Over the years, Christine and Philippe Theme have become good friends, and we always enjoy getting together with them while we are in Provence. This year their schedule prevented us from getting together until the last few days of our stay, but we decided to make up for it with a good Italian dinner at the mas.
David dropped me off at the clinic in Salon, then made a stop at the boulangerie at the Orgon roundabout to pick up some breakfast pastries for Anne and Jay. He loaded the kitchen table with pain au chocolat, sacrastain, a baguette with slices of jambon and Emmenthaller, sanguinella, and mini eclairs – quite a spread. Anne and Jay dove in and then were off to Arles to spend the day. David retired to the computer to make lists of everything we needed for dinner. My menu was green salad, bucatini all’Amatriciana, grilled pork tenderloins, garlic bread, and desserts from the Orgon boulangerie.
Armed with his lists, David headed back to Salon to pick me up and start work on dinner. We first stopped at the boulangerie to pick out desserts. There was quite a lot to choose from, but we went with tarte au fruits, slices of triple chocolate cake, and mini Tropeziennes. The latter is a specialty dish invented in St. Tropez years ago and made famous by Brigitte Bardot while she was filming and God Created Woman in St. Tropez. She would send crew members each day to get the dessert for her. It is basically a brioche shell, dusted with sugar, and filled with two delicious custards. This was sure to please everyone.
David had picked up two beautiful pork filet mignons at the butcher in Eygalières the previous day, and proceeded to trim them of excess fat and silverskin. At home, he would brine them for 4-6 hours in a maple-based brine, but lacking that here, we would go with a rub of herbs de Provence and additional herbs from our garden. The guanciale was, of course, the key to the bucatini, and knowing that it wasn’t available in France, we brought it with us, along with crushed red pepper flakes, which we had failed to source on previous trips. A few additional fresh ingredients for the salad, some of David’s homemade croutons, and we were set to go.
We headed for town for a late lunch at Café le Progress, but spotted tables set up on the sidewalk at Bru, and a special lunch menu of 25 Euros for a three-course meal. The last time we ate here, lunch was 70 Euros, and we knew that owner/chef Wout Bru, who brought Michelin two-star status to the place, was no longer here and trying to sell it, but also that he the kitchen staff he trained was still here and still preparing his creations, so decided to give it a whirl. Signs of the place’s decline were quickly apparent. The table linens were worn, and the silverware tarnished. The wine list had only a few selections, mostly the expensive wines from other regions. Our server was young and eager, but lacked the polish and knowledge of previous staff. We started with kirs, which – despite the place being empty – were a long time coming. The food was excellent, well prepared and full of the flavors Bru was noted for. They forgot David’s side dish, and bread, and left us to pour our own wine, but it was sunny and glorious so we didn’t dwell on the negatives.
Anne and Jay texted us that they were thoroughly enjoying Arles, and would be back at the mas later that afternoon to begin prep for dinner. Jay is always a tremendous help in the kitchen, and Anne invaluable in getting everything set up, so dinner for Christine and Philippe was not as daunting a task as it might have been.
Returning to the Mas, David checked that all of the wines were chilling, and tended to the appetizers – olives cassée (“broken” green olives from the first harvest, soaked in brine and fennel) saucisson Roquefort (pork sausage made with Roquefort). Jay and I worked on the rub for the pork and prepped the sauce for the bucatini. Anne and David worked on glassware. It is difficult to find six of any single glass in the mas, let alone six each for water, white wine, and red wine.
Christine and Philippe arrived and we introduced them to Anne and Jay. Philippe loved the Linda Ronstadt music that Bill LaPato introduced him to in May, so I brought him several of her best CDs, including her work with Nelson Riddle. They brought me a wonderful cookbook, with “recipes from the angels,” which I look forward to trying. We relaxed and chatted as David and Jay went to work on the pork tenderloins and I made the garlic bread. Course-by-course, the dinner came out. The pork was done perfectly, the bucatini was right on target, and we didn’t burn the garlic bread — success! I was gratified that Philippe had seconds of everything, as did Christine. The wines were perfect – Jay’s Vacqueyras rosé and especially the red. The dinner was a success. Then, we trotted out the desserts and Philippe sliced and served it. They were off in the morning for the Cevenne, so we would not see them again this trip, but all made note to get together when we are back in May, possibly including a week-long stay in their Troglodyte apartment.
Leaving the dishes for tomorrow, we all turned in after a great day and a great meal.