France- Bernard Loiseau- ✪✪

UPDATE: Some very sad news- Le Relais Bernard Loiseau has lost its third star, and as of the 2016 book is now a 2-star restaurant. Michelin is under some pressure for the stress their three star rating puts on chefs- interesting reads here and here

 Bernard Loiseau Exterior

Bernard Loiseau Exterior

SAULIEU, FRANCE (NEAR BURGUNDY WINE COUNTRY)

SERVICE: 8.5/10

FOOD: 7.5/10

PRICE PAID: $328 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.0/10

Occupying a prominent space in the very small downtown of Saulieu, Bernard Loiseau seems to be an industry to itself- by the time you’ve added up the space taken by the hotel, the restaurant, the spa, and the shop with all the Bernard Loiseau collectibles, you’re in the double-digit percentages for the town's economy overall. 

As seems the tradition with excellent European countryside restaurant/inns that have achieved 3-star status, after checking in at the front desk I was immediately asked if I would like an aperitif on the beautiful garden terrace. Laid out neatly under large, Sherbet-Orange colored awnings is one of the most tranquil and beautiful gardens I have ever visited.

 The unspeakably gorgeous garden

The unspeakably gorgeous garden

The gardens butt up against the pool and cabins that are part of the property- I took a walk down there, and the garden is full of beautiful hand-hewn stones like this one:

 Awesome hand-hewn stone

Awesome hand-hewn stone

An interesting note about the experience- the restaurant uses the terrace experience as a staging point- you gather your thoughts about the meal and make dinner, dessert, and wine selections all in advance before proceeding to the dining room.

The dining room itself has a tall, airy feel- almost like a ballroom or a tiki hut. The beams are light and fashioned from wood, and most of the lighting on this bright summer day was natural with small artificial lights further to back close to the kitchen. All around was bright, verdant greenery, colorful flowers, and insects humming in an intensely-alive environment. 

Service, led by the dynamic and friendly Eric, is formal and in a typical head waiter- assistant waiter- server- runner format, with at least six different people including the sommelier stopping by at some point during the meal. The attitudes were quiet and respectful but not haughty, and I got great service from everyone involved, except one runner who seemed bent on getting me to consume another glass of wine before a very long drive, which I politely declined three times.

 First Bites: Light Baked Bread, 8/10

First Bites: Light Baked Bread, 8/10

Upon receiving my aperitif, a small dish of light baked bread with cheese arrived. Excellent for pairing with a light drink or champagne, they were warm and tasty. 8/10.

 First Bites; Amuse-bouches, 9/10

First Bites; Amuse-bouches, 9/10

Next, a small plate of amuse-bouches. The one on the left is effectively a fried cheese-ball with rice inside- super homey and delicious- the square is crunchy, and the spoon was a creamy, fruity delight. 9/10.

For the next courses, I was led into the dining room and was almost immediately greeted with this fascinatingly-colored, delicious dish:

 1st Course: Tiny Bird Legs, 8/10

1st Course: Tiny Bird Legs, 8/10

Tiny, delicate pigeon on the bone in a green minty sauce; the server encouraged me to eat it with my fingers- they provided a small dish of water with lemon for cleansing. 

The taste was rich and delicious- imagine the tenderest, softest chicken wing you’ve ever had- and the sauce paired well and made total sense. I skipped the cream in the middle, since it just seemed like an excuse to pile on the fat to this already caloric dish. Also, there was butter:

 Butter

Butter

 2nd Course: Sabot fish & Red Wine Sauce, 7/10

2nd Course: Sabot fish & Red Wine Sauce, 7/10

Next came an extremely pretty Sabot fish in red wine sauce with skin perfectly seared on top. The white fish was flaky and soft; basically perfectly cooked . My only complaint here was that the red wine sauce took things a touch far- there’s no reasonable way to pair anything except a rich sauce with this extremely light fish, I get that- but it was overwhelming. Like taking a delicate piece of sushi an smothering it in McDonald’s BBQ sauce. 7/10. 

I’ll take a moment to mention that Eric pointed out the plates used in the “Bernard Loiseau Classics” menu- they’re all at least 25 years old, and all but 4 of them have survived service in the restaurant since they were made in the 80s. They were all pretty and accentuated the dishes nicely.

 3rd Course: Chicken, Liver, Black Truffle, 10/10

3rd Course: Chicken, Liver, Black Truffle, 10/10

Next, a truly perfect dish of soft chicken breast with liver, black truffle potatoes, and asparagus. You won’t find a more classic French dish anywhere in the world, and this one was executed just perfectly.  The breast was incredibly soft but somehow still well cooked enough to avoid being pink. The potatoes, heavy with truffle, backed up the protein with perfection. The asparagus was bracingly fresh and stood well on its own or with the vegetables and chicken. The liver was a touch rich, but coming off a full week eating food with that kind of richness I’m willing to give them a pass. 10/10. 

 4th Course: Cheese, 5/10

4th Course: Cheese, 5/10

To round things out, they hauled up their unremarkable cheese dish with way too many mild cow, mild sheep, and uninteresting goat cheese options.

 Cheese Selections

Cheese Selections

I selected some Epoisse and some monk’s cheese- the experience was utterly similar to spending ten minutes at the cheese counter at any Whole Foods. The server didn’t have much advice either, and for some reason was surprised that I hadn’t already selected my cheese in advance. 5/10. 

Three small decadent desserts arrived next, each with a small fleck of edible gold leaf- the first one chocolatey, the second one creamy and herbacious, the third one rich apple-flavored. They were paired up next to this delicious monstrosity:

 5th Course: Dessert Pastries, 9/10

5th Course: Dessert Pastries, 9/10

Self-suspended layers of chocolate crackers held together with extremely dark, rich chocolate ice cream. A melon sauce surrounded the outside- it was a huge dish to take down, and a rewarding and delicious dessert. 9/10.

Lastly, a tiny plate with a baked almond “cresting wave,” a tiny pâte de fruits, and a dark chocolate truffle with the Bernard Loiseau logo. All delicious and super over the top. 9/10

 6th Course: "Cresting Wave" dessert, 9/10

6th Course: "Cresting Wave" dessert, 9/10