La Bastide Saint Antoine 3

September 15, 2007

We have enjoyed the cuisine of Jacques Chibois for twenty years, but recently it has come in for a lot of criticism. See our posts 1 & 2 on La Bastide. So after almost a year’s absence Linda and I returned for lunch on September 13, 2007, eager to refresh our opinion.

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We were seated at a lovely shady table under the massive chestnut trees on the edge of the lawn. For apéritif  Linda ordered a Bellini and I the Ayala Champagne Rosé. Olive oil with bread for dipping was put on the table. Jacques Chibois came around to chat with everyone.

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The amuses-gueule were refreshing. We decided to order from the weekday lunch menu: three courses, plus the extras, for 59 €. One also has the choice of 150 € or 190 € menus and à la carte.

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We ordered the same wine we had enjoyed the last time: Domaine du Pegau, Cuvée Laurence, 1995 Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was excellent.

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Linda’s first course was Le Mitonné de Homard, grosses Crevettes en Risotto de Cèpes secs au Champagne. When she asked the chef how long this favorite of hers has been on the menu, he said six years. It is a soupy risotto cooked in a shellfish stock with lobster and shrimp pieces. She enjoyed it as much as always.

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My starter was L’Escalope de foie poêlé avec ses cuisses de cailles rôties, douceur de chou-fleur à l’amande truffée. Two generous pieces of sautéed fresh duck foie gras were topped with quail breasts and slices of summer truffles. It was garnished with small pieces of cauliflower. It was a nice dish and quite substantial for a starter.

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Linda went on to Les merveilleuses petites Cailles rôties, purée de Châtaigne Truffée, Potimarrons cannelle et purée de petit pois. Two roasted quail were on top of  purées of peas,  pumpkin with cinnamon and truffled chestnuts. It was topped with morels. She thought it was flavorful and excellent.

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I went on to sautéed pieces of loin and belly of farmer pork with a mixture of wild mushrooms and gnocchi. The meat was flavorful, but could have been more caramelized.   

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Then they brought us a little plate straight out of the refrigerator with three cheese pieces. 

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Linda’s dessert was a gratin of white peaches with raspberries and blueberries. It was light and good.

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My dessert was exotic fruits in a jellied mound with a sorbet and sauces. 

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We finished with mignardises and coffee.

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And so in the end what did we think?

We enjoyed the meal; the cuisine was hard to criticize, but it wasn’t memorable, barely two-star. The portions were generous. I have the impression of a well-trained kitchen staff on auto-pilot. The choice is enormous with different dishes in each of the three prix-fixe menus and the à la carte menu. I wonder how they can maintain fresh ingredients and cooking skills for so many items, even with the high volume they have been able to achieve.

The service, on the other hand, was full of flaws. Shortly after we had ordered they served us the first courses meant for the next table. Three different people were pouring our wine; we were astonished when the sommelière suddenly filled both our glasses almost to the top so she could remove the decanter. One of the young servers was very abrupt with his plate delivery. Serving cold, pre-cut cheese on a cold plate right out of a cold refrigerator is inexcusable, even if this is an extra. The mignardises were put on the table along with the dessert. There is no longer a coffee menu, which was a nice touch, but took extra time.

It was nice of the chef to come around and chat; he has always been very good about that; but during the meal we could see him on the terrace outside the seminar room directing something. I don’t think he is frequently travelling off to Tokyo and Las Vegas, like many of the star French chefs, although he does consult at Miel in Boston. But his business at La Bastide is a mini-conglomerate. He offers facilities for seminars, weddings etc. He has a shop and authors cookbooks. He promotes the local olive oil and truffles. La Bastide is a Relais et Chateaux hotel with sixteen rooms and suites and is probably still expanding. No one admires a successful business entrepreneur more than I, but it is clear that the restaurant suffers from the lack of his personal attention and his need for high volume.

Of course, our meal, a luncheon menu at 59 € was not a real test, but just a week before we had the 75 € menu for lunch at Mirazur and it was in a much higher category. We came away from that with a sense of joie de vivre which we didn’t find this time at La Bastide. We need to go back some time and have the big menu. Perhaps we will stay the night as it is a substantial drive back. Stay tuned.

www.jacques-chibois.com

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