Where: Le Castellet, France
Plate of food: Let’s be honest, there is something wrong on a cellular level with a person who does not enjoy the food in France. My cells, clearly, are all in working order because I really only go to France to eat and drink. Three meals per day is wholly inadequate for me when I am there.
On this occasion, I ate lunch at the beautifully situated Auberge de l’Ormeau. (I won’t begin to explain how much Google Map street view spy work went into finding out that name after all these years.) This restaurant is tucked in a small, quiet square overlooking the fields of Provence. We sat on the shady outdoor patio to escape the early summer heat.
You know about my menu-stoppers, so we can add two more to the list: scallops and foie gras. Here, in Le Castellet, I had both of these on one plate. Too much, you say? Too rich, you ask? Yes. Probably. But when you are sitting in the most picturesque village in the world, with a glass of rose wine in your hand, and family around you, why not risk gout? Totally worth it.
The foie gras and scallops were seared to perfection and presented on a base of mixed salad leaves. A balsamic reduction was drizzled over top, lending a nice tang to balance the richness of the dish. Simple and superb.
The best: While we wandered the narrow, winding streets of Le Castellet, we stumbled upon a small store that stopped us in our tracks. It glowed with warm, golden colours, and lured us with sugary sweet scents. The store was La Cure Gourmande. After crossing the threshold we were welcomed by shelves stacked with vintage biscuit tins and blocks of nougat wrapped in cellophane. It was like a candy store for adults – adults with refined taste and a credit card.
Each tin held a different flavour delight: coconut, chocolate, orange flower, raspberry, fig….all of them delicate and buttery. These are the biscuits that you imagine savouring with a cup of strong coffee in the afternoon…in your Parisian apartment…with sunlight and French jazz pouring in through your window. Your biscuits do that for you, right? Good.
Nougat is a favourite of mine and La Cure Gourmand had some of the best – wonderfully sweet, chewy, and soft. Each block of white nougat was dotted with jewels: cherries, figs, lemon peel, and pistachios; as pleasing to the eye as to the palate.
We left the store with bags of treats and big smiles. Then, we sat in the shady courtyard and ate biscuits and nougat. Remember what I said about gout? Again, worth it.
Story that needs to be told: As you can imagine, a village like Le Castellet does not offer up dramatic stories. How can it when it is so perfectly charming and bucolic? But Le Castellet’s story is one that could be told about countless French villages with their patisseries, their colorful shutters, their…Frenchness.
We sat under an old gnarled tree in a small square in the village. Surrounding us were hole-in-the-wall shops selling creamy bricks of soap, earthy brown pottery, and bunches of lavender.
Being the end of May, we were some of the only visitors that day. It was quiet and peaceful. As we sat, we were joined by a friendly dog, a golden retriever, who sat patiently waiting for a pat or a rub behind the ears.
Above us, a lady leaned out of her second floor apartment window and assured us the dog was gentle. She called him Buster which is a name made infinitely better by her French accent: “Boostehrr”.
(You just tried that one out, didn’t you?)
She lit a cigarette and continued talking to us about her life in the village. It was as if we had met her years ago and were merely getting re-acquainted. Buster settled down at our feet like he knew that this would take awhile. As she talked, a cat leapt up onto the sill beside the woman and wove between her elbows. He glanced at us, at Buster, and retreated back into the dark apartment.
I love to think of that woman and her lovely dog. It sounds strange, but I love to think of her leaning out of that window and striking up a conversation with whomever is sitting on that bench. I love to think of “Boostehrr” and who he has befriended over the years. I love to think that life ambles along in Le Castellet no matter where I am.
I love that thought because that means it will be waiting there for me whenever I manage to return. It’s comforting.
And return I will, just as soon as I get this gout under control.
“Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
― Tennessee Williams