La Provence: Upcountry’s Ooh La La
By Vanessa Wolf
Arguably the most charming part of France, the sun-soaked, Mediterranean-flanked Provence region extends north to the snow-capped mountains of the southern Alps.
Quite suitably, Maui’s own little taste of Provence is also quite charming. Nestled on a quiet Kula hillside, the garden-like setting is serene and inviting.
Our dining experience started with a full-fledged case of analysis paralysis as we struggled to choose among the eight – huit! Mon dieu! – variations of Eggs Benedict.
A wholly American creation, La Provence has clearly chosen to embrace the decadent brunch classic as their own. When the Crab Cake Benedict ($14.95) wasn’t available, we opted for the Salmon and Spinach (12.95) version instead.
Made with toasted English muffins and topped with thinly sliced smoked salmon and a generous portion of sauteed spinach, the Hollandaise sauce added delectable richness to what might otherwise be a rather light dish. Our eggs were slightly overdone, but nothing that detracted from the enjoyability of the dish.
Still, when we saw our neighbor’s Tomato, Bacon and Avocado Benedict ($12.95) arrive, we must admit to a touch of buyer’s remorse.
Diet food + hollandaise = not bad
Bacon + hollandaise = come to Mama
Also available for petit déjeuner are a variety of crepes.
The Ham and Cheese ($11.95) could best be described as “fancy traditional.”
Inside the utterly perfect, eggy crepe are extremely generous layers of ham, Swiss cheese and… wait. Why am I suddenly reminded of eggnog?
Although the nutmeg-infused Bechamel sauce is certainly fair play, we weren’t expecting it. The menu offers only the dish’s name and forces you to use your imagination. Consider that a warning. We should have inquired further, and – for our tastes – we’ll simply ask to leave it off during future visits.
What was that cookbook/diet book a few years’ back? French Women Don’t Get Fat. We’re guessing that’s in part because they (apparently) eat salad for breakfast.
Both dishes were accompanied by a sizable helping of mixed spring greens topped with cucumber, tomato and a creamy, yet tart balsamic-based dressing. Fresh and bright, it’s the perfect accompaniment to the heavier entrees.
Still hoping for a quintessentially French mouthful, we also sampled the Sugar Crepe ($3.75). Victory was ours.
Such sweet, simple perfection – the likes of which you would obtain wrapped in wax paper on the streets of Marseille – is reason alone to make the drive.
We particularly loved the fact that the large, crisp crepe retained its savory eggy flavor, punctuated by moments of sweetness from the light sugar layer.
Meanwhile, if La Provence and the adjacent hardware store aren’t consciously in cahoots, the restaurant is missing out.
Atypically cash-only and far from area banks, unaware restaurant patrons can regularly be spotted tromping over to utilize the ATM housed next door. We paid our obligatory $3 to the Banking Overlords first time out, and we can only hope the two businesses are at least sharing any profits.
Similarly uncompromising, service has a decidedly French, “c’est la vie” pace to it.
Appearances suggest there is only one chef in the kitchen and everything moves along accordingly.
Frustrating, perhaps, but as the French saying goes, “Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid” or “Little by little, the bird makes its nest.”
Consider it island time in slow motion: things will done when they get done, but they’ll be done graciously. And when they’re done? They’ll be done right. Come neither starving, nor in a hurry and enjoy the moment(s).
From a culinary perspective, the Provence region is the mother of ratatouille, salade Nicoise, tapenade and bouillabaisse.
For whatever reason, only one of those items is offered on the the La Provence menu, but when in Nice…
The Nicoise Salad ($13.95) arrives with a generous portion of fresh mixed spring greens, peppery arugula and Italian parsley. Topped with a (very) hard boiled egg, tomato slices, red onion, cucumber, artichoke hearts, olives and a boiled red potato, the only things breaking with tradition were a lack of green beans and the substitution of mahi mahi for (ahi) tuna. Personally, we prefer it that way and – despite the scant portion of fish – found it well-seasoned and perfectly cooked.
The same light, tart lilikoi balsamic vinegar dressing appears and pulls each bite together in salad harmony.
To contrast all the healthfulness, our dining companion sampled an Apple Tart or Tarte au Pommes ($4.29).
Although we know next to nothing about professional-level baking, there is no question the pastry chef knows what they’re doing. Light, flaky pastry layers are topped with a delicate, creamy frangipane. Soft, succulent apples complete each bite.
The frangipane’s almond notes complement the sweet apples in a totally-worth-driving-to-Kula-right-this-second (or the next time they’re open) experience.
Lastly, we tried the Steak Sandwich (a.k.a. to the non-French as a French Dip).
The theme of simple perfection continued with six slices of medium cooked beef layered upon a fresh and crusty baguette-style bun. Accompanied by a rich and savory au jus dipping sauce and a serving of horseradish, we couldn’t help but lament one thing: There simply was not enough as jus.
But there is never enough as jus, is there?
Because if there was, we’d probably just drink it like a soup. Or worse.
Au jus. Au jus. Au jus!
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?
Certainly, Julia Child would understand.
And as she once put it, “I still feel that French cooking is the most important in the world, one of the few that has rules. If you follow the rules, you can do pretty well.”
Happily, La Provence seems to be following the rules and it’s safe to say they do it pretty (if not extremely) well.
La Provence is located at 3158 Lower Kula Rd in Kula.
They are open Wednesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and with lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and breakfast only Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.