By Ann | September 10, 2010
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.