by Monique Meadows
A French bistro amidst the lobster rolls, fried haddock and all things ocean on the coast of Maine is a find. Not that fried fresh dayboat haddock is anything but welcome religion, but inside the doors of 98 Provence in Ogunquit, one enters an intoxicating escape to the south of France, complete with linens of the region. Pierre, the extremely talented chef, his wife Lisa who tends the "petit" bar and welcomes the many regulars, Pierre's sister Johanne who handles, manages, and rules the front of the house with style, and Hez, Johanne's husband, bring culinary bliss and an extraordinary dining experience to Shore Road.
My partner and I love to sit at the bar. To us, it's the only place to dine at "Provence" though the patrons in the candlelit dining room seem just as happy. Happy and full of anticipation. On one particular evening this summer, every taste begged to be written into a novel. Trust me, I have thought of it but have a few other projects on my plate. Peter Mayle does need to stop in at 98 Provence and spend a little time on this side of the Atlantic wrapped around a plate of Pierre's mussels.
The evening began actually in the late afternoon with a cheese selection. I suppose it "should" have followed the meal but we were intrigued and there to linger. We chose three: the "Boerenkaas" 5yr aged gouda, a dizzyingly incredible Spanish blue cheese "Mitiblue" and an intoxicatingly rich Triple Cream "Delices de Bourgogne" with sliced pears and wedges of fig. Beautiful. Simple. A trip to the French countryside without airline surcharges for baggage. The wine - Domaine Poujol Rose 2007. Lovely.
"Moules au crab frais, mais et estragon" translated to Mussels with Jonah Crab, sweet corn and Tarragon cream. The appetizer. Beautiful on the plate and absolutely delicious. My dish that evening: "Gnocchi a la Provencale aux petoncles et a la sage" - Provencal herb gnocci with sea scallops and golden sage. The gnocci were pan seared and lighter than I have ever had gnocci. My partner's dish: "Daurade rouge aux petots legumes avec beurre au poivre vert" Red Sea Bream with summer vegetables and green peppercorn lime beurre blanc. An amazing dish. The wine: Jean Francois Merrieu, Touraine Sauvignon Blanc 2008. A gorgeous Loire wine with aroma of grapefruit on the rich nose, full beautiful fruit on the palate with a nice acidity. A new find. The Chardonnay drinkers to the left of us at the bar were intrigued. Dessert that evening - "Tarte au citron et bleuets vanilles" lemon tart with vanilla scented blueberries. Fresh. Summer. France. With a little bit of Maine.
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