Girl Nosh went French last night. And we are definitely going back. And very quickly let me apologize for the poor quality of these photos. I took a photo with the flash and got an evil glare from another diner, so I had to abort the idea of great photos. Good manners and all.
Aix en Provence is an intimate restaurant seating 56 on Providence Road in Charlotte in the spot that was once Terra. I wanted to try it because Open Table had it ranked #1 in their Diner’s Choice awards. I can see why, it is fancy without being too pretentious. It’s an experience where I felt pampered and important, but not stilted and stuffy. I loved it, and this is exactly what a fine dining experience should be.
A little background: Our server was actually one of the owners of the restaurant. He was so knowledgeable and precise I just knew he was invested somehow, and his professionalism was evident throughout our entire meal. He gave us recommendations that all turned out to be wonderful choices. Each course was better than the last. Bryan (that’s the server, we got on a first name basis as one does) gave us a brief history of the evolution of Aix en Provence. They opened in December of 2015, just barely making a showing at the end of the year. His business partner and co-owner worked at Lumière and with some globally renowned chefs like Daniel Boulud and Scott Conant . Perhaps more importantly, he’s actually from France.
While they have an extensive wine list, we opted for the cocktail that Brian recommended to us: L’eveilleur. So refreshing and citrus-y! He graciously gave us the recipe, too! It’s 1.5 oz St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur muddled with a slice of orange, lemon, lime and 3 basil leaves (muddled to a fine pulp), strained into a martini glass and top with champagne, garnish with a basil leaf. I had two and I was feeling pretty good.
An unexpected treat arrived with the crusty bread and European butter: an Amuse Bouche! That roughly translates to a bite sized hors d’oeuvre (saw that on Top Chef) and they are all the rage now. This one was stelline pasta mixed with anchovy, capers and olive oil. It was briny and packed a flavorful punch in that single bite. A great start to our fabulous meal!
The Octopus a la Plancha was a scattering of gently charred Octopus with a sampling of coulis: sunchoke, hearts of palm and cilantro. The octopus wasn’t tough or chewy, instead it was pillowy soft. The coulis were rich and packed with flavor. Perfect and beautiful to look at.
The Escargot was similarly tender. I’ve never had them when they weren’t the slightest bit chewy, but these were soft with just the right amount of chew. They were baked in an herb butter and topped with these tiny mounds of puff pastry. I had to use the bread from the table to soak up the herb butter, it was too good to leave.
The Lyonnaise salad is so simple, it shouldn’t be as good as it is. But every single aspect of this salad was executed perfectly. The fresh frisee lettuce is dressed simply with a light vinaigrette, and when you cut into the poached egg, the egg yolk adds a richness to the tart dressing. Stab a piece of the fried lardon and it is bliss. We all laughingly called the lardons “meat candy.”
The Squid Ink Gnocchi was a (for us) out on a limb, but there was no need to fear; it was perfectly delicious as promised. The gnocchi were very tender and the squid ink gave it just a hint of the ocean, but the apple slices perfectly balanced the squid ink and the lump crab. It was topped with a celeriac creme, all frothy and wonderful.
The Bouillabaisse Marseillaise was recommended by our server. All of this perfectly cooked seafood: fresh fish, poached lobster, mussels and clams, just sitting on a bed of celeriac and potatoes lying in a pool of the most delicious saffron broth infused with the flavor of the seafood. It was topped with a slice of bread spread with some divine sauce, which I used to sop up the broth. Perfect, tender seafood, each mouthful was a delight.
If you want to eat a decadent Chocolate Souffle’, I will warn you, you are going to wait. But, like all good things…you know the rest. This is no exception. It was more than delicious. It was beautiful, it was silky, it was…luxurious. Though I love chocolate, this is the first time I’ve ever had a chocolate souffle’. I could be base and say it reminded me of a molten lava cake, but it wouldn’t be true. The differences are huge to the discerning palate. And to me. Perhaps the most exciting thing was when the owner came out in front of our faces, made a hole in the center with a spoon (he took it away, too, he didn’t leave that messy spoon for us to use. Classy move) and poured in the most amazing vanilla cream. I just wanted a cup of that to sip with my chocolate. It was so rich, I just couldn’t finish it. I brought it home and it was a different kind of delicious right out of the fridge at midnight. Just like my hero Nigella.
We also sampled the Apple Tart Tatin. It was described to us as the French version of Grandma’s apple pie. Lies. My grandmothers are all awesome cooks, but this…oh. This is fancy, compact and hugely packed with flavor. Every single element of the dessert was executed perfectly. The crust was flaky, not soggy. The apples were tender but still somewhat crisp. And the syrup was sweet but not sickly. All perfect, all delicious. Together, bliss.
The Girl Nosh group goes out to eat every month. And we normally go somewhere fancy and noteworthy. This restaurant, we all agreed, was one of our very favorite trips. We will be back soon!