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Great Bistros of Provence

Guy Bouchet A frame of blossoming jaspine adds to the appeal of the bistro's organic menu

Photo: Guy Bouchet

Le Bistrot d'Eygalières

Eygalières

Does a restaurant with a Michelin two-star rating and a refined décor still merit the modest title of bistro?Yes, indeed, in the case of the Bistrot d'Eygalières, whose owners, the handsome young Belgian couple Suzy and Wout Bru, have maintained the true bistro spirit while offering a menu of exquisitely nuanced regional cuisine. This bistro de luxe, in a sleepy, out-of-the-way village a few miles south of the main road that runs between St.-Rémy and Cavaillon, has won over many high-profile neighbors: Charles Aznavour and Princess Caroline of Monaco frequently book tables, as do other members of the local gratin. Elegant and understated in tones of olive-gray and cream, the interior serves as background for Wout Bru's dazzling cuisine. Wout, an inventive chef, uses vinaigrette and jus bases to keep his cooking light and full of flavor. "I'm always looking for new ways to enhance the essence of each product I work with, from the farm, the forest, and the sea," he says. My mouth waters when I think back to my lavish lunch there, a medley of warm-lobster salad dressed with an earthy truffled vinaigrette; a croustillant (crisply grilled fillet) of baby pig, with savory and wild mushrooms; and a "gazpacho" of fraises des bois, tiny, fragrant wild strawberries. Rue de la République; 33-4/90-90-60-34; lunch for two $100; closed Monday all day, Tuesday for lunch.

Numéro 75

Avignon

The former mansion of Jules Pernod, creator of the famous anisette liqueur that still bears his name, now houses one of Avignon's newest restaurants, Numéro 75. Noted local chef Robert Brunel, whose eponymous establishment, Brunel, faces the Palais des Papes, decided to take over the Pernod property to offer diners a more casual, countrified dining experience. Set behind an iron gate, 75 feels like a secret garden, fragrant with mimosa, bougainvillea, and lemon. "I wanted to create a bistro menu featuring simple Provençal cuisine and lots of salads," Brunel says, "dishes that are perfect for eating outdoors." He keeps his menus short, with only a handful of lunch and dinner choices. My alfresco meal on an evening in late spring—a silky foie-gras terrine studded with bits of poached artichoke hearts, followed by pan-roasted guinea hen paired with a tangy, tender lemon confit—was a delight. Salads, such as the combo of prosciutto, sun-dried tomato, and marinated eggplant, are popular with the after-theater crowd that fills the garden during Avignon's famous summer festival in July. 75 Rue Guillaume Puy; 33-4/90-27-16-00; dinner for two $71; closed Sunday.

Le Jardin du Quai

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

A lively group of antiques dealers surrounded me in the garden of Le Jardin du Quai last summer, and all of us were eager to try chef Daniel Hebet's lunchtime specials. In a century-old house across from the train station in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a celebrated riverside town of antiquaires, Le Jardin du Quai is one of the best new restaurants in Provence. Hebet, who drew rave notices as chef of the Hôtel La Mirande in Avignon, offers an unadorned but sophisticated market-based menu in an appropriate atmosphere of retro chic, complete with an old zinc bar and vintage bistro tables. On the afternoon I found myself seated under Hebet's vine-draped pergola, lunch started with a dish of grilled asparagus, shaved Parmesan, and fresh herbs. A tender, center-cut cod fillet on a bed of warm chickpeas flecked with orange zest was the main course; dessert was a luscious poached white peach in a cinnamon-spiked sugar syrup. The meal, enhanced by a golden Jean-Luc Colombo Les Figuières Côtes du Rhône, was unforgettable in its delicious understatement. 91 Ave. Julien-Guigue; 33-4/90-20-14-98; lunch for two $60; closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Le Bouquet de Basilic

Gordes

In the tourist-clogged hill town of Gordes, it's not easy finding a place to eat—a pleasant, authentic, and reasonably priced place, that is, among the tourist canteens and the high-priced restaurants. Le Bouquet de Basilic, tucked behind a souvenir shop, is an adorable discovery. A leafy terrace offers cool shelter on a hot day, and the timbered, turmeric-hued interior is the perfect retreat when the mistral blows. Marianne Galante, the restaurant's amiable owner, has family roots in Sicily, and she has given a distinctly Mediterranean slant to her organic blackboard menu. Many dishes include Galante's glowingly fresh basil, the restaurant's namesake, as well as her house-grown garlic and locally pressed olive oil. I enjoyed the crab salad in a light, lemony vinaigrette, and my finicky photographer pronounced the tagliatelle with fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic très bon. Our carafe of rosé du pays, the Fontenille Côtes du Luberon, dry and delicately fruity with a tiny hint of cranberry, was just right with this casual, southern-souled meal. Rte. de Murs; 33-4/90-72-06-98; lunch for two $70; closed Thursday.

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