Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Color and crunch in Arles

We don't go out to eat that often. Not only is it far less a part of the everyday culture in France than in the States, but when you have as good a cook, and as handsome a one, as Remi in the kitchen, well, it just doesn't make sense. Often, either of us could make what is on offer at the local joints--if not better! But that is not the case for L'Autruche, the Ostrich, which is tucked away on the tiny rue Dulau in the heart of Arles.

An agreeable young couple runs the establishment. Ouria is as exotically pretty as her name but yet has welcomed me from my second visit with a hearty "Salut, ma belle!"--Hello, gorgeous!--and a bisou, a peck on the cheek. The more formal Fabien is quick to extend a firm handshake to Remi. When we arrived late recently on a sunny Saturday afternoon, all the tables were filled on the terrace. "Not to worry," Ouria assured us, "I'll just bring another one out." Once installed, we settled in with our fellow diners, largely locals, including a table of hotel owners, a picky bunch if ever there is one. They appeared to be well into their wine. We were soon clinking ourselves with a crisp white from Chateau Gigognan just outside of Sorgues (ps. if you are looking for a place to stay in the area, their Chambres d'Hotes looks fabulous). All of us were preneurs for the lunch formule--which at 17€ for a starter and main is the best deal in Arles--but there are only two choices. As Remi had already started marinating one of them, a magret de canard for that evening, we left ourselves in Fabien's hands. He spoke with the chef and came out with a nod. Something had been arranged.

Our entrée was right on par for the season and starred gorgeous pink-shelled coco beans topped with fresh crab, tangy agrumes and heavily chopped basil. A perfect dish for a warm afternoon at the end of summer but I also could imagine my blog friend Virginia (she of Glamour Drops fame) whipping this up as an equally suitable dish for a spring lunch in Melbourne.

I always love to read their menu--actually, I'll pass by while out on my walk with Ben just because it usually inspires me one way or the other in my own cooking. Now, I'll admit that dinner is firmly out of our price range--hence going for lunch!--but well worth it for those with the means as the price is reflected by the quality of the ingredients. Wild monkfish, anyone? Good luck trying to get that in Arles, save for the three star Michelin rated L'Atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel, the eponymous chef of which has been spotted at L'Autruche on his days off...

Ah, on to the plat principale! The presentation is always a well-conceived jolt to prepare the taste buds and I always respond with typically American enthusiasm, even, to my embarrassment "hooray!" Fabien had arranged for us to have a duo of pan-grilled rouget and salmon accompanied by a medley of grilled zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes on an onion confit. All served with a tomato saffron sirop and, well, bad blogger that I am, I forgot to verify the ingredients of that shocking green swipe across the plate. Blame it on the wine and the fine company. We were all happy as could be, save our host, who felt that the portions were too small and so ordered up another plate for our table to share, gratuitement.

Now, I have read some pretty tough reviews of the restaurant on TripAdvisor and the likes. Complaints of slow service abound. So keep that in mind if you decide to go but for now, it certainly is my favorite here in Arles. Chef Antoine came on board nearly two years ago and is definitely one of the few in this price category to take such risks. Perhaps that is why the restaurant received une fourchette in the Michelin Guide this year. Both Ouria and Fabien have been known to plop down at a table to chat, so that is also something to consider if that is not to your liking. But I prefer friendly to frosty any day of the week, don't you? L'Autruche is a young restaurant, one that I find charming even in its imperfections and I will look forward to watching it grow!


  1. Looks like heaven that plate of monkfish and I love that they serve the meals with all fresh ingredients. Our two restaurants here do the same straight from the land and onto your plate. Every time we’re in France we get slow service at restaurants, why rush if you have a cocktail, and someone always sits down for a chat, I love it and wish Americans were more relaxed.

  2. Yes, I agree! What is the rush if it isn't a business lunch? I see so many tourists here making the very basic mistake of wanting to do too much too quickly!

    As for on our home turf, I am so proud of how "terroir" focused America has become. Our country has so much to offer, in each of its regions. I love convincing people here that not all of us eat at MCDonald's and far from it!

  3. Oh boy it is almost lunch time (well not really, but I wish it were because now my stomach is growling after reading this toothsome account).

    Laughed when I got to the bit on me! Thank you! Just have to work out what agrumes are. (Any clues?) Yes, you are right, fresh spring crab is most definitely on the menu right now and the first of the basil is popping up in the garden.

    I for one love it when the chef comes over to chat at the table. Very common here in good restaurants - not in cafes though. But it shows a level of care and personality which makes one feel appreciated. In fact, I am a little miffed when the chef doesn't pop out to see if everything is ok.

    And as for rushing, well we all need to be reminded to jolly well slow down a bit I think - and where better to slow down than while enjoying good, fresh (especially local) food, wine & lovely company.

  4. YUM, Sister! And so glad to hear that you guys do dine out on occasion; especially if you have a wonderful place nearby! But Chez Remi is my favorite place in Arles! : )

  5. Oops! Sorry about that Virginia! I like to try and push the French in a bit but sometimes I forget what words are commonly used in English or not! Agrumes are citrus fruits--in this dish it seemed to be a stewed mix of orange and lemon. And just in case, coco beans are cranberry beans. :) And yes, I also feel that the experience is nearly as important as the food--seeing the chef seems fairly rare here but being well taken care of by the "front of house" team is mucho importanto!

    And Rob, I'll tell him that you said that! If we come for the holidays, you know that he will cook!

  6. I love food and have now put dining at L'Autruche on my "must do in France 2012" list. Thank you.

  7. Another beautiful post!You do inspire!
    I cannot believe you have a friend in MELBOURNE!I do too!!!Another,thing in common!

  8. Oh how fun Elizabeth! I would heartily suggest coming on a Saturday to do the market first (the largest in Provence) and then lunch afterwards! I love my town and think a Saturday spent here leisurely strolling the streets is heaven.

    Elizabeth, the list goes on and on... :)

  9. I just found you through Karena. You might want to check out our fire sale on our website. Many of our vendors are cleaning house!! Although being in France, I think the shipping's out of the question. Come visit our blog, my daughter is in France until December, so I'll get a vicarious thrill. Bargain hotel advice for Paris?

  10. Hi Liz! Glad to see you here. Yes, of course I have heard of your blog and will pop over in a moment but first things first! I always strongly suggest that folks skip hotels altogether and rent an apartment. It is SO much more interesting on many levels--value for the money, getting to be in a "real" environment...

    Now, since Remi and I are a bit older than the young un's we tend to use Way to When staying off season we love this apartment in particuler as the style and location can't be beat:

    But, if that is out of her budget, she should definitely shop around on It is for a younger set and some of the apartments are out in the 'burbs so she should go with something that she knows where it is--but I recently came up with one's on that site that are located on the Ile St. Louis! Ah, Paris in all it's splendor...Don't hesitate to contact me if I can be of further help. :)

    And oh, if, as a worrying Mom you really want her in a hotel, I can recommend:
    The Hotel Louvre Sainte-Anne in the 1st

  11. Hi Heather, I drafted a reply to you last night on my ipad but the silly thing is so spring loaded that it wiped it when I hit publish....grrr...I hate ipads....

    Anyway, back on my trusty Imac now and attempt #2. Mysteries solved aplenty in the Agrume response, thank you! My daughter Henrietta reminded me that we bought Schweppes Agrum water last summer for a pink themed dinner party - I had vaguely thought it was some kind of exotic fruit flavour - haha!

    So please keep throwing in the French words for our educational purposes. (I mostly just ask Henrietta who is studying the language, as even though I did French at uni I just don't seem to remember it as well as I should...obviously I haven't travelled to France as much as I should have! Will fix that next year though hopefully!)

    Then, fall about laughing, I assumed your coco beans were borlotti beans, because of the reference to their pretty pink colour. Oh, so what are cranberry beans? Cranberry fruits I know and am a bit addicted to after having them in so many salads in NYC last year. (They go SO well with macadamia nuts, pears & rocket with a little Balsamic and the best olive oil.)

    Finally, and this is turning into an essay....we love to stay in apartments rather than hotels too. That way I can pretend we are local for a wee bit, and try to absorb the local flavour much better. Virginia x

  12. Virginia, me thinks that you are quite spoiled with your ipads and imacs, my goodness!--especially as your ipad sent a reply on its own yesterday! :)

    Um, soooo, Virginia? You are thinking of coming to France next year? Or thereabouts? Well, I don't have to beat around the bush! If you are in any way considering coming to the South, at the very, very least we will cook you and yours one fine meal! Worth the consideration in planning...just saying...

    As for coco rouges, I thought that I was being quite helpful in suggesting cranberry beans--what the net suggested but perhaps that is only American? They are in the most gorgeous Schiaperelli pink shells but turn white when cooked. Does that help?

    And lastly, yes, apartments are the BEST plan--just what you save for breakfast and the apero alone lets you splurge for something better than you ever could in a hotel! And you just feel a part of everything, not just some anonymous loser! Heehee.

  13. I say thank goodness for trip advisor.... more room for the rest of us!
    A looooooooonnnnnnnnggggggg lunch in the South of France, winter, summer or fall is the BEST!

  14. Hi Heather! Yep, but not too long! We had friends over for oysters on Wednesday, another friend bought two bottles of Chablis (very generous) and whew, I needed a nap afterwards! ;)

  15. PS. Yes, Virginia, you were right--borlotti beans! Oops! And I just ran into Ouria and Fabien in the street. That they asked after my little blog just goes to show the care and attention that these two shower on their guests and friends.

    For those of you that DO follow TripAdvisor and Chowhound--I have left positive reviews of L'Autruche there as well--they deserve it! :)

  16. Don't readily see your email so just want to say thank you for your comment on Cote de Texas' blog. It is very important to remember the human toll of our seemingly unrelated decisions.

  17. Thank you so much Nancy. I wasn't sure if anyone even noticed it, so that is reassuring. I am thinking about writing a post on the subject here as well.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

  18. I found you through Elizabeth Eiffel's blog and I am wondering how on earth I ever missed a blog about Arles?! My daughter, son-in-law, and I stumbled into Arles several years ago and fell in love with it. We re-arranged our plans and stayed a few days... what a treasure!

    I am planning an April trip with my husband who has never been to France (compared to my 15+ visits) and Arles is on the list.

    I will be preparing the "papeton d'aubergine" this weekend to get into the Provence mood.

    Needless to say, L'Autruche is on the list also!


  19. Hello Genie! And welcome! Wow, two new friends in the same day--it's a miracle! :) And your blog is beautiful--your love of what you shoot is evident.

    I'll definitely be here to help with Arles and Alpilles planning for next Spring and bon chance avec le papeton!

    Bises à toi aussi!


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