Michel Bras (Laguiole, France) – Near Perfection
The mythical stature of French restaurants was looking a bit dim. Aside from Gagnaire and Regis Marcon, none of the fabeled restaurants had truly impressed – a service error here, an overcooked meat there told the take of France. Bras was the last meal of the trip and I did not want to be disappointed so I did my research.
There are a few keys to dining at Michel Bras (and possibly many restaurants.)
1. Don’t order the tasting menu; everyone there is a tourist and the chefs will just crank out the food assembly-line style. Order a la carte & make them work.2. The gargouillo is *must* order dish. If you don’t like veggies, you will be converted; if you do, it will be nirvana
3. Their gallois blanche chicken will be some of the best of your life.
4. The allaiton lamb has a lot of potential and it should be ordered.
5. Order the aligot and save room.
The hotel/restaurant sits atop a large hill near Laguiole, a small tourist town that deals in knives. We had no real directions aside from a red dot near Laguiole on the restaurant’s web site so we had to look in the hills for something that didn’t belong. The lounge for Bras can look like an alien space ship from certain angles – we knew this and we kept our eyes open. Alas, in this distance, we saw something that didn’t quite belong near this rural country road.
The hotel itself, like the others (Troisgros, Pic, Regis Marcon) is strikingly modern. The lounge looks over the countryside and you can see rolling hills for miles. The rooms try to mimick the view but you mostly see the roofs of hotel rooms below you. The interiors are very modern. The dining room is Zen-like with platforms over running water leading from the hall to the dining room. The kitchen is in full view.
We ordered a la carte, each ordering our own gargouillou and then splitting the rest. They didn’t want to do this but we persisted and they agreed. Given the quality of fish in France, and the abundance of must-try items, we steered clear of the fish.
1. The Spoons
Beef consumme w/ diced veggies; bulgar wheat w/ lemon confit; & mustard greens w/ marinated salmon. None of these were wow; in fact, they were kind of lacking. The salmon spoon was very oily. We had worried looks. Ok.
It’s all been said before – this is a ridiculously good dish. The aroma of the vegetables coming off the plate is close to mind-blowing. Niche1, the biggest vegetable nazi i know, had a silly grin on his face while his plate lasted. Ours included, but wasn’t limited to, broccoli, asperagus, cauliflower, parsley, ham, various types of onions, truffle bits, squash blossoms, and more. Best vegetable dish i’ve ever had. Awesome.
3. Lobster w/ Young Leeks & Black Sugar
Slightly overcooked, but given what we’ve had at other restaurants over the past few days, this was a refreshing change. Meat was sweet and the slight black sugar coating accentuated instead of overpowered (ahem, Troisgros.) The leeks were very good. Very Good.
4. Gallois Blanche Chicken (breast)
Wow – far better than the various Bresse chickens we had at Ducasse, L’Ambassadeurs, Montrachet, and others. Perfectly crisp skin, moist throughout, wonderful texture, and last but not least, wonderful taste. It’s chicken but it’s a must-order item here. The chicken is cooked sous-vide which explains why it’s so moist; the skin is crisped at the end. Excellent.
5. Allaiton Lamb
Some respected authorities have proclaimed Allaiton lamb tastier than Paulliac so we had to try it. This piece of lamb looked awesome – pink, perfectly cooked, and ridiculously tender. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the depth of taste as our Lameloise Paulliac lamb. It was perfectly done, the kitchen did everything they could, but this lamb just didn’t do its job I’d try it again because it definitely has potential. Very Good.
Oh My. Awesome. Is it cheese or mashed potatoes?
We had the best cheese ever – i will have to get the name later.
Overall, this is what I expected French 3-star dining to be – consistently excellent with some “they can do food like that” moments. Unfortunately, only Gagnaire, Marcon, and Bras lived up to this expectation in France. This was an extraordinary meal – my best vegetable dish ever, best chicken dish ever, the gluttonous aligot, and the best piece of cheese i’ve ever had.
I couldn’t recommend this place enough – it will be a necessity on any trip to Paris (yes, i’ll make the drive w/o thinking about it), France, or northern Spain. Yes, it’s 4 hours from anything (San Sebastian, Barcelona, Lyon) but it’s that good.