Charlotte

Aix en Provence: French Cuisine for the Queen City

girl-nosh

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.

cocktails

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.

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holidays

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Aix En Provence Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Recipe

French Onion Soup

I think French Onion soup is my favorite soup of all time.  The KING of soups!  When I was a kid, I almost choked on a big glob of cheese while eating a cup in the mall, but now I am much more careful.  Smaller bites.  Chewing.

My favorite soups are ones that have a rich broth, not too many chunky onions, but enough so that the bread doesn’t absorb all of the liquid.  The cheese on top should be a lovely mixture of gruyere, gouda and mozzarella.  Never too much.

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French Onion Soup

Ingredients

  • 5 small onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cans (14 ounces) low sodium beef broth (recommended: Swanson’s)
  • 2 cans (10 ounces) beef consomme (recommended: Campbell’s)
  • 1 packet onion soup mix (recommended: Lipton’s)
  • 8 slices French bread, about 1 inch thick
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere

directions

  1. Combine onions, broth, consomme, and soup mix in a slow cooker. Cook on HIGH setting for 4 hours, or LOW setting for 8 hours.
  2. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Top with a slice of French bread. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons cheese over each bread slice. Put soup bowls under broiler until cheese is melted. Alternatively, place the bread on a baking sheet and top with cheese; broil until cheese has melted, about 30 to 40 seconds, and set on top just before serving.

*adapted from Sandra Lee

Charlotte · Restaurants

Cafe Monte in Charlotte

Café Monte

My girlfriend and I decided to give this place a try because we found a Living Social deal that was too good to pass up.  So glad we did!  The interior is fun yet elegant.  When we were there, they had live music playing in a corner and a pastry case on the opposite side.  It made the wait for our table a bit more bearable!

We were seated in the busy restaurant at a small patio (looking) table and were immediately served our drinks.  Our server was attentive and friendly.

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We started with some pretty standard appetizers.  My friend ordered a salad, and it was dressed sparsely and was pretty basic.  I tried the French Onion Soup.  The cheese was delicious, but the broth itself was lacking in body and flavor.  We both agreed we’d try something a little more adventurous next time.

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We sampled the Chicken and Mushroom Crepes for our entrée.  This was really my friend’s dish, but she let me have a taste.  They were rich and creamy and I kicked myself all night for not getting them.   I know it looks a mess, and the picture isn’t that clear, but it was the best thing we had all night.

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For my dish, I chose the special for Friday night:  Broiled Lobster with fries and asparagus.  It was fine, but the waiter really hyped it up and you know…you’ve had Lobster once, you’ve had it a million times.  It was delicious, but nothing special.  Plus, kinda messy and hard to handle with grace.  Next time, crepes for me.

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After staring at the pastry case while waiting on our reservation, we decided we had to have dessert.  My friend chose the chocolate éclair.  The photo is blurry, but I’m sure you can see the cracks in the chocolate on top.  That was an indicator we should have heeded.  It was dry and uneventful.  Very disappointing for a French bakery.

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This was the winner between the two desserts.  This Vanilla fruit tart was good, but it still had that “made ahead and sat around” flavor to me.  I was not impressed, but maybe my expectations were too high for a French restaurant.

The next time we go, we will skip dessert altogether, but definitely have the crepes.

 

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