Situated in what could only be described as the French version of a one-horse town called Eugenie-les-Bains (famous for its hot baths) is the extremely outsized Prés d'Eugénie, Michel Guérard’s flagship restaurant. With an on-site spa and cooking school along with 3-star restaurant, this facility is a destination resort about a thirty minutes’ drive from Bordeaux wine country in Southwest France. It is also enormously huge, and looms over the tiny town it occupies like a blimp docked in a field. Michel inherited this property from his wife's family in the early 70's, and after a dynamic career in Normandy and Paris in the late 50's-60's where he came up as a pastry chef working along the likes of Bocuse, he moved here to make a huge success of this place. Michel pioneered a French cooking style called "Cuisine Minceur;" a lighter yet authentic style of French cooking that relied more on ingredient freshness and flavors than on buttercream enhancement. Michel's restaurant won its third star in 1977 and has kept it ever since.
Holding a 3-star ranking for 39 full years might, it turns out, lead to some small amount of ego- he is quoted on his own website saying, “I cook the way the bird sings- free, clear, light, cheerful, ethereal, calm, silky, smooth… I play with the joy of flavors the way Mozart used to play with notes- impertinently, inquisitively, and poetically.” Holy shit Michel, don’t feign modesty- tell us how you really see yourself.
Unfortunately, after my evening there with friends, I would stop well short of a comparison to Mozart. Maybe John Williams.
PRICE PAID: $245 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)
FINAL SCORE: 7.0/10
The property itself and associated grounds are extremely well-kept and impressive to roam around. Lots of intense gardening, complete with running brooks and everything-in-straight-lines architecture.
With 15 minutes to kill, there are a ton of cool spaces to lounge around and enjoy. This chandelier-lit outdoor area is just one of many spots for a stylish repose.
Entering the building itself, things immediately got extremely French and completely absurd tout de suite.
After a somewhat halting, bizarre host-stand greeting, we walk into Loulou’s Lounge Bar, an oddly-named wing of the hotel that features an insane collection of fine-china crockery, elephant tusks, furs on couches, 18th-century portraiture, old desks, bizarre Chinese cupboards full of Armanac, pianos, fireplaces, and so much more. The goal appeared to be “whimsical,” and after achieving their goal they decided to way, way past it into batshit nuts territory.
In what is surely one of my favorite elements of French restaurants that also have sweet lounges, we are given copies of the menu to peruse, a glass of champagne, and 20 minutes to cool our heels and read before a member of the staff comes out to talk us through the document.
While still waiting comfortably on the enormous Chesterfield couches, we are brought a few bites to enjoy- from top to bottom, a tempura-fried frog’s leg in a cup shaped like a goosefoot, a swirl of olive bread, and a delightfully fresh bite of vegetables. The frog’s leg is particularly good- the flavor is best approximated as a really, really high-end chicken nugget, but richer. The olive bread is simple but flaky and buttery. The vegetable bite is super refreshing. A lovely self-contained pre-tasting experience. 8/10.
After enjoying a few bites, we are led to our table in the main dining hall. Images of birds, horses, and other animals abound. Check out the Audubon-Style place setting. Our seat itself has lovely views of the gardens, which in late Spring are approaching full tulip bloom. Fantastic.
A quick mention of service here- English skills were okay but not great, and virtually no special effort was made to enhance our evening, full stop. While we didn't have much call to interact with our wait staff, their default mode seemed to be somewhere just short of rolling their eyes at us.
A few simple servings of white bread were on offer. Nothing stunning but acceptably delightful. 8/10.
Nobody knows how to crush a good salted butter like the French, and this was no exception. One of the tastiest cubes of dairy I have ever run across. 10/10.
After a few days of 15+ course Spanish restaurants with small bites, it was a little jarring to jump right into the first course with no further ado in the form of this “Zephyr of Truffle,” shaped like a cloud. Resting on a vichyssoise broth thick with flavors of leek, onions, and potatoes, this dish really knocks “heavy” straight out of the park and right off the bat (two baseball analogies in one, you are welcome). For a place this classically French I should have been ready for something as big as this, but I damn well was not. 7/10.
At the waiter’s gentle pressuring, I had chosen the next course to be a mushroom and asparagus soup that was apparently a specialty of the house. Now, in describing this course, I’d like you to imagine a bowlful of piping hot cream of mushroom broth. Put that in a Vitamix. Add five entire sticks of Kerrygold butter. Blend. Add two more sticks. Blend again. You’ve got a basic idea of just how unspeakably, murderously rich this soup was. Gotta say, a little intense for moi, but I can see the charm. Big, chewy morel mushrooms and crispy asparagus abound. I finish this course extremely concerned if I’ll be able to carry on, because it’s just that heavy and buttercream’y. I'm feeling like I must somehow be missing the lightness of style that Michel is famous for. 7/10.
Next, an entire half-lobster cut longitudinally, smoked and served with a baked onion with a delicious creamy sauce inside. The lobster is extremely well-cooked; not squishy or overly firm, and extremely fresh. 9/10.
After the lobster, we are brought a charming warm dish of lemon and flower petal water, which we are invited to cleanse our hands with in case we decided to get paleolithic on the lobster (I hadn’t, but it was a nice touch).
In what felt like far too soon into the meal to offer such a thing, we got a large palate-cleanser of elderflower granita, which ended up being a generous double-handful size that felt like an Icee rather than a small intermezzo. 7/10.
In a nice gesture of showmanship, a waiter brought over the nearly-completed main course of wood-cooked beef on a copper plate, and we are invited to breathe in the heavy smoke. Kind of cool.
Minutes later, the beef itself was brought out- you can see that “Medium Rare” means something quite different in France! Warm but obviously barely-touched by the heat of the wood fire, hats off to Michel for selecting an extremely high-quality cut of beef- incredible, soft texture paired with an almost fruity richness, this is easily one of the best cuts of meat I have ever had in my life. Paired up with a grape sauce that adds some sweetness to balance it out perfectly. To the side, some “hollow fries,” that have the shape of a whole potato but contain nothing but air on the inside. This is truly a work of art. 10/10.
Next, the cheese cart is roughly hewn from its resting place towards our table. For some reason, even though it has wheels, two gentlemen carry the whole enchilada through the air for service. Seems like an easy problem you could fix with some new casters.
With a rich collection of cow’s, sheep’s, and blue cheeses, I chose an Epoisse (personal fave,) some pont l’eveque, and a sheep's cheese. Since they’re just buying them and presenting them nicely I don’t give restaurants a ton of credit for their cheese selection, but this was pretty excellent. 9/10.
Finally, a handful of small snacks for dessert (passionfruit with the silver, pineapple with the gold), some pâte de fruits, and bob’s your uncle, as they say. We're done, in a meal that went by way too fast. 8/10.
Along with the bill came this small collection of dried and either well-sugared or chocolate-covered fruit. 7/10.
If I were to visit this restaurant again, I would recommend getting the smallest of their menus called the Terroir Sublime. At only 130 Euros, it’s a much more reasonably-priced menu for what you get. The extra 105 euros that a colleague and I paid for the "Enchanted Palace" menu only buys you some slightly different choices that are absolutely not more delicious, and as an additional kicker the 130 euro menu actually comes with wine made by the proprietors.