La Chèvre d’Or, Eze
October 30, 2008
So what changed our mind? We were surprised when the 2000 Michelin Guide awarded La Chèvre d’Or a second star, but we knew other two-star restaurants in the area which we did not consider worthy of the award. The second star was confirmed in 2003 when Philippe Labbé took over as chef. Then we were amazed when the 2008 Michelin Guide designated it as an “espoir,” or promising candidate for a third star. But we still didn’t believe it enough to go. Then, this week the 2009 Gault-Millau, France’s second restaurant guide, awarded La Chèvre d’Or a rating of 19/20, placing it among the very best restaurants in France. Its rating is higher than Le Louis XV, Le Meurice, Régis Marcon, Pic, Le Cinq, Taillevent, L’Espérence or Georges Blanc. The writeup says that Philippe Labbé is “le chef le plus ensourcelant, le plus imaginatif, le plus scintillant du moment.” That is to say that he is the most enchanting, the most imaginative, the most sparkling current chef. Wow!
The waitress suggested Dom Perignon or Krug Champagne for apéritif at 35€ a glass. The alternatives were almost as pricy so we chose the Krug, which was very nice, of course. One has a choice between the Menu Dégustation, Aux saveurs de la Riviera, at 210€ or à la carte. (There is a 95€ menu at lunch.) We ordered the tasting menu and a bottle of 1995 Domaine Tempier Cabassaou, the same red Bandol we had enjoyed so much at the nearby Hostellerie Jérôme a week before.
LES NOIX DE SAINT-JACQUES
En carpaccio de marinade acidulée au parfum de mangue-passion,
alibi pour du caviar en salade relevée de touches de goûts.
Japanese restaurants are very careful about using scallops in their sushi or sashimi. When they do, the scallops are very fresh and have just been opened. Even then, the flavor is subtle and the texture gooey, appreciated by real sushi fans. But this was actually closer to a popular version of raw scallops: ceviche. The lime juice and a modest dose of chili bring out the flavor of the scallops and firm up the meat. Unfortunately the mango-passion fruit vinaigrette did not do the job here and the gooey scallop slices had little flavor. The caviar dabs and the bed of frisée lettuce had flavors, but they had no logical relationship to each other in the absence of participation from the slices of raw scallops.
LE FOIE GRAS DE CANARD DU SUD-OUEST
Rôti et poché au maïs éclaté en bouillon double goûteux, recouvert d’une barbe à papa.
This dish was presented as a half-sphere of cotton candy crust. The sauce was poured over, somewhat collapsing it, as you can see in the top photo. The bottom photo shows the piece of foie gras swimming in the “tasty bouillon” which washed out any crisp caramelization it might have had. The menu says: “maïs éclaté,” which means popcorn, but the only thing that had popped here was the top of the can from which the corn kernels came. The whole dish was too sweet and cloying.
LE LOUP DE MEDITERRANEE
Cuisiné sur un teppanyaki en délicate gelée d’endives et truffe, jus truffé.
Etuvée d’endives à la truffe d’automne.
The quality of the Mediterranean sea bass was excellent. The menu says it was cooked on a teppanyaki, which is the kind of flat hot iron grill one finds at Behihana. But, although flattened, it seemed steamed to me, which is a much better way to cook this delicate fish. The two checkerboards of endive and truffle jellies were very pretty, but with the base of diced vegetables and the brown sauce the whole dish was much too complicated for a fine piece of fresh fish. Alongside was a nice braised endive in a foam with a tasteless slice of truffle on top that added an image of luxury.
LE VEAU DE LAIT DE DORDOGNE
Morceaux de côte cubiques rôtis en cromesquis de beurre d’herbes tendres,
au jus de noisettes torréfiées, terrine de champignons des bois.
This piece of milk-fed veal was quite nice. Like the fish, it had been flattened and squared. The wild mushrooms and hazelnuts were appropriate, but submerged in the veal glaze and the general over-complexity of the dish.
NOS FROMAGES FRAIS AFFINES
Choisis pour vous et selon la saison
The large cheese tray was excellent with a wide variety that all seemed to be in perfect condition.
Sixth was a predessert that was not on the menu.
BABA AU RHUM
Each plate had two slices of baba on top of a round of braised pineapple. We chose which rum we wanted and a measure was poured on the babas. One then was then topped with crème chantilly and the other with crème chantilly with crème patisserie added. It was too sweet to set up the palate for the dessert.
LA POIRE WILLIAMS
Caramélisée, chocolat, farcie, étuvée dans son jus en feuillantine.
This dessert was three different presentations of pear with chocolate. It was interesting, but too sugary.
a raspberry and an olive oil macaroon and chocolate lollipops. Savory macaroons are very trendy nowadays, but even this olive oil one was very sweet.
One of the mysteries of this menu is why it is called “Les Saveurs du Riviera.” Aside from the fact that “Riviera” is an Italian and English, but not French, word, the only dish based on local cuisine was the excellent amuse-gueule, the chard ravioli with a walnut sauce. As you can tell from my comments above, I thought that all the cuisine was too complicated and fussy. A big trend nowadays in restaurant criticism is whether the chef shows proper “respect for the product,” that is in its procurement and freshness, a recipe that brings out the essence of its flavor and an appetizing presentation which does not hide it. This meal was a failure in that. Only the cheese tray presented the product at its best. So we still feel, as we have for over fifteen years, that La Chèvre d’Or is a pretentious, overpriced tourist trap.
So how can it be that our opinion is so very different from that of the two top restaurant guides in France? I am not a general critic of the Michelin France Guide, which I use a lot. When the guides came under a lot of fire a few years ago after the suicide of Bernard Loiseau, Paul Bocuse calmed things down when he said that without the guides no one would be willing to come and pay the high prices the top chefs have to charge. But there have been extraordinary lapses here. Michelin renewed Jacques Maximin’s two stars after the restaurant had become pitiable. The New York Michelin Guide made itself look ridiculous this year by not including Eleven Madison Park or Aquavit in its stars. The 2009 Gault-Millau ecstatic review of the Chèvre d’Or lists a dozen dishes, none of which were in the tasting menu, so their experience was undoubtedly different from ours. Perhaps the guides’ inspectors at the Chèvre d’Or are afraid of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes when people are willing to spend so much money there. Or perhaps our opinion is just not shared by them.