Bonne Année- or , How To Start The Year Off Right

Bonne Année- or , How To Start The Year Off Right

This year was my first holiday season in France, as it was for my friends Taffy and Bill, who moved here earlier this year, also, from Windsor, Ontario, Canada.   We approached this with a commitment to experience the season as fully as we could, and for us,this meant making the rounds at the wineries to stock up for season, visiting several different small towns for the Christmas markets, which we found were like a PTA bake sale mixed with a craft fair, and some special local foods (sausages, duck magret and confit, sausages and aligot, a mashed potato dish with huge amounts of cheese), a couple of weekends visiting the local chateaux for Christmas carols, and walking the marchés, stocked full of all the special treats meant for the grand events- the 4+ hour long meals both Christmas Eve (Réveillon de Noël) and New Years Eve (Réveillon de nouvelle an), an eating orgy that includes oysters and foie gras and sausages and more.

However, we had one more treat in mind for ourselves- the perfect way  to leave 2016 behind and start the New Year in a very positive direction. On New Years Day, we made the 20 minute drive to the neighbouring town of Moirax for lunch at a 1 star Michelin restaurant, L’Auberge du Prieré.  We had eaten there before, and we went today knowing the promised menu degustation on New Year’s Day would be a wonderful feast that would ensure a good start to the new year, a meal worthy of one grand gift to ourselves for the holidays.

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Each table was set worthy of a holiday party-

The room of 8 tables was small, yet we all felt in  a world of out own, a self-contained table dressed up like a Christmas present.  The restaurant had limited their service to one seating for the holiday meal, which enabled us to enjoy each plate, wait our turn while observing the other tables being served and then anticipate each of the promised nine (yes, nine!) courses.

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With it’s own Christmas tree and antique decorations

Oh, wait, did I say nine.  Not quite accurate- we started with a sampling of four more, to tease our palate- a touch of caviar on creme and topped with a sprig of micro greens, a crispy chip of smoked fish skin, a mouthful of crab sushi, and a two bite ball of of molten purée that was partially unidentified but fabulously delicious. So, let’s make that thirteen in all. Plus the three extra desserts.

An explanation for the lack of detail on some of these dishes: each course was delivered with a description in French, and while Taffy is fluent, and Bill is close, it’s still a second language, and a few things slipped by us.  We were given a full menu with details, but even then we spent time googling some words-verveine (verbena), chevreuil (venison), topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke).

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Les tois amuses bouche- caviar 1st, smoked fish skin 2nd, molton purée of something 3rd.

 

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This smoked fish skin felt and tasted like a potato chip
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A crispy round of something- probably potato, but not absolutely certain. It was well worth eating.
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The fourth amuse- the crab roll

In between each course we did what we do- we talked, we laughed, we sipped our wine, we speculated about the other people in the room- a couple of tables with man and wife; a mother, father, young adult son; a large table of 4 couples and an extra; a middle-aged daughter and elderly mother.  All of these groups were very French, however, the table next to us, three generations, a man, wife, daughter and mother, was maybe French, maybe American. While their appearance was French – he was wearing bright blue pants, and that big scarf around his neck, and his haircut was more european than not.  The women were all impeccably dressed and accessorised with scarves and jewellery in a Continental manner- they switched smoothly back and forth between languages and topics.

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Scallop with potato, sweet pea, verbena and sorrel

We oohed and awed from the first bite, but this is about the point in the menu where we started talking about the how the flavours were hitting our tongue- a well thought out progression of tastes coming alive in an obviously planned order- like eating a symphony, each movement making itself known at a prescribed pace.

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Langoustine with cucumber and a fennel and eucalyptus sauce

What we didn’t do was have a philosophical discussion, which is what we all imagine the French do at their dinners.  We touched on politics, we patted ourselves on the back for making the move to a place we all love so much, and a lifestyle we all feel we were made to live.

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A rouleau of celeriac with truffle, mushroom creme. My favourite, I think though it’s hard to chose a very favourite.

We talked about what makes a Michelin restaurant.  I have been to several, from one to 3 stars, and the difference between them is big.   Le Prieré is in the centre of an ancient village, housed inside an old church priory. with a large, open terrace used in the summer time.  The service is pleasant, not overly-formal as I’ve experienced- the service at one of the Michelin restaurants I’ve eaten at was actually off-putting, condescending, horribly uncomfortable), carried out by the chef’s wife and one other person.   The serving pieces and plates are all artisan pottery, unique enough to catch your eye and encourage comments.  The furnishings here, are all comfortable but understated, mostly antique pieces with a colourful mix of modern art on the walls.

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That point where the meal began to feel a bit rich. Ris de veau (sweetbreads), truffle and noisette (hazelnut)

But, the food!  That is where you really see the difference- in the way each course rolls into the next.  The ris de veau was a soft as a pillow, with a full, round flavour that would have been overwhelming if you had any more than a few bites on your plate.  The venison was as tender as a filet mignon, and the combination of orange, beet and endive were a little surprise on a classic flavour blend.

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Venison with orange infused endive, almond creme and beet sauce- The combination was epic!

Oddly, at this point, I was still hungry enough to hoover down the first dessert without taking a picture of it.  It was lovely to look at, better to eat.

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Minelola sorbet with carrot, saffron crackers

We were aware, by the way, of how geeky we looked taking pictures of each plate, but decided we didn’t really care.  My last meal here was a much smaller lunch menu- maybe 7 or 8 courses with amuse bouche- and I really have trouble remembering the details. So we, alone, snapped away.

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Chocolate ganache, Jerusalem artichoke gelée, pear.

Coffee was offered, accepted, and with it came a few more little bites.

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The small bowl contained several chocolate textures, the most exciting being some small-dice chocolate meringue pieces.

The meringue was a perfect end to the meal- filled with layers of passion fruit and kiwi purée, it was light, flavourful, and with a sense of humour.  We were told to tap it with our spoon- I used possibly a bit more force than necessary, it was actually quite delicate.  I laughed out loud!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling proud of our endurance, we rolled out of Moirax 4 and a half hours later, talking all the way about special points of the meal- and that meringue was one of the longer discussions!  We will go back- we made a list of others we would like to share the experience with- if not for the grand holiday meal, but maybe just the menu de marché (27 euros) or even the menu décourverte (57 euros) or the menu degustation (77 euros).

What, you ask, did we pay for this?  The special holiday meal was 97 euros, with and extra 35 euros for a flight of four wines, spread out over the course of the service.  A special treat, for sure, but,far less than a similar meal would have been in the US, probably by half.   Besides, I didn’t buy myself anything for Christmas or Chanukah.  This was it- the big gift.

14 thoughts on “Bonne Année- or , How To Start The Year Off Right

  1. I loved the photos of the dishes!
    Happy Chanukkah and Merry Christmas.
    A toast to you for a scrumptus adventurous 2017!
    hugs
    Burr, Lynn & Saylor arf…arf…

  2. What a fabulous, and well deserved, treat to gift yourself! Thank you for the photos and descriptions which made me feel as though I was there enjoying it with you. Bonnie annee mon amie! ❤

  3. What a special tour d’food to bring us on! I appreciate your willingness to risk embarrassment by photographing the food–you’ve given us a glimpse into a world that we so desperately envy! Even the cup of coffee looked special! What a wonderful way to start the new year. Cheers!!

  4. I think this beats tamales by just a tiny bit… Beautifully written… I can taste your words. Now I don’t need dinner. My palate thanks you, as do my thighs. Can’t wait for the next piece. A la prochain, cher cousin! xoxo

    1. I was thinking of you all day on Tamale Day- imagining those wonderful blending of flavours: tamales, Shrimparoni salad, and pretzel jello. None of that here….

  5. So fun to read about this! Love that you took photos (every time I have been there I was not the only one doing that, so… you must have just been in a seating of people who don’t photograph food!) – I was not the only one taking photos on NYD over at La Table des Cordeliers so it’s becoming more common.. And I agree that it’s hard to remember a meal this special (and epic) unless you take photos. Interesting to see your meringue dessert – very similar to the one we had – and very highly recommended to us based on it being “léger” which it was (and delicious). So glad you treated yourself to this and so happy you experienced the season fully here in France (hopefully my “France is the best over the holidays” was true for you?). Beautiful post Xo

  6. What a treat to find in my email this morning! I enjoyed the birthday party very much and all the faces, old and young. Particularly loved the little children running on the green hill! The bread looked amazing, as did everything else, but the bread was beautiful!! Additionally, must have missed this January 2017 posting so an added bonus was to read about this amazing eating experience. I can only repeat what others have said, I felt I was there, loved the picture of the little tree and birds!! and could taste everything! Beautifully photographed, and er, eaten :)!! Happy summer! I love your posts on Facebook too! Keep ’em coming. Hope we catch up to you some day! xxoo–jean

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