The French Connection

A talented trio brings Southern French fare to Myers Park.

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It’s rare to find a trio so intimately involved in daily service of a restaurant as the three men who’ve brought Aix En Provence, the rustic French restaurant on Providence Road, to life. But on a recent Friday night, impeccable service came to our table by way of Bryan St. Clair, co-owner of the restaurant, which opened late last December in the space formerly occupied by Terra Restaurant. You wouldn’t know it by looking at him; dressed in simple slacks, a white buttoned-down, tie, and apron, just like the rest of the front of house staff.

But then again, maybe you would. St. Clair’s attentive service and supreme knowledge of the menu struck the perfect balance between presence and absence and offered a clue to his vested interest. That is, to provide an experience that would keep patrons coming back to the restaurant. Co-owner maitre’d Patrick Garrivier was on the floor too, dressed in a suit, floating from table to table greeting guests, and making wine recommendations from the strictly European wine list.

Insipiration for the concept came from Garrivier, who spent his childhood summers in the South of France. Its fruition, born of the culinary talents of Executive Chef Nick Tarnate.

The trio met while working a few blocks down the road at Lumiere, which executes a more modern approach to French cooking. Garrivier, who has deep-seated memories of the French countryside and the experience of working for acclaimed Chef Daniel Boulud at the ultra-refined Daniel in New York City, has maintained a long-term interest in opening a place like Aix en Provence. The opportunity came when St. Clair approached Thierry Garconnet, owner of Terra and his former employer, about leasing the space.

The interior of Aix En Provence is indicative of the food itself– simple, honest, and comfortable. The menu itself is a collaboration, leaning on Garrivier’s experiences and inspirations, and executed by Tarnate’s creative interpretation. Though you will find French classics in the comforting cassoulet and salad Lyonnaise, the menu extends its reach further into the Mediterranean, tapping into the flavors of northern Spain, Morocco and Italy. “I love French,” says Tarnate, “anything French, it’s technique and sensibilities.”  His cooking, he says, begins and ends with French technique, but the focus is on flavor. So you will see things like lamb tagine, and mussels bolstered with harissa and preserved lemon on the progressive menu. The Mediterranean expression also lends itself to Tarnate’s skilled pasta-making abilities and self-proclaimed obsession. The desserts, namely the sublime chocolate souffle and cream-filled Paris-Brest, complete the divine culinary trip back in France. Aix en Provence is intimate and refined, comforting and unpretentious, yet transportive in a way reserved solely for restaurants that understand the holistic pleasures of dining.

Photography by Michael C. Hernandez.