Sunday, August 27, 2017

France -- Spectacular Dining in the Country

After three days in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, we drove to Valence by way of Vaison-la-Romaine, a gorgeous medieval hill town in the northeast part of Provence.

Valence is known for being home to Maison Pic, where Anne-Sophie Pic is the third generation of  chefs that have earned the restaurant three Michelin starts since 1934. She may have had a leg up due to her lineage, but she fully deserves all three stars and more. We were treated to what was probably the most perfect meal of our lives. As does Mme Pic, I will describe it in detail, although words and even pretty good photos do not do the meal justice.

We stayed at Maison Pic, and upon arrival were greeted with hibiscus tea and "cupcakes" with fillings of yuzu and matcha, the first of many Asian flavors encountered at Maison Pic, although in very subtle ways.

"Cupcakes" and hibiscus tea
The dinner experience starts in the lobby, where one notices a reminder of the three-star lineage, in the form of a long case containing every Michelin red guide to France ever produced and many for other countries as well.

All the Michelin Red Guides
Then the meal starts with assorted amuse-bouches which were gorgeous and tasty: a carrot flower, ethereal vegetable chips and beautiful balls and cubes the contents of which I can't recall.

Various amuse-bouches
A carved wood bread basket containing an assortment of really great house-made breads appears early and requires attention even though you know you are going to eat too much in just a few minutes.

Assorted breads in a carved wood baske
Soon the first course arrives and the real fun begins: a medley of seven varieties of cherry tomatoes, peeled and then immersed in a marinade of Murcott mandarins, Chiloé berries, and sage infused with a tomato, sugar and vinegar-based dressing. All this with an over-mature olive oil ice cream. Huge bursts of flavor, with each tomato subtly different from the others, and dressed with its own herb.

Cherry tomatoes
Then the second starter, berlingots: essentially pasta pyramids stuffed with a mixture of chestnut infused Banon goat's milk cheese, sheep's milk cheese and mascarpone, served over watercress consommé infused with ginger and bergamot.

Berlingots with watercress consommé
There follows the man course, Drôme squab (pigeon), lightly smoked and roasteed breast side down, with a sauce of squab consommé infused with vanilla, roasted barley, scented woodruff and Vietnamese Phu Quoc red pepper. Whew! Enough to surpass the pigeon at l'Oustau de Baumanière, which reigned as the best squab ever for a short two days.

Drôme squab
The "cheese course" consisted of a truly inspired combination of Brie cream, an incredibly thin layer of toast and a tiny disk of unadulterated Brie on top (the whole being kissed with flame for a few seconds). Absolutely heavenly!

 Not quite finally, a pre-dessert that I can no longer identify (no, it's not an egg),

followed by the real desserts, a palette of apricots of various colors and flavors and a honeycomb of bitter. We had one of each, and they were among the best desserts of all time. The apricot dessert featured pieces of apricot of different textures and preparations, but all were cooked in an elderberry and Nikka whisky infusion, which produces strong roasted barley notes.

Palette of apricots
The chocolate dessert, a honeycomb prepared with bitter honey chocolate, created for Mme Pic by Valrhona, with segments of Cubeb-flavored gansche, bitter honey pana cotta and Hojicha tea caramel.

Can food really be this good? Go yourself and find out. The Michelin Green guides classifies a three-star sight as one that "vaut le voyage," or merits the trip, as opposed to a detour if you're nearby. Maison Pic truly vaut le voyage!

Bobby Jay

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