By Brenda Lange
La Provence, a French restaurant located in the Ambler Train Station, opened on Sept. 11, 2019, replacing Trax, which had been there for 20 years. Husband and wife owners Chef Manuel and Cindy Jiménez are no strangers to this area, having lived in Lansdale for years and now settled in Plymouth Meeting. A little more than three years ago, they opened the Spanish-themed restaurant, Vida & Comida, in Ambler. Both restaurants are BYOB, which has been a plus for patrons.
“The community in Ambler has really taken us in and been very kind to us,” says Cindy, who runs the front-of-the-house operations for both restaurants. “And the old train station is the perfect location. It’s a spacious property with lots of parking and a large, beautiful French garden with a waterfall.”
The two restaurants are located only about five minutes apart, and Jiménez mentions the organic garden she plans to cultivate that will include tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, lettuce and herbs, enough for both establishments.
“People know us from Vida & Comida and are happy with us because they know they will get quality food and service. We have been getting excellent feedback so far,” Cindy said, referring to the 4.8 stars average on OpenTable.com.
“I am particular, and I learned the Golden Rule from my mother,” said Cindy, “so I treat everyone as I would want to be treated, and I make sure each person has an excellent experience.”
Of course, diners come first for the food. And La Provence gets it right with traditional French cuisine and classics such as baked escargots with parsley-garlic butter, onion soup and plateaus de fruits de mer. It serves lunch and dinner six days per week (the restaurant is closed on Mondays) and a Sunday brunch.
Signature dishes include the truite amandine with lemon, capers, parsley, toasted almonds, haricot verts and pommes dauphine; and daube de boeuf, a traditional French beef stew with lardons in red wine and puree de pommes de terre; and carre d’agneau Provençale, a rack of lamb with a basil crust, potato gratin, vegetable tian and thyme jus.
But her personal favorite is the sole meunière. “I just love the way Chef Patrice prepares it with the special sauce, sautéed spinach, shallots, capers, parsley and puree de pommes de terre. It’s very light, flaky and soft.” Warm, fresh house-baked baguettes are always served to every table.
The couple brought in a new executive chef who has extensive experience with French cooking. Patrice Peron’s parents are both from France, and he trained in part with Georges Perrier, the French chef who founded Le Bec-Fin, long the No. 1 restaurant in Philadelphia. About his approach at La Provence, Chef Patrice says, “I want to capture the French experience by incorporating aspects from the differing regions of France. Each one contributes something unique to French cuisine.”
Be sure to leave room for dessert. Although La Provence doesn’t serve French pastries, their specialty desserts — crème brulée with real vanilla beans; bombe blanche, ice cream with chocolate sauce; and ile flottante, a lightly sweet vanilla custard made with meringue toppings — are the perfect way to end a meal.
Manuel Jiménez was born and reared in Salamanaca, Spain, and studied culinary arts at the Hôtel Montpelier in Switzerland. Cindy Jiménez was born in Panama and moved to the Philadelphia area, where she worked as a technician at Merck & Co., for more than 20 years. As fate would have it, about 40 years ago, she was asked by her then-boss to pick up Chef Manuel at the Philadelphia Airport for a business meeting. And the rest, as they say, is history. The couple joined forces in opening three restaurants in Spain and Puerto Rico. After settling in the Philadelphia region, Chef Manuel was the executive chef at Ristorante San Marco in Springhouse for more than 12 years.
Jiménez stresses that she couldn’t do what she does without the help of Timothy Judge, whom she calls her “right-hand man” and “my backbone.” Judge, the general manager at both restaurants, has more than 20 years’ experience in the restaurant industry.
Nearly all online reviews rave about the quality of both the food and service, although some cite a long wait for seating on weekends, and some complained about the noise level when the restaurant is full.
For more information: 215 390-1767 or laprovenceambler.com