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Christian Etienne

I enjoyed an unforgettable meal recently at Christian Etienne, a beautiful restaurant next to the Papal Palace of Avignon. The restaurant, perched atop a steep set of stairs, was built between 1190 ad 1220 AD, before the papal residence was built in 1335. The house became the first town hall of the city of Avignon in 1791, when the papal properties became a part of the French territory.

Stone walls and archways in the lovely dining room evoke a rich feeling of history, while contemporary artwork and lighting create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It was a wonderful place to spend three hours savoring a delicious menu based around tomatoes.

I must admit, I wasn't all that enthused about a tomato tasting menu. I enjoy a nice, ripe tomato in summer, but the idea of an entire menu based around the fruit didn't excite me. I couldn't have been more wrong. The meal was fabulous, and while the tomato was the star, each dish was outstanding it its own right, and, had I not known it, I might not have noticed until dessert that everything was tomato themed.

Now owned and run by Guilhem and Corinne Sevin, this restaurant is a must-do for anyone visiting this manificent city.

Our first course was a smoked mackerel ceviche with corn and Noire de Crimee tomato. This dish was heavenly and the flavors were perfectly balanced. This was followed by a trio of tomato tartar with basil. Green Zebra, Beefsteak and Pineapple tomatoes were the stars of this beautful molded dish. Left mostly in their natural state, we were able to enjoy the three very different flavors of these heirloom varieties. 

The third course was my favorite: red mullet and brandade (a salty paste commonly made with cod), plum and cherry tomatoes, tomato water and garlic cream. I couldn't get enough of this delicious dish. It had the pefect balance of salt, acid from the tomatoes, garlic and cream. If you get a chance to try this dish, you should.

Next we enjoyed a tomato falafel with Greek sauce, fresh mint, tomato quarters and multicolored cherry tomatoes. While I enjoyed this dish, I at this point I was still obsessing over the red mullet.

I was starting to feel full when they brought out a duo of lamb from Provence in its own juice, with smashed tomatoes, eggplant caviar and a rosemary crumble. The lamb was braised to perfection, and enhanced by the tomatoes, vegetables and herbs.

I must pause here to mention the bread. Several types were offered to us, all made in house and quite delicious. I absolutely loved the tomato bread. One might think tomato bread with a tomato menu would be overkill, but this was not the case. This bread was wonderful, and went extremely well with each dish.

Course number six featured Cornue des Andes crackers and fresh Drome goat cheese with chives. This dish was tasty, and despite feeling quite full at this point, I ate every bite.

We capped off a perfect meal with a tomato-based dessert: Love Apples, pistachio mousse and crispy rice, Marmande Tomato sorbet, topped with broken pieces of caramelized pistachio. It might not sound like it, but tomato sorbet and caramelized pistachios are a match made in heaven.

This lovely meal lasted three hours, but it certainly didn't feel long. The service was impeccable, the ambiance was lovely and the pace of the meal was just right. The wine pairings were extremely well done, with each wine enhancing the flavors of the food. My wonderful evening at Christian Etienne is one I will never forget. 

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