Hiely-Lucullus, Avignon, France
This was the first letdown by my otherwise trusty Michelin Guide - I don't think it deserves the one star. An older guidebook raved about it but also mentioned the chef's retirement. Looks like that has taken a toll in ther intervening years.
The meal starts with competent bite-sized pastries flavored with cheese and a moderate sprinkle of fennel.
Then a great saffron-loaded cream sauce that forms pool for a tender fish and several mussels to play in. Great simple cooking, with the luxuriant but not overly rich sauce in the starring role.
But alas, the main course falls like a bird shot in its breast. A roasted young wild patridge is served with its delicious chopped liver on toasted piece of bread, its juices seductively invading the slice, but the partridge itself is dry. (I know it was wild, because I find two pellets in the meat, courtesy of Monsieur Hunter.) The savory pan-juices try admirably to save the bird, and it almost worked, but the bird needed a spring of that moisture, and only a shallow pool was available. A sad disappointment.
Dessert was good and varied but not spectacular or exceptionally memorable. I get a competent pastry assortment - couldn't remember all of them. Among the ones I rememebr, a prune in strawberry sauce, a tart filled with sweet chestnut mousse and a napoleon - nothing you couldn't find in many excellent pastry shops. On the side - a quartet of house made ice creams - vanilla, pistacchio, raspberry and (if I remember correctly) almond. Faultless deep flavors and good creaminess.
To drink, a carafe of a personable red Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Not extraordinary, but very very drinkable.
The room overlooks the main street on Avignon, a perfect setting with its mix of external bustle and interior calm. But the wall paper looks worn and slightly faded, like a memory. Apparently it has seen better, more luminious days. I leave feeling not only disappointment, but also a sense of loss as I try to imagine what this dining room might have been a decade ago. It isn't an extravagant dinner, but it might once have been.
Hey, you're back. What else can you drink but chateauneuf du pape in Avignon. Speaking of which, when I was in that area a few years back, I drove up to Chateau de Beaucastel (owned by Perrin) and got a personal tour in English and free samples, red and white! Worth the journey as they say. Check it out now, fsb.
re: michael (mea culpa)
Your post makes me wish I had a bit more time and had better modes of transportation other than train. (Unfortunately, I do not know how to operate a car.)
I was very surprised when I looked at the wine list at Christian Ettienne located a stones throw from the Pope's castle - they had wines from California and Australia. The glass of house red I got was a Bordeaux (St-Emillion, if I remember correctly) - I was expecting a chateaunuef du pape. (Will post on Christan Etienne soon.)
I am torn between thinking on the one hand what posts you might make if you could drive and thinking on the other hand that your not having to deal with car issues and being cocooned in one for long stretches of your journey probably gets you more in touch with the locals and allows you to absorb more to report. Keep posting.
re: michael (mea culpa)
Yes - not having a car does keep me on a rather short leash, even here in SF. I read about intriguing and interesting places in the East Bay and the Penninsula on the SF board all the time that I can't feasibly go to unless I sweet talk my driving buddies into coming to dinner. Sometimes it's a compromise - some of them are more wary of pigeon and frog and anything with high lard content than others.
Walking around does have its advantages - I get to scout out places and check out their posted menus before I make reservations. Also ensures that I am not surprised by prices. In towns and smaller cities, I work in menu scanning on the way to or between sights and museums.