Best Meal Ever - Maison Pic, Valence, October 2008
This month I enjoyed the best meal I ever had, in a town in France I never heard of a year ago.
The French Railway (SNCF) has located a stop for its fast trains (TGV - "trains de grand vitesse" - 320 km/hour and faster) in the small town - population 65,000 - of Valence, one TGV stop south of Lyon, France's second largest city. On the border of Ardèche and the Drôme département (of which it is the capital), Valence is becoming famous as a gourmet capital like in Lyon So use the travel time you save from the TGV to enjoy slow food in Valence.
At the center of the Valence food scene is the 120-year-old (in 2009) Maison Pic run by Anne-Sophie Pic, considered by Voyages-Liberation as France's and probably Europe's, most important female chef. Anne-Sophie took over Maison Pic when her distinguished chef father died.
Here is a description of the courses of the best meal I ever had:
L'Amuse Bouche: The meal opened with a palate-teaser of four small, perfect, beautiful hors-d'oeuvres on a small tray. One was a small square cauliflower aspic.
Le Homard Bleu en Aiguillette et Tomates Anciennes. Lobster strips on a base of heirloom tomatoes.
Le Gratin de Queues d'Ecrevisses de Mon Grand-Pere. Crayfish tails with cheese. Based on a recipe handed down from Anne-Sophie's grandfather, as handed down to him by his mother.
Le Bar de Ligne au Caviar d'Aquitaine, Comme l'Aimait Mon Pere. French caviar in a lemon froth. Even if you are a person who doesn't usually like caviar, you would loive this comibination..
Le Classique Tounedos de Boeuf Charolais. Tournedos of beef, perfectly cooked.
Les Fromages Fraise et Affines. An offering of 20 local (Ardeche, Provence) cheeses from the 400 official French cheeses.
L'Intemporel Soufflé. Lemon soufflé made with liqueur - three warm and three cold (with ice cream), as Pic Pere liked it. Shown in photo.
Les Profiteroles. With strawberry sauce, ice cream and vanilla chantilly..
Unannounced Dessert Treat. The final dessert tray echoed the amuse-bouche with four delightful little chocolate and cookie treats on a rectangular tray as shown in the back of the photo of the lemon souffle.
For a multiple-course meal like this, even though the individual portions are moderate in size, one needs to eat little during the day before and plan for the next 20 meals afterwards to be disappointment as one remembers the great meal provided by nostalgic for Anne-Sophie and Maison Pic.
Hotel ****L Restaurant Pic (since 1889) 283, Avenue Victor Hugo BP111 26001 Valence-France Tel 33(0)4 75 44 15 32 www.pic-valence.com
Since the world appears to be in or headed for a global recession, and the dollar - while bouncing back at the end of October - doesn't buy as many euros as it once did, I will add that the Voyages-Liberation "Weekends Gourmands" report on Maison Pic notes an option for those who want to sample the Maison Pic cuisine without paying the full tab for the full service. Go to the Maison Pic's attached trendy cafe called "Le 7" (the name is the shorthand term for the local highway), which offers a less extensive but representative menu for 20-40 euros.
Local Varieties of France's 400 Cheeses, Maison Pic