As our wonderful time in Languedoc-Roussillon concluded, and the high-impact combination of too much unpasteurized cheese and local rose wine, my wife and I arranged to spend several days in the small hill town of Crillon le Brave in Northern Provence. Our specific destination was the Hotel Crillon le Brave, a Relais&Chateaux property located at the perch of the village. The location was reminiscent of a Provencal movie-set: small stone church chiming from time to time, vineyards and olive groves everywhere, intense sunshine; a completely sublime setting. HCLB is a small hotel, only 20 or so rooms, spread out over a good portion of the village. And like many small French hill towns it is completely interconnected by stone, like wall to wall shag carpeting in the '70's, everything was awash in old stone. It was a perfectly charming location.
The outer facade of the hotel looks like most any of the old buildings in town, but after you enter the inner realm a whole other world presents itself. Connected by a number of small stone pathways are a variety of gardens, small cafe tables, bocce courts, private terraces and an intentionally green swimming pool ending at the large dining patio overlooking the valley and Mont Ventoux. If the hotels brilliance had ended with the ambiance, we would have been very happy indeed. However, the most pleasant surprise may have been how outstanding the food was (so good we ate at the restaurant on consecutive nights, something I never do when traveling). The chef, Philippe Monti, has put together an impressively simple Mediterranean menu, drawing from numerous local artisans, with a wide selection of sides to accompany the creative main courses (think of the market driven simplicity of Craft restaurant in NYC, in a much more relaxed atmosphere). To complete the dining experience there's the succinct, but comprehensive wine list made up of mostly local wines (Chat. du Pape is only 20 km away) and exquisite French cheeses (I realize my visit to HCLB was ostensibly designed to ween me off the cheeses, but I just can't resist those unpasteurized fresh milk selections). We ended up being so taken with our little hotel that we rushed through our day trips to Avignon and Isle-sur-la-sorgue just so we could get back and relax at the hotel. So for your next whirlwind trip around the South of France, I highly recommend ending your travels with a few days at this establishment: www.crillonlebrave.com . Just don't expect to give up the wine and cheese until you return from your trip.
Some of my favorite menu items are the sides designed to accompany your entrees. Here's a great eggplant dish that works wonderfully with grilled meat, seafood or bread.
Warm Eggplant-Mustard Seed Relish
Quantity Produced: Makes 2 cups
Eggplant, Peeled/Diced 1#
Onion, Diced 1 Small
Garlic, Minced 1 Medium Clove
Olive Oil as needed
Cider Vinegar, Organic ½ Cup
Honey 2 Tablespoons
Sugar 1 Tablespoon
Mustard Seed, Brown & Yellow 3 Tablespoons
Cumin, Ground 1 Teaspoon
Italian Parsley, Minced 2 Tablespoons
Kosher Salt & Fresh Pepper To Taste
In a medium skilled sweat onion and garlic over medium-low heat, 5-10 minutes. Add eggplant and raise heat to medium high, stirring occasionally to ensure mixture browns but doesn’t burn. When eggplant is brown add cider vinegar, reduce for 3-4 minutes, add sugar, honey, mustard seed and cumin. Cook until eggplant is glazed, toss with parsley and season. Serve warm with chicken, salmon or as a dip for pita chips.