64 Boulevard Henry Vasnier, Reims
Lunch on Oct 23, 2004
It used to be Boyer Les Crayeres, under the famous chef Gerard Boyer. But Monsieur Boyer retired about 2 years ago and since then the restaurant has been downgraded by Michelin from 3 stars to 2. In spite of this, I still considered this institution the best in the whole Champagne neighborhood. If nothing else, Gerard Boyer is still the ‘owner and consulting chef’ of this restaurant. The dining room, nestled in a cream-colored classic château, was as elegant as a dining room could be. For weekends, you need to book well in advance since this château is a very popular weekend getaway for the affluent locals of Champagne. If you come in a big gang or if you have some money to ‘flambée,’ remember to book for the ‘rotorde.’ It makes you feel like an aristocrat eating at a private garden. Only the oil sheiks from Arabs can outdo you in lushness.
But lushness came at a price. This restaurant was a big hit in the account. A set lunch menu with five courses, charges from E204 to E235, depending on what set of wines you choose to pair and whether you want cheese or not. Feeling rich, I ordered the “Menu Degustation Prestige,” which was the menu with a better wine selection and with cheese.
The starter was the mushroom soup with the famed Jabugo ham from Spain with drizzles of cappuccino cream. My headwaiter reminded me to stir it a bit before I slurp it. The taste was very complex with many layers of flavor. The mild earthy flavor of the mushroom espoused well with the pungent meaty flavor of the ham. The novelty of this soup, meanwhile, was the anoint of the cappuccino cream, adding a lovely scent of coffee to the soup.
The next course was the filet of sea bass. The light poach fish was utterly moist and plump. The sauce it bathed in was a jus made mainly of orange zest and green pepper. To be honest, I was more bemused by the sauce since I'd never been fond of poach fish.
The third course was the gently grilled lobster served with oyster jus, lying in a bed of seasonal black trumpet. The lobster was fresh and tickled well with the oyster jus. I was amused by the chemistry it sparkled with my 1996 Billecart Salmon, leaving a chocolate flavor in the palate.
The fourth course was the ‘lievre a la royale,’ long-simmered hare roll stuffed with foie gras in black morels jus. When I said long, I meant it. It was simmered in a big pan for 14 hours before serving. They say it takes two to tango and this saying surely worth its salt in this cuisine: the hare roll and the foie gras merged together so well that I could hardly distinguish which was which anymore. Both were soft, tender and melt-in-the-mouth. A royal treatment through and through.
Next came the cheese platter. A tray of ‘fromages de nos regions’ was presented in front of me. Being satiable, I only chose five varieties from it. The center of attention was the Chaource, the best-known cheese from the Champagne area. Though it was creamy, it wasn’t my cup of tea. I needed something headier.
The highlight of the meal came at the finale. It was the “figues soufflés a la cannelle, crème citronnee, sorbet mure,” a complex of figs soufflé, citrons cream as well as the sorbet made with crème de mure was all mine to devour. But the figs soufflé really put other two into shade. If I were the mayor of Reims, I would insist putting this dessert at the Object D'Art salon of the city museum. I simply looked it with the same admiration I look at Monet's ‘Olympia’ or Renoir's ‘Panic in the Garden.’ A nest made by gold-colored cameral crowned the figs boiled in cinnamon sauce and a vanilla ice cream. Dessert can’t be more beautiful than this. This is the Marianne of dessert.
The half bottle champagne (what else when you are in Reims?) I drank was the 1996 Billecart Salmon ‘Cuvee Nicolas Francois.’ The nose was very Pinot Noir, amazingly full and citrus. The palate was very round and long; unbelievable full for a sparkling wine. A great aperitif and it paired marvelously with the lobster. The half bottle red wine I drank was the 2000 Chateau La Garde Pessac Leognan. It was very nutty and voluptuous, trace of vanilla and oak was obvious. But the real magic of the wine was its super silky fineness: I almost felt nothing as it past my throat.