Archive for June, 2006

Can Roca (Girona, Spain) – Lingering Flavors

We found ourselves in the horrible tourist area near Girona’s beaches, specifically S’Agarro, with nowhere to eat. Can Roca was scheduled for the next day but we decided, “why not try it two days in a row?” To our surprise, a table was open with just a few hours notice.

What follows is a recount of the first meal; the second meal will be published shortly. It’s very interesting how much of a disparity a meal at the same restaurant can have from one night to the next. There are, of course, many variables including but not limited to: the chef’s mood, the cooks’ moods, the ingredients, the other diners, familiarity with the cuisine, and, on the second trip, familiarity with us. The difference was surprising – this meal was a low 2 star whereas we had a solid 3 star meal the next night.

We chose the Surprise Tasting Menu and asked for an additional dessert – the infamous Trip to Havana.

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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.

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Michel Bras (Laguiole, France) – Near Perfection

Michel Bras - Gargouillou

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.)

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Troisgros (Roanne, France) – Jeckyll & Hyde

Troisgros has quite a reputation in the French dining world – all-star cooking with a preference for citrus (when in season) and spices. However, the reviews you read are often polarized – one review will proclaim it the best meal on a trip to France while a second review will complain the food was unbalanced and the spices overpowering.

The Hotel
Like most of the 3-star countryside French places, the restaurant is a hotel. Mind you, these hotels are generally spectacular – ultra-modern design, state-of-the-art facilities (no gyms though!), and impeccable service.

It all makes for an easy evening. You come down to dinner whenever you like (generally between 7-9pm); get seated in the lounge where you sip on champagne and figure out your menu; and then, about 45 minutes later, claim your table in the dining room. This is luxurious dining at your own pace – it’s nice. After dinner, you can retreat back to the lounge, finish your wine (or order more drinks), and smoke cigars if that’s your thing.

And you never see the bill. It magically appears on your hotel charges when you check out. Easy dining.

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Pic (Valence, France) – The Empress Has No Clothes

Pic is a Michelin two star restaurant, hotel, and fancy-diner an hour outside of Lyon. The stylings are the W on steroids – modern to the point of function-less with a palette of Prada black and gray. It’s held in high regard because the chef is one of the few (if not only) female chefs that has garnered two Michelin stars. And she’s doing it by combining her presumably traditional French background (her father owned the original 3-star Pic) with asian ingredients and influence.

We opted for the extended tasting menu.

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