As the cultural capital of the Vaucluse, Avignon might logically be considered the culinary capital, too. Visit during the July theater festival, however, and you’ll have the opposite impression. Sunny sidewalk tables spill out temptingly onto the streets, but nearly all serve the kind of food designed for people on tight schedules: salads, pizzas, and charcuterie plates, often of indifferent quality. For more generous and imaginative Provençal food, you will have to seek out Avignon’s few culinary gems or scour the countryside, where delightful meals can be had in roadside restaurants, renovated farmhouses, and restaurants with chefs whose talents are as stunning as the hilltop settings where they operate. Be sure to indulge in the sun-drenched local wines from the Luberon, the Côtes du Ventoux, and the Côtes du Rhône (especially its lesser-known vineyards), and if a full bottle seems too much for two people, order one of the 50 cl bottles now popular here (the equivalent of two-thirds of a regular bottle). It pays to do research—too many restaurants, especially in summer, are cynically cashing in on the thriving tourist trade, and prices are generally high.
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Le Chalet Reynard
Le Chalet Reynard
Opened in 1927, this is the spot for lunch and a bask in the sun on your way up the eastern slope of Mont Ventoux. Bikers, hikers, and car-trekkers alike gather at plank tables on the wooden deck or warm themselves in the chalet-style dining area. The food is far beyond the merely acceptable, from simple dishes such as omelets (with truffles in season) to the traditional hearty tartiflette (baked dish of potatoes, cheese, and bacon from the Savoie region) or even spit-roasted pig for groups of 15 or more.
The food here is some of the best in town, as the bevy of locals clamoring to get in proves. It all smells so good that you may be tempted to rip one of the decorative forks off the wall and attack your neighbor's plate. Service is prompt and friendly, and you can dig in to heaping portions of escalope of salmon, chicken cilantro à l'orange, or what is likely the best Provençal daube (served with macaroni gratin) in France.
In an old bakery in a natural grotto deep in stone, lighted by candles and arty torchères, this restaurant would be memorable even without its stylishly presented Provençal cuisine. For more than 20 years chef Jean-Christophe Leche has been producing adventurous dishes, available à la carte or as a fixed menu. Try the thinly layered beetroot with feta cheese and walnut oil or veal braised with anis and creamy polenta, and check out the informed wine list. There's a shaded terrace, too, by the 17th-century village fountain.
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