White Post, Virginia
Nestled in the gently rolling hills just a short distance
from Front Royal and the northern entrance to Skyline Drive, L'Auberge Provençale
is a little bit of Provence in the heart of the Virginia hunt country. And chef
Alain Borel, a native of Avignon, France, and his wife, Celeste, succeed in
providing their guests with the ultimate in gracious hospitality and Epicurean
The main manor house, Mt. Airy (circa 1753), boasts three
intimate dining rooms decorated with works of art, French copper cookware, and Provençale
fabrics & artifacts, including a charming portrait of Chef Alain as a young
man (see photograph). There is also a lovely parlor where one may enjoy pre or postprandial
libations and eleven cozy guestrooms for those whose gastronomic odysseys have
taken them far from home . . . And this is one dining divertissement that is
surely worth a journey.
The prix fixe menu ($82.00 per person) is a sumptuous
five-course affair, which also includes l'entracte, a palate-cleansing
intermezzo. As you would expect, an award-winning selection of French and
American château wines provides the perfect complement to your extraordinary
If I have one quibble here, it is the fact that, given the
delightful culinary complexities and diversities of the chef's bill of fare, it
makes infinitely more sense to match up various courses with wines by the glass
rather than avail oneself of a single bottle. One might begin, for example,
with a 2000 René Muré ($12.00), a light and lively Riesling from the Alsatian
region of France, and then move on to a 2001 J. Pabiot Pouilly Fumé ($16.00)
or, perhaps, a 2002 Pouilly Fuissé from Louis Jadot ($16.00). If one is
indulging in meatier matters, the 2000 Dry Creek Cabernet ($14.00), 2000
Château Lalande ($16.00), or 2000 Château Font Villac ($18.00) should fill the
bill nicely. Were Mr. Borel to offer a tasting menu including appropriate wine
pairings with each course, I am certain that it would prove extremely popular.
The amuse-bouchepepper-encrusted tuna and julienne
fennel salad kissed by saffron aïolisimply bewitches the palate. The
richness of the tuna, the gentle bite of the pepper, the cool crunchiness of
the fennel, the soothing sensuality of the saffron . . .an utterly seamless and
Les entrées (which in France refer to first
courses rather than main courses) offer intriguing possibilities: duck confit
and foie gras tart with elderberry reduction and orchard peaches; smoked
local rabbit served with saffron pasta, mixed wild mushrooms, and Dijon cream
sauce; house-cured salmon with porcini mushrooms and whole grain aïoli; fresh
crab croquette with citrus salad, vanilla oil, chili oil, and cilantro.
I was certain my wife would jump at the seared sea scallops
with creamy salsify and bacon vinaigrette; instead, however, she zeroed in on
one of the daily specials, another of her perennial favorites, Prince Edward
Island mussels. The bivalves, plump and succulent, came swimming in an
enticing tomato/fennel broth that was completely devoid of sediment and
perfectly complemented by thick, crusty slices of garlic/olive bread.
Normally, I would have availed myself of the aforementioned
rabbit or duck confit and foie gras tart. But, on this particular
evening, I was feeling more avuncular than avant-garde and opted instead
for the gentle but pronounced simplicity of ratatouille en crôute, finely
diced garden vegetables in the loving embrace of rosemary focaccia and the
subtle nuances of Alfredo sauce and rosemary oil.
When it came to les deuxieme suite, my wife selected
yet another vegetable vignette, a totally beguiling upside down herb Provençale
garden vegetable bruschetta crowned with a biscuit tiara and consummated with
roasted red pepper coulis. I, on the other hand, threw in my lot with
the soup du jour, duck consommé. Three rich, medium rare slices of duck
breast and a dollop of wild rice salad formed an epicenter in a snowy white
bowl, which was subsequently inundated with a crystal clear yet remarkably
L'entracte, the intermezzo, was a highly unusual
basil and lime sorbet embellished with tiny sugar basil leaves. The result was
an intensely satisfying assault that thoroughly prepared the palate for les
poisons et viandes.
But, once again, we found ourselves on the horns of a
dilemma . . .So many enticing possibilities: saffron-marinated veal chop with
creamy garlic, potato, and fresh herb gratin; grilled spiced lobster
with asparagus and pea risotto; seared pheasant breast with creamy spinach;
grilled swordfish with Mediterranean-style orzo and Brussels sprouts with green
Here my wife and I went our separate ways: she opting for
the halibut, I for the filet mignon. Halibut is one fish that we both prefer
cooked through, pristinely white rather than translucent at the center . . . and Mr.
Borel's illustrious representative was right on the money. Beautifully pan
seared, it was marvelously moist, set on a seabed of sautéed herb garden tomato
slices, adorned with "champignon" potatoes (potatoes in the shape of
button mushrooms) and consummated with a tomato demi-glace.
When dining out, I rarely order beef . . . but the chef's version
immediately peaked my interest . . . Instead of grilling, two filets were poached in
a cabernet sauvignon wine sauce. Trumpet mushrooms provided a luxuriant pillow
with feathery light butternut squash gnocchi embellishing the periphery. The
sauce could have been a touch more assertive, in my opinion, but the beef
itself was exquisite.
Prior to dessert, patrons are treated to a mini cheese
course. On this occasion, it consisted of crumbled Gorgonzola and diced pears
crowned with a brioche crisp. A superb combination of flavors and textures.
Sweet endings were, like all that had gone before, simply
superlative: a benchmark warm apple tart topped with a base of apple sorbet and
crown of Tahitian vanilla ice cream; cornet of orange spoom (think
old-fashioned Creamsicle) in the company of poppy seed angel food cake
chaperoned by macerated berries. Other denouements included: pear tarte
Tatin with lavender ice cream; dark chocolate mousse pyramid filled with
coconut cream; and an utterly outrageous "Soda Fountain Sampler,"chocolate
malted shake, fudge brownie, and banana split with a trio of ice creams.
Should you decide to spend the nightand I would heartily
urge you to do sothe following morning you will be treated to a
complimentary, incomparably delicious breakfast feast. Sip fresh juices, enjoy
coffee/decaf/tea, and nibble your way through a basket of flaky croissants and
slices of lemon pound cake while awaiting your main course. We indulged in a
mushroom-leek flan, lobster sausage, and golden brown wedge of rösti potato.
A sinfully sumptuous start to the day!
L'Auberge Provençale is one of those rare
restaurants/hostelries that truly delivers on its promises and more than lives
up to its lofty press notices. This is destination dining and lodging at its
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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