Provence Presents its Second Annual Tomato Festival Menu
Image by Emrys Horton
Provence presents another delicious Tomato Festival menu that supports local growers
The story behind Provence Restaurants is a bona fide family affair. Owners and chefs Alessandra and Jean Francis Quaglia met while working in the kitchen of France’s Hotel Negresco in Nice (Blue Water Cafe’s Frank Pabst and Mistral French Bistro’s Jean-Yves Benoit are Negresco alums too).
Alessandra and Jean Francis fell in love, moved to Vancouver, married, started a family and opened Provence Mediterranean Grill in West Point Grey, followed by Provence Marinaside in Yaletown a few years later (nicknamed P1 and P2, respectively).
Many of their close-knit staff are longtime employees, like server Genevieve Legg who also happens to be half of the design duo behind Bella Vivente Interiors, a local interior design firm that oversaw P1’s recent renovation.
Server Shannon Tock (left) and general manager Josh Carlson (right), both Provence employees for over seven years, stand behind the bar in Mediterranean Grill’s newly renovated open dining room. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Many customers have also become like family, returning often not only for brilliant French cuisine—“A visit to Provence transports you to the South of France without the jetlag,” says their website—but for the familial atmosphere that is so apparent when I stop by the West Point Grey location for the launch of their second annual Tomato Festival menu.
A trip to France inspires a tomato-based menu
Our meal was prepared by chef Essex Balce, who took the helm in P1’s kitchen two years ago. He started out as a dishwasher when Mediterranean Grill first opened almost 14 years ago and showed a clear passion for cooking, so the Quaglias helped him attend the culinary program at Vancouver Community College.
Alessandra, who is also a passionate dancer (her Twitter handle is @DancinChef), joined us for dinner and explained the inspiration for the tomato menu.
"Every time we go back to France, all I want to eat are the tomatoes," she says.
After returning home from a trip to France a few years ago, she decided to celebrate the tomato and collaborated with chef Balce to create the menu, while Jean-Francis, P2’s chef, created a slightly different menu for that location. Their flavourful tomatoes are sourced from local growers, including UBC Farm and Stoney Paradise Farms.
Clockwise from top left: Provence Restaurants’ owners and chefs Alessandra and Jean Francis Quaglia; tomato tart; almond crusted sablefish; candied cherry tomato panna cotta. (Image: Emrys Horton (top left) and Catherine Roscoe Barr).
Sun-dried sauces and candied desserts made from tomatoes: the perfectly versatile summer fruit
"There's nothing that says summer more than the tomato,” says Alessandra. “It's such a versatile ingredient and, being a fruit, we can use it in everything from a simple tomato salad to featuring its sweetness in a dessert."
The tomato’s versatility is well highlighted in the three-course menu at each restaurant ($45 at P1 and $48 at P2), which has a chuckle-inducing disclaimer: “Warning, this menu contains large traces of tomato”. Even the dinner’s wine pairings ($16 for three Joie vintages) were a friendly affair—Heidi Noble and Michael Dinn of Naramata’s Joie Farm Winery are close family friends.
Both menus come with a choice of appetizer and main, and feature a dessert with candied cherry tomatoes (a panna cotta with mint and wild flower honey biscotti at P1 and a strawberry sundae with crema di balsamico at P2).
For my appetizer I chose the tasty Provencal tomato tart with Dijon, olives, gruyere cheese and basil, and for my main I tried the incredibly fresh and delicious sun-dried plum tomato and almond-crusted sablefish with crushed sweet peas and yellow campari tomato coulis.
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the candied cherry tomatoes but they were surprisingly wonderful, chewy on the outside with a little burst of tomatoey goodness on the inside, and the panna cotta was spot on.
Provence’s olive tapenade, pictured above, is featured in the Quaglia’s cookbook, 'New World Provence: Modern French Cooking for Friends and Family,' and served to guests when they arrive at the restaurants. (Image: Emrys Horton).
When we first arrived at Provence, a complimentary olive tapenade and crostini appetizer (called an amuse bouche in French) was brought to our table. It was so good that I decided to reproduce it at home a few nights later and was happy to find the recipe in the Quaglia’s delightful cookbook, New World Provence: Modern French Cooking for Friends and Family. I highly recommend you give it a try.
- 1 cup Nicoise olives (may substitute with Kalamata)
- 2 ½ tbsp capers
- 1 ½ tbsp garlic, chopped (about 2 large cloves)
- 6 anchovy filets
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients in food processor until incorporated and smooth.
Serve with crostini.