Where to Go Next: Provence
Le Garage "We're just a couple of guys trying to do some cool food using very nice products," says Jean-Louis Clair, who left his job at luxury retailer LVMH a few years ago; in 2005 he opened Le Garage with a longtime pal, chef Lucas Mezard. Set in a 1724 stone building that was once a garage, the restaurant playfully mixes industrial and retro style, with battery-powered candles at every table and old movies that play on a dining room wall. The global comfort food menu—sweet-and-sour glazed pork ribs with caramelized red-onion tarte tatin, foie gras on homemade spice bread—is presented in a plastic CD sleeve and changes every month, "so we don't bore our customers," Clair says. DETAILS Just off the RN100, Lumières (near Goult); 011-33-4-32-50-29-32.
Le Relais d'Olèa Last year, French television producers documenting the opening of a restaurant staffed by a dozen untrained twentysomethings came to chef Hermance Carro. Could their show, based on British chef Jamie Oliver's project Fifteen, feature Carro's about-to-open Le Relais d'Olèa as the testing ground? She said yes: "But it wasn't to be on TV. I wanted to help young people find something they love to do." The restaurant and the show, Madame le Chef, premiered in April, and today Carro is a celebrity who also happens to run a lovely bistro, with three of the TV stagiaires as helpers. Her laid-back, 100-seat spot offers tuna served with potato soup and white truffle oil, scallops with soy and coconut milk, and steak frites with pepper sauce. DETAILS 1 Place du Thouron, Seillans; 011-33-4-94-60-18-65.
AOC As the name implies (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée is a designation of regional wine quality), this homey little restaurant off a busy, boutique-lined street is passionate about wine: It offers as many as 100 labels by the glass and sells bottles for customers to take home. Chef Christophe Garnier creates (and his wife, Julie Berthelin, serves) a selection of wine-friendly small plates such as a warm eggplant and porcini charlotte or sliced duck breast with orange confit slivers. DETAILS 5 rue Trémoulet, Avignon; 011-33-4-90-25-21-04.
Domaine des Andéols Set on 67 acres just north of Apt and decorated with work from Philippe Starck and Isamu Noguchi, this hotel was a destination even before superstar chef Alain Ducasse came on board in 2005. Ducasse imported Albert Boronat, a young Spanish chef who worked for him at Le Louis XV in Monaco, to run the restaurant. Boronat uses ingredients from the potager (kitchen garden) to prepare Provençal dishes like herbed lamb with raw and roasted asparagus. Other recipes evoke Spain, like pa amb tomàquet (toasted country bread with tomatoes and cured ham). "It's country cooking," Boronat says. "A three-star restaurant wouldn't fit into this setting." DETAILS Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt; 011-33-4-90-75-50-63 or domainedesandeols.com.
Le Saule Pleureur Laurent Azoulay, who's worked for top chefs like Pierre Gagnaire, opened his first restaurant in Monteux last December, and his rigorous training is evident from the amuse-bouche to the mignardise. Among his knockout dishes are milk-fed lamb wrapped in hay, baked in clay and cracked open tableside, and ravioli of snails and pig's feet in a watercress broth. DETAILS 145 Chemin de Beauregard, Monteux; 011-33-4-90-62-01-35 or le-saule-pleureur.com.
L'atelier de Jean-Luc Rabanel At La Chassagnette, Jean-Luc Rabanel became the first chef at an organic restaurant to receive a Michelin star. At his 35-seat L'atelier in Arles, which opened in March, the talented cook continues to work with all organic ingredients, many from a seven-acre farm that grows vegetables and herbs especially for him. At dinner, Rabanel will send out as many as 19 courses, including dishes like iced beet gazpacho or baby lamb chops with fava beans and chives. All the action in the semi-open kitchen is on display via a monitor in L'atelier's front window. DETAILS 7 rue des Carmes, Arles; 011-33-4-90-91-07-69 or rabanel.com.
Château de Massillan This castle (parts of which date to 1550) a half-hour's drive north of Avignon is now a 13-room hotel that combines modernist sofas and lighting with 18th- and 19th-century antiques. The restaurant has hired a new chef, American Jonathan Chiri, who also oversees a cooking school at Avignon's La Mirande hotel. After four years in France, Chiri knows all the finest purveyors in the region and uses their products imaginatively in his forward-thinking French menu: scallops with creamed leeks and truffle oil, warm lamb rillettes in Parmesan crème brûlée. DETAILS Chemin Hauteville, Uchaux; 011-33-4-90-40-64-51 or chateau-de-massillan.com.
Mas du Capoun In 2004, Michaël and Michèle Roumain sold their restaurant in Brussels and moved to Provence, where they spent a couple of years transforming a run-down 150-year-old farmhouse into a reasonably priced six-room hotel and restaurant. Michèle chats with customers in French, English and Flemish, while Michaël prepares dishes like tuna carpaccio in a ginger vinaigrette with crisp shallots or scallop mille-feuille with artichoke and crispy duck. For food this refined, the prices are ridiculously low: The three-course weekday lunch is 15€ (about $20); at dinner it's 30€, including a plate of house-made cookies. DETAILS 27 Av. des Paluds, Mollégès; 011-33-4-90-26-07-12 or masducapoun.fr.
La Maison This 600-year-old mas (farmhouse) just outside St. Rémy has 13 sunny rooms with French country antiques, subtle Moroccan touches (lanterns, tiles) and stunning mountain or garden views. Chef Christian Peyre, who just got his first Michelin star, sources excellent local ingredients—cherries from St. Andiol, snails from Mollégès, pigeon from Nîmes. The inn's shop sells items like Peyre's rich lobster sauce. DETAILS Domaine de Bournissac, Paluds de Noves; 011-33-4-90-90-25-25 or lamaison-a-bournissac.com.