L’Epicerie 10 pl. St-Pierre, Avignon, France, 0033-4-90-82-74-22
The quest for “authentic” local cuisine is possibly one of the most frustrating, counter-productive and exhausting pursuits on which a tourist can embark. Extensive planning is often rewarded with massive disappointment: guidebooks can be as deceitful and corrupt as international sports administrators, while a meagre catch awaits anyone who is willing to trawl through the oceans of inanity posted on advertisement-infested internet sites.
Placing everything in the hands of fate, hoping that the invisible hand of the culinary gods will guide you to the ultimate regional dining experience is not a wise gambit either. There are only a few pointers, like avoiding establishments which a) display a big board with frayed photos of the food; b) solicit custom from the street through a fawning waiter who gushes about the specials “we have for you today”; and c) serve local specialities out of season (who in his right mind wants to eat cassoulet in Toulouse in the middle of summer?). But one trick seems to work better than most. Ask the hotel receptionist. They know the place, they know the food, and they know that a few hours later you will be back.
So, having adopted this strategy, I recently arrived for lunch at L’Epicerie, a Proven?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦+ªal restaurant situated on a quiet square outside the St. Pierre Church, next to the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. After a quick glance at the surrounding tables, I took my cue from the local patrons, and ordered a house speciality, the Assiette L’Epicerie, served with a carafe of ros+¬.
Picture a very large round white plate, covered in a bed of fresh lettuce, dressed in the lightest of vinaigrettes. On it, spread out with a meticulous sense of natural order reminiscent of the arrangements of spring flowers on Cambridge college gardens, the following could be found: vivid green, glistening marinated asparagus spears; a few slithers of subtly flavoured smoked ham; slices of toasted baguette topped with green and red tapenade; soft, warm goat’s cheese; quartered fresh mushrooms; a wedge of velvety smooth tian d’aubergines, a little puffy cylinder which looked like brioche, but had a light savoury- bacon flavour, and, in the middle, a little ramekin with a slice of bright red cocktail tomato floating in some baked cream.
It was the real deal. An adventure within an adventure. Let me proceed no further, and only say this: it was a culinary sensation so perfectly in harmony with its surroundings that, for once, and perhaps not entirely unsurprisingly, one felt very close to heaven.
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