I have never been one to be at a loss for words, especially when it comes to words about food. I can speak and write effortlessly about spices and textures and recipes and all the subtleties of cuisines from every country on the planet. Not boasting here, just creating a bit of mystery about my recent dining experience at Provence restaurant in Cape May Court House.
Located in the former Doctor’s Inn B&B, the renovation into a fine French restaurant is elegant, serene, and supremely comfortable. Owners Andrew Bares and Kelly Lavorgna achieved their vision of the finest dining experience possible. They are no strangers to transformation, having restored several bed and breakfast inns in Cape May, among them The Harrison and Casablanca. Purchasing The Doctor’s Inn was inspired, as is every single aspect of their BYOB restaurant.
I’d been curiously jazzed about dining at this jewel in the culinary crown of Cape May County, and for good reason. I had an early reservation mid-week, made conveniently through Open Table, and arrived right on time, toting a fine bottle of cabernet.
The design of Provence’s dining rooms honors the floor plan of the original inn, utilizing the dining room, sitting room, and what might have been the library. I was seated at a cozy two-top in one of the rooms, also containing another two-top and one four-top. Plenty of space, comfy upholstered chairs, in an atmosphere of soothing cream tones and delicate decor. I would encourage my readers to go to Provence’s website to view the beautiful interiors!
Immediately after being seated, the capable and charming server Matt, appeared at my table to familiarize me with their prix fixe menu. The menu is curated by Adam Bowen, Provence’s Executive Chef. It’s brilliant, and it changes monthly. So, I think this means I’ll have to dine there every month! Back to the menu. The only items you choose are your entree and your dessert, as the appetizers (four of them) are set. Now, one bit of advice: settle in, relax, and think not of time. Keep in mind, the portions are gentle and sized nicely, given the number of dishes you will be served. Please forgive me if I miss a few ingredients… there was so much to absorb.
First, a “starter” of a wee tartlet with a mild cheese, topped with teeny, sweet pepper dice and kale pesto. Warm and crunchy, tart, and complex—a portent of things to come. Note that each and every offering throughout the evening was perfectly described by Matt, without written aid. He was knowledgeable, passionate, and clearly proud of Provence fare.
Next, and the first of four appetizers, was YellowTail Crudo with cucumber balls atop cucumber relish, with a citrus-fennel emulsion, radish, and smoked chili oil. I found myself staring at the dish while Matt described the ingredients, trying to wrap my head around the combination. The small rounds of YellowTail (in raw form) were delicate and sweet, paired beautifully with the cucumber and citrus elements.
The second app was finely sliced pieces of cured duck breast and red plum salad with fresh figs, herbed goat cheese, candied walnut, port-plum vinaigrette, and pickled raisins. Read that again and ponder what your palate will be experiencing. I’d never had cured duck, and I was glad that this mélange was my introduction. Tart chèvre, a lovely vinaigrette, and well—fresh figs. Exquisite.
The next offering was an extra to the four apps, a refreshing mound of micro-greens dressed with an ultra-light vinaigrette. This is the part where I glazed over during Matt’s thoughtful description. Trust me when I say it was a delightful and refreshing intermission!
At a splendid interval, Amazing Matt served a generous portion of warm focaccia bread served with a dollop of whipped gorgonzola atop a delicious peach chutney. This is part of the beauty of Provence’s service and menu. Within it are these little surprises, and you’re never quite sure what’s next. It was clear from Matt’s warm smile that he really enjoyed this aspect of service.
The final amuse-bouche turned out to be my favorite of the four: Chargrilled Octopus with lemon caper soubise (translation: delicious delicate sauce), chorizo croquettes, variations of citrus emulsions, almond slivers, and Kalamata olives. Good. Ness. The elements of this dish, the combination of citrus and chorizo and the tang of the olives did not in any way overpower the subtle flavor of the tender octopus. When I dine there again, and if this appears on the menu, I think I’ll request two. But then I’d have to forego maybe something that would slay me, and we can’t have that!
By now, Matt had been observing me hanging on his every word, every nuance of each dish. The owners had to have scrupulously vetted all their staff members, because the manner in which Matt comported himself was nothing short of perfection. Not only do guests enjoy a stellar meal and service, but they’re also softly educated about ingredients, presentation, and pacing. The approach was to allow us to savor and enjoy!
The two entrees offered were Jambon Sec Chicken Roulade, served with truffle duxelles, spinach mousse, asiago, fungi marmalade and a truffle-date demi, OR Buttermilk Brined Scallops, sauce nantua (a creamy crawfish-based that begins life as a Bechamel), carrot ragout, confit salsify, chervil, asparagus, and a little dollop of caviar. Lagniappe for salsify: originating in the Mediterranean, it was once a popular vegetable. It’s also known as oyster root or oyster plant, not always easy to procure, but Chef Bowen does. I was really curious about the ingredients, so I chose the scallops. I don’t need to describe its wonders, so I’ll just say it was the best scallop dish I’ve ever had, in the history of ever.
The last offering was dessert. I chose the Chocolate Mousse Feuilletine, which was a layered portion of mousse, chocolate ganache, hazelnut brittle, and cacao nibs. With this, I enjoyed a rich cup of coffee, not decaf. I don’t know what I was thinking, but decaf seemed like it would have been inappropriate. I wanted the full effect. As I awaited dessert and coffee, I ruminated about Bares and Lavorgna’s triumph in opening Provence. Every box checked, every note hit, every expectation exceeded. ■