Entering Aix-en-Provence in August, any visitor would be well within their rights to expect a pair of complementary diapers. Inside the city’s walls, most every human instinct—for food, companionship, or diversion—is infantilized to cruise ship specifications. To describe it as merely touristy misses the town’s character entirely. Aix is, up close and truly, a city of spun sugar.
And yet, after eight hours of dialoguing with MBA-caliber provencal jam merchants and their shills, I discovered mitch. Justifiably protected by locals, this small, 12-table revelation near the city’s main fountain delivered, thankfully, one of the most exciting meals I’ve had in years (not to mention the town’s worldly redemption).
At mitch, my girl treated me to the chef’s tasting menu. It was a welcome and clever riff on French culinary tropes: mousse de foie gras served as a cube, echoed by cubes of aspic and floral jelly; lamb, string-bound to itself, framed simply with a few tomatoes and a rich gratin; a restrained cheese course accented wittily with dark soaked cherries and dill—dill!—in a thin cylindrical glass. All of this and a piquant dessert were brought together with a white wine chosen by mitch’s host: a Château de Beaupré Blanc 2007. Not only did the wine confirm the host’s good taste, but his good upbringing as well—the white, a perfect match for the tasting menu, was nowhere near the most expensive vintage available.
Restaurants, in my limited experience, careen off the tracks trying to be impossibly fashionable or gutlessly pandering. That’s what makes dinners—either at the high or middle bands of budget—so grindingly boring. To dine at mitch, therefore, was more than anything a rare return to a local sense of scale and place. Like a great unsigned college band, mitch—in a small town, enmeshed but distant—is proof that a restaurant can conduct itself with intelligence, playfulness and dignity far from the madding crowd.