2017 – My Year of Dining Deliciously

The end of 2017 is nigh, and all kidding aside, it’s been one of the best years of my life — personally, professionally, and gastronomically.

All those troubles of the past 20 years: the relationship troubles, the career problems, the financial difficulties and the overindulgence in various vices seemed to fade away this year — and many, many positive things came into focus for me.

Marriage and maturity will do that to you. (For the record: yours truly is proof positive that you’re never too old to grow up.)

With so many “issues”  disappearing in my rear-view mirror in 2017, it’s time to look ahead. More to the point, now that we’ve grown up, what do we want to do with the rest of our life.

Before we get to that, let’s review some of the highlights of the past 365 days:

We went to Rome for a Roman wine tour. (All that one week in Rome did was whet our appetite for more Italian travel.)

We went to France, twice, which only whetted our appetite for more France.

Amongst all this travel, there were side trips to Canada, Chicago, Atlanta, Arizona, Germany and Switzerland.

In between all that, we even had time to carve out a North Carolina ‘cue quest.

For the 23rd year in a row, we ate in more Las Vegas restaurants than we could count, and distilled them down into the 6th edition of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 52 Essential Restaurants.

(This edition, unlike previous ones, contains a number of essays about my life as a galloping gastronome, as well as some overall observations about the Las Vegas restaurant scene, past, present, and future. If you still haven’t ordered your copy – and you know you want to – you can do so by clicking here.)

For the umpteenth time we wrote the Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year articles (among others) for Desert Companion magazine.

For about the 100th time, we went out of our way to remind the world what a piece of shit the Eater Las Vegas web site is.

But enough ax-grinding, let’s get to our year in food. Sadly, most of the highlights took place out of this country, or out of the state of Nevada.

Memorable Meals of the Year (in no particular order):

La Bouitte

Allen & Son

Le Grand Vêfour

Twist by Pierre Gagnaire

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Edulis

La Mère Brazier

Restaurant Eugene

Topolobampo

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Lameloise

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Kaiseki Yuzu

Specific standout dishes/meals of 2017:

Oysters of the YearLe Dôme:

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Photogenic Dish of the Year – Summer fruits salad at Jean-Georges Steakhouse:

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Steak of the Year – the aged-on-the-hoof beauty from TXOGITXU – Basque beef:

Runner up: the Charolais côte de boeuf at Le Sauvage in Dijon, France:

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Japanese Meal of the Year – Kaiseki Yuzu (see above)

Sushi of the YearYui Edomae Sushi:

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Pizza of the YearContento Pizzeria and Bar:

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Vegetarian Meal of the Year – Twist by Pierre Gagnaire (see above)

Deer of the YearWaldhotel Sonnora, Dreis, Germany:

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Beef Bourguignon of the YearRestaurant Caveau des Arches, Beaune, France:

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View of the YearCanoe, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (see pic at top of page)

Decor of the YearLe Clarence:

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Gamiest, Rankest, Earthiest, Dirtiest Dish of the Year – AAAA Andouillette a la Chablisienne:

(It tastes exactly like what it is: the insides of a barely-cleaned intestine.)

Italian Meal of the YearFerraro’s:

(Gino Ferraro: the consummate restaurateur)

Cheese of the Year – a mimolette so old Louis XIV probably sampled a slice:

Barbecue of the Year – Toss up: Picnic/Allen & Son (see above)

Beer of the YearThe Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario:

Eclair of the YearBreizh Café:

Cheese Cart of the Year – a turophiles dream at Hostellerie Des Clos in Chablis, France.

Wine List(s) of the YearLe Pot d’Etain:

Runners up: Les Climats:

…and La Bouitte:

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Vegetable Dish of the Year – Winter vegetable melange at La Bouitte:

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Fish of the Year – no fish dish haunted my dreams more than this omble chevalier at a little roadside restaurant outside of Annecy, France called Auberge du Roselet:

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Cold Cuts of the YearCesare Casella’s artisanal prosciutto at Carnevino:

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Most Intense Dessert of the YearSebastien Polycarpe’s clay-baked pineapple at Restaurant Guy Savoy:

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Bistro of the Year – Le Comptoir du Relais, Paris, France:

Coffee and Doughnuts of the YearTim Hortons:

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Yes, it was a helluva year for sheer travelocity and intrepid epicureanism. But amidst all the gourmet jewels, there were some zircons that stood out. and managed to pee in our cornflakes

Lowlights of the Year:

Alinea – To put it as succinctly as possible: Anyone who appreciates the gastronomic temples of Europe can see what a joke this restaurant is. Strictly for Midwestern rubes and impressionable Instagrammers,  and the writers who speak to them.

Momofuku – I love what David Chang has done for Asian food in America. But his restaurants are not nearly as good as they think they are.

Terrible Italian – Bad Italian food continues to pull ’em in in Las Vegas. If I had a dollar for every yokel who tells me how much they “love” Piero’s, Cafe Chloe, Battista’s, Chicago Joe’s, et al, I’d have a wine cellar full of grand cru Burgundies. It pains me to say it but Maggiano’s and Buca di Beppo are better than most of our locally-owned Italians.

Food writing in Las Vegas – Can the Review-Journal get any worse? Oh, yes it can. It can cover chain restaurants and “cocktails of the week” while continuing to aim its appeal at the Sun City crowd. Someone needs to put this dead horse out of its misery.

Our Moribund Corporate Hotel Culture – This is the thing that depresses me the most. The heyday of the Vegas restaurant revolution ended for good around 2010. What the great celebrity chefs wrought (Spago, Emeril’s, Le Cirque, Picasso, et al) the big hotels are now either running into the ground or milking for all they’re worth. There hasn’t been an original thought in a Vegas F&B office in ten years. There hasn’t been a new, food-forward/chef-driven place since Bazaar Meat opened in 2014. Instead of cuisine, we get whatever re-packaged crap they can slap Gordon Ramsay’s or Giada’s name on. There are still restaurants on the Strip that I adore (and buy my book and you can read about them ;-) ) but I’ve been falling out of love with the Strip for years now, and nothing I see is going to re-kindle the flame of passion I once had anytime soon.

Summer Truffles – If one more chef puts one more tasteless summer truffle on my plate (always with a BIG smile like they’re doing me a favor) I’m going to get a concealed carry permit, strap a .38 to my thigh, and put a bullet through the plate. There is no excuse for these dreaded, bill-padding fungi, and you insult my intelligence (and taste buds) by expecting me to be impressed.

Truffle Oil – See above.

Octopus – If I never see a piece of cephalopod again it will be too soon.

Scallops – Ditto.

Drinking Wine/Drinking in General – I took Carnevino to task this year for its obscenely-priced wine list. It is the most egregious offender, but is by no means alone in playing the rape-the-tourist/price-gouging game — e.g. the Wynncore – an entire hotel whose F&B price structure would make P.T. Barnum blush, and the $30 gin and tonics at Jaleo. In the past 20 years (ever since they learned they could “sell” Vegas and a world-class eating and drinking experience, our hotels have turned the town into one, gigantic edible tourist trap. We should be ashamed of ourselves. I can barely bring myself to order anything but a glass of wine these days….or some cheap vermouth…in any of our Strip hotels. Spend a couple of days in any wine region, anywhere in the world, and you’ll see how fucked up drinking is in Las Vegas.

Which brings me to my conclusion…at the conclusion of this most significant year.

As you know, we’ve been struggling with what to do with this web site for the past year or so. It’s becoming harder and harder for us to get enthused about restaurants I have visited dozens of times, and, as I just mentioned, there isn’t a lot of excitement on the horizon. I try to gear what I write to people like me, or those who may have been like me 30 years ago when I was hungry to learn all I could about food, dining out, travel, and the world of restaurants. I like to think of my readers as a black belt foodie audience, but within the realm of Las Vegas restaurants, there is less and less that I can teach them.

Right now I’m pondering whether to write more about my travels (next up: Spain, Italy, Normandy and Scandinavia), or maybe even expand into home cooking. Unbeknownst to many, I used to be an avid home cook, and people love recipe websites more than they do restaurant reviews. There will definitely be a change in graphics sometime in the new year. (I’m quite aware that the look of this site is cluttered and dated and it’s all my fault.) The new look will be simpler — more Drudge Report than Bon Appetit — as soon as I can find a graphic designer.

Until then….

Happy New Year from the Curtas BBQ Boyz!

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Why I Love France

There is nothing more precious to a food lover than to experience a cuisine, or a dish, or an ingredient in its native habitat. Whether it’s clams in Ipswich, a Cuban sandwich in Habana, or tortellini in Bologna, the holy grail of gastronomes is to be in a place known for a certain type of food, and to consume that food where it originated.

People who count their Michelin stars, or jump from the latest hot spot to the next miss the whole point of eating well. Eating well is not just about dining in restaurants — although great restaurants are essential for bringing a cuisine into focus — it is about diving deep, and about learning about distinctions and differences while you’re paddling above the surface, or submerged beneath it.

People are fond of saying that the best of any cuisine is found in people’s homes. Ask any Italian, and they’ll swear by their Nonna’s pasta e fagioli over any version in any restaurant. Go to Germany and what you get in their restaurants is basically the same food they serve at home. (Only in their tonier restaurants do they venture into fancier, French-influenced dishes.) I haven’t traveled south of Mexico, but I think it’s safe to say that South American cuisine in all its multi-cultural forms takes almost all of its cues from what people grew up with — restaurants there (and almost everywhere) being a distillation of what people eat in their houses.

For what are restaurants, really, but a place to get sustenance when one is away from home?

Street food is something different entirely. Street food is by and large peasant food — quick and easy ways to sustain a busy worker through the day. Food writers the world over have gone to great lengths to elevate kebabs, noodle soups and all sorts of meat pies to “gourmet” status, but what they miss are the cultural underpinnings of these things as quick and easy ways to quell hunger and provide fuel for our furnaces. High-end sushi may be a “thing” in Tokyo and New York, but it started as a way for Edo (Tokyo) workers to grab a quick snack on the go. Only in the modern era (and by “modern era” we mean the last twenty five years) have braggadocios gastronomads elevated fish on rice to the fucking ridiculous.

Table and chair restaurants — from the Far East to the American Southwest — do one thing: cook the foods of their homeland for strangers. Many of these customers are natives (surely their harshest critics), but some are travelers looking to sustain themselves on whatever voyage of discovery they happen to be on. Being strangers in strange lands, though, one can never hope to understand a cuisine like a native. Unless you are fortunate enough to have friends who live where you travel, you have little hope of experiencing a beef bourguignon from a French housewife, a Cornish pasty from a Welsh coal miner, or cuy (pronounced “kwee”) from a Peruvian farmer.

That’s where France comes in. In France, restaurants are, in and of themselves, a cultural landmark. French food, more than any other, achieves it apotheosis in restaurants — restaurants as humble as a sidewalk cafe to a haute cuisine palace. Food may be a passion in Italy, but in France it is a religion. Indeed, French cuisine (more specifically the “French gastronomic menu”) has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the world’s great cultural artifacts.

The French are prouder of their food than any other country on earth. From the humblest cheese to the most fantastic dessert cart, the average Frenchman knows his country’s food (and restaurants) have set a standard for the rest of the world to follow. To be sure, there is terrible, corporate food in France. There are lazy brasseries and slip-shod bakeries and acidic wines and all forms of half-assery that seeks to profit from France’s reputation without putting in the work.

But there’s also more great food in more little corners of this Texas-sized country than in most of the rest of the world put together. A lot has been written about French food being under siege. Fast food, global economic pressures, and the world-wide cult of immediate gratification has endangered many things about the French way of life. But the depth of knowledge in France about its cuisine is profound, and the currents run deep. Yes, there are Hawaiian fishermen who know the bounty of their sea backwards, and Iranian epicures who can tell you everything there is to know about caviar, but no country on earth has spent centuries celebrating its food — from the humblest peasant fare to feasts fit for a king — like France has.

What France did, starting over two hundred years ago, is institutionalize (and publicize) the (previously very private) act of eating meals. France turned the act of eating out into a form of theater, and to this day, its restaurants are a daily celebration of food in all its forms. A restaurant meal in France is a way to “restaur” yourself, but it is also so much more. What restaurants in France represent, is a form of socialization, indeed, civilization at its apex.

What do I love most about French food? Well first, it is that menu — a light to heavy escalation of everything from the color of the wine to the weight of the calories. (Fun fact: service à la française originally meant serving everything at once, buffet-style. It was only in the early 19th  century that service à la russe – serving things in individual courses – became popular in France.)

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Everything about the French menu is a ladder with each rung representing another form of advancement up the food chain. There are white wines to start, and the freshest, briniest shellfish to get your gastronomic juices flowing. From there you graduate to soups, and legumes, and cooked fish before ascending to the plats principaux (the main courses). Through it all there is bread (the best on earth), and at the end are desserts — dessert being a French word that the French understand better than anyone.

So, let’s take stock: the best bread, the best shellfish, the best butter, the best wine (sorry, Italy), the best sparkling wine, a way with small birds that is the envy of cooks the world over, and a myriad of soups, stews, and beef dishes to beat the band. And did I mention the cheese? What’s not to love? Well, I can hear some naysayers kvetching about the lack of street food. True, the French don’t do street food all that well, but for the occasional crepe, but when there’s a sidewalk cafe on every corner, full of chocolat, cafe au lait and croque monsieur, why eat standing up? Eating standing up is what farm animals do.

Modernists love to point to the course-by-course progression of a French dinner as hopelessly outdated — preferring instead to extol the virtues of some new Nordic wunderkind or 30-course slog through some chef’s “vision.” But what they miss is the intellectual debt all fine dining owes to the French menu. Until the French figured out the natural progression of how we should eat, meals the world over were pretty much a free-for-all. The reason you start with oysters at Arzak has more to do with Le Grand Vefour than anything Ferran Adrià did.

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So I return again and again. For the 10th time in a few days, to take another bite out of the country that first captured my imagination as a law student reading Gourmet magazine — back when I could only dream about visiting  all those wonderful bistros, brasseries, and temples of luxurious dining. But visit them I have, from Alsace to Lyon to the French Alps I have explored this country, and I haven’t tired of it yet. Paris holds many charms for me, as it has for so many Americans, but what I enjoy most of all these days is tasting the countryside, the places where the wine and the cheese and the ouefs meurette are made. What is most compelling of all, now that I’m in my sixties, is seeing where this cuisine came from, and continuing to learn why it is the greatest food on earth.

ELV note: I will be traveling to France in a few days (Paris-Chablis-Beaune-Burgundy) and will not be posting anything on this site until mid-December. Please feel free to follow my epicurean adventures on Twitter (@eatinglasvegas) or Instagram (@johncurtas). Bon appetit!

A couple of apropos quotes:

“French food is like jazz: it begins with theory, technique and organizing principles, and comes alive through playfulness, spontaneity, and, ultimately, extemporization.” – Richard Olney

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

 

Bocuse d’Or Birthdays – Part 2 (The Restaurants)

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When one travels to Europe, one expects to eat well. When one travels with ELV, one can expect to eat some of the best food on the planet. And that’s what we did for the last ten days of last month. On the oft chance that some of you may someday follow in our footsteps (or live vicariously through us if you don’t), here are some of the gastronomic highlights of the gourmet birthday trip of our lifetime:

WALDHOTEL SONNORA

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Holding three Michelin stars, and tucked way back in some woods between the wine village of Bernkastel and the city of Trier, the Waldhotel Sonnora was the best restaurant I could find to celebrate a special day in my life. Unfortunately, we lingered  a bit too long tasting wines with one of our favorite people in the wine world, Sofia Thanisch at Weingut Thanisch:

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…so we were a half hour late for our reservation — a delay that, we were informed (in a very German, matter-of-fact way), would require all of us to take the tasting menu. “You mean we all have to eat the same thing?” I asked the proprietress (implying that that was the last thing I wanted to do). “Yes, you will order it and you will enjoy it,” she replied. (The only thing missing was an “Achtung!” clicked heels and a Hitler salute.)

From there on the food and the service were perfectly fine, but having everyone (all five of us) eat the same thing (for 175 euros a head, for lunch) is not my idea of an epicurean outing…and left a bad taste in my mouth.

What made up for that taste was a venison dish of uncommonly rich, wild, gaminess:

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The menu stated it came from the Eifel Forest not far from the restaurant, and the flavor made you believe it. This wasn’t some namby-pamby deer dish that tastes of denatured animal flesh; this was the real deal, the kind of wild deer hunters live for, warm with the scent of a just-killed animal, gorgeously enhanced by the wine-laced reduction sauce. It didn’t make up for my overall disappointment, but it came close.

LE MONTRACHET

When you dine at Le Montrachet, you feel as if you’re eating in the center of the wine universe. The restaurant is part of a small inn tucked on one side of the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Surrounding you are the vineyards of the greatest white wines in the world, and the signs  (Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault) clip by with the kilometers as you drive down the Route des Grand Crus, or turn up into the villages which host these iconic vineyards.

As charming as these villages are, good restaurants are few and far between. Le Montrachet came highly recommended (by Alan Richman, no less) and proved the perfect spot for a midday repast after hiking around famous vineyards in sub-freezing weather. This being white wine country (the famous reds of Vosne-Romanée, Chambertin and Nuit-Saint-Georges are made 20+ kilometers to the north), we settled on the Les Jardins de Puligny menu, which, at 64 euros for five courses (including cheese) was a flat out steal.

As you can see, this is hearty, Burgundian fare — pâté de campagne, squash soup, torchon of foie gras, guinea hen with lentils — lightened by a chef’s touch, that paired perfectly with a sassy Aloxe-Corton and a Puligny-Montrachet (natch) from Vincent Giradin:

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And then, of course, was the cheese course:
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 All local, all unpasteurized, each one having that deep, animal funk that comes from the earth and gets lost in the voyage across the pond. Alan Richman also told us “By all means, get the cheese,” and he was right on that score too. Le Montrachet is not especially fancy or formal, but it is exceptionally friendly, and its one Michelin star is well-deserved.
 LE SAUVAGE
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Guy Savoy once told me that he didn’t serve any beef in his restaurants in Paris because he didn’t like French beef. I love Guy Savoy, but after tasting this Charolais côte de boeuf at Le Savauge in downtown Dijon, I have to conclude that he needs his head examined. The grain may not have been as fine as some American beef, but the flavor was a knockout. It was every bit the equal of any steak I’ve had in America – rich, dense, and almost sweet with intense beefiness. Dijon didn’t impress us one bit, it being a sad, somber, almost vacant place in mid-winter, but this restaurant was a treat — an informal grill-type atmosphere with a superior wine list and one of the best steaks (for 58 euro, for a gigantic steak for two, no less) of my life.

And BTW, as long as we’re singing the praises of this fabulous little find in dreary old Dijon, the jambon persille was trés magnifique as well:

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LA MERE BRAZIER

For three days in Lyon, we froze our asses off. It didn’t get above freezing for one minute, and no matter how much long underwear we put on (check out the layers I’m wearing in the picture below), the chill cut right through us. This can be explained partially by geography. Lyon – the second largest city in France — sits on an island between two rivers (much like Manhattan). On one side is the Saône, and on the other, the Rhone. Both act like long wet refrigerators chilling all air passing over them. This is probably a welcome thing in August, but I’ll never know. What I do know is that our lunch at La Mère Brazier warmed the cockles of my heart like no other.

The centerpiece of the lunch was poulet de Breese demi-deuil (poached Bresse chicken in half-mourning – pictured above and at the top of the article). Larousse Gastronomique calls it one of the most famous Lyonnaise dishes “particularly the version given by Mere Fillioux,” and mandates that the bird be of the highest quality and poached. The name comes from the dark truffles beneath the skin which give the appearance of a mourner’s veil hiding their white skin. Any recipe that roasts the bird, is little more than a chef’s short-cut and an abomination. An abomination I say!

As soon as we saw it on La Mère Brazier’s menu (for two, for 200 euros) we were hooked. For those of you who’ve never had Bresse chicken, the bird itself is a revelation — the white meat having none of the bland stringiness that plagues American chicken, and the dark meat having a finish that lasts until next Tuesday. The dish is served in two courses — one festooned with black truffles, the other a rich, chicken-truffle soup under a puff pastry dome — and is so good is could justify a transatlantic flight.

I thought long and hard about whether to book a table here or at Paul Bocuse. Both are old-fashioned restaurants (LMB dates to 1923, PB has held 3 Michelin stars since 1965), but too many chefs told me the food at Bocuse is tired and metronomic, so I opted for the older restaurant with one less star. I’m glad I did as there was nothing old-fashioned about La Mère Brazier except the building, the beautiful service and that beautiful bird.

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BERNACHON

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What can I say about Bernachon that hasn’t been said before. It may be the best chocolatier on earth. It certainly has the best goddamned hot chocolate in the goddamned universe:

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So thick you can practically stand a spoon in it. And I would kill for one of their bon bons right now. Bean-to-bar chocolate has been all the rage in American chocolate circles for a few years now. They’ve been doing it here since 1953.

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‘Nuff said.

LES HALLES PAUL BOCUSE

(Oysters and Chablis at 9:00 am. You gotta problem with that?)

Les Halles Paul Bocuse are the food halls of Lyon. They’re not as huge or eye-popping as the markets in other large European cities (Venice and Barcelona spring to mind), but there’s no beating the French pastries there, or the Belon oysters:

Also known as European flats, they are the world’s best bivalves — small, flat, sweet and saline, with a finish like licking a copper penny. There are worse ways to spend a morning in France than chugging down a bottle of Chablis with three dozen of these beauties. As you will see, we should’ve stayed at Les Halles, or ducked into one of the many bouchons (small bistros) that pepper the streets of Lyon, serving local specialties like pâté en croute and boudin noir. A bad bite in any of them is hard to find, or as our gourmet ami Sebastien Silvestri said, “They (the Lyonnaise) don’t know how not to make it good.”

Unfortunately, we found the one Michelin-starred restaurant in Lyon where that was not the case. Instead of seeking out a tasty bouchon, we wasted a meal at….

PIERRE ORSI

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ELV hates wasting a meal. Any meal. Especially when he’s traveling in France. Ten years ago, we visited Pierre Orsi and were thoroughly charmed by the place. A decade on, the food tasted as dated as the décor. One dish dazzled us – a ravioli with foie gras and black truffles – the rest of our meal could’ve been from some pseudo-bistro in Bosnia . On the plus side, the service was wonderful and the wines were spectacular. (We never tire of drinking grand cru wines for 100 euros in France that would cost 4Xs that much over here.) But it’s going to be a long time before I forget my dried-out lobster, Monsieur et Madame Orsi.

LA BOUITTE
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In a perfect world, this would’ve have been our first big deal meal and not our last one. As it was, we made a spectacular drive to Les Trois Vallees (The Three Valleys) of the French Alps to La Bouitte (“Little House”) to experience the cuisine of René et Maxime Meilleur.

As it was, our meal here was taken after a solid week of eating in French and German restaurants. When that happens you hit the wall sometimes. And by “hit the wall” I mean what you experience what the French call la crise de foie (liver crisis) where your stomach (and liver) have ceased to function normally, and hunger becomes the last thing on your mind. Having been through these Michelin-starred rodeos before, my digestive system is well acquainted with la crise de foie, and the best one can hope for is no extreme gastrointestinal eruptions and a quick re-gaining of one’s appetite. Luckily, we had none of the former and powered through the latter, meaning: we ate our three-course dinner at La Bouitte (really more like eight courses when all the freebie courses are factored in), but we weren’t hungry for any of it in the least. In fact, so “not hungry” were we that, for the first time in twenty-five years, we skipped the cheese course.

To repeat, we skipped the cheese course.  In a Michelin-starred restaurant. In France. No Tomme de Savoie, Beaufort, Reblochon or Gruyere or Comté would pass our lips this night.  Au revoir, we said, to any Tamié, Tome des Bauges or Chevrotin. And kiss goodbye any thoughts of a Vacherin du Haut Doubs. “Quelle horreur!” we could hear the Julia Child screaming from her grave. But we simply could not stomach another bite.

Thus were we unable to fully enjoy one of the great, rustic dining rooms of the world, set amidst the splendor of the French Alps.:

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…nor could we take the full measure of the Meilleur’s cuisine:

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What we did have was the elevated cooking of the Savoyard, an area rich in pastures, lakes and rivers, and renowned for its fresh water fish. The Food Gal had the omble chevalier (arctic char), while I took the lake trout “bleu” and both were a revelation in the beauty of the local waters. The flavors were pure, simple and direct, as if the fish had jumped out of the stream and onto your plate. Every bite a testament to confident chefs who know they are working with supreme raw ingredients and only want to make them shine.

Which is exactly what they did with this plate of warm Savoie root vegetables:

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….proof once again that great vegetarian cuisine does not come from vegetarian chefs.

Everything about La Bouitte — the room, the staff, the spa, the dinner, the two-fisted wine list:

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….and the breakfast, was just about perfect. We can’t wait to return…the next time with a big appetite.

LE MONTAGNARD

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Man does not live by Michelin-starred dining alone. Sometimes, all you want is a bunch of melted cheese on bread. And man, if that’s your thing, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven in this part of the world. Cheese is king in the Savoie. Cow’s milk cheeses to be precise. And they know how to melt it right. With lots of gooey, winy goodness, served with a bracing glass of the local vin blanc. Chef John Courtney (who had also recommended La Bouitte) told us we needed to hit Le Montagnard for its authentic fondue, so that’s just what we did. From the wooden tables and plaster walls to the ski boots lining the front hallway, this is soul-warming, ski resort food at its best. You think you know from fondue? You don’t know from fondue until you’ve tasted one made with local Beaufort cheese.

 AUBERGE DU ROSELET
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Our last meal in France took place on the shores of Lake Annecy, known as “Europe’s cleanest lake.” It’s alpine, crystalline waters are known for all sorts of water sports, and also some of the tastiest omble chevalier in the business.

We stumbled upon Auberge du Roselet on the shores of the lake as we were driving to Lausanne, Switzerland. The sign said “Spécialties de Poissons”  so we bit, and walked in, not knowing what to expect. What appeared was an unexpected treat, and the kind of out-of-the-way, knock-your-socks-off meal that only exists in France.  The welcome was warm and cordial; the tables were dressed with thick linens, and the menu was the prettiest (and heaviest) I’ve ever seen. (see picture above). So pretty was it that we begged to take one; they said no. Then we offered to pay for one; they said “no, merci.” Finally, we contemplated stealing it. But the food was so good, and the view so stunning, and the staff so nice, we demurred.

With appetite restored, we feasted on delicately smoked ham:

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Beautifully salmon fumé:

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…and finally, the piece de resistance:

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….a gorgeous omble chevalier specimen, swimming in butter, as it should be.

All of it from a modest little place along the road, on a country drive through the Haute-Savoie. Amazing, but seemingly par for the course in this part of the world.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that France doesn’t have, top to bottom, the best restaurants in the world. If someone tries to tell you that, politely tell them they are wrong.

Food may be a passion in other parts of the world, but in France, it’s a religion.

(Petit Fours is French for “I can’t believe they’re serving us more food!”)

WALDHOTEL SONNORA

Auf dem Eichelfeld 1, 54518

Dreis, Germany

 Tel: 49 6578 406
LE SAUVAGE

64 Rue Monge, 21000

Dijon

Tel: 33 3 80 41 31 21

LE MONTRACHET

10 place du Pasquier de la Fontaine, 21190

Puligny-Montrachet

Tel: 33 3 80 21 30 06

LES HALLES PAUL BOCUSE

102 Cours Lafayette, 69003

Lyon

Tel: 33 4 78 62 39 33

BERNACHON

42, cours Franklin Roosevelt

Lyon

Tel: 04 78 52 67 77

LA MÈRE BRAZIER

12 Rue Royale, 69001

Lyon

Tel: 33 4 78 23 17 20

PIERRE ORSI

3 Place Kléber, 69006

Lyon

Tel: 33 4 78 89 57 68

LA BOUITTE

Saint Marcel, 73440

Saint-Martin-de-Belleville

Tel: 33 4 79 08 96 77

LE MONTAGNARD

Rue des Places, 73440

Saint Martin de Belleville

Tel: 33 4 79 01 08 40

 AUBERGE DU ROSELET

182 Route d’Annecy, 74410

Duingt

Tel: 33 4 50 68 67 19