I came across La Charcuterie in a review by Linda Dannenberg (author of various French Country style and food books) in Travel & Leisure online, while looking for recommendations for Arles restaurants. The article was on "Great Bistros of Provence," and she made La Charcuterie sound irresistable, right down to the resident yellow lab, Lili. (Though the name of the restaurant suggests a meat-oriented cuisine, Dannenberg mentions in her review that they will cook up vegetarian meals on request, as well.)
We passed it by while looking for it on two separate nights, because the red awning over the front only says "La Charcuterie" along the long, front side, which we did not see while walking down the narrow street. On the shorter sides, the awning reads "Bouchon Lyonnais," so if you're on rue des Arenes looking for it, look for that.
This is a wonderful, quirky little place with the kitchen on display and a varied collection of taureau (bull) related artwork and artifacts, including a blue bull's head -- idiosyncratic rather than touristy. The tables are few and intimate -- the place just feels good, as one expects a "bistro" to feel.
The restaurant has an extensive selection a la carte, as well as a menu (prix fixe). The menu the night we were there was essentially what my husband and I have come to know as the "brewmaster's special:" a salad and a sausage with mustard, potatoes and cabbage, etc. However, La Charcuterie takes this to a whole new level. The first course salad was composed of lightly grilled baby asparagus, artichoke, and other tasty items unfortunately not now coming to mind. Very, very good -- best salad I had in Provence. The main course was a generous length of sausage, slightly spicy, served with a hearty coarse mustard and a garlic mayonnaise, along with dreamy potatoes molded into a bowl-like form, the taste reminding me somewhat of the scalloped ones my grandmother used to make. With it all we had a pichet (pitcher, which seems to be the Provencal equivalent of a carafe?) of good local Cotes-du-Rhone. That may be why I don't remember exactly what we had for dessert, but it was as good as all the rest.
As good as the food was, and as comfortable the atmosphere, one of the highlights of the meal for us was Lili, the owners' yellow lab. Dogs are a large part of French life, and are everywhere in Arles. We were missing ours. It was one of the high points of our trip to have Lili sit next to us while we dined. We did not slip anything to her, but it is abundantly clear that other patrons have not been so stingy. (Or perhaps she just gets all the leftovers.)
If, after a few nights of haute cuisine, you are ready for French "bistro" fare, try La Charcuterie. I hope we will return to Arles before long, and it will be on our list of places to revisit.
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