Story and Photos by Daniel M. Walker, Contributing
If you are unable to spend your holiday in the Provence
region of France, you can at least capture the flavors at a true French
country inn in the lush Virginia hunt countryside. The landscape surrounding
L’Auberge Provençale Bed & Breakfast near White Post, Va., is similar to the
Provence region of France with its luxuriant valleys and mountains.
The region is dotted with roaming cattle grazing on
fertile, alluvial soil. That soil is part of the reason for the rich cuisine
that so delightfully showcases butter, cream, and cheese. It is this region
that not only inspired the L’Auberge Provençale menu, but also was the
childhood home in Avignon, France, of Alain Borel, who is the chef and owner
of L’Auberge along with his wife, Celeste.
Alain learned the Provençale cooking style from four
generations of French chefs, beginning his career as early as age 6 when he
was taught to peel and cut potatoes.
Owner Celeste Borel and son
Christian are the restaurant’s sommeliers.
After coming to America, Alain opened a French
restaurant in Key West, where he met Celeste. As Celeste explains, “Key West
did not offer the ambiance to complement the flair of French cuisine. Later,
we started in Vermont looking for just the right setting for our bed and
breakfast. When we found this limestone villa near White Post with this
idyllic countryside, we knew we had found home.” The main house was built in
1753 — George Washington was an early trustee of the property. Celeste and
Alain started a 30-year mission to transform the property into an authentic
French country inn with herb gardens, fruit orchards, romantic suites, and a
first-class destination restaurant. Appointments in the 11 rooms and suites
include faux-painted walls, aromatic steam showers, fireplaces, and
handcrafted antique furniture.
The restaurant menu offers three- or five-course
dinners. If you are adventurous, L’Auberge offers the chefs’ Tasting Menu of
seven gourmet treasures. After surveying the kitchen with a stable of young,
imaginative chefs, I decided on the Tasting Menu in order to experience the
widest variety of flavors. Before finding my table in one of the three
beautifully decorated dining rooms, I observed one of the chefs picking
herbs and tomatoes from the garden — the smell of fresh herbs and vegetables
permeated the kitchen and hallways.
Fresh herbs are harvested from the
inn’s on-site garden.
The small plate Tasting Menu consisted of a
steak-and-egg dish with caramelized onions and tomato confit, scallops with
citrus pickled ginger, risotto with walnuts and lemon yuzu, foie gras with
smoked pistachio, pork belly with lavender and compressed peach, and a small
portion of Kobe beef with saffron potatoes and sauce au poivre. The
after-dinner delight was a white chocolate espuma topped with green apple
sorbet and vanilla ice cream. Each dish was exceptional, not only in
appearance, but full of delightful flavors. I was quite pleased with the
concept of small dishes because this was a true gourmet adventure, with each
server sharing a clear explanation of the wonderful preparations set before
I noticed L’Auberge had a wide selection of both French
and domestic wines. Celeste suggested that I try a special cabernet from the
RdV Vineyard located in Delaplane, Va. You may know from past articles that
I do not consider myself a wine connoisseur. I do, however, think I can
recognize an exceptional wine. The RdV “Friends and Family” is by far the
best red wine I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, Celeste said the wine is
not sold in shops, and can only be found in a few fine restaurants.
One of three
charmingly appointed dining rooms.
My entire experience at L’Auberge Provençale was
mirific (wonderful), skookum (excellent) and … how do I express exceptional?
So I have no reservations recommending L’Auberge to Cooperative Living
readers. The restaurant has been recognized for its superb food and
hospitality in many ways by many entities, from being named one of the Top
10 Romantic Inns by American Historic Inns to being lauded by Fodor’s
Travel. Chef Alain has been featured on the Discovery Channels’ “Great
Chef’s of the East” and has lectured at the Smithsonian before huge crowds.
This could be just the place for a getaway to enjoy a gourmet breakfast
and/or a special dinner, a midweek escape, or a long, winter weekend where
the charm of the Provence region of France can be healing medicine for the