Memories are made of this

Pre du Moulin 12 2 10

Anticipation is one of life's great pleasures. I love looking forward to returning to a favorite restaurant, hoping all along that my memory has not embellished the experience. So what a thrill it was to return to Le Pré du Moulin the other night, only to find it even better than we remembered. In the small Provençal village of Serignan-du-Comtat, Pascal Alonso seems to wave a magic whisk, turning out fare that is engaging, original as well a delicious. Much of the pleasure of food is its familiarity, and today all too often chefs forget that, offering us dish after dish or strange combinations we don't recognize and don't care to remember.  Alonso seems to understand this, though his unexpected food pairings force us to sit up, take notice, and enjoy.

I would never have thought to slice baby squid into spaghetti-like strands, matching them with wintry wild mushrooms, but the combination is a warming, satisfying hit,with soft textures and a bit of froth. (Photo above.). Likewise his matching of giant shrimp roasted with unctuous and crunchy pig's feet, an unlikely pairing but one that works on the plate and the palate. His more traditional dishes, such as seabass with artichokes, rouget with olives, scallops with sunchokes, and filet mignon of veal with chanterellemushrooms are no less appealing.

The Michelin-starred restaurant has been transformed from an elegant village schoolhouse, and the addition of an alluring new bistro,  Les Tables de Campagne, gives us even more choice. On the menu there you'll find guinea fowl with local white beans, or cocos blancs; warm foie gras with fresh white onions, or cebettes; and filet of beef with mustard. The wine list at both offers the best the region can offer, with a wide choice from both the northern and southern Rhone.

The black truffle season has begun, so I'll be back for his unforgetable ravioli with fresh black truffles and artichokes. Just hope it's better than I remembered.

Le Pré du Moulin and Les Tables de Campagne, 84830 Serignan-du-Comtat, France. Telephone 04 90 70 14 55. Closed Sunday evening, all day Monday, and Tuesday lunch. Menus from 50 euros at Le Pré du Moulin, about 30 euros at Les Tables de Campagne.