Maison Pic is a 3 Michelin star restaurant located in the city of Valence, which is part of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region. Anne-Sophie Pic is the chef, and represents the third generation of the family to head the kitchen. The Pic name is renown in the region and throughout France, much in the same way that the Troisgros family has dominated Roanne for generations. Maison Pic also has a hotel on the premises, which is part of the Relais et Chateaux group. Two weeks ago, four of us had lunch at the restaurant, a meal that was to last over 5 1/2 hours.
The greeting was warm and gracious. The interior of the restaurant drips with elegance. Nothing ostentatious, but modern, tasteful and restrained. It is obvious that a lot of money was invested in the design and contents of the restaurant. My friend said that the difference between a 2 star and 3 star is how much money is devoted to tables, chairs, china, cutlery, linen, glassware, and the contents of the cellar.
We were seated at a corner table near the bar, one of two places to sit and have a drink before going to table. The other is a Japanese garden. First, some champagne. Maison Pic has engaged Billecart Salmon to produce a cuvee exclusively for the restaurant (it also has an agreement with Chapoutier to produce a red and white for the restaurant). The Billecart Salmon took some time to unfold, displaying a good mousse and aromas of brioche, flowers, minerals and citrus. It has piercing acidity and nice flavors of apples and citrus. In my experience, such cuvees rarely, if ever, equal what the house produces for its own label. This bottle was proper and nice to drink, but lacked the complexity and finish that a good champagnes possess.
After exchanging pleasantries with the sommelier, the wine list was presented. It is a tome the size of a telephone book. All of the major wine regions of France are represented, but the vintages are mostly young, offering little in the way of aged wines. As this is Valence, pride of place goes to the wines of the Rhone Valley. Every producer of renown is represented, covering both the Northern and Southern Rhone. The jewel of the entire list is the legendary 1961 Jaboulet La Chapelle, a wine one rarely sees anywhere. It is listed at 25,000 euros, an easy pass.
Red and white burgundy is well represented, but again, the vintages are mostly young. The oldest Burgundy is the 1952 Jadot Vosne Romanee. I asked the sommelier if the cellar might hold some bottles not on the list. He asked what vintages I was interested in. He went to check, and came back empty. The other sommelier on duty then showed up and said he had the 2002 DRC Duvault-Blochet.
I looked at my friends, and they all smiled. The 2002 it was.
There are several dining rooms in the restaurant. The rooms are airy and there is a good amount of space between tables. Four menus are offered, priced at 110, 170, 250 and 330 euros, in addition to a la carte. Cheese is included only in the 250 and 330 euros menus. Chef Pic infuses many of her dishes with subtle aromas of herbs and spices. Madagascan vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, jasmin, ginger, chevril, and even coffee. One of the dishes, “Le Pigeonneau de la Drome,” was a revelation. Cooked perfectly, one bite and subtle flavors of coffee, Madagascan vanilla and Phu Quoc pepper exploded in the mouth without overwhelming the taste of the squab. Brilliant. Plating is like miniature works of art.
The bread basket is composed of four breads. The most interesting one is flavored with coffee, but the most delicious are the small warm baguettes that offer great texture of crust and bread. The butter is silky and rich, and sourced, iirc, from Brittany. Some 30 cheeses are offered, all served at the proper maturity and temperature. The creamy St. Marcellin was delicious. As I don’t have a sweet tooth, I passed on dessert, but my friends raved over theirs.
The Duvault-Blochet was decanted while we were drinking champagne. It is showing some age, and bricking slightly. In the glass, intense nose of red fruits, flowers, and spices that unfold in waves. Some stems are noticeable, and a touch of violets emerge with swirling. Elegant and concentrated, it fills the mouth with red cherries and a taste of cinnamon that linger and linger. Nice acidity and some tannins poke through at the end. Just entering its window of drinkability, but this will be better starting at age 20.
Under the watchful eye of the Director, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, service was warm, efficient and generally excellent except for one incident. When we were drinking champagne, a staff member came by to take our orders for lunch. One of my friends has a number of food allergies that restrict her diet. While she was reciting the things she could not eat, the staff member muttered “puree” under
her breath, loud enough that the four of us could hear it. “Puree” refers to something that has been put through a sieve, as in potatoes or fruit. But when used idiomatically in French, it means, more or less, “oh my.” To be sure, the young woman did not use it in an offensive manner, but more in exasperation. Nonetheless, not cool in a 3 star. This is the equivalent of a server rolling his/her eyes at a guest. At the end of the meal, the Director came by and solicited feedback. He was serious, and we obliged. We told him it was a meal worthy of a 3 star and that we would return. We gave him our impressions of the champagne, and when told of the “puree” incident, he was horrified.