How many meals have you eaten in your life where you remember every single divine thing that was brought to the table?
The answer for me is not many. I could probably count on both hands the number of times I have been completely blown away by a restaurant experience. I’ve had many good meals, many great meals even – but the kind of meal that makes you say, ‘Remember the time when…’ or that inspires you to learn how to cook with a new ingredient (or make another reservation!) that’s the rarity.
Next time I’ll share my top 5 dining experiences and you can be sure I remember exactly what I ate. The truly unique experience is the one where you remember what you had for each course, and not just one standout dish. This was the case at Le 1920, the restaurant in Chalet du Mont d’Arbois in Megeve, France.
The setting was unfussy and a great place to unwind after a cold winter’s day. Chef Olivier Bardoux presented a focused menu – both of traditional French dishes and inventive twists. After discussing the menu with the delightful host, who helped us with French translations, we decided on a combination of tradition and fresh takes.
Once the cork was popped on a bottle of Chateau Clarke we settled in to our cozy booth to watch the theater of the evening take place. Servers were immaculately dressed, and so focused on their tasks that they didn’t seem to notice the beautiful snow falling outside the french doors. Our amuse-bouche for the evening was presented, a tartare of turbot, enlivened with fresh citrus flavors. After this bright start, I began to think this might be one of those meals I would remember in detail.
Moments before each course was presented, a bread basket was offered. From skinny, chewy twists of onion-flavored bread to small baguettes of walnut bread, there was a fresh-baked option to go with each course. Our appetizers were presented with a bit of flair, as an entire leg (hoof and all!) of ham was brought to the table to be sliced. Accompanied by a simple salad and a toasted baguette with tomato compote, this was a simple and elegant start to the meal.
I have a soft spot for scallops, and one of the only words in French I know is Saint Jacques. My scallops arrived perfectly seared, over a brioche, with something from the sea I didn’t recognize. After discussion amongst the staff, a translation emerged: tongue of sea urchin. It was fresh, salty, and flavorful all at the same time – a great complement to the scallops. A delicate dressing and sauce completed the dish – and was wiped clean with warm bread.
With the main course came more theater – the Sole Meunière was brought to the table and deboned by the server. My filet mignon with peppercorn sauce was perfectly cooked – and the potato gratin was an ideal level of creamy. After these dishes, I understood the Relais & Chateaux status of Le 1920 – everything was perfect from start to finish.
Of course in France, next comes the cheese cart. One of my favorite parts of the evening – the server who explained the cheese seemed to have a pure love of fromage. We sampled four or five cheeses, including a local one from the French Alps called Bleu de Termignon. This was the server’s favorite – and with the first bite I found out that the man knows his cheese. Unlike any other blue cheese I’ve tried, it was crumbly and flavorful without being too strong.
Whether a meal is an old favorite that is executed perfectly or something you’ve never tried before – it is difficult to make a lasting impression. I have a feeling five years from now I’m going to be saying.. ‘remember when that leg of ham was brought to table in the French Alps a few years back…?’
Have any favorite meals to share? A restaurant your fellow travelers must make time for? Leave your comments on the most impressive restaurants below.