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Michel Bras, marvelous

By Ann | September 10, 2010

amuses-bouches: eggs with butternut squash, tarte aux cèpes  three cuillères

In the rough and ready region of Aveyron, a remote area of south-central France, stands a modern glass house with clean lines and a sweeping view of the bucolic landscape. It’s Michel Bras, the eponymous three-star Michelin restaurant, owned by the man that Food & Wine dubbed “arguably France’s most revered chef.” On a recent late summer afternoon, I was lucky enough to lunch here with our Averyonais friends, and to taste Bras’s special cuisine of local, sometimes wild, ingredients transformed through time, skill and care into something unforgettable.

gargouillou

We began with Bras’s signature dish, the gargouillou, a salad of cooked vegetables, warmed and scattered with leaves, native herbs, and flowers. Isn’t it pretty? The final touch was a drizzle of lait de poule, a delicate, chicken-scented sauce. The vegetables were selected with exquisite care, and each bright and delicate bite seemed to celebrate the region. My favorite plate.

loup de mer  foie gras

Next came sea bass, encrusted with pumpkin seeds and served in a salty-sweet dashi broth, with wilted greens and a slice of roasted pumpkin. Lovely, light, fresh yet balanced with an unexpected nutty buttery-ness.

And then foie gras with an apple compote and fennel salad. The foie was melting and rich, but I’m not sure the apple and fennel offered enough of a sweet counterpoint.

onion

A slow-cooked onion came next, fork-tender and sweet after being gently roasted for eons (I read that they’re cooked for six hours). It was darkly flavorful, encrusted with crumbs of truffle and bread, and dolloped with a spoonful of savory cream.

agneau

And then? And then came roasted lamb, juicy and butter-soft, in a full-bodied polenta sauce, garnished with sauteed spinach leaves, strands of raw butternut, and fresh and sprouted soy beans.

l'aligot

It’s small touches like this aligot that elevate the restaurant and give it soul. Aligot is the traditional dish of the Averyon (Auvergne) region, a hearty, gooey, melty mix of mashed potatoes and cheese. This version is “une recette de mémé,” or granny’s recipe, our waiter informed us. Michel Bras’s mother used to prepare it herself.

fromages  dessert

Et, en suite? A bit of cheese, selected from the world’s largest cheese cart (which eluded my camera, alas). I chose two of the region’s finest and most famous, a creamy Roquefort – it just melted in my mouth — and fromage de Laguiole, an aged cow’s milk-cheese, salty and sharp, reminiscent of cheddar, which is made a stone’s throw from the restaurant.

And then came dessert, which looks like a sweet and proper biscuit, n’est-ce pas? But cut it open and a bright, red berry sauce floods the plate — it’s a take on the molten chocolate cake, which Bras invented. (What did I tell you? The man’s a genius.) Apologies — I was so eager to dip my spoon into the vivid berry sauce that I forgot to take a second photo.

dessert overkill?  death by dessert?

And just when you thought it was over… three more desserts appeared. First, a roasted fig with caramel; the second, a refreshing mix of black currants, grapefruit and orange sorbet (details hazy — I was pretty full at this point). And the final touch, a row of dainty ice cream cones, each sprinkled with a special spice or crushed nut garnish.

It was a four-and-a-half-hour feast to remember, mes amis, and I didn’t eat for the next three days. Thank you for allowing me to relive it by sharing it with you.

Have you had an unforgettable meal recently? Do you have a favorite fine dining restaurant? I’d love to hear!

If you visit Michel Bras, here are a few tips:

vaches

Where to go: Michel Bras (Route de l’Aubrac, 12210, Laguiole; tel: 05 65 51 18 20) is located near the town of Laguiole, in the department of Aveyron in south-central France, roughly 350 miles (570 km) south of Paris. The nearest train station is Clermont-Ferrand, and it’s about a three-hour drive from there.

Where to stay: Reservations to dine at the restaurant are essential. The property includes a Relais-and-Château hotel, for those who wish to spend the night. Neighboring towns of Laguiole, Estaing and Espallion are also charming.

Topics: Dining Out and About, Voyages | 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “Michel Bras, marvelous”

  1. CK Says:
    September 10th, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I never thought I’d be hungry again after this meal — but seeing the pictures does make me want to experience it again! What a truly remarkable place.

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    September 10th, 2010 at 7:50 am

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  3. Camille Says:
    September 10th, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Wow, looks fabulous! Love the sound of that roasted onion. And those tiny ice cream cones are awesome!

  4. devorah Says:
    September 10th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    dying.

  5. Anne Says:
    September 12th, 2010 at 4:09 am

    L’Astrance on rue Beethoven in the 16th. Hands down the best meal I’ve had in Paris and maybe anywhere. We went for lunch and had the menu with wine pairings, lovely and not nearly as expensive as dinner. Reserve well in advance.

  6. Ann Says:
    September 13th, 2010 at 4:50 am

    Camille — The tiny ice cream cones were a perfect, charming touch.

    CK — Me too. And in the end, I’m glad we got the menu Balade, even though I thought my stomach might explode afterwards.

    Anne — I have read wonderful things about l’Astrance. Thank you for the suggestion.

    Michel — Did you go to the original location in the village of Laguiole? We drove by it. Our friend had eaten there 15 years ago and he said he thought that meal then was even better!

  7. Michel Says:
    September 12th, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Reminds me of a wonderful meal I enjoyed at Michel Bras some years back when the restaurant only had two stars. I still remember each dish we enjoyed. The aligote was to die for.

  8. Michel Says:
    September 14th, 2010 at 12:00 am

    No, the restaurant had just moved to the location up on the mountain. Seemed strange at the time to drive up to seemingly what was then the end of the earth and find the restaurant there. It seems to me the plates were absolutely wonderful but somewhat simpler than what they are now.

  9. Ann Says:
    September 16th, 2010 at 1:50 am

    Very interesting, Michel. I think you should go back for a comparison!

  10. Sweet Freak Says:
    September 18th, 2010 at 2:20 am

    Wow. I’d say this restaurant alone (your post alone!) warrants a trip to Aveyron! Looks utterly amazing.

  11. Ann Says:
    September 19th, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Sweet Freak — As difficult as it is to get to Aveyron, Michel Bras really is worth it. I’d go just for the gargouillou salad and aligot alone!

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