Inspired by years of reading food and wine articles, to experience a many-course tasting menu like those offered at some of Manhattan’s famous restaurants such as Daniel or Jean-Georges has been an item on my must-do list for quite a while. Unfortunately, the timing for one of these fabulously expensive culinary indulgences never seemed to be right and then we moved further south making the trip to NYC even more of an effort. Last year I learned about a restaurant with a tasting menu right here in Cape May County called Provence. (And I teased a few friends by telling them I was going to Provence for my birthday.)
A tasting menu is a collection of many small portion plates that are meant to show off a chef’s creativity and skills. Chef Thomas Keller of Napa Valley’s French Laundry, one of the leaders of the modern tasting menu movement, took it to the extreme by offering tasting menus of 40 courses or more. Typical tasting menus consist of six to ten courses. The food is often inspired by French cuisine, but there are exceptions such as Momofuku Ko which is Asian-accented American fare.
Provence is located in a beautifully renovated 1854 historic mansion that also serves as a bed and breakfast hotel. The restaurant on the first floor takes up several rooms connected by large entryways. Their tasting menu, which changes monthly, consists of five courses. Additional courses may be added at the chef’s discretion, in our case, an amuse bouche (a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre) and a bread course including a piping hot rosemary roll, compound butter, and a fried parmesan cheese crisp. I had decided before going to Provence that no matter what food was put in front of me, I would push myself to be adventurous enough to try it.
One of the things I love about dining out in New Jersey is being able to bring our own wine, often with no corking fee. We brought a Chardonnay from Buena Vista Winery, Sonoma and paired it with the mosaic of nori cured salmon and the watermelon salad with grilled shrimp courses. The confit of rabbit over ricotta cavatelli and the grilled filet mignon and foie gras courses were paired with a Syrah from Gordon Estate Winery in Colombia Valley, Washington. We completed our meal with a chocolate malt gateau dessert accompanied by Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Our waiter presented and explained each artfully plated dish and was attentive to timing, allowing us to leisurely enjoy our food and wine before moving on to the next course. The portion size of each appetizer was enough to savor its goodness without feeling over-stuffed. The filet mignon entrée was large enough that I wrapped a piece to take home, saving room for the decadent chocolate dessert.
The idea of set menu where there are few choices to be made may not be to everyone’s liking. It takes daring to be willing to try whatever food is set before you. But we were happy to try things like rabbit and foie gras even though they aren’t fare we typically eat. We’re so glad that Provence has brought the sophistication and quality of New York City’s tasting menu restaurant scene right here to Cape May County, New Jersey.