Saturday, December 5, 2009. Non-Departure Angst And Romance. La Provence.

Written by Tom Fitzmorris December 05, 2009 06:01 in

Dining Diary

Saturday, December 5, 2009. Non-Departure Angst And Romance. La Provence. Mary Ann awakened at five a.m. That was an hour late. Her alarm had not gone off. If she was to catch her flight to Los Angeles, she had to leave right then. She took this as a supernatural message that she should not go. And there were other signs. It snowed last night. Not only was the idea of flying in snow disturbing, but to miss sharing the rare snow with Mary Leigh was untenable. She went back to sleep.

She rose again to disappointment. The snow didn't amount to much. She and Mary Leigh made a snowman five inches high--all they could muster. They didn't even bother to store it in the freezer, where a snowman of about the same size from the snow of 1993 was stored until Katrina killed it. This one melted later in the day.

Mary Ann took these developments as a failure. It made her feel vulnerable--a feeling she gets seldom, and hates. And Mary Leigh had a party to go to on the South Shore, where she would spend the night with one of her friends. So Mary Ann had neither son nor daughter to pal with. She was stuck with me.

I suggested that we drive to Baton Rouge for dinner. I don't know why, but she suggests that idea almost every weekend. The restaurants we consider are Sullivan's and Fleming's; we've never actually made it to either. But both those are steakhouses, and we've had a lot of steaks lately. I called Galatoire's Bistro, the famous restaurant's post in Red Stick. But they were booked up.

"I'm not sure I want to go all the way to Baton Rouge anyway," she said. "How about La Provence?" Sold. But La Provence was booked up, too. We went anyway, hoping on our residual goodwill as long-time customers would get us in. We had to wait in the bar, but that was if anything a plus. It was so cold outside that the fireplace roaring away. Not many roaring fireplaces in New Orleans restaurants. The cold also caused people not to show up for their reservations, and we took one of those, after enjoying the bar interlude with drinks from Joyce.

Smoked salmon at La Provence.

In the dining room with its own fireplace we began feasting. Salmon smoked and cured in house was studded by large, crisp baked chips made from shredded potatoes. I couldn't figure out how Chef Erik Loos did this. He's a young guy who is coming closer to the food of founder Chris Kerageorgiou than any of his three more experienced predecessors. He said he shredded the potatoes, rolled them into a cylinder, froze it, then sliced it thin on a meat slicer. Ah! Clever, and good, too.

Grilled oysters at La Provence.

Mary Ann ordered the grilled oysters, a dish she's lately wild about. Another inventive presentation: instead resting on rock salt to keep from rocking, the shells were on a mix of dried red beans and flageolets. Although the name "char-broiled oysters" on the menu brings suggestions of Drago's original, in fact these were much more herbal. A lot like oysters Roland, a great dish at the deceased Christian's.

Soupe au pistou at La Provence.

Cold nights require soup. I liked the one incorporated into the remarkable $28 prix-fixe menu they have here every night. Soupe au pistou had a shocking green, floating puddle floating on the surface. Also in there were lardons (the polite name for pork belly), vegetables, and stock. Very tasty, a Provencal soup if ever there was one.

Rabbit loin Provencal style.

My entree followed suit. It was a unique rollup of rabbit loin, wrapped with bacon and covered with wild mushrooms, with an assortment of beans lining the plate. Perfect for the season, the place, and my mood. Mary Ann was less happy with an amberjack fillet wrapped in a thin pastry. The menu described this as the Tunisian dish called brik. It looked good. I think the problem was the amberjack, a fish I'm not crazy about.

Amberjack brik.

Mary Ann passed on dessert as she always does, and allowed me the pleasure of the pear tart with ice cream, and an espresso. I wanted to remain alert a couple hours more. This day, in which Mary Ann and I discussed life in terms much warmer than we have in some time, promised to end on the best possible note, and I wanted to be there with full awareness.

**** La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190 985-626-7662. Mediterranean French.