Posts Tagged ‘Michelin star’

La Grenouillere, Montreuil, France

Poor Pas de Calais.  Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t question its commonly-held reputation as a pass-through to Paris or as a destination for an alcohol run.

Happily, Jon’s rellies invited us to their weekend home in Montreuil-sur-Mer so we could appreciate the charms of a pretty French village located two hours by train and car from London.

Montreuil-sur-Mer has many charms, but the star attraction in my book is Alexandre Gauthier‘s one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Grenouillere, located just outside the town walls in La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil.

rice flour chips

The restaurant-inn is built around an idyllic courtyard that was perfect for outdoor aperos.  Pretty as the setting was, things got off to a rocky start with the rice flour “chips” that were served while we looked at the menu — they were hot and crispy (plus) but sadly stale-tasting (minus).

Our hosts, who’d been to La Grenouillere before, directed us towards the menu decouverte at 95 euros a person, and we moved inside for dinner.

cucumber, green strawberries and basil

John Dory, artichoke hearts and grilled garlic

Once seated, our dinner started with a series of carefully-constructed courses that would be at home in any 2-Michelin-star restaurant:   creative, attractive and tasty, and I’m giving all of them short shrift because of the three courses that arrived towards the end of the meal.  Three courses that were mind-blowingly good.

roast lobster tail hidden in a burning (Juniper) bush

roast lobster tail revealed

Our server entered the room trailing smoke.  He was carrying a tray of what appeared to be pine-tree branches on fire.  Theatrical to the nth degree.  What saved the course from gimmick was its sheer deliciousness.  This was the best hot lobster dish of my life.  Sweet, intensely smoky, juicy.  I’m drooling just thinking about it.  And to top it all off, we had to eat with our hands.  It turns out that eating lobster tail with your hands is both sexy and fun.  Our table couldn’t help laughing and smiling.

lobster claw soup

Waste not, want not.  Our next course was lobster soup packed with lobster claw meat and perfumed with sharp, stinky cheese foam.  If you understand the appeal of Cheez-Its, you’ll begin to understand what made this soup so irresistible.

flash grilled steak, thinly sliced, served with morels

And as if two memorably delicious courses weren’t enough, our meat course was yet another tour de force:  “ferré, mauvaises herbes,” which I translate as “rails, with weeds.”  Served tableside were thin slices of perfectly-rare steak somehow flash grilled with an intense smoky flavor.  How it looked and tasted so gorgeously grilled while staying silky and juicy is a mystery.

"jam and toast"

Steak course over, we went back to the merely clever, tasty and beautiful.  Jam and toast in haute couture form.

sorrel ice cream in a broken "glass"

“Bulle d’oseille” (bubble sorrel) was a highly amusing and whimsical palate cleanser.  I’d hate to ruin the game, but I will say that it’s worth ducking for cover when this course arrives.

the surprise ending (no spoiler here)

The ultimate surprise was the petit four.  Mum’s the word.

Dinner at La Grenouillere was delicious and fun.  It’s easy to become jaded when you eat out so often, and for a few hours, La Grenouillere brought back the wonder and joy of eating someplace special and new.  So plan a weekend away and see what Monsieur Gauthier is up to in Montreuil.

  • Menu decouverte (includes two lobster courses): 95 euros
  • Menu degustation (without the lobster courses): 75 euros [but really, you’d be missing the point if you skipped the lobster courses]
  • a la carte: 30-euro starters, 45-euro mains

La Grenouillere, La Madeleine-sous-Montreuil 62170 France; +33 (0)21 06 07 22; Eurostar runs several daily trains to Calais (a one-hour ride from St. Pancras) and then it’s a 50-minute drive south; alternatively, it’s a nice stop on the way from Paris to England, 2.5 hours northwest of Paris.

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Cassis port

the port in Cassis, France

Less than an hour’s drive south from Aix-en-Provence is the pretty port town of Cassis, which is *not* famous for creme de cassis but which *does* produce crisp, white Cassis wines.

Cassis beach

Cassis beach

In addition to wandering the town’s pretty lanes, admiring the town beach, and taking a boat tour of the local inlets (les calanques), we had a relaxing lunch at La Petite Cuisine, which is the casual bistro located inside the one-Michelin-starred restaurant, La Villa Madie.

La Villa Madie is a 15-minute walk uphill from Cassis port, and originally, my plan was to try out whatever lunch menu was on offer at the restaurant. However, when we arrived at La Villa Madie, we learned that the formal restaurant doesn’t offer a lunch menu, and instead, there’s a casual bistro upstairs from the restaurant (La Petite Cusine) that offers a 40-euro 3- course lunch. So upstairs we went.

La Villa Madie outdoor terrace

seaside terrace of La Petite Cuisine

La Petite Cuisine was packed, but luckily it was low season and a Friday, so despite having no reservations, the four of us scored a spacious corner table by the window overlooking the sea. Although it was too chilly to sit outside on the terrace overlooking the Mediterranean, the glass doors next to our table were opened so that we could pretend like we were sitting outdoors.

"Le Brick" (pastry stuffed with egg and potato)

"Le Brick" stuffed with potato, tuna and egg

La Petite Cuisine’s 3-course lunch menu is a take-it-or-leave-it deal, which means you don’t get to choose among multiple options for starter, main or dessert, so once you’re at the bistro, you’re stuck unless you’re prepared to walk out of the restaurant.

We started with a “brick” of potato, tuna and runny egg yolk wrapped in pastry. It was tasty and comforting, but effectively it was a high-end Hot Pocket. The only thing about the dish that reflected any skill was the tangy lemon dressing on the mesclun greens. On its own, the salad was too sour, but eaten with the “brick,” the lemony greens lifted the oily, homey hot pocket.

salmon at La Petite Cuisine

pave of salmon

The main course was a pave of salmon, which was silky and luscious, but really, it’s just salmon. The only thing about this dish that I’d have trouble duplicating at home is the extra-crispy skin, and I suspect if I just used a ton of butter, I’d eventually get it done. The jus and cabbage accompanying the salmon were unpleasantly buttery. I never thought I’d meet a buttery dish I didn’t like, but I guess that’s why you should never say never.

La Villa Madie dessert

dessert at La Petite Cuisine

Dessert was a shortbread cookie with some cassis-flavoured cream. Yummy, but nothing spectacular.

Overall, the 40-euro price tag bought us the comfort of the dining room, the stunning Mediterranean views, and the polite, attentive service. Wine helped, too.  I loved the 32-euro bottle of Domaine de Bagnol Cassis wine that our server recommended. With its light floral notes, the wine tasted like sunshine.

For a leisurely lunch, La Petite Cuisine fit the bill. While the bistro’s lunch menu options were uncreative, at least they were well executed. You could find much worse perches from which to while away a sunny afternoon.

La Petite Cuisine, Restaurant La Villa Madie, Anse de Corton, 13260 Cassis, France; +33 (0)4 96 18 00 00.

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Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, Aix-en-Provence, France

Jon and I just returned to London after a week in Provence. It was nice to get away, but the trip didn’t turn out the way I’d pictured. On the three days of sunshine we had, it was hard to relax because outside our rental house, workmen were chain-sawing the branches off gorgeous plane trees (WHY?). And then we had three days of rain. Not even light, drizzly rain. Full-on gale-force downpour rain. [On the plus side, during one of those rainy days, Jon and I took refuge at the Thermes Sextius Spa, whose treatments were very good, but whose bath facilities weren’t half as nice as those of the Bath Thermae Spa)].

In any case, after two days of exploring Provencal villages in the rain, Jon and I needed a Michelin-pick-me-up. Staying as we were in St. Cannat, there were “only” three Michelin-starred choices: La Table de Ventabren, Le Clos de la Violette, and Pierre Reboul.

I couldn’t get through to anyone at La Table de Ventabren, and Le Clos de la Violette was dinged for being listed in every guidebook about Provence; for being demoted from 2 stars to 1 in 2008; and for having been referred to in a September 2009 Chowhound post as having “sucked.”

So, off to Pierre Reboul. I had misgivings about going there after this July 2009 NYT article described a Pierre Reboul dish of chopped-corn “cocaine” that you eat through a straw, but it still sounded better than going to Le Clos.

And it turned out my skepticism was entirely unfounded. Our meal was great from start to finish. Every server was friendly and helpful, following our lead and generally speaking to us in French. And while I’m not a huge fan of molecular gastronomy (e.g., I didn’t enjoy eating at the Fat Duck), I thought the food at Pierre Reboul was creative and fun while still being something I’d want to eat. In short, I’d love to go back.

Jon and I chose the “mid-priced” 78-euro menu, somewhat insultingly named “Les Amateurs.” (The high-priced “Les Experts” menu is 120 euros a person, and the low-priced “L’Initiation” menu is 47 euros).

Highlights of our evening were the pot au feu, pan-seared foie gras, the filet de pigeon and the chocolat courses. All these dishes stood out for being unusually-presented, delicious and a lot of fun to eat. For example, the pot au feu was served (from left to right in the below photo) with the meat stew in gelatin form; the carmelized onions in a crispy shell and topped with vinegary, crunchy sprouts; the leeks in ice cream form; and the carrots in a foamy puree. Eaten together, the ingredients tasted exactly like pot au feu, and the variety of textures and temperatures elevated the dish from humble to elegant.

deconstructed pot au feu

deconstructed pot au feu

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit

pan-seared foie gras with apple and passionfruit
Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

Drome pigeon filet with petits pois ice cream and creme brulee

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

chocolate ravioli in a spiced coulis, with white chocolate sorbet on the side

Dishes that were still pretty tasty but didn’t 100% work for me were: the sous-vide salmon (because it’s hard to get excited about salmon, no matter how silky), the Munster profiterole (because the Munster was just too stinky, stiff and cold), and the Granny Smith “ile flottante” (for the meringue bit being too spongy).

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

sous-vide salmon with grapefruit

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Munster profiterole with carrot-cumin sorbet

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

Granny Smith apple fake ile flottante

A wine pairing for the “Amateurs” menu is 52 euros, and I’d highly recommend it. The pairing choices perfectly heightened and/or complemented the flavors of each course (as they are supposed to do), and the options reflected a refreshing broad-mindedness (especially for a Michelin-starred French resto) with only three of eight pairings hailing from France and one even coming from Canada (!).

The one drawback of our meal was that I wasn’t a fan of the restaurant’s decor, which was too heavy on the pastels. Of course, when the food is this interesting and tasty, the decor is pretty irrelevant. At 78 euros, the Amateurs menu was great value, and next time I’m in Aix, I’d love to try out the 120-euro Les Experts menu.

Restaurant Pierre Reboul, 11 petite rue Saint Jean, 13100 Aix en Provence, +33 (0)4 42 20 58 26

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