It’s one thing to eat at a cafe or restaurant inside an art museum, but when you can actually enjoy a meal in a restaurant surrounded by priceless paintings, artful dining takes on a whole new meaning.
I’m talking about La Colombe D’Or, a restaurant and hotel in St. Paul de Vence, a French village tucked in the hills between Nice and the Alpes Maritime. Its walls are filled with paintings by world famous artists who bartered their work for a stay at the inn, or a few meals.
The inn, started with three rooms in 1920 by a local Provençal farmer named Paul Roux, has about 25 rooms now but its art collection, which includes Picasso, Braque, Miró, Calder and too many others to mention here, would rival many small museums.
Several connecting rooms are available for dining, all decorated in an informal, yet elegant country style, with fresh flowers throughout.
The bar area at the entrance is cozy and inviting as well.
A large, carved fireplace mantel dominates one of the dining rooms.
Weather permitting, diners can sit outdoors, admiring a sculpture by Calder or a colorful ceramic by Leger:
A beautifully landscaped swimming pool, slightly visible through these windows, is also at the disposal of guests who lodge here.
Drizzly weather precluded our enjoying lunch al fresco, but I didn’t mind, since nearly all the artworks are indoors, including this one by Pablo Picasso:
and this one by Spanish painter Joan Miró:
One of my favorites was this one by Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy:
But I practically grinned ear to ear when we were seating at a table with a Delaunay and a Matisse hovering above us.
The menu was practically a work of art too, written in colorful script on large pages that took up half the table.
The food was beautifully presented and delicious too. And though the prices weren’t bargain basement, they weren’t astronomical either (excluding that caviar for 200 euros, that is.) My first course of vegetable soup was only 12 euros, for example. The main courses we chose were among the top three favorite meals we’d eaten on our month long trip, including these perfectly cooked lamb chops,
My grilled filet of sole with a Dijonaise sauce was ever-so-slightly undercooked the way it should be, and I practically wanted to mainline that buttery, mustardy, hollandaise sauce into my veins it was so good.
We left room for dessert, which in this case was a delectable almond tart with rum-soaked raisins. It was served with a wonderful dessert wine called Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, made from muscat grapes in France’s Rhone Valley. After my last trip to Provence a few years ago, I searched out the sweet wine in New York City and was able to find it in several stores. Click here to find a store in your area that sells it – it’s definitely worth seeking out.
And that almond cake is definitely worth making too, which I did after the chef from La Colombe D’Or was kind enough to give me the recipe. Although almond flour is the main ingredient, it has a sprinkling of pine nuts on top. The day before making the tart, I received pine nuts in the mail from Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo.com. Count on Beatrice to find quality food purveyors across Italy. In this case, the pine nuts came from the woods near Pisa, Italy and were perfect for my tart.
Start by soaking the raisins in rum the night before you make the recipe. I used a removable tart pan in a rectangular shape, but you could just as easily use a round one.
Spread the batter evenly in the tart shell and sprinkle with the pine nuts, then bake for about 40 minutes.
The result is a rich dessert, redolent of almonds and rum. Serve with a strawberry or two on the side, if available. I sprinkled confectioner’s sugar on top, and although the recipe doesn’t say it, I think the one I ate at La Colombe D’Or was glazed with something to make it shiny. The next time I make it, I’ll try spreading some quince jelly on top when it comes out of the oven, to give it a nice sheen.
Even without the glaze though, the leftover last piece, eaten the day after I took the tart to a dinner party, was just as good as the day it was made.
For more info on La Colombe D’Or, visit its website here, or read an informative article about the place from the New York Times here. If you do have a chance to eat or stay at La Colombe D’Or, you’ll be joining the ranks of many celebrities and international figures who have dined or lodged there, including Yves Montand and Simone Signoret, who were married here, or in more recent times, U2’s Bono, who has also been a client there. But La Colombe D’Or, still owned by the Roux family, is neither stuffy nor elitist. Its staff treated us with impeccable service, even without a Hollywood pedigree or Rockefeller bankroll.
It was an experience of a lifetime to dine here — one I’ll never forget — and now I can make this almond tart whenever I want to channel that memorable day.
recipe from La Colombe D’Or (in metric measurements, but I supply the American equivalent)