On Terry Theise’s recommendation (and Bobby Stuckey’s reaction to this recommendation), we took a detour and found ourselves in the middle of nowhere north in the Vosges for a night. Here, hidden among the the thick deciduous trees and trout streams is a Relaix & Chateaux harnessing one of the most famous culinary gems on the planet: L’Arnsbourg, a Michelin-3 rated restaurant. Translation: a highly rated Michelin restaurant (3 being highest) is a place where the food is imaginary, thoughtful and globally influential in shaping taste and culture. L’Arnsbourg was that… and more. This is my first time to a rated 3, I believe, but I have been to a couple others that are executed in the same fashion. When you sit down you are greeted with an aperitif. For us, it was a dry Grand Cru Speigel Muscat from Dirler-Cade while we decided our meal plan. There were essentially 2 choices: expensive 7 course and more expensive 9 course. We were going all out for 29 euro more.
And so, the parade began!
Every time I sit to a meal of more than two courses, I get a wave of excitement when it is just the beginning! There is an evening ahead that promises enlightened cuisine, fanciful art, and new potential for flavors. I am assured that my senses will be saturated. And that is indescribably exciting.
One after the next amuses de la bouche (amusements of the mouth) were brought to our table. I always think of these one-bite wonders as thoughtful considerations for new flavor possibilities. One was a raspberry condensed square with a gritty gel-like texture and salmon aftertaste. Another was a light, icy yet frothy vermouth meets rum concoction. A golden egg came our way with yet another foamy whipped egg with a deep yolk to find at the bottom as well as fresh chives. What looked like ice cream tasted rather like corn on the cob cream. It was smooth, savory and absolutely divine.
Corn was an inspirational feature for them, as in fact we had an entire course devoted to many variations of this seemingly simple, midwestern delight– a pasta of corn paired with cilantro, black sesame and coconut, for example.
We had goose liver in a the shape and design of an Olympic medal as well. I thought perhaps this place could change my mind, but no… I just can’t do it.
Our favorite course was right in the middle of the parade, a seabass bathing in a pond of lemon butter alongside a potato puree (that was really butter puree with potato) and a thick smear of the best hollandaise you might ever taste. I could have died in that bite. It was so unbelievably good, especially when paired with our 2007 Billaud-Simon Montee de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru. This dish was so delicious, I actually became unfull. I had been teetering before this course, but it actually energized my palate and got me back on the saddle! Seriously!
The next act was what I like to call Surprise Tomato! But they call it ‘All Around the Tomato’. Here, were presented with a white bowl and drainer dish, upon which are about 7 variations of the most wonderful summertime fruit: the tomato. Various colors and textures complicate the sweet delicacy. And just when we think we are done? Voila! the drain dish is lifted and below is a vegetarian lasagna made of tomato! Our eyes lit up, and we were all quite amused at their stunt. It was unusually similar to real lasagna. Uncanny, really!
We switched into another wine, a red: the 2001 Le Dauphine Fronsac. This and the Chablis were both quite affordable in comparison to the rest of the list (roughly 70 euro each). Both were fantastic. If you are looking to pinch in a coupe areas, trust that this sommelier knows what he is doing. Even if less expensive than some others, these more affordable options do no lack thoughtfulness or complexity. They were perfect.
Next were lovely large lumps of blue lobster and what they call ‘carrot bon bons’–essentially pureed balls of carrot. I like to think of it as the best baby food ever! I admit, however, the pairing with lobster didn’t quite work for me. Separate they were lovely, though.
At this point, I am nearing pain. Though portions are small, they are never-ending. We are delivered the pigeon, and I am least thrilled by this course. It is similar to duck, an animal which I am pretty fair-weathered. I eat it anyway, of course–each bite represents a couple euro. My spirits are revived, however, with the final savory present: a frothy, delicate ‘cappuccino’ or soup with black truffles and bits of potato. I nearly lick the teeny bowl, as though I hadn’t a meal for days and finally sit back, reflecting on the evenings series of events in my mouth.
An equally impressive array of desserts march out of the kitchen, but I am entering comatose at this point. As I shut down, I am again reminded of how lucky I am to be here, in the woods, at a restaurant that might dictate the coming flavors in restaurants around the world in the next couple years. To be apart of art and culture in the making is almost surreal… and so tasty.