The most important thing for an aspiring chef is to constantly experiment and taste new things. At least, thats what I tell myself to justify all the foods and pastries I eat.
Last weekend, many of the interns from Chateau de Begude and I drove over to Mougins to have dinner at La Place de Mougins—a nice restaurant perched on the top of the hill in the old section of town.
It was probably obvious from a mile away that we were a bunch of foodies—every course (and there were 7 of them) had all of us pulling out our phones and cameras to take pictures of the food from every angle before anyone was allowed to eat anything, and then as we started eating we started debating the good and bad points of each dish (and the boys generally tried to one-up each other trying to guess all the ingredients and relaying every word the server used and the descriptions that had been on the menu). We must have made quite the scene. No regrets.
Eating dinner like this in France feels a little bit like Thanksgiving in America. You certainly can’t do it every day, and by the end of the night you are almost too full to waddle home, but you still finish all three courses of dessert anyway…And then if you are really French you probably move locations and continue rounds of drinking even after all the eating has happened.
Everyone at our table chose the Gourmandise a Mougins menu—which was a seven course meal, though between the cocktails and pre-meal service, the random juice course, and the alcohol gift at the end of the meal given to us by the chef, it was actually more like 10 courses…and my stomach thought it was closer to 20 by the time the night ended. The course was around 75 Euros, and with the cocktail and wine, we all ended up paying around 100 Euros. That may seem like way too much money to spend on a single dinner, but for the quality of food, location, amount of food we ate, service, and considering we spent a solid four hours at the restaurant, it really was quite reasonable.
Let me walk you through our meal—partially because I want to tell you how delicious everything was, partially because I want to share the lovely pictures I took, and partially because I want everyone reading this to be incredibly jealous of how extravagantly I am eating here in France.
So we started our evening with a belini type cocktail, that I think was the recommendation of the restaurant or perhaps had been the special of the night…but my car was a bit late and there was a lot of greeting and rapid French happening at the same time that I arrived and ordered, so I am not 100% sure. It was delicious though.
We were first served some appetizers—some sort of shrimp egg roll type situation that I didn’t actually take a picture of—and then we were given boxes of test tubes filled with pink juice. The juice was actually a freshly made watermelon-fennel mix, and while I thought it tasted good and was a creative service style, it did seem a bit random.
After that we moved on to the first actual course of our meal, which was a surprise to us because on the menu it was simply listed as the “appetizer of the season.” It ended up being a cucumber salad of sorts paired with a cream and a fried cucumber flower. I loved the crispy flower, and all three elements were quite good when eaten in the same bite. That said, I wouldn’t have wanted more than what was presented to me.
The second course was hands down my favorite part of the savory dishes. It managed to be classy while retaining the feeling of home cooked comfort food. It was warm, creamy, salty, with the perfect amount of elements to add crunch and texture. Even with the description on the menu and everything the server told us, I’m still not exactly sure what it was that we ate, I just know it was delicious. Apparently it was a Golden Egg with Caviar, Japanese Pearls and Rye Bread Croutons… whatever that means.
The third dish was a foie gras served with peaches, figs and tulle. I never go out of my way to eat foie gras, but the combination of the foie gras with the caramelized fresh figs was really good. I’m always worried in restaurants like this that I might not like a dish or might not want to finish it, and I hate sending half eaten things back to the kitchen. But not to worry, all of us ate everything on our places for this course as well!
Moving closer to the main dish, the next course was a little more substantial, and was a lobster ravioli with kumquat coulis. Typically I am a huge fan of pasta—and at a similarly nice restaurant in Sete in the spring, the pasta dish was hands down the best part. Unfortunately, I didn’t love this dish. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just seemed average. The best part was the addition of a few little balls of fresh watermelon, which were interesting in the savory dish and not something I ever remember having with a warm pasta before.
In this crazy gastronomic world where the fifth course is the main dish, we were finally served a veal with reduced glaze over some potato puree, caramelized onions, peas and some kind of mystery vegetable tuile. It very much reminded me of a home cooked pot roast, and I appreciated once again having the feeling of comfort food at the same time as I was eating in a nice restaurant.
Okay now for the reason anyone ever eats a meal—the dessert!
Babette was just getting disappointed that we weren’t going to be served a pre-dessert, though the rest of us were positive we would be getting one, when the Madeleines arrived. The chef of La Place de Mougins actually has a second place just down the street—a pastry boutique—and when we bit into the Madeleines it was obvious why. They were magnificent. Seriously, the little (okay for a Madeleine it was actually quite large) cake was soaked in a citrus syrup and partially filled with a pastry cream. It was probably the highlight of the meal for me—and it definitely was for Babette—and was hands down the best Madeleine I have ever eaten.
Shortly after the pre-dessert we were served the main dessert—and while I was not physically prepared for another course so soon, I obviously ate all of it. The main dessert course was an incredibly light and airy pineapple soufflé next to domes of coconut cream on biscuits with mango gel. The soufflé was beautifully done, if too sweet for my taste, and the coconut domes were too dense with I’m guessing absolutely no sugar. Personally, I would have been fine to just receive the soufflé, and would have preferred the coconut domes to have been lighter to match the soufflé if they were going to be served together, but it was still good.
The final course for us was the mignardise, which were actually quite lovely. We received a little plate with marshmallows covered with powdered raspberry, chocolates flavored with fresh mint, and little peach domes. I was surprised by how much I loved each of the elements—especially the mint chocolate, which really had the flavor of a fresh mint leaf and not of the processed flavoring usually associated with mint in dessert. Obviously we finished everything, but by this point we were so full, we definitely couldn’t have managed to consume any more.
As we were enjoying the mignardise course, we spoke with a server and asked if we could talk to the chef if he had a moment to spare. He did, as it was the end of the night, and soon he was stopping by our table to greet us and talk to us about the meal.
“Ah this is the table of young people. You are all in the restaurant business, aren’t you?” was his opening line to us.
So we were as obvious as I thought. 😛
After saying a few things about the dishes, he asked us all what we did and where we were working. Everyone but me was working for Château de Bégude, and when we finally came around to me I felt a little silly telling a chef I had never met that I was a mere intern over at La Passagére, but when I did he immediately brightened and told me that he knew my chef and to pass on his regards. What a crazy connected world I am living in.
On our way out of the restaurant, prepared to roll down the hill to our cars, we managed to get an invite to see the kitchen. And oh my god was it smaller than I was expecting! The restaurant is decent sized, and the pastry kitchen was more or less the same as the pastry kitchen I am working in now. But the cuisine kitchen was at least half or a third the size of the kitchen at La Passagére, and I honestly have no idea how they cranked out all the dishes they prepared for us in that little space.
It was a lovely night, and if you happen to be in this neck of the woods and looking for a nice meal, I would definitely recommend it. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more adventures and stories soon!