LE ROURET, FRANCE: Le Clos Saint Pierre is a singularly fabulous restaurant adventure experience featuring the exceptional talents of Michelin starred Chef Daniel Ettlinger. This culinary wonderland is located in the tiny village of Le Rouret, in the hills of the south of France just below the medieval town of Grasse.
Set in a lovely house of golden stone with walls 18 inches thick, it oozes charm and elegant sophistication. With just 12 tables in two dining rooms on the inside, and a spacious patio, it is a centerpiece of the village.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: Chef Daniel Ettlinger
Chef Ettlinger and his wife Catherine opened Le Clos St. Pierre almost 20 years ago, and it has held one Michelin star since 2004. It is easy to see why.
The innovative menu changes daily. The Chef uses only the freshest ingredients from locally sourced farms and the surrounding countryside.
It is served prix fixe, with a very affordable 3 course lunch and a 5 course dinner. It is like having a wonderful dinner in the beautiful warmly lit home of a great friend, if that friend was a Michelin starred Chef.
On this spring evening the village of Le Rouret basks in the golden glow of sunset. Le Clos Saint Pierre is just across from the village church. The entire village is built of a similar golden stone, as if transported from the Cotswolds of Western England.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: the staff
The staff, like so many great restaurants in France, is like family. Many have been here with Chef Ettlinger for 15 years or more. Matre’d Stephen Guerin is a subtle presence, commanding the evening with a charming dignity and a wry sense of humor. He has been with Chef Ettlinger for 17 years.
Tonight Sous Chef Daiju Furata is in the kitchen. Originally from Nagoya, Japan, he has been with Chef Ettlinger for 15 years. By 8pm the restaurant is filled with diners, many of them regulars and locals from the surrounding area. It has the air of a neighborhood retreat as much as a temple to the joys of Haute Cuisine.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: The evening begins
The patrons are sophisticated, upscale and well dressed, including long time BBC TV presenter, host of Top of the Pops, and entrepreneur Noel Edmonds. This radio and broadcast legend is charming and affable as he extolls the virtues of life in the South of France.
Our server, Catherine Terrasse, begins the evening with a glass of Duval Leroy brut champagne, and plate of local crudité. The energy and sense of expectation in the room is palpable.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: The opening courses
The setting is gorgeous. Track lights suspended from thick wooden beams highlight a collection of art on the walls. There is a whimsical sense of design to the decorations, with an emphasis on bunnies and other ceramic eggs. In the background the soft strains of Louis Armstrong and New Orleans jazz music are playing.
Youthful Sommelier Nicolo Bruzzi has been here for 6 years. A lovely Villars-sur-Var white wine from the hills above Nice is served with dinner.
Made from 100% Rolle grape, it is crisp, refreshing, not dry but not sweet either, and perfectly complements a menu with an emphasis on seafood for this evening.
The main meal begins with a delightful salad a la Pescatore, large shrimp with sliced artichoke with romaine lettuce and a touch of garlic.
The shrimp are sumptuously meaty, rich and beautifully cooked. The garlic flavor is subtle but exquisite. The dish is nothing short of heavenly. Smiles from ear to ear spread from table to table across the restaurant.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: Zucchini flowers and Sea Bass
A gorgeous risotto with stuffed zucchini flowers and onion is sensational. The stuffing is a combination of ground local pork, onions and spices.
It fills the zucchini flower and onion with a crunchy delight. The blend of flavors and contrast with the onion, zucchini flower and risotto is fantastic.
The main courses reach a climax with a beautifully grilled sea bass with large spring asparagus served on a base of au gratin potatoes.
The sea bass is perfect, hot, crisp outer skin contrasted against tender flaky fish. It is a simple revelatory take on Haute Cuisine. Dishes need not be overly fancy.
They just need the freshest ingredients and the right food accents to bring out the otherworldly nature of the meal. Tonight, and one may presume, every night, Le Clos St Pierre makes that happen.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: Fromage and dessert
A selection of goat, sheep and blue cheeses is a wonderful fromage course, and a chance to indulge the amazing fresh breads that accompany the meal.
Portion sizes are perfect. There nothing more annoying at a fine restaurant than portions that are too massive, or a meal that is too large.
Tonight, just at the finish of the fromage course does the feeling of being full and satiated begin. Just in time for the dessert course.
Braised strawberries on a slice of thin French toast with ice cream on the side is a perfect finale to a grand meal. The strawberries are lightly toasted, but still crisp.
The brioche of French toast is a sweet contrast to the freshness of the berries, and is devoured just as the bottle of wine comes to an end.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: The glow of the evening
The glow of a grand evening is a sustained homage to the brilliance of the meal as the restaurant slowly empties. 3 hours in paradise is like a blink of an eye in presence of culinary greatness.
Sous Chef Furata is gracious and humble, downplaying his role and giving credit to the talents of his partnership with Chef Ettlinger.
He is correct in that it truly is a culmination of a team working together in synergistic efforts to continually create an evening of exceptional culinary art.
It is these touch stones, the finest ingredients, innovative Haute Cuisine, art, ambience, culture, refinement and a sense of neighborly humanity that lift Le Clos St Pierre to exceptional heights in the culinary firmament.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: L’Hotel du Clos
A nearby small hotel, L’ Hotel du Clos, is associated with the restaurant offering 12 rooms in two golden farmhouses on several acres of land. It has a serene atmosphere, a lovely pool area, and the charm of the French countryside brought to life.
Proprietor and new owner Annick Garnier works in partnership with Catherine and Daniel Ettlinger to provide a seamless experience in Le Rouret in the hills of the south of France.
It is an idyllic setting, just up the street from the restaurant, and a combination of experiences that are well worth a stay in this corner of paradise.
Le Clos Saint Pierre: a golden evening with Chef Ettlinger
In the search for culinary exceptionalism there is no finer example of what a grand evening of great cuisine is all about than at Le Clos St Pierre. Chef Daniel Ettlinger and his wife Catherine have created a truly magical environment in perhaps the most charming location imaginable. We should all be so lucky as to enjoy it.
With a menu that changes every day it is little wonder that it is filled, night after night, with guests and locals who return again and again. It is the essence of the difference between eating dinner and exquisite fine dining.
It is certainly the kind of experience that would never grow old, even after repeated visits. At a price that is highly affordable, Le Clos Saint Pierre is the kind of place that speaks to the wonders of all that makes life’s grandest adventures. Its enough to make a person wish they lived here.
Air France flies direct to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and from there to the rest of France and all of Europe from Washington, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of American cities.
Joel Berliner is a travel writer based in Los Angeles. @JoelBerliner
All Photos by Alison Reynolds. @BigAlPeoplesPal