The Joint

10 Place aux Huiles
13001 1er Arrondissement
Marseille, France


france_ascension_2006_023We parked in a garage not far from here (see photo) after sharking around for a spot and then walked to the Place aux Huiles to this restaurant.

Again, I am thankful for hospitality staff who are patient with foreigners. Our guy at L’Oliveraie was patient with us and used his English as best he could to answer our questions. When we found we had Spanish in common (because I kept saying things like “muy bien” instead of “tres bien“), we switched to that and happily continued our meal. I had hazelnut-encrusted fish of some sort and it was very good. The sorbet maison (home-made sorbet) to finish the meal was my favorite part though — peach and strawberry flavors melting together in your mouth is a very nice thing.


We found this in our Frommer’s France guide book (2005). Unfortunately, frommers.com no longer lists this place as one of the recommended restaurants for Marseille. BIG MISTAKE!! The food was fantastic, the location is right in the Vieux Port area (directly off the main drag – fabulous people-watching opportunities) and the service was outstanding. We ate outside and, unfortunately, we didn’t have the foresight to pop inside and check out the interior. But they have a lovely setup on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant under some trees.

We had the prix-fixe menu again, both starting with chicken madras salad, a regular mixed salad with a dollop of cold chopped chicken in a wonderful curried dressing. Cliff had the fish, so I went for the other option, a beefy miracle with some mixed veggies. Now, I’ve had some lovely beef in my life (I am from Kansas City, after all), and this little nugget o’ tenderloin (I think) easily ranks in my top ten red meat experiences. It was expertly cooked, seasoned and presented. So much so that I would, apropos of nothing, turn to Cliff at random and just say, ‘Dude. That BEEF. Wow.’ Dessert for both of us was homemade sorbets with coffee and little bon-bons to finish it all off. Marseille was about a 3-hour roundtrip out of our way and this place made it 150% worth the drive.

Couscouserie de l’horloge

The Joint

2 rue de Mons
Face à la Mairie
84000 Avignon

Reservations: 04 90 85 84 86
website link


As we were strolling around the Place du Palais du Papes, I saw a little Middle Eastern joint offering merguez and couscous together — two things I love! I’d previously only had merguez in crepes at Mr. Crepes in Boston (formerly located on Davis Sq – R.I.P. Mr. Crepes!). Sarah ordered a traditional lamb couscous dish. Our meals arrived as two different large bowls. One of them was a large dish containing Sarah’s lamb chops and my merguez on skewers sunning themselves on a couscous beach, and the other one was full of vegetable broth with big chunks of carrots and onions and others. It was fantastic! You’d think couscous, having absorbed water in the cooking process, wouldn’t be able to soak up more broth, but in fact, it did just fine. It turned out to be way more food than it looked (that’s how couscous works). I couldn’t let the last two links of my sausage get chucked though, so I managed to find room for them.

This place is a “can’t miss” if you like North African food and want to eat on the main drag in downtown Avignon for less than 20 EUR per head.


After we made it into the city walls, we decided to wander around and look for something to eat. Because we were absolutely not going to stay at the misery that was the Best Western all evening. We wandered up the main drag of the Avignon tourist restaurants and Cliff spied this little gem tucked into the corner of a building. We passed it the first time (my fault – I wanted to keep looking around), but eventually returned. We’re both avid fans of middle eastern cuisine (and north African food shares many of its traits), but we didn’t realize the extent of the treat we were in for.

My lamb (two good-sized chops) literally fell off the bone and was deliciously seasoned to work with the vegetable broth and couscous. Cliff’s merguez was very intensely flavored and presented an interesting contrast to the rest of the meal. The two gentlemen that served us were charming and helpful. If you’re in Avignon and you need a short reprieve from rich French cuisine, seek this place out as a thoroughly enjoyable palate-cleanser.

Best Western Hotel du Lavarin

The Joint

1715 Chemin Du Lavarin Sud
Avignon, FR-84000, France



Forget how this hotel looks at the link above — it’s not accurate (trust me). Doesn’t the following point say it all?

A-1 Steak Sauce smells belong in a kitchen or more likely a dining room, not permanently embedded in your hotel hallway.

Other than the smell, it was OK, I guess. But really, the room and the building were so ugly that it put a damper on the rest of the stay. Oh, and getting a twin room when we specifically asked for a double was annoying too.

Parking seemed problematic, too. When we got back from the Couscouserie shortly before eleven o’clock, the lot was overflowing. I had to park the rental in a non-space (which naturally made me nervous — deductibles and such). We got an unplanned wake-up call from the front desk bright and early the next morning (shortly after 7) asking us to move the Beemer as it was blocking the tour bus (which had been taking up multiple spots in the too-small lot). They weren’t rude about it or anything, but still…poor facilities planning also contributes to a lackluster experience.


I got Comfort Inn confused with Best Western. Comfort Inns have a reputation for trying to assimilate into the prevailing culture of the place in which they’re opening an establishment. From our experience in Avignon, I would have to assume that BW doesn’t share this philosophy. The place we stayed was depressing like a community college annex. The service was friendly and accomodating, but that didn’t make the steak sauce parfum in the corridors any less disturbing. The room was small-medium in size and clean and the bathroom was alright (except for the spatial relationship between the front of the toilet, the wall and the door).

Other than the weird smell and the unwelcome wake-up call, there wasn’t anything actively wrong with our experience here. And at least half of the blame belongs on my shoulders; I didn’t fully research the layout of Avignon, so I didn’t realize that the location wasn’t going to have as much personality as something inside the city wall. But the whole thing was just so overwhelmingly lacking. We paid roughly EUR90/night here and an extra charge for partaking of the ho-hum breakfast buffet. It didn’t seem worth it.

Hotel Les Cygnes

The Joint

8 Avenue Grande Rive
74500 Evian


This place was simply delightful. Located directly on the southern edge of Lake Geneva (in France, not Switzerland, though it’s quite close to the border). It’s a beautiful turn-of-the-century hotel with excellent – really excellent – dining facilities.

france_ascension_2006_001france_ascension_2006_002Our room was small and quaint. It was on the European first floor overlooking the terrasse, which must be simply great for outdoor dining literally on the lake (notice the clarity of the water). We were surprised at the ample and modern bathroom with large shower cabin.

For dinner, we ordered the fixed-prices menus at EUR 24 each. The seafood soup had a nice strong fish flavor to its broth, and the two large crayfish in my bowl helped make sure everything at the bottom of my soup bowl was ship-shape. My entrée was something brand new for me – ray in a garlic butter sauce. I had a little trouble with the chewiness of it until I remembered what rays have in common with sharks – cartilage. Once I figured that out, no problem.

My favorite part: the dessert. I had a Trio de Crème Brûlée, which meant three small cups of creamy honey-, mint-, and lavender-flavored custard under a crisp burnt sugar shell. It was garnished with candied orange peel and other sweets. It was as pretty as it was delicious. I’m sure a cup of coffee to go with it would have been outstanding, but I’d had a long day of driving and needed to guarantee a good night’s rest to prepare for the next day.


I have to pat myself on the back – I really found something special here. The low season rate for a double is €70 and the high season is only €80. The staff was charming and patient. The accomodation was small, but really welcoming. We had a teeny-tiny balcony that opened to a stunning view of Lake Geneva. The thing that really tends to swing my decision of whether I like a hotel or not is the condition of the bathroom, and Les Cygnes has a great one. The room is well arranged and well lit and the shower is nice (tubs are available on request).

We also chose to eat there, having rolled into town a little late. As Cliff mentioned, we had the prix-fixe menus and I had the exact opposite of his choices. I started with a salad of asparagus, some kind of air-cured ham (sliced ultra-thin) and shavings of parmesan on a small bed of mixed greens. There was what tasted like a Dijon-mustard based dressing drizzled over the whole thing. It was unbelievably yummy. The way the flavors played-nice together was delightful. I nearly licked the plate. Next was the main course, fricaséed squab with prunes and bacon. I’d never had squab before, but it sort of reminded me of duck without the greasiness. It was in a richly-flavored sauce and came with a small side of roasted vegetables. Wonderful! Dessert was a slice of light-textured flourless chocolate cake with mango compote and mango sorbet. Again, the flavor combinations were intense and surprising and, ultimately, delicious.

This is easily the nicest place I have stayed in its price range. We were both so excited about this discovery that we’d love to plan a trip back to Les Cygnes when we can spend more time there.