Adieu, Monsieur Paul
If Michelin Gave Four Stars, Restaurant Paul Bocuse Would Deserve It.
Our meal at Restaurant Paul Bocuse at Auberge du Pont de Collonges was phenomenal, far exceeding my expectations and leaving me immediately wanting to return for more. Honestly, I would have eaten a second meal had the kitchen not closed.
Everything from the moment you pull up to the colorful historic restaurant, through the gracious welcomes by the entire staff, to the visual aesthetics of the dining room, and the stellar food, wine, and service was absolutely perfect and impeccable. Everything one would expect from a properly functioning three-star Michelin restaurant at the height of its powers.
AUBERGE DU PONT DE COLLONGES
This was my virgin experience at Bocuse; I should have eaten there in 1993, but missed a reservation personally made by Georges Blanc after discovering his truffle eau de vie tucked away in the kitchen the night before. Perhaps I drank a tad bit more than recommended, but that is another story best saved for another time.
I must freely admit, I went to Bocuse with trepidation in my heart and stomach. I knew the experience would be very costly, even by three-star standards, I had heard from several people and online reviews that Monsieur Bocuse was dated and tired. I worried if it could match my lofty expectations or simply be one of those experiences you hear so much about that fails to deliver.
LE FEU SACRÉ
Il ne faut pas cracher dans la soupe (You don’t spit in the soup) — Paul Bocuse
I must start by addressing the outdated and tired concerns for those facing the same dilemma I felt. Understand where you have chosen to eat. If you are coming to Restaurant Paul Bocuse looking for the current rage of a thin line of food on one small side of an overgrown plate, with multicolored gel dots, radish slices and pluches of flowers hiding the food beneath, then thankfully you are at the wrong place. You would be much better-served dining at a trendy Parisian or New York restaurant where they will tweezer your food to death. If you came to try the food that launched a young man into culinary superstardom, then you are about to experience what I imagine heaven must taste like.
This exceptional woman… taught all of us about flavors and gave us a taste for hard work and work well done. There would have been no success for any of us without her. — Paul Bocuse on Mere Brazier
You go to Paul Bocuse to celebrate the classics, period. You go because of the divine lineage of the feu sacré, or sacred fire, that was triumphantly carried by Paul throughout his absurdly long and influential career, passing through some of the most amazing restaurants in all of modern history. The Bresse chicken cooked in a bladder, for example, is a testament to modern French gastronomy. It originated in the 1800s by Mére Francoise Fillioux (1865–1925) and then moved into Mére Eugénie Brazier’s (1895–1977) repertoire when she opened her own restaurant. Mére Brazier became the world’s first chef to hold not one three-star Michelin rating, but two three-star Michelin ratings simultaneously. A unique distinction that was held for sixty years until Alain Ducasse got his second three-star rating in 1998.
The young apprentice Paul came to work for Mére Brazier and learned her version of nouvelle cuisine — yes that’s right, Gault and Millau did not invent or even coin the phrase. They simply repeated a centuries-old, much-used term describing every time the old guard was replaced by the new guard. At Mére Brazier’s restaurant, Paul learned many things including that spectacular chicken dish that stayed part of his repertoire. Next, he worked at the great Fernand Point’s groundbreaking La Pyramide and carried a legion of grand dishes into our time.
This is why you eat at Bocuse.
Paul never forgot his origins and it was evident in his cooking, the murals outside the front door and even in the banquet room that he dedicated to his mentor Point. It is an unbelievable opportunity to go to a restaurant and dine on still relevant classics originated during an influential turning point and epoch in gastronomy. The experience is akin to a time travel through a small, rapidly closing window to another time.
BOCUSE GOING FORWARD
When the time is right and honor has been sufficiently bestowed upon Paul, I do hope they go the route of La Tour d’Argent and maintain part of the original menu as classics never to be removed, but also allow the chef freedom to add his voice to the magnificent choir. It is a pity to see other great restaurants lose their classic dishes to appease Yelpers who do not fully understand food but now have a platform on which to vent ignorance.
But this isn’t a history lesson. For that, you can simply google the name Paul Bocuse and sift through the millions of tributes, stories, and videos that show up in the results. My purpose is to put the meal into context and help ensure your expectations will properly match the dining experience.
THE $500 LUNCH
Most people cannot afford a $500 lunch every day, so you must pick and choose those splurges carefully. Going to Paul Bocuse is not the moment to get cheap and not indulge. We chose the 275 euro menu ‘Paul Bocuse’ because it was a plated journey through Paul’s most memorable dishes. I do admit I thought of supplementing with a few more I wanted to try.
AMUSE-BOUCHE DE L’AUBERGE
We ate here on June 26th, 2018 and I can still remember the lingering flavors of this lovely amuse. Every spoonful joyously reminded me of the scene in the movie ‘Ratatouille’ where Anton Ego is transported to his youth by a simple spoonful of ratatouille. This dish embodied summer and transported me to my youth where I spent summers in Provence with my family. We enjoyed this small bite with a flute of Perrier Jouet.
Warning: Get used to me fawning over every single dish. This course was probably my favorite; every bite was more phenomenal than the last. Our sommelier, Jack Rouget, expertly paired it with a 2015 Domaine Faury Condrieu made by winemaker Lionel Faury. Lionel has bucked the modern trend of making overripe wines in new wood and produces highly perfumed, classic viogniers that sing of their terroir.
The combination of rich shellfish and Viognier was epic; the perfectly poached lobster danced in the jellied poaching liquid while the celery puree added a mild sweetness that added to the flavor choir.
Oh my god, this dish was better than I ever hoped for. I made it several times in my career as a chef and thought I had mastered it; boy was I wrong. The best part was the rich, complex consommé enhanced by a matignon of vegetables, diced foie gras and a pile of sliced truffles. I wrote notes as I savored every spoonful, the one from the soup was “I thought to have a child was one of the high points of my life till I met the broth.”
I should also mention the perfect crunch of the puff pastry dome. You may be inclined to think a pastry cooked over a broth might get wet, this puff had no sogginess whatsoever; it was fully cooked and perfect all the way through.
TRUFFLES IN THE SUMMERTIME
A note to Yelpers who point out that truffles do not exist in the summertime. While that is mostly true, I would argue that both summer truffles and Australian black winter truffles are available during the summer. And yes, while these were preserved truffles they used, big deal; not getting this stunning soup here is akin to going to a Rolling Stone’s concert and not hearing ‘Satisfaction’. It is expected, so stop trying to pretend like you are an expert who discovered something no one else did.
I have certain friends who hold the term ‘food porn’ with disdain. While I appreciate their point of view, I must attempt to reason with their literary close-mindedness with a short clip of the actual event. For a gourmand, the sound of cracking the crust of the truffle soup came as close to actual porn as I’ve ever had while wearing clothes.
No one needs a history lesson, though it should be noted that Chef Paul created the soup when French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing awarded him with the Cross of Légion d’honneur as ambassador of French cooking on February 25th, 1975.
The paired wine was a 2015 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu. Strangely, if you read reviews you will see people describe the minerality and citrus flavors predominate in the wine, but in addition, it almost had peachy flavor normally not found in Chablis.
Another classic from deep within the repertoire of Bocuse; a timeless preparation that just sang the glories of simplicity and perfection. The potato scales maintained a slight crunch while remaining moist, and the fish was just perfectly done. Simple dishes are the hardest to master because there is nothing to hide behind. The beurre blanc added a luxurious richness that complemented the whole dish.
The wine pairing of 2017 Claude Riffault Les Chasseignes Sancerre Blanc on this course was only ok. I love Sancerres but felt the wine worked better on its own rather than with the fish.
Render unto a chicken that which is its due, and nothing more.’ — Paul Bocuse
To be completely honest, this dish was why I came here in the first place and would have happily spent 275 euros on this course alone. You may have guessed, I am a student of gastronomy and am enamored with the classics. Last year I went to the Escoffier Museum in Provence and saw one of two knives Mére Fillioux used to cut chickens tableside in her dining room throughout her entire career. This iconic dish encapsulates one of the most historic periods of change in modern gastronomy by being a bridge from the Escoffier era to when the Holy Trinity of Fernand Point, Andre Pic, and Alexandre Dumaine shunned the heaviness of classic French cuisine and started the farm to table movement by offering only what was regionally available on a Michelin starred level. Point taught Bocuse to respect the integrity of the raw product. The Washington Post once wrote about Paul: “His mission, he said, was to “render unto a chicken that which is its due, and nothing more.” Another time, he likened his cooking to a “slender young girl in a see-through blouse” compared with the “heavily corseted 1900 beauties” of grand French cuisine.”
This dish really was better than I could ever have hoped for; the tableside carving of the bird by the waiters was done so expertly and on a level of perfection that one rarely sees, even by the world’s best chefs tucked away in their kitchens. I miss this level of service and wish more restaurants would return to gueridon service, it adds a spectacular show to the experience. Dining is theater.
The Bresse chicken steamed in a pig bladder was beyond moist and juicy. The morel sauce sang perfectly, complementing the meat; the only part lacking were the accompanying vegetables, they were good, but not really necessary. The 2014 Chateau de Marsannay, Marsannay Les Echezots went great with the bird. It had a beautiful barnyard flavor with ripe cherries.
I laughed at one yelp review denouncing Paul Bocuse as being chauvinistic because women at the table got smaller portions. The waiters split one chicken for three of us at the table. I grant that my wife’s portion was smaller, but I think she was thankful for that. If she had said she wanted more, they would have gladly obliged.
Here is where pretty much every great French restaurant separates itself from the rest of the world. To be offered great cheeses, in various states of ripeness, served at the correct temperature, is one of life’s greatest gifts. How do you choose which to eat? Simple, you try them all. I think I personally tried at least five different cheeses all served with a slice of walnut bread.
Jack poured a youthful 2015 Christophe Semaska Chateau de Montlys Côte Rotie full of earthy black fruit and lively tannins that worked incredibly well with the cheeses.
We met Saneesh Varghese, a fellow Chef sitting behind us alone, after seeing three dessert carts pull up to his table, and watching with bated breath his baba au rhum being prepared. Not to sound perverted, but it almost was a sexual moment watching Saneesh take his first bite, with his eyes closed; an intense look of happiness washed over his face. I knew exactly which dessert I had to have.
In actuality, we ended up eating every single dessert on the cart, though the standouts for me were Île Flotante and Baba au Rhum, two classics done perfectly. By the way, when you order the baba, the waiter generously pours about ½ a cup of rum onto it before handing it to you.
We drank a Domaine des Bernardins Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise that paired well with the collection of desserts.
I cannot forget to mention the wonderful mignardises and coffee that always come after a great meal. They provide a final moment to reflect on the meal just enjoyed before your royal carriage turns back into a pumpkin.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Next time you are in France, you need to make a special detour to Bocuse and enjoy a meal of a lifetime. Ignore the self-important social media reviewers who think they know what food is and do not understand the evolution of cuisine. Paul Bocuse is a legend and his food is still as relevant today as it was 60 years ago when he first created it.