Le Gibolin, Arles | A Terrific Bistrot a Vins, B+

May 29, 2017
Arles Arena @ Alexander Lobrano

The Roman Ampitheater in Arles

 

Beyond Le Gibolin, what I love most about Arles, the ancient port on the Rhone River just north of La Camargue in the south of France, is that it makes you muse. This comes from the constant visual elision between the past and present that’s effortlessly legible in its streets and which also gives it a vast but casual wealth of daily beauty. And for me, the current creative quickening of the city is very much due a certain wry but delicate sensibility that’s fed by this ability to wonder about things that are important beyond the thought-dulling busyness of our daily lives.

Arles - The Rhone @Alexander Lobrano

The Rhone Seen Through a Window at the Musee Reattu

 

Perhaps this is why the hunger that Arles induces in me is for simplicity, which I reliably and deliciously find and feed at Le Gibolin, a small bistrots a vins in the heart of town on the wonderfully named rue des Porcelets (street of the piglets).

This long narrow restaurant is run by Luc Desrousseaux and Brigitte Cazalas, who previously worked at Le Chapeau Melon in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris for many years before they packed it in and moved south almost a decade ago. Now he’s in the open kitchen at the back of this long narrow space where the walls are lined with bottles of the mostly southern French gibolin (wine, in old-fashioned French slang) they serve to accompany their brief changes-daily chalkboard menu.

Le Gibolin - Facade @Alexander Lobrano

Stopping by for dinner here on a warm night when the town was busy on the eve of the inauguration of a big Annie Leibovitz exhibit at the Fondation LUMA, the art complex in a former rail yard that is transforming the city into one of the world’s most important showcases of contemporary art, the room was filled with people talking about art and politics in a half dozen different languages. This made great entertainment for me, too, since I was on my own.

Le Gibolin - Artichauts barigoule @Alexander Lobrano

From the brief market menu, I chose one of my favorite provencal dishes, artichauts barigoule, or artichokes braised in white wine with herbs. It’s a delicate dish with a subtle keyboard of vegetal tones, which were amplified here by meaty lardons (chunks of bacon), radishes, carrots and chopped green onions. With a sprinkling of Espelette pepper, it was light, refreshing eating on a very warm night.

Le Gibolin - rack of lamb with spinach @Alexander Lobrano

In so many restaurants, drinking wine by the glass is a disappointment. But not here, since with my artichokes, Brigitte Cazalas poured me a glass of one of my favorite southern French whites, a Cairanne from the Domaine de l’Oratoire Saint Martin. Quite logically she followed this happy quaff paired with the Domaine’s red wine when she brought me a beautifully cooked rack of lamb with a big mound of garlicky baby spinach as my main course. When I asked where the lamb was from, she explained that it came from the plaine de la crau, the flat grassy steppes below Les Alpilles. In a citrus acidulated sauce of its pan drippings, the lamb was succulent and full of flavor.

Le gibolin - Pelardon @Alexander Lobrano

Eager to the prolong the feeling of well-being that comes from being well-fed in a companionable setting, I asked what cheese they were serving that night. When Brigitte’s daughter told me it was a pelardon, a creamy goat cheese from the nearby Cevennes, I happily damned the additional calories and was rewarded with an ivory-colored disk of perfectly aged cheese–the chalky interior was surrounded by an envelope of creamy cheese under a soft pleasantly mossy crust and a dribble of grassy green olive oil only made it better. With the cheese, Brigitte poured a dry white from the Ardeche.

Le Gibolin - A Table @Alexander Lobrano

Afterwards, I sipped a final espresso slowly for the pleasure of wallowing in my own private sense of well being. Then I paid my bill with a sense of relief for both her and me that the hugely pregnant woman at the table d’hotes nearby hadn’t gone into labor before we’d enjoyed our respective meals. Stepping into the street, I was grateful for a feeble breeze carrying a whiff of jasmine and a little wistful in not knowing when I’d next be having a meal at one of my favorite places in the south of France, Le Gibolin.

Arles - Graffiti @Alexander Lobrano

13 rue des Porcelets, Arles, tel. (33) 04-88-65-43-14 Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Monday (and Tuesday from November to March). Average 40 Euros.

  • Heather in Arles

    Oh! This delighted me to no end. 🙂 I have been an avid reader of your work for years and would have been delighted to have taken you out for a drink while you were in town. Of course, you nailed the through line of what makes Arles so unique as well as what makes Le Gibolin work, consistently, as a favorite to visitors and locals alike. And yes, the Leibovitz show is spectacular too… 😉

  • AlecLobrano55

    It would lovely to meet up next time I’m town, Heather. Will give you a shout, and how lucky you were to see the Leibovitz show–I had to scamper away the day it opened. Cheers, Alec