Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trip to Southern France - Aix-en-Provence

After spending 4 days in Marseille, Bobby and I took the train 30 km/19 m north to Aix-en-Provence, where we spent two days. Founded in 123 BCE by the Romans, Aix has had a surprisingly violent history: according to Wikipedia, it was 'occupied by the Visigoths in 477, repeatedly plundered by the Franks and Lombards, and was occupied by the Saracens in 731, followed by Charles Martin in 737'.However, from the 12th century onwards, it became a artistic center, a reputation which lasts to this day.

Aix's most famous son is Paul Cézanne, the mid- to late-19th century post-Impressionist painter. During his lifetime, Cézanne's works were greatly disliked by the artistic elite in Aix. So even though he was born in Aix, lived much of his life in the area, and used many local scenes in his works, there aren't that many Cézanne originals in the local museum. Such a shame.
Aix is also home to the composer Darius Milhaud. You can see Bobby standing in front of the home where Milhaud was raised. Milhaud was born to a Jewish family, so he was forced to leave France during the German occupation during World War II. He lived in Oakland, California, teaching at Mills College and the Aspen Music Festival during the summer. Burt Bacharach studied under Milhaud, where he received the advice that would make him a very successful composer, "Don't be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don't ever feel discomfited by a melody".
One of the nights in Aix was spent in the wonderful restaurant Le Formal, where we had the 7 course truffle menu. We started with the 64 degree egg (an egg poached for an hour or so at 64 degrees Celsius). Served with smoked salmon, crème fraîche with sturgeon caviar, potato, and truffle oil and a dried chip of truffle, it was a divine introduction to the following tuffle-heavy courses.
Next was a slider of tuna sashimi and a tartine of vegetables: potato, caper berries, asparagus, truffle, and a cauliflower cream. Accompanied with sturgeon caviar in crème fraîche (a re-occuring theme, along with the truffles).
Next was one of the best courses: a scallop cooked in truffle-infused pastry, accompanied by raw scallop, dried truffles, and (you guessed it) sturgeon caviar in crème fraîche.
For the main, I choose a slow cooked beef roast, served with the most delicious and light mustard sauce (it's the whipped looking stuff  in the separate white dish), truffle mashed potatoes, and roasted carrots. The meat just fell apart and was absolutely delicious. Bobby had beef Wellington, was was also amazing and delicious.
For the cheese course, there was a little puffed pasty filled with brie de Meaux and truffle with truffle oil.
Dessert number one was an apple crumble of sorts.
And dessert number two, which was a wildly over-the-top creation of really dark chocolate, macaron, gelato, yuzu-infused olive oil, and all sorts of goodness. What a fantastic meal! 

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