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Auberge de l'Eridan


lizziee
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Annecy at Marc Veyrat's L'Auberge de l'Eridan--

Our room was absolutely beautiful. There was enough closet space for a two week stay. The designer used Savoyard elements like a wooden cart and an old barn style armoire. The ceilings throughout the hotel feature panels that are filled with dried plants and seeds--unique, to say the least. The bathroom is magnificent--bathing in a tub overlooking a panoramic view of the lake merited at least 3 baths in one day.

When we arrived, we were escorted to our room by Rita. Her husband, Pascal, (both young-30ish) brought the baggage. A few minutes later Rita arrived with champagne in hand to pour us a "welcome glass" out on our patio over-looking the lake.

We thought we were in for the ultimate Michelin 3 Star experience. Instead, we were about to embark on a culinary nightmare reminiscent of our third meal at El Bulli 2001.

The situation is best described as one where presentation was more important than taste. Innovation and novelty did not provide culinary pleasure.

At one point during the long, tortuous meal, my husband was ready to give up on France all together.

We were lucky--the weather was fantastic and we had our aperitif on the beautiful terrace over-looking the lake. It is very important to note the fine detail and absolute elegance of the place while "digesting" the dining experience and the Chef's attempts to create a cuisine.

4 amuse were presented on a large wooden plate--a wild moss mousse, a sandwich of smoked bacon, tomato and cheese (this one would have been delicious if the bread had been fresh--it was stale and soggy--obviously these amuse were made ahead of time), a crouton of cheese, tomato and basil--encore for the soggy bread and a "shot glass" of genipe plant brandy topped by grapefruit puree(the acidity of the grapefruit clashed with the champagne).

We were shown to our table by the open doors over looking the patio. A huge wooden farm cart piled high with various wonderful looking breads to be carved table side, arrived to launch our dinner.

Veyrat has achieved something that we did not think possible--he is significantly more expensive than Ducasse--320 euros for the large tasting menu and about 220 for the smaller tasting menu. We chose the smaller of the two tasting menus--12 courses plus desserts.

1st course. A slice of cold foie gras terrine with a plum/grapefruit conficture and a tiny mound of sel de mare on the side. This was a delicious start.

2nd course. Strands of squid with an herbaceous, lukewarm jelly, cucumber bits overlaid with a pistachio encrusted tuile. The jelly was said to be an "arome of lichen"--this was totally overpowering.

3rd course. On a large (about 18 inch) rectangular plate we were presented with a florist's conception of an herb garden. Literally a huge herb garden display sat on the plate. Nestled in one corner of the garden was an egg shell filled with 1/2 scrambled and 1/2 soft boiled egg.

The server then took a syringe (big enough to inject a horse) filled with "oxalis"(aroma acid) and injected the egg with this mixture. On the top of the egg there was a foamy frothy nutmeg and egg white mixture so the needle was going down into the egg through the foam--the resulting flavor was absolutely awful. Perhaps we just don't get this type of flavor--maybe it is an "acquired taste."

4th course. Another large rectangular plate was presented with 3 mounds of vegetables--a slice of artichoke with a truffle-type sauce, a celery tasting mound and a slice of carrot with anise. Veyrat call this "sushi en folie"--we did not get the visual joke and the taste was so flowery that you end up "eating" herbs instead of food.

5th course. Again a big plate with a small square of sardine on a sweet bell pepper mixture, a small square of mackerel on a fennel mixture, a tomato mousse with Spanish olive oil, and a parmesan encrusted deep-fried log of corn. The flavor combinations and ingredients were simply out of synch.

6th course. This could have been the tour de force.

A large soup bowl is presented with a glass test tube filled with strands of "stuff" that looks like pasta. It is actually cheese. You are asked to eat one strand to establish the flavor of the cheese. The soup bowl is empty except for a cold foie gras sorbet in the bottom. You are told to "dump" your "spaghetti" into the hot chicken consommé that your server pours over the sorbet and then swirl the mixture.

Voila, the cheese melts, the sorbet dissolves and the soup is ready--chemical magic--truly clever and interesting as theater of cuisine--nothing wrong with it, but again the dish simply missed--the flavor was sweet, cloying and awful--we had to guess that the sorbet contained some more of Veyrat's patented herb-flower tastes.

7th course. A small piece of fera (a lake fish from the salmon family) with the skin served with an ice cube of Alpine Avens flavor. To the side was a pool of "flavors of mushrooms and cloves" The fera was delicious but the green ice cube and mushroom/clover pool destroyed the dish.

8th course. We were not eating much--one bite of each dish. The staff noticed and must have said something to the chef about the "Americans" who just don't get it. (As an aside, they had remembered us from an earlier visit when we had had two meals at Veyrat and we had enjoyed, although not loved the cuisine.)

As a "special gift" we received an extra dish not on our tasting menu. A langoustine in the shell with a large frozen pile of basil. Without the frozen basil which we pushed to the side, the langoustine was quite good.

9th course. Another very unique presentation was brought to the table. A large Moroccan tagine was presented. There was a funnel of paper sticking out of the top of the tagine. The server poured a liquid of lime and extract from the gentiane plant. The top was ceremoniously lifted and there lay a small (1" square piece of morue (cod) encrusted with saccharine [yes, truly saccharine the stuff that the FDA ruled a carcinogen years ago in the USA--sweet, cloying, strange, horrible.)

10th course. A small cup of cappuccino of ratte (potato) with a small truffle in the bottom and a walnut size piece of chocolate on top. The large piece of chocolate overwhelmed the flavor of the ratte. At L'Arnsbourg we had been served a cappuccino of sweet peas topped with just a bit of finely grated bittersweet chocolate that was wonderful; at Veyrat the large chocolate piece that was to melt in the ratte left you with an overly sweet tasting, wrong note dish.

11th course. A large cart was wheeled to the table with a dough-encased saddle of lamb. The top of the dough casing was carefully cut off and the lamb was carved table side. This dish is very similar in appearance to the one we had a few nights before at Regis Marcon that we had loved. (Marcon is another upcoming post).

The lamb at Veyrat was so heavily spiced with serpolet sauvage (a spice between thyme and rosemary that you ended up tasting spice not lamb. On the plate there was a small pile of sautéed mushrooms and a small casserole of potato gratin.

12th course. The cheese service at Veyrat was incredible. A huge wooden farmhouse cart with 4 shelves (remember the bread service--a different bigger cart is used here) was wheeled to the table heaped with large wheels of cheese.

The top shelf was decorated with flowers, plants and herbs (beautiful, natural, nice). The second shelf was a huge selection of goat cheeses. The third level featured cow (vache) cheeses and the bottom shelf was decorated with pine cones and tree branches.

Since we had not eaten much, the sight of the cheese cart was most welcome.

At this point, we adjourned to the patio for 10 different types of chocolate desserts and pastries. My note-taking ground to a halt as I had had it by then.

Wines:

2000 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Pierre Perrin--excellent white Chateauneuf.

95 Cote-Rotie, La Landonne, R. Rostaing, Ampuis

This is a perfect example of maturing Cote-Rotie--great flavor, intense, long finish that enhances the total drinking experience.

We were headed to bed when Pascal said--what time do you want your breakfast--we said just coffee and baguettes.

At 8:30 am Pascal arrived at our door (one of the interesting things about the French country places--every employee wears at least 5 different hats--all day they work at different jobs not necessarily related to their dining room jobs and then at night from 6PM-1AM or later they are "standard employees."

In any case, here was Pascal pulling a huge cart with a huge board--cheese, soft boiled eggs, breads, smoked salmon, meats, coffee etc. I am not a morning person and really only wanted coffee. Petite Dejeuner at Veyrat costs $60.00 per person and I have now set a record for the most expensive cup of coffee ever.

In retrospect, the Veyrat experience shows the influence of El Bulli in the worst possible manner.

A friend recently visited El Bulli. He reported a solid, if unique, experience and cuisine that a normal person can eat and enjoy. El Bulli's 2002 menu is a retrospect of great dishes from the past 20 years. Four years ago Veyrat's food was unique, different and challenging. This year it felt like a parody of himself and El Bulli at its worst.

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6th course. ... A large soup bowl is presented with a glass test tube filled with strands of "stuff" that looks like pasta.  It is actually cheese.  You are asked to eat one strand to establish the flavor of the cheese.   The soup bowl is empty except for a cold foie gras sorbet in the bottom.  You are told to "dump" your "spaghetti" into the hot chicken consommé that your server pours over the sorbet and then swirl the mixture.

Voila, the cheese melts, the sorbet dissolves and the soup is ready--chemical magic--truly clever and interesting as theater of cuisine--nothing wrong with it, but again the dish simply missed--the flavor was sweet, cloying and awful--we had to guess that the sorbet contained some more of Veyrat's patented herb-flower tastes.

lizziee -- I couldn't agree with you more on the misguided nature of Veyrat's cuisine. Worse, one pays quite a lot for the Symphony Menu and for **poor** cuisine. There was something in the foie gras sorbet that was unhelpful, but the worse part of the dish was the overwhelming nature of the vermicelli. Also, one problem with the version of the sorbet I received was that it was kind of thick, and not light. For me, the parmesan neither matched the foie nor the chicken consomme. The chicken consomme was unrefined to begin with, but with the cheese strands and foie, it became downright terrible! :wacko:

-- Consumme de poule du pays, sorbet de foie gras, vermicelles de parmesan (chicken consumme, foie gras sorbet, parmesan noodles).  This dish was my least favorite during the meal, and contained "noodles" (not as thin as vermicelli reference suggests) made out of parmesan (quite pungent, for some reason) and chestnut or hazelnut.  These noodles were displayed in a testtube, with half of their length outside the tube.  The dining room team member asked me to taste a few of them with my fingers ( ! ), and to place them inside a pottery soup bowl that contained the foie gras sorbet.  Then, a pottery jug with chicken soup was poured over the noodles and foie gras, and the diner was asked to stir (with a spoon, thankfully).  The resulting concoction was confused.  The testtube reappeared later, containing a sauce.

Even sillier was Veyrat's inclusion of syringes in his presentation method.  ...

Your 10th course is an adaption off Veyrat's solid potato puree with a sprinkling (usually not along the whole top of the puree) of matte chocolate powder. It is sometimes presented as one of four veggie-driven items on a single plate.

I feel like I should expound on the perverted nature of Veyrat's cuisine. I had a frog's legs dish that was very poor. Perhaps 12-15 small frogs' legs are dusted with either a powder/coating of mandarin or of licorice. The spicing is so severe that the taste of the frogs is lost. Even worse, the frogs' legs were extremely (literally) dry. Note I am not indicating that all Veyrat dishes are poor; but many of them are. The dishes that are good are not very good, in general.

Some of Veyrat's desserts are acceptable, like a tasting of four or five small creme brulees flavored with different herbs, etc.

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Cabrales,

As I remember it the pasta strands were not parmesan, but more like Gruyere. If the sorbet had been better tasting, the dish would have worked - almost like a Les Halles onion soup with the stock being chicken based instead of beef based with onions. It was a clever idea and I appreciated the inventiveness. The end flavor, here I am assuming that it was from the sorbet, was just plain terrible.

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Its always a shame to hear about unsatisfactory dining experiences, especially when one has to pay and travel so much for them.

When Jill and I went to L'Auberge de l'Eridian last summer, we had a fantastic experience that was, fortunately for us, quite unlike the meal described here.

We were at the tail end of a trip during which we had visited too many three-star and similar quality restaurants and by the time we got to Veyrat's door, we were simply all haute-cuisined out. I toyed with cancelling, but in the end decided to go.

Jill and I resolved to try to eat light and we ordered a la carte just a few dishes to share (two entrees and one plat). I was pretty nervous about this, as I feared the waitstaff and kitchen would react negatively.

Well, Veyrat took simply this as a challenge to be surmounted. Little light amuses started to appear at our table to stimulate our appetites. They gradually morphed into full fledged extra courses, including virtually all of the Veyrat signatures (the eggs four ways, the mashed potatoes with truffles and chocolate, the fresh fish from the lake cooked on tree bark, etc.). Despite how full we were, we could of course not resist that unbelievable cheese course. They brought us a few desserts too, including the assortment of pots de creme. Our "light lunch" ended up lasting about 4 hours, and we were charged only for what we ordered---the three dishes plus cheese and wine (although we did leave an appreciative gratuity).

I didn't take detailed notes at the time, but I can tell you I found the food to be uniformly well prepared, flavorful, creative and interesting. Most importantly though, we felt welcomed with a wonderful spirit of generosity and warmth that really set the stage for the restaurant to win us over. It wasn't just the extras thrown in gratis---it was the manner, attentiveness, good humor and courtesy of the staff too.

All of that being said, although I have only dined in each restaurant once, I think that Veyrat presents some of the same issues as Gagnaire in terms of the difficulty of evaluation. To me these two push the envelope so far in terms of unconventional methods and flavorings that subjective tastes become more important in determining whether you like the food or not.

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Mark,

Do you remember if the mashed potatoes had shavings of chocolate or a chunk the way I described the ratte cappuccino? Also was he using syringes in the egg dishes that you mentioned?

I noticed on the front of the menu that he is describing his cuisine as food for the next century. I wonder if he is "pushing the envelope" more than he has in the past. Also, as I noted, we had eaten 2 meals before a couple of years ago and although I didn't love every dish, I found the food exciting and generally palate pleasing.

I completely agree with you re the staff - the service couldn't have been better.

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Lizzie, our mashed potatoes indeed had just a few light shavings of chocolate. We also did get the syringe treatment on one of the egg preparations---in fact Veyrat came around and did this personally. I did not find the oxalis infusion to be problematic---it just lent the egg a kind of "woodsy" taste.

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I also eat at L'Auberge de L'Éridan about a year ago. I had a very good meal, without any test tubes or syringue...

Veyrat cooking was very creative, very well executed. Only the desserts were really disappointing. I really wonder how, in such a short period of time, a chef,like Veyrat, can change his style of cooking in such a drastic way... :hmmm:

Patrice Demers

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Patrice -- Yes, when I ate at Auberge de l'Eridan in September 2001, there were no syringes or testtubes. Not that I particularly liked Veyrat's food then, but it was better than post-syringe. By February 2002, when I ate at Ferme, the syringe and other superflous items seemed fairly entrenched.

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Marty,

I wasn't sure why I didn't like the taste of the oxalis and decided to look up the definition on the web.

"Any of about 850 species of small herbaceous plants that make up the genus Oxalis, native mostly to S Africa and tropical and S. America. Most members are familiar garden ornamentals. The name (Greek for "acid") reflects the plant's sharp acidic taste."

For me, what I must have been tasting was that sharp acidic taste which I found a bad match with the egg. Before I really mixed the oxalis into the egg, the texture and taste of the egg was perfect - some softly cooked white, the silky yokiness were perfect. But with the strong acidic taste, the egg flavor was lost and the result was harsh and off-tasting.

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Steve,

Thank you for your link to your review. As I mentioned earlier, the 2 meals I had at Veyrat a couple of years ago were on the whole good, with some extremely high notes and a couple of misses. Nothing at all what we experienced a month ago.

For the record, I looked up wood sorrel and the acidity that I tasted is very much present in wood sorrel.

SORREL (Wood) OXALIS ACETOSELLA

"Both botanical names Oxalis and acetosella refer to this acidity, Oxalis being derived from the Greek oxys, meaning sour or acid, and acetosella, meaning vinegar salts.

A perennial, Wood Sorrel is a small plant with leaves in three parts, which often fold up. The flowers are bell-shaped and white with a dash of blue. Despite its name, the plant is not related to Sorrel, but is closely related to the Geranium family.

Modern uses: The plant is particularly rich in oxalic acid and potassium oxalate, which are not suitable for those with gouty or rheumatic tendencies. It can he injurious if prescribed injudiciously. The leaves are used for their cooling action in fevers. The infusion - i oz (28 g) to i pt (568 rnl) of boiling water - is also given for catarrh and urinary tract inflammation in doses of 2 fl Oz (56 rni). Excessive or prolonged administration is not recommended. The infusion is used as lotion for skin infections. The juice is used as a gargle for mouth ulcers. Excellent in any contagious sickness or pestilential fever."

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lizziee thank you thank you for these amazing reports. How my heart bleeds for you over that dinner! After spending that sum for that food I'm sure I'd have gone straight back to my balcony and cried my eyes out. I remember an issue of Thuries magazine a few years back that featured Veyrat's cuisine. It looked awful. Worse yet, it looked very weak technically and most of the dishes were smothered in herbs and flowers. Yuck.

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Lesley,

At least I won't have mouth ulcers!

The sad part for us is that we were so looking forward to going back to Veyrat. From the warm greeting to the beautiful room to the welcome glass of champagne - we thought we were "in" for the "great meal of a lifetime." I don't think I am adverse to new flavor combinations or innovation, but I just didn't get what Veyrat is trying to do now.

Sorrel is a wonderful flavor - sorrel soup, the famous Troisgros dish of salmon with sorrel, but oxalis (wood sorrel) is so acidic that, for me, it is best used for contagious sickness, pestilential fever and mouth ulcers.

Thank you for your thanks on these lengthy long-winded reports. I do hope I am not boring all e-gullet members.

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