«Les Prés d’Eugénie» Michel Guérard
September 18, 2008
Of all the world’s great restaurants, the one I have wanted to go to for the longest time is Les Prés d’Eugénie in Eugénie-les-Bains, a spa out in the country in the southwest corner of France. Michel Guérard was revolutionizing French cuisine there long before anyone had heard of Pierre Gagnaire, Marc Veyrat or Ferran Adrià. He invented techniques to bind and thicken sauces without butter, flour or cream. He emphasized lightness without sacrificing substance, but enhancing the taste of good products. He also invented Cuisine Minceur, tasty diet cooking, but that is not to be confused with his updated Cuisine Gourmand. Establishing Les Prés in 1972 at the age of 39, he received his third Michelin star in 1977 and still has it. Strangely, a Google blogsearch shows no blogposts on his restaurant (before this one,) just a few on using his recipe books. So it was with great anticipation that Linda and I entered the large gates to his garden on September 14, 2008. Having given our name to the guardian at the gate, we were welcomed at the rustic pagoda which joins the front walkway to the driveway through the garden.
We were escorted down a path to our room, Belle Nonnette, in the outlying building Le Couvent des Herbes. The bells on top of Le Couvent chimed a bit of Mozart at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm.
Our room was spacious, quiet and charming.
The dining room is in the main building; we were seated at a corner table in an elegant small room with glass doors looking onto the terrace where meals are served in nice weather.
Two flat loaves of bread just out of the wood-burning oven were presented on a wooden paddle. They were a yeast bread and an olive bread. We were shortly given a warm slice of each. Then the menu courses started. There were choices for the first, main and dessert. This was not a “tasting menu.” Each course was substantial; there was plenty on the plate to let you enjoy it fully. Fortunately we had skipped lunch.
Le Hareng Royal en Couronne, à la Crème de Caviar
sur un Tartare de Pommes de Terre Nouvelles aux Zestes.
It was a fabulous combination of herring and caviar on top of a potato salad.
La Vichyssoise au Caviar, façon Christian Dior,
Relevée d’une Moscovite Glacée, Blinis en Surprise
This was the most onctuous vichyssoise I have ever had. The taste of the leeks was evident. There was a glob of sour cream ice cream in the middle and caviar mixed in. On the side was a caviar and cream filled blini. The caviar is all local. Sturgeon farming in the Aquitaine has become substantial; the quality is very good.
L’Oreiller Moelleux de Mousserons et de Morilles aux Asperges de Pays
Une Symphonie Soyeuse, Imaginée en 1978, Retour d’un Voyage en Chine.
Wild mushrooms flavored the plentiful cream sauce which covered a large raviolo filled with finely chopped mushrooms. The Chinese influence referred to in the title was not evident to me, but the dish was excellent.
Le Demi-Homard Rôti et Légèrement Fumé au Feu de Bois
Un Grand Classique Maison Créé en 1979.
A lobster had been lightly roasted. It was split down the middle and emptied. The tail meat was sliced into medallions, sauced and put back in the tail. The claw meat, which was still almost raw was placed in the head cavity. It was then all smoked in a wood-burning oven and served topped with chervil alongside a root puree with small apple chunks in it. Michel Guérard has been serving this dish for thirty years and so it is a classic for him, but it is completely modern. If it were served today by a Danish chef, the food writers would be gushing over its discovery.
La Poitrine de Volaille des Landes à la Cheminée, Petite Paume de Ris de Veau
Quelques Légumes Nouveaux et un Fritto-Misto de Feuilles d’Oseille à la Confiture de Citron
The uncarved, beautifully cooked local half-chicken was brought to the table to be admired, then taken away to be carved and served with the fresh green vegetables, an excellent combination.
Un « Mano à Mano » de Bœuf de Race
L’unPoêlé en Fines Tranches, Beurre d’Herbes, l’autre Piquant en Tartare sur Galettes Croquantes.
It is a mystery to me how the great chefs find such flavorful beef. Beautifully caramelized on the outside and almost raw in the middle, it is delicious by itself and even better with its herb garnish Alongside were two little spicy steak tartare sandwiches, which made the whole dish sparkle.
La Candide Tarte Feuilletine aux Fraises d’Eugénie
Chantilly Onctueuse au Citron Râpé.
It is hard to describe why this little tarte was so terrific when it looks so ordinary. The pastry was lacy and crisp; the strawberries were concentrated, but not cloying. The coarse sugar on top was just right.
Le Gâteau Mollet du Marquis de Béchamel et la Glace Fondue à la Rhubarbe.
Un Compromis Sensuel entre Soufflée et Crème Renversée.
This is also hard to describe. It combined traditional dessert textures and flavours in a way that was unusual and rich without being heavy.