Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

France 2008 - Arles, May 19, evening - eating out

When we got back to Arles Monday evening, we decided to try out a restaurant that Peter had noticed while we were walking one day, and which was mentioned in our "France for Dummies" guide book. Nothing is very far in Old Arles and this place was just across the big boulevard "ring road" where the market had been on Saturday. After a shower to wash off all the dirt that had blown on us from the day, we headed out only to find that this restaurant was closed. And it looked closed permanently, even though there was no sign one way or the other.

Momentarily nonplussed, Peter decided we should try out the hotel restaurant at the Jvles Cesar, as it too had been mentioned in the Dummies book and noted as one of the best restaurants on all of France, not just the south. We plodded up the road, hungry and tired and peered in the windows at the Jvles Cesar. It was only about half full and most people in there had ties on. The wait staff was dressed very properly in black and white. And the doors off the terrace where we had approached it were closed. We turned to see if we could access the restaurant from the hotel, when one of the doors opened and a waiter called out, "Bon soir, monsieur!" It turns out they had only closed the doors because of the ferocious winds and we would be more than welcome, tie or no tie.

We were seated at a nice table by the window and given menus. Descriptions of the food looked good and while expensive, it wasn't prohibitively so. We decided on the prix fixe, made our choices and ordered a bottle of wine. We had been trying to drink local wines exclusively and it is never difficult to find a delicious, reasonably priced bottle anywhere. Our waiter was quite chatty and spoke English very well. We noticed that everyone else in the room was an Anglo of some sort. The food was very good and nicely presented and when we made our choice for dessert and I selected a plate with four tiny, different things on it, they gave me extra. I'm not sure why - I think by then we had mentioned it was our 26th anniversary (in 2 days, actually) or maybe it was because I said "mmm" out loud a fair bit while downing the dessert.

I haven't been writing much about our meals but of course, we have to have three every day in restaurants of some description because the hotel does not allow you to bring food in. We have eaten breakfast several times in the hotel and it is a good one - with bread and eggs and fruit and coffee. But it seems expensive at 7 Euros each which is why we have tried the occasional cafe and croissant outside. But that isn't very satisfying, especially for me, as I like to have more at breakfast than at dinner (well, in theory, anyway). On Saturday, we had fruit and cheese at the market but (according to the map) there's only a market on Saturday and Wednesday.

Lunch can be a large and sustaining meal if you want to eat light at dinner. Most shops close down for about 2 hours from noon until 2 and the restaurants fill up. Some restaurants are only open in the morning and at lunch and some only open for the dinner crowd, so it helps to have scoped out some places ahead of time. And some restaurants are closed one or two days of the week. But there are many places to eat on Arles and if one is closed, another will be close by.

We had already had dinner once at La Gueule du Loup, as it had also been recommended by one of our books. It is a very small place with a few tables on the ground level, where you can watch the chef at work if you want. It has about 8 tables up a steep flight of ancient stone stairs and a small but attentive crew of wait staff. The menu is limited and probably changes weekly and the choices sound wonderful. And they are wonderful. Beautifully presented, interesting combinations of tastes, scrumptious.
France 2008
What we've also taken to doing, especially if we have a light lunch and are waiting for restaurants to open for dinner, is to find a cafe in the late afternoon, to while away our time until dinner. There are many of them around of course, but we seem to have settled on the cafes surrounding the Place du Forum as the best place for people watching. I am sure the Place had a more important past but now, its main claim to fame seems to be the cafe that Vincent painted one evening: Le Cafe au Nuit Right beside that cafe (now painted up in yellow to resemble the VanGogh painting) is one owned by a former bull fighter. The centre of the Place is filled with tables and chairs and different sections of them are serviced by the restaurants and cafes that line the Place. I think the clientele of the entire Place is tourists, unlike some of the other cafes in Arles that are more obviously populated by local people. But as long as it is not time for a meal, they don't seem to mind if you sit there for hours having a small pichet of wine, while you take pictures and write in your notebook.

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