France- La Vague D'Or- ✪✪✪

Putting this review together was a struggle, because there is absolutely no way I could fairly capture the stunning beauty of La Vague D'Or's surroundings at the all-encompassingly gorgeous Residences de la Pinede in St. Tropez, France. Offered aperitifs as we arrived poolside, I have to admit that I could have stayed in that exact spot for days. I haven't been to a more gorgeous spot in my life. 

 La Vague D'Or Patio

La Vague D'Or Patio

ST. TROPEZ, FRANCE

SERVICE: 9.5/10

FOOD: 8.0/10

PRICE PAID: $301 PP (LIST PRICE- PRE-CHALLENGE)

VALUE/MONEY: 8.0/10

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

Run by one of the youngest chefs to achieve 3-star status Arnaud Donckele, La Vague D'Or attempts to capture the flavors of Provence in their style and presentation. This place perfectly nails the combination of Provençal ingredients in a Mediterranean setting. 

We got the chance to meet Arnaud after the service; he speaks zero English, but was extremely friendly. The kitchen has a strangely long, narrow main corridor with the Pass and the Expo stationed at the very end of that corridor, the hot lines and cold cold lines next to each other on the far side. Lots of squeezing past each other and near-collisions, which seems odd. They didn't seem to let it get in the way of putting on an incredible service. 

 First Bites: Stuffed Olive + Ham, 8/10

First Bites: Stuffed Olive + Ham, 8/10

As we continued relaxing on the ungodly-beautiful pool terrace, a handful of small snacks made their way to the table. First, some olive stuffed with ham presented on the end of a stick. These olives practically burst with flavor, and the saltiness of the two main ingredients play well together. 8/10. 

 First Bites Ensemble

First Bites Ensemble

Next, a large and complex arrangement of tree, wire mesh, plastic box, and food were brought over to our table. I was anxious to hear the story behind this beautiful, if somewhat complex, presentation, but was told that it was just chosen because it looks nice. Throughout dinner, unfortunate serving staff could be seen hefting these enormous contraptions to diners' tables. An 8-top table required almost the entire staff to come together for the service. These things must weigh 50 or 60 pounds apiece. Hm. 

 First Bites: Foie Gras + Pine Nut Crest, 8/10

First Bites: Foie Gras + Pine Nut Crest, 8/10

Some foie gras with pine nut crust, also on the end of a stick. I'm getting an "offering from Nature" vibe here. Crunchy and rich, it tastes like someone made foie gras into a Twix bar. 8/10. 

 First Bites: Almond-Stuffed Grapes, 9/10 

First Bites: Almond-Stuffed Grapes, 9/10 

Next, presented on a square-ishly shaped flat spoon, some grapes from Provence with the seeds removed and replaced with almonds. The almonds were super crunchy and fresh, and they tasted almost perfect against the fresh grape. It worked for the same reasons that peanut butter and jelly work together. 9/10. 

 First Bites: "Company Bread" + Lard, 9/10 

First Bites: "Company Bread" + Lard, 9/10 

The next amuse-bouche was charmingly titled: "Company Bread;" the dark portions towards the bottom are a thin grilled-on slice of lard. Some really strong ham flavors that harkens back to the olive presentation. 9/10. 

 First Bites: Aubergine Tempura, 7/10

First Bites: Aubergine Tempura, 7/10

"Aubergine tempura" is crispy and crunchy, and it honestly tasted a lot like it looks... Fried eggplant. It feels a little like something you'd find at the Minnesota State Fair. Greasy and tasty. 7/10.

 First Bites: Octopus Broth + Tomato Cracker, 8/10

First Bites: Octopus Broth + Tomato Cracker, 8/10

Calamari octopus, served with an octopus broth and tomato cracker. The cracker itself, laden with octopus, had tons and tons of flavor. The broth had a lemongrassy/Thai feel to it, which once again paired nicely. Lots of simple, enjoyable one-to-one flavor interplays at work so far. 8/10. 

 First Bites: Oyster + Béarnaise + Yuzu, 6/10

First Bites: Oyster + Béarnaise + Yuzu, 6/10

The last of the patio snacks—an oyster with a thick layer of Béarnaise sauce mixed with yuzu. The yuzu gives it a citrus flair, but the Béarnaise is super, turbo, offensively rich. 6/10.

Interestingly, it is only at this point that we are now handed menus to select our meals. I have to say that I'm not murderously stuffed but I am definitely feeling more full than I'd like to in order to begin a meal. I opt for the smaller of the two menus, titled "Timeless," 5 courses, at €270; the other set-price menu is called "An Epicurean Adventure," at €340 with cheese course and €315 without. They also offer a wine pairing for my menu at €120, and one for the Epicurean Adventure for €145. I was driving so chose against wine; my dining partner went for the full-boat menu with pairing (a bold move). 

 La Vague d'Or Place Setting

La Vague d'Or Place Setting

 La Vague d'Or Views

La Vague d'Or Views

We get seated in a corner with gorgeous views of the patio, pool, and sunset. I cannot emphasize enough: this is The Most Beautiful Hotel Ever.

 La Vague d'Or Dining Room

La Vague d'Or Dining Room

The dining room itself is a touch plain; lots of exposed wood and gentle curves, a bit of artwork and mirrors but otherwise not a ton of adornment. 

 Bread, 8/10

Bread, 8/10

Lovely hand-folded French country bread. Always a welcome start in my book. 8/10.

 Course 1: Amberjack + Spider Crab + Tomalley Ice Cream, 8/10

Course 1: Amberjack + Spider Crab + Tomalley Ice Cream, 8/10

First up, a lovely dish of Amberjack, Spider Crab, and a sorbet made from tomalley, the green part of the lobster's insides (not something I had previously known one could/should eat). The rich-flavored sorbet really brings out the best of the vegetables, and as you can see the plating is pretty awesome. I love the geometry of this dish. 8/10.

 Course 2A: Langoustine + Citrus, 8/10

Course 2A: Langoustine + Citrus, 8/10

 Course 2B: Langoustine + Citrus, again

Course 2B: Langoustine + Citrus, again

The server describes this next dish colloquially as "Langoustine two ways;" the sauce is made from a Japanese citrus called Hassaku (about halfway between an orange and a grapefruit) together with olive oil infused with grilled prawn heads. Lots of great, crispy crunch from the asparagus and a touch of aloe vera. 

On the right, a small bowl of grapefruit (only subtly different from the Hassaku) with langoustine prepared in a slightly different way. It's hard to detect what this second dish is trying to say, but it's interesting to get two similar angles on the same dish. 8/10. 

 Interlude: Smoked Egg Cracker, 8/10 

Interlude: Smoked Egg Cracker, 8/10 

As a small interlude dish; a smoked egg cracker with a tiny layer of beef. Pleasant. 8/10.

 Course 3: Sea Bass + Seafood Broth, 8/10 

Course 3: Sea Bass + Seafood Broth, 8/10 

This complex dish of sea bass is served on a bed of vegetables and seafood; Roma tomatoes, clams, and zucchini grown by Yann Menard, who is apparently a very famous farmer in Southern France, and itself smoked in some oregano grown in the gorgeous Alpilles sub-region of Provence. There's a shitload going on here, but somehow it all works together. This is an insanely fresh, summery, professionally-planned seafood dish. 8/10.

 Course 4: Zitone Pasta, 9/10

Course 4: Zitone Pasta, 9/10

As a total bonus because my dining partner had a longer menu, the restaurant generously gave me a course of Zitone pasta with the subtitle, "a tribute to a chef who taught me so much." The pasta is filled with black truffle and foie gras, and includes some delicious artichoke with strong basil flavors. It is served on what can only be called a stump with squirrel-hole in it. 9/10. 

 Palate Cleanser: Thyme Flower Granita, 8/10

Palate Cleanser: Thyme Flower Granita, 8/10

Served along with a touch of absinthe, this thyme flower palate cleanser has fennel flavors in the sorbet. 8/10.

 Course 5: Chicken Supreme + Pasta, 7/10

Course 5: Chicken Supreme + Pasta, 7/10

 Post-Sauce

Post-Sauce

 Course 5B: Side Dishes

Course 5B: Side Dishes

A fascinating cooking technique that the kitchen was proud enough of to bring by our table as it was in-process: this "Chicken Supreme" is cooked in a cow's bladder. Unfortunately, this doesn't quite lock in the moisture like one might hope; the chicken is slightly dry. The green consommé, which the kitchen brews like a tea, brings things mostly back in balance. On the side, a chicken wing and an "oyster of chicken" with an actual tea, strong and slightly herbal. 7/10 overall. 

 Course 6: Tomme D'Arles Cheese, 8/10

Course 6: Tomme D'Arles Cheese, 8/10

Another bonus course (they were incredibly generous and friendly in general) this time a completely delicious riff on Tomme D'Arles cheese. An ancient cheese recently re-cultivated in the Southwestern Alpes d'Haute Provence region, it is put on top of a delicious pile of pickled pears, with some môle honey and a glaze of Boutellian olive oil (a French variety of olive). On the side, some chopped pear and sorbet, which are both totally excellent. 8/10.

 Course 7A: "A Sensual Encounter Between Dark Chocolate and Raspberries," 9/10

Course 7A: "A Sensual Encounter Between Dark Chocolate and Raspberries," 9/10

 Bergamot/Raspberry Juice

Bergamot/Raspberry Juice

And now, finally to the desserts. This next course actually had several components. First, some chocolate made like a crème brûlée served with frozen raspberries and a side glass of bergamot/raspberry juice.

 

 

 Course 7B: Warm Chocolate Cake, 9/10

Course 7B: Warm Chocolate Cake, 9/10

Next, some warm chocolate cake, melty and excellent, served alongside...

  Course 7C: Raspberry Sorbet, 9/10

Course 7C: Raspberry Sorbet, 9/10

...Some super-sugary, delicious raspberry sorbet. This is an overwhelmingly huge dessert, by the way. 9/10 overall.

 Course 8: Petit Fours, 8/10

Course 8: Petit Fours, 8/10

Some pretty amazing petit fours were served next. From top to bottom, a tarte tropezienne, also known as the Tart of St. Tropez, made of brioche and with strong flavors of orange blossom.

Next, a pistachio cake with an explosion of colorful fruit, and some absurd gold leaf. Lastly, kumquat filled with kumquat ice cream, also with absurd gold leaf. 8/10 overall. 

 Interlude: Orange Chocolate, 8/10

Interlude: Orange Chocolate, 8/10

As a small last interlude that continues the citrus theme, some chocolates with a deep orange flavor. 8/10.

 Course 9: Tarte Tatin + Apple + Rhubarb Ice Cream, 8/10

Course 9: Tarte Tatin + Apple + Rhubarb Ice Cream, 8/10

Tarte Tatin with Apple and rhubarb ice cream. Rich, almost exactly like a French version of an apple pie. Dessert is feeling excessive at this point. 8/10. 

 Combava from the kitchen

Combava from the kitchen

A Combava, similar to a makrut lime, is part of the mix in the last dessert. They generously bring one out from the freezer with white gloves to show it off. It has a strong, oily, citrus smell. 

 Course 11: Stracciatella, 8/10

Course 11: Stracciatella, 8/10

Very lastly, a gorgeous stracciatella. Big chunks of chocolate throughout. Vanilla bean flavors punch through and dominate the dish, which is completely fine with me. 8/10 

 The hotel grounds at night

The hotel grounds at night

A few parting views of the gorgeous hotel as we depart. I'll return here someday.