posted 3 March 2005 (updated 17 March 2005)
Last weekend was particularly epicurean. On Friday night, we went to La Réserve de Beaulieu (G-M 17/20), and was it really 2 points better than the 15-rated Metropole next door? You'd better believe it! Then on Sunday, we went over to Monte Carlo to check out the Casino and had lunch at Joël Robuchon's place in the Hotel Metropole there (GM 16/20, not to be confused with the Hotel Metropole in Beaulieu). We were disappointed when Robuchon retired and left his restaurant in Paris before we had a chance to try his cooking, so we were pleased to learn that he had since opened this place in Monaco.
We were tempted to go to Alain Ducasse's place in the legendary Hotel de Paris (the Paris and the Metropole face each other across the park, flanking the Casino), one of only 13 establishments in the world ranked 19/20 (it would have been our fourth), but it was just too expensive--the cheapest set menu was 90 euros, and an à la carte lunch would have run us about 150 euros each (rooms in the hotel run 385-990 euros a night, suites 2000-2800 euros a night). As it happens, Ducasse was closed that week, so the temptation was removed. In fact, we had planned to eat at a nearby 14-ranked place, but the freezing rain drove us indoors to explore the very upscale shopping mall, and when it let up briefly, Robuchon was right next door, and once we'd read the menu, we were lost . . . .
February 18: Dinner at La Réserve de Beaulieu
February 18: Dinner at La Réserve de Beaulieu
February 20: Lunch at Joël Robuchon in Monte Carlo
- With the glass of champagne that David likes to start the meal with: An elegant chrome-and-glass "tree" of nibbles: raw ham wrapped around dried apricot bits; tiny gougères (baked cheese puffs), tiny cheese-nut shortbreads, marinated green olives on picks.
- The usual four breads that everyone is serving this year: miniature baguettes, olive bread, multigrain bread, and slices of good "pain de campagne" (country-style bread).
- Amuse bouche: A single, seared truffle-stuffed scallop in a warm emulsion of asparagus with a little bouquet of green and white dandelion greens, topped with a toasted almond bit.
- First course: Spring salad of lobster with "declension of artichoke": paper thin raw artichoke slices, cooked half baby artichoke hearts, and an outstanding smooth artichoke mousse. Lots of lobster. All kinds of things in the salad: tiny peeled green broad beans, carrot bits, mushroom bits, sucrine (a popular miniature lettuce) heart, dandelion greens, olive bits, lobster coral, cilantro, lobster aspic.
- Second course: Excellent poached oysters (from a named supplier) in a "fumet aux embruns" (which apparently means broth of "flavors of the sea"; creamy oyster flavor with a touch of iodine), two delicious hot crisp-fried dumplings of watercress and other greens, and specially baked algae bread on the side.
- Palate cleanser: A small snifter containing three balls of "fine sorbet de mandarins de Beaulieu." Not too sweet and with a good deal of oil from the citrus peel in it, but just short of bitter. Topped with candied zest from the peel. Excellent.
- Third course: Roasted filets of rougets (Mullus surmuletus) and "lisette" (baby mackerel) on a bed of truffled cabbage and showered with truffle slices, with tiny peeled new potatoes flavored with sage and individually stuffed with bits of fresh bay leave, all surrounded by a sage cream sauce (of which seconds were offered part way along). Wow.
- Pre-dessert: A miniature raspberry and mascarpone parfait, in which every layer was a different play on raspberry or cream. Miniature raspberry sorbet ice cream cone held upright by a collar of white chocolate. A tiny warm raspberry cake (about the size of my thumbnail) with a raspberry baked into it.
- Dessert: Death by chocolate (not their name for it): A martini glass with a two-layer chocolate pudding in the bottom; topped by a quenelle of chocolate ice cream, a chocolate straw, and a chocolate ruffle; over which the maitre d' spooned hot chocolate sauce at the table ("in case," he said, "it shouldn't be chocolate enough"). On the side, an inch-square and 4-inch long log of toasted cake, with a thread of chocolate syringed through the center, balanced across a little glass pot of chocolate dipping sauce.
- And then the mignardise trolly! Fancy French restaurants always serve a little dish of petit fours (called "mignardises") with coffee, but La Réserve has gone one better and devoted an entire, ornate wood-glass-and-brass trolly--the size of a 55-gallon drum, with multiple layers of shelves that slide open like the trays in a jewelry box when the lid is rolled back--to mignardises, all hand-made in house. Row on row of hand-dipped chocolates (lemon, ginger, hazelnut, ganache, coffee, caramel), fresh fruit (strawberries, kumquats), candied fruit (clementines, melon, pineapple), about a dozen kinds of miniature pastries (éclairs, cream puffs, fruit tartlets, lemon tartlets, chocolate tartlets, little square cakes, mousses, squares of hand-made fruit paste)--and the maitre d' is so disappointed if you don't choose enough of them! (We liked it so much we went back the next week for a shortened version of the same menu, so as to have room left for the mignardises.)
Robuchon's menu features many small dishes, for convenience of mixing, matching, and tasting, plus "larger plates" like steaks, roasts, etc. The service plates (the decorative plates with which the table is set when you arrive, seldom intended for actual use) are conical and pointed on the bottom, so each one must rest on a wooden collar to stand up!
The mall was very upscale indeed, as you can see from these photos, one of the mall's central staircase and the other of a life-size sterling silver lobster, posed casually on a bed in a furniture-store window.
- Amuse bouche: A parfait of, from the bottom up, emulsions of celery, red beet, and Parmesan. Each very intense and a perfect combination. Excellent.
- The bread trolley: Not to be outdone by La Réserve and their mignardise trolley, Robuchon presents a whole enormous trolley loaded with breads, all baked in house. They bake three times daily (heaven forfend that your luncheon roll should have been sitting around getting stale since breakfast time)--both small rolls and huge rounds, bagettes, and fougasses--in many flavors, all piled decoratively against a backdrop of small sheaves of real wheat. I at first assumed that the large breads were purely decorative and that only the bowls of small rolls were intended for serving, but as the bowls became depleted, the waitresses sliced up the larger breads for second helpings. In addition, each table got a tray of very thin, crisp flatbread, demi-sel butter, and a saucer of olive oil with one drop of concentrated balsamic vinegar in the center.
- First course: I ordered "petits farcis," small stuffed vegetables that are a local tradition. One each of round zucchini, tomato, and onion, all stuffed with shredded veal. Little salad with lots of taragon and cilantro. David had seared foie gras on a bed sweet fruit compote. Yum!
- Second course: I had a "small plate" of roasted veal sweetbreads, skewered with a sprig of rosemary. Very good but a little spongy; I still prefer the old-fashioned preparation where the sweetbreads are first poached, then cooled under a weight, then cooked a second time, for a creamier texture. David had a roasted quail with Robuchon's famous truffled mashed potatoes. Also yum! (We once had Robuchon's mashed potatoes--the untruffled version--at Restaurant Gille in Rouen, run by a student of Robuchon's, and they are definitely all they are cracked up to be, in both versions.)
- Cheese course: a rearranged plate of fresh chevre, camembert (with a strangely pink rind), blue de Trémignon (I may not have that spelled right; a strange blue, waxier than most, and the blue confined to the top and bottom layers of a large wheel), roblochon (a little too amoniac), and comté, with stewed griotte cherries and a few lettuce leaves. Walnut "pain brioché" on the side.
- Desserts: I had "La Dolce Vita": coffee gelatin topped with coffee cream and "pure arabica" ice cream, with a coffee-almond tuile cookie on the side (nostalgic--I've loved coffee gelatin ever since I was a little girl, and I don't get to eat it often because David detests it). David had the " Chocorange": chocolate pudding in the bottom of a snifter, topped with poached orange sections and orange sorbet, with chocolate slab and crisply toasted orange cross section (yes, a slice out of the middle of a whole orange, toasted). You understand that "chocolate pudding" is rather an understatement; we are talking the ne plus ultra of creamy chocolate substances here. And a hand-made orange sorbet that a great chef has spent months perfecting.
- Coffee: Decaf à la crême, with one amazingly good chocolate -- a thin chocolate coating over very soft, creamy, salty caramel. Yum again.
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