Michel Guerard Les Pres d’Eugenie
Frog Leg Croquette, Tart of Fall, Black Walnut Brioche
Whole Grain and Olive Breads, Salted Butter from a Small local farm
“Surprise Exquisite” Truffle Zephyr as a Cloud on a delicate garden soup
Silky Blinis of Black and White Truffles
Half of a Lobster, Roasted and Lightly Smoked in the Hearth – Country Style Sweet Onion
Roast Duck Liver Like an Apple Pie with Sweet and Sour Marmalade
Chalousse’s Opulent Guinea Fowl on the Embers – Fine Stew of Lamb Sweetbreads, Morels, Olives
Mandarin from Laborde’s Gardens – Mandarin Breathtaking Souffle with Crunchy Hazelnut Finger
Pear and Apple Tarts
Considered a founding father of the “nouvelle cuisine” movement often linked to Paul Bocuse, Michel Guerard is perhaps best known as the inventor of “cuisine minceur,” and still perfecting this style of ‘slimming cooking’ at the age of 82 years in the kitchens of his eponymous resort in Eugénie les Bains it would be hard to call my Sunday lunch in the formal dining room anything less than perfect, the service perfect as the space and every bite from canapes to mignardises worthy of thirty-nine years with three Michelin Stars.
Built on private grounds by royals long passed as a place to relax away from Paris while enjoying the local hot springs, a visit to Les Pres d’Eugenie begins at a guardhouse and with reservations confirmed a short drive plus a walk through manicured gardens leads to a lovely reception area, an escort to the dining room showing high wood-beamed ceilings and wicker chairs in wait, the two-tops big enough for four and whimsically lined with nick-knacks including fruits, bunnies, flowers, and a tiny cage.
Offering a la carte options as well as a quartet of tastings ranging from a three course lunch to the opulent Palais Enchante to which I added an extra course plus cheese, canapes begin to arrive even before selections are made, and with the former Maitre d’ of Le Saint James leading a staff of young men and women every description was succinct yet thorough, a trio of fried frog leg, vegetable tart, and bitter-sweet brioche pleasantly preparing the palate for the delicate flavors to come.
Not ready for wine considering the late night before and early morning drive from Spain, it was with water alongside nectar that the meal took place and eating far too much bread both on its own accord and as a delivery mechanism for world-class butter the menu began with one of Guerard’s time-tested signatures, the “Surprise Exquisite” every bit living up to its name with a floating island of white truffles topped in Black Perigord slices in a chilled cauliflower soup lightly tinged with leaks plus a crispy Comte lattice.
In reality a ‘difficult’ menu, most courses offering a choice while the rest of the bill of fare was rife with temptation, round two continued the truffle theme with a plate of oversized blinis sandwiching thick slices black as well as white and with each bite perfuming the palate with heavenly aromatics the only real question was how slowly one could eat in order to truly savor the moment…and how best to gather up all the sauce without licking the plate.
Onward to another signature, this the only portion of the Palais Enchante that did not offer an alternative plate, there was little doubt that Guerard’s Roasted Lobster would be the picture of excellence, but what truly stood out was the “Country Style” Onion, its top removed with the inside charred and refilled with a silky custard that could have just as well been eaten for dessert as it was between bites of the tender, lightly smoked meat.
Having already that the carte featured nearly a dozen items that caught my eye, course four was purchased as a supplement from the daily “Terroir Sublime,” and although meat pies, venison, and trotters with eel also sounded lovely it would be hard to imagine any as unique and beautifully executed as the medallion of foie gras draped in roast apples with confit onion marmalade, the sauce and roasted garden vegetables adding to the visual effect while also helping to offset the richness at the center of the plate.
Treated to a refreshing herbal granita moments after the whole bird in which I was about to indulge was presented tableside atop glowing embers from the fire, the word ‘opulent’ found new definition in the juicy breast of guinea hen stuffed with forcemeat, mushrooms, and cheese while the chlorophyll-tinged coronet alongside was every bit as lovely with briny olives and capers finding their foil in lima beans and late season morels along with tendrils of peas and lightly seared sweetbreads.
Unable to resist a cheese-cart that required a two-persons assist both ways as the result of recently broken wheel, those interested in classics as well as a few local specialties froim ewe and goat would be well advised to take a look, and moving on to dessert it was at the recommendation of the Maitre d’ that the restaurant’s signature souffle was selected, the tall and proud example absolutely textbook as vanilla ice-cream and a citrus reduction tickled the palate amidst the lightest hints of booze.
Nearly as taken by the two fruit tarts and hazelnut financier as I was by the fluffy finale itself it was with a brief tour of the building, kitchen, and lounge that the visit would conclude and pointing out details dating back to the earliest ages of the resort before introducing me to Chef Guerard himself it would be hard to imagine an individual more humble or pleasant, a genuine zest for life and levity as present in his face as it is throughout the cuisine as well as the space.