As I'm typing this, I realize that this is now the third year in a row, we celebrated James' birthday with French food. You'd think he'd want a little variety, but we've only eaten out twice in Aix so French cuisine still seems new. Besides, we've never celebrated his birthday with Provençal food, so it is new.
James' birthday also coincided with World Happy Hour Day, according to the birthday card my mom found. So, since we had missed celebrating that while James was recovering, on Friday when we celebrated his birthday, we decided to celebrate that too.
As it turns out, France is a particularly great place to celebrate that holiday because happy hour, or apéro, is huge here. Every evening between about 6pm and 8:30pm, the outside terraces of all the cafés are packed with people having their apéro. Yes, even though it's November, people still like to sit outside. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not as cold here as it is in, say, Chicago this time of year, but in Aix it's not warm anymore. (It is noticeably warmer in Marseille ... another reason to miss it.) I understand wanting to eat outside. I like to eat outside too; in fact, I eat my lunch outside on our terrace whenever I can because I can sit out of the wind and in the warm sun. But there's no sun at 6:00pm, and it's cold enough that after nine winters in Chicago, it seems too cold to us to sit outside and have a drink at apéro. A lot of the cafés and restaurants put out space heaters (which, as James and I were talking about, has always seemed a little weird because isn't the point of eating outside that you get to enjoy the nice weather?) but many don't, and people and people still sit there.
Apéro is not a crazy raucous party filled with drunk people. The drinks aren't half-price, and it seems like a lot of people get just one drink and sit for a long time with their friends. In fact, not everyone drinks something alcoholic -- juice seems to be a popular alternative. The cafés also serve complementary snacks to go along with the drinks. The most popular snacks around here seem to be toasts with brandade de morue or some other delicious olive-oil based (i.e., non-mayonaise) spread like tapenade or anchoïade, olives, bite-size pieces of pizza or quiche. It's great. And for James' birthday, it was a nice little amuse-bouche before dinner (above pic).
For the main event, we went to La Chimère Café, which was recommended by some of James' colleagues as an Aixois favorite. In French, a chimère is either a chimera or a pipe-dream and both are equally suitable names for a restaurant. Given this statue at the entrance, I think the former is what they were going for. Either way, though, the food was outstanding.
As a first course, James had the assiette mareyeur (the fish-wholesaler's plate), which included langoustines, prawns oysters and smoked salmon on a salad and I had foie gras de canard with a delicious onion relish. For the main course, James had daube de taureau, which is a provençal stew made, in this case, from bull's meat. It was cooked with delicious chanterelles and some little onions and potatoes and even included a certain delicacy from the nether-parts of the bull. I had (filet) mignon de porc wrapped in bacon with a white wine cream sauce and garnished with a thai black rice risotto. For dessert, James had a poached pear with custardy, delicious vanilla ice cream and I had canelés, a specialty from Bordeaux, with crème anglaise. To drink, we had a wine from the appelation that surrounds Aix-en-Provence, Côteaux d'Aix-en-Provence. The vineyard is just up the road.
Here's a picture of James after dinner. Did I mention that the meal was delicious?