October 18, 2014
Beautiful, right? Maybe it's because Anne-Sophie Pic is the only woman chef in France with three Michelin stars, but her food is the loveliest I've seen. Hard to imagine a prettier way to present seasonal vegetables in a green tea- infused broth – or a more delicious way to conceive an essentially simple dish.
This was equally delicate, and equally delicious. Squid, tenderly cooked, and served with two kinds of tomatoes. Some were real, others spherified into an intense vanilla-laced liquid. Served in a rum-laced consomme, it had a tropical intensity so profound you instantly imagined warm breezes wafting through the rather staid Maison Pic.
Those were two of the dishes on the daily lunch special, which began with this marvel – foie gras creme brulee, topped with lemon cream and a tiny crisp of apple. I could have stopped right there and gone home happy.
Other hits in a long lunch included these "berlingots" (the little leaf-wrapped dumplings take their name from a pyramid-shaped classic French candy) filled with Banon cheese in a watercress broth spiced with ginger and bergamot.
Chef Pic has a penchant for floral flavors – rosewater and jasmine abound in her dishes – and these tender little langoustines luxuriate in a buttered broth with hints of apple, cinnamon, celery and anise. It made me wonder if there is perfume in Pic's future.
The cheese cart is encyclopedic, and so wonderful I wanted to taste every one of the 25 cheeses. With great restraint I limited myself to these:
The wine list is impressive too, especially if you're eager to try local vintages. The viognier was fresh, and so delicate it reminded me of how little the viognier made in America resembles what is made here in the Rhone. A wonderful food wine – as were a few of the inexpensive Village wines we sampled from the list. Afterward there were a couple of gorgeous desserts:
The famous white millefeuille, and this lovely large cookie, each bite different than the one before.
From Valence it's a mere 35 minutes on the TGV back to Lyon. You might opt for one of the many bouchons, like the hip, raucous Bouchon des Filles, which is run by women. Here you indulge in hearty meals that are the polar opposite of Pic.
It will begin with a hefty slab of pate de foie gras:
Then the waitress will plunk a series of bowls on the table. Help yourself to lentil salad, to carrots with mackerel, to head cheese and leafy greens – as much as you care to eat.
Then, if you're smart, you'll go on to quenelles – pike mousse in a rich shellfish cream sauce:
Or kidneys. Or the local andouille sausage. Afterward there will be cheese, including the local speciality tete de canut (silkworker's head) with its many herbs. And there are still desserts – many of them – to come.
Too much? The 25 euro prix fixe meal at Bouchon des Filles is a terrific lot of food. Perhaps you'd prefer to wander along the Quai St. Antoine until you come to one of the seafood restaurants along the river. We had this wonderful array at Jols.
It's not a celebrated restaurant, but it made us very, very happy.
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