Le Relais des Moines 2

April 27, 2007

On April 26, 2007 Bob, Peggy, Linda and I drove out to Les Arcs-sur-Argens for lunch at Le Relais des Moines. We were inspired by the enthusiastic blog report from Varian, Gary, David and Frédérique on their lunch a month before.

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We were warmly welcomed by Chantal, the chef’s mother, who seated us at a quiet table in the rear of the spacious dining room. The old building was designed for sheepherder-monks. It uses the traditional Provençale “mas” design: being sheltered from the mistral on the north side by a hill and a solid exterior stone wall, while being open towards the south and the sun. Thus the dining room is on three levels and there is a terrace outside overlooking the pool; but our visit was on a gray day and we ate inside with a dozen others. 

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We started with the Coupe des Moines, crème de mûres, blackberry liqueur, with a dash of gin filled up with a sparkling blanc de blancs; the gin made it more like a cocktail than an apéritif, but I enjoyed it after our long drive. The amuse-gueules were little glasses of cream of courgettes and white sheep’s cheese,  financières d’olives and a slightly sweet square concoction.  

The menus offered were a three-course specific luncheon menu at 25 €; a four-course Menu Dégustation at 65 € and, our choice, a three course Menu Découverte at 50 €. We ordered a nice bottle of the local 2003 Château Rasque “Clos de Madame.”

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Then we were surprised with a delicious “prelude gourmand:” a small bowl of crème d’asperges et queue de boeuf. The meatiness of the oxtail shards blended well with the freshness of the asparagus.

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Peggy started with the Asperges vertes étuvées, morilles au jus, langoustines et Béarnaise allegée. She thought that the langoustines were a bit underdone, but that everything else was fine. 

rm5.jpgLinda and Bob began with the Escalope de foie frais poêlée, œuf mi coque – mi brouillé aux champignons. The quickly seared piece of foie gras was on top of a piece of braised turnip. The egg was partially boiled, then scrambled with chopped mushrooms and put back in the shell for serving on a dramatic flat rectangular piece of slate garnished with a foam. They loved the tastes as well as the presentation.

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I began with the Petits farcis de pieds de porcs et légumes braisés, puis laqués au Parmesan. The vegetables had been glazed after their initial cooking and then stuffed with ground meat from a pig’s trotter and a spiced glace de viand. They were unusual and delicious.

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The other three then went on to Râble de lapereau farci puis rôti en cocotte, socca aux olives Picholines et jus corsé. Chantal explained that they had not found the right socca flour so that the garnish for the stuffed and roasted hare was polenta today. There was a little glass of vegetables on the side. The diners had nothing but superlatives for the dish.

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I continued with Côtes d’agneau de lait snackées, légumes primeurs et jus d’un navarin. The sauce, made as if this were a spring lamb stew, added a nice, unusual richness to the rare lamb chop and slices, but was a bit too salty for me. The spring vegetables on the plate were lovely, but the little glass of different vegetables served on the side was the only part of the whole meal that I found substandard. They did not seem fresh or well cooked.

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Peggy then chose from the cheese tray with the help of the chef’s charming wife Géraldine.

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Linda and I had Macaron à la Williams confit, sorbet poire au vin épicé for our dessert. Bob had: Larme crousti-coulante au chocolat grand cru, crème glacée au safran.

rm-17.jpgFinally, a tray with four each of three delicious mignardises was brought with the coffee.  

This was an extraordinary meal for the location, for the price and for a restaurant listed in the Michelin Guide without a star. The chef, Sébastien Sanjou, now all of 24, started the restaurant, with his mother, at the age of 20. He is obviously talented and determined. We shall go back and we expect to hear a lot more about Sébastien.

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