Jacques Decoret (Vichy, France) – Parlor Games w/ Shocking Results
Establishing a serious restaurant in Vichy takes some guts. A dreary city, if ever there was one, it makes sense the Nazis installed their puppet government here. It would take something special to motivate people to drive a few hours to the city of black clouds. The city is known these days for its rejuvinating spas and springs which, apparently, attracts the over 50 crowd. Are most French seniors anxious to test their culinary boundaries after losing a few years in the spas?
Jacques Decoret has the reputation of a culinary rogue – off in his own little city concocting his own brand of cuisine. It’s not quite molecular gastronomy but it is post-modern; it can be playful, self-referencing, and packed full of culinary pop-culture references. In a country seemingly filled with traditionalists who prefer to tweak, Decoret tries to push and redefine culinary boundaries.
Artists can have such lofty ambitions.
Literally, the stunner. Our palette cleanser before dessert was a small flower attached to the positive and negative termainals of a rather large 4.5V battery. We were instructed to place it in our mouths. Holy S&$#*#?!?!?! I need to do some research on this but the flower apparently stored electrons – it shocked our mouths.
And it lasted. Our tongues were buzzing for a good 5 minutes. Mission accomplished – pallette erased.
And now the regular meal :
1. Microwave Tray “Platter”
Dried smelt, dried vegetable chips, potatoes 2 ways, and a spoon of tuna & radish; all served on a styrofoam microwave tray akin to a TV dinner. Considering the reputation of the restaurant, I thought they’d go for the jugular w/ the amuses; instead, all were fairly basic and, while good, plain. The tray was obviously some statement on culinary importance – the same post-modern argument that attributes as much relevancy to folk and popular art as it does “proper” art found in museums and history books. Good.
2. Parmesan Asparagus Milkshake
A small shot glass with parmesan at the bottom, asparagus, and the foam on top. This was good but it didn’t have an ethereal quality it could have had. The flavors were sharp instead of essences; they belied their medium. Very Good.
3. Foie w/ Bacon, Cabbage Puree, & Cabbage Gelee
The foie was a tad on the watery/flan-like side (seemingly very common in France and Spain), but it worked pretty well when combined with all of the elements. The bacon, while a tad greasy, helped carry the flavor of the foie. The cabbage puree & gelee helped cut the (obvious) richness of the dish. Good.
4. Ball of Escargot w/ Parsley & Goat Cheese
Escargot with goat cheese and parsley was tucked inside a breaded ball. The snail was cooked well, though not nearly as good as the Montrachet specimen a week ago. For me, there was too much breading, the inside was a tad greasy, and the 2nd snail was a bit rubbery. Good.
5. The Oyster Balloon
The chef has a cruel sense of humor – a balloon is filled with oyster cream, tied with a string. You are instructed to place the balloon in your mouth, bite down, and pull out the string. When you bite down, the balloon explodes in your mouth. I don’t have to tell you what this reminds one of. The reactions of people around the room were very much inline with said unmentioned act.
Did it work? The oyster cream was surprisingly good. I understand what he’s trying to accomplish w/ the delivery mechanism – the burst of oyster coating your mouth, not to mention a wicked little joke. For taste, I think he could improve on the mechanism – the bursting is not quite uniform. For theater, I wouldn’t want to give him any more ideas. Very Good.
6. Cornmeal-coated Mackeral w/ Miso-based Sauce
The fish was old, overcooked, and vile. We let this one slide and begrudgingly ate most of it. However, this is a perfectly good example of why people dislike mackeral. Not Good.
7. Sole w/ Ruby Red Grapefruit, Endives, and a Sauce of all 3
The sole was old, mushy, and the batter was greasy. I couldn’t get the combination of all 3 elements – the acidity of the grapefruit overpowered the fish (maybe that was the point considering its horrendous quality.) We could not eat this.
The waiters were stunned & perplexed; they took it back to the chef and he said this was good fish cooked correctly. We said no, let’s just move on (learning from our Pic experience.) The waiters apologized we weren’t happy.
8. Pigeon w/ Mushrooms
It was cooked perfectly but it lacked flavor. Good.
9. The Electric Palette Cleanser
Did he copy this from anywhere?
10. A Few Desserts
Once again, the fish courses marred a meal that was going ok. Before the fish, the meal felt like a less ambitious WD-50. After the fish, the meal felt like a less ambitious WD-50 on amateur hour. Both the quality and the preparedness of the fish were abysmal – if this is French fish cooking, they really need to get out of their country villages and see the world. With the exception of Gagnaire & L’Astrance, no one has come close to reproducing *average* fish dishes in the US. And I’m supposed to be dining at some of France’s best?
Without considering the fish dishes, Decoret is an average restaurant with a few tricks up its sleeves. He can cook, as demonstrated with the pigeon dish, but he’s more interested in surprising, impressing, and joking. When successful, it makes for a pleasant and jovial evening; but the fun and games are not worth the suffering that accompanies it.
When you add the feel of lingering death in the Vichy air, skip Decoret and head down to Bras after your Troisgros meal.