Apricots are hard to find at its perfect time but when you do eat one it will be the most amazing fruit you have ever eaten. My grandmother had a field of every fruit tree you can possibly imagine and bushes of all kinds of berries that one can eat. Hours would be spent here just eating fresh fruit right off the tree every single day and there still were many to spare. And the petit suisse, well that just makes everything in life better.

  • That salade St Pierre looks beautiful! I need to find out what cockles are though… :)

    Alice

  • Alice: Cockles are tiny clams. Often they’re served in the shell–you can see them in the first photo, which were plucked out of their shells.