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Revisiting Reims
Resurrecting the Temple of Gastronomy - Henriroux at Point's Pyramide
Burgundy

Revisiting Reims
by David Peretz and Eileen Peretz

The last time we visited Reims, wewere excited to explore the center of Champagne country. We visited the church at that time, but either it has been restored since - or we have been. A recent visit to Reims was truly an eye-opener. The Cathedral ranks with Chartres for sheer beauty. The elegance of proportion and consequent magnificence of its interior spaces is truly breathtaking. The Chagall windows are a joy to behold, their colors glowing, they sparkle with humanity as they depict the story of divinity. The external Gothic sculptures ravish the eye and move the heart as they portray Old and New testament stories. It was only after visiting in the church for an hour or more that we came upon the entrance to the Palais Tau, the former Archbishop's Palace which has been dazzlingly converted into a museum. Here, many of the original exterior sculptures have been placed (to preserve them from the elements), while remarkable copies adorn the facade of the church. On our second day, driving through the city, we noticed a directional sign to the Foujita Chapel. It aroused our curiousity. We had never heard of the chapel. Foujita was a Japanese artist who worked in France for a good part of his professional career. He is represented in the major French museums which display modern art. The visit was extraordinary. It is a jewel of a chapel, simple, tasteful and adorned within by this man's homage to Christianity. Murals, glass windows, all designed and executed by Foujita, portraying episodes in the life of Christ (and in one instance, making reference to Hiroshima as well). Don't miss it!

We spent one night at Les Crayeres, the beautiful mansion which houses the three-star restaurant of Gerard Boyer. The rooms are tasteful and luxurious, the welcome and service superb and the cuisine splendid. We sampled the Salade du Pere Maurice (foie gras and lobster), roast wild duckand venison (it was game season), a beautiful cheese plate, a chocolate dessert in the shape of a piano and a warm tarte with pears. We had a 1982 Pomerol which was superb. Expect to spend significant amount for one night, between dinner and your room - and it can be more, depending on what you order in the way of wines and champagne. If you want a special treat, an hour and a half from Paris, drive out early, explore the churches and chapels, the champagne manufacturing process, and relax at Les Crayeres for one or more nights. Les Crayeres address is 64, Boulevard Henry Vasnier,5110 Reims, Tel: 011-33-3-26-82-80-80 or Fax: 011-33-3-26-82-65-52.

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Resurrecting the Temple of Gastronomy - Henriroux at Point's Pyramide
by David Peretz and Eileen Peretz

Many restaurants achieve fame. Few become legends. La Pyramide, Fernand Point's restaurant was such a legend. In 1933, the tiny restaurant in Vienne became the first in history to be awarded three stars in the Michelin Guide. Revered as the temple of gastronomy for more than fifty years, pilgrimages were made to its doors until they closed in 1987.

Vienne, south of Lyon and midway between Paris and the Cote d'Azur, had been an important Roman city more than nineteen hundred years earlier. It still boasts remains of the glory that was Rome in an impressive theatre, the splendidly preserved temple of Augustus and Livia and the pyramidal obelisk after which the restaurant was named. It was neither these monuments nor the beautiful Gothic cathedral of St. Maurice which drew gastronomes and celbrities like a magnet, but Restaurant La Pyramide. Fernand Point, founderand chef, revolutionized French cuisine. He became known throughout the gastronomic world as "le Roi," the King. "I try to make every meal a little marvel," was his dictum. The beckoning stars of La Pyramide drew Picasso, Cocteau, Dufy, Eisenhower, Hemingway, Gable, Garbo, Coco Chanel, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princes, Presidents, Premiers as well as less illustrious but no less enthusiastic diners. With the great chef's death in 1955, his widow, "Mado" determined to preserve the legend. Point had left his recipes in rough form. Madame Point's fabled taste memory enabled her to work with chefs Paul Mercier and Guy Thivier to re-create the grand classic cuisine. Point's photograph was hung in the dining room and his spiritual presence symbolized by the placement of flower petals on the table beneath his picture. Against all odds, she succeeded in holding the coveted three stars. She welcomed new generations, this writer included, as we came to sample the cuisine which in his hands had been purified, simplified and ennobled. Point's influence continued to be felt through his apprentices, men like Bocuse, Chapel, the brothers Troisgros, Bise, Jung and Outhier who left his kitchen to become three-star chefs in their own right.

With Mado Point's death in 1986, La Pyramide's stars flickered, dimmed and then were lost. Placed on the French market, the restaurant found no buyers. Was La Pyramide to become a precious memory, an entry in the gastronomy historybooks - or would the vitality and spirit embodied in Point's creativity and dedication find continuity?

At the eleventh hour, Dominique Bouillon, a real estate developer and hotelier, a man used to taking risks, took the gamble. He closed the doors early in 1987 and sought a successor to the Points. Enter Patrick Henriroux!

Recommended to Bouillon by Jacques Chabon, owner of a two star restaurant in Cannes, Henriroux was, at the time, the young chef de cuisine at Fermede Mougins. Together, the two men re-opened the landmark in 1989, with a 26 room hotel, a much expanded kitchen and a new dining room.

To meet Henriroux, now 38, is to know at once that you have met a self-assured man. He wears the mantle of Point with authority. He smiles as he tells the story of his first meeting with Bouillon, at which time he was offered the directorship of La Pyramide. For him, La Pyramide's reputation as "the temple" was awesome. He had eaten there only once, when he was very young, but it had remained a lasting memory.

Overwhelmed by the prospect, he first said, "no," but the challenge proved irresistible. Tall, slender and well-built, Henriroux is a striking contrast to photographs of Fernand Point, a man of Rabelaisian appetite and gargantuan proportions. What we find bridging the generations is a commitment to excellenceand a willingness to work hard to achieve it.

Point's day would begin at 4:30 A.M., on the phone to Les Halles in Paris, in search of the finest ingredients for his kitchen. A perfectionist, Point experimented with dishes for months, even years, till satisfied that they were ready to be offered to his clientele. His "gratin d'ecrevisses" took seven years to perfect. Henriroux begins his day at 5 A.M. in the markets of Lyon, slecting provisions and produce and negotiating with provisioners. His work day ends past midnight when the last guest has finished dinner. He runs his gleaming, modern tile and steel kitchen like a winning professional football coach, inspiring dedication in the staff of twelve who work there.

Henriroux experiments daily as he cooks. The new dishes which he createsare first sampled with his wife and trusted staff, then offered to regular clients for their comments on presentation, flavor, texture and aroma before placement on the menu. Until Point, cuisiniers had remained in their kitchens, but he changed that. He toured the dining room, greeting clients, planning the meal with them and discussing it afterwards to larn what was satisfying and what might need improvement. Henriroux, wearing his tall toque, continues the practice, making rounds at each table, talking to guests and answering questions about his preparation of the dishes. He has good reason to be confident. Within one year, the restaurant was awarded one star and in 1992, the Michelin bestowed its second star. Is that third star, so difficult to obtain, within reach?

On the drive down from Paris to check out the new la Pyramide, we had recalled our previous visit in 1977: the fabulous poularde de Bresse, our first bottle of Chateau Grillet, a chocolate dessert which we shared, grumbling that it was so good, we should each had ordered our own.

Arriving in late afternoon on a hot summer day, we were shown upstairs to our air-conditioned room and told that dinner would be served starting at7:30 P.M. We quickly unpacked, showered, dressed and headed downstairs for a cool aperitif. The bar was pleasant and comfortable. While sipping ourdrinks, we studied the tempting menu and encyclopedic wine list. We noted that in homage to Fernand Point, the menu included some of his grand classics, such as Le Turbot au Champagne. The story is told that Point would begin drinking champagne early in the morning as he prepared the turbot - one glass for him and one for the fish? Pyramide classics offered included le gratinde queues d'ecrevisses and truffled poularde de Bresse en vessie (order 24 hours in advance). An amiable waiter brought us a taste-teaser of slamon tartare, so good we wished for more. Then, he served a small dish of grapefruit and melon with fresh mint, cool and refreshing. Ready for dinner, we were accompanied to the dining room and warmly welcomed by the maitre d'hotel. During his year in Vonnas with George Blanc, Henriroux had met and become close friends with Christian Allandrieu and Patrick Laage. He reached out to them to accompany him to Vienne where they became maitre d' and patissier, respectively. More about Laage later. Point believed that the experience of dining should thrill and delight the senses. He furnished his dining room with crisp linen, the finest crystal and silver, tasteful floral decorations as well as dazzling cuisine. That emphasis, as familiar as it sounds today, was a radical innovation in its time. Henriroux and his attractive wife, Pascal, share that belief. They worked with Regis Dho to create a dining room that is spacious, tables set well apart between antique white columns. The diner looks out in Spring, Summer and Fall on the original garden.

Guarding the keys to La Pyramide's formidable cave is young Jean-Claude Ruet, a prize-winning sommelier. The cellars selections date back to the 19th century, cover all of France, but are particularly strong in wines of the Rhone Valley. Point took pleasure in exploring and discovering the vineyars of the valley. Jean-Claude carries on the tradition, visiting not only the Rhone area, but north to Burgundy, searching out excellent wines from dedicated, often young vintners. In addition to the extensive list containing all of the great names one expects, he has added two pages of his recent, moderatly priced finds. Perhaps one day, he will put a small, unknown vineyard on the oenophile map as Poiunt did with Chateau Grillet.

We started with a bottle of 1990 Condrieu, a white from just across the river, made from the unique Viognier vine. Jean-Claude poured a bit, swirled the glass to all for aeration and tasted it. With a grin, he announced, "C'est un bon metier" (It's a great job). The wine proved superbly balanced, floral, spicy and long-lingering on the back of the palate. It equalled the firstgrowth burgundies.

A variety of freshly baked rolls and breads were offered, hard to resist. With proper pace and attentive service, the courses arrived, silver lids lifted to reveal extraordinary presentations: as first courses, a Ris deveau (sweetbrads) with foie gras, onions and young leeks, redolent with flavor. And a panier (basket) of asparagus with mushrooms and frogs legs. The basket was made of potato, egg yolk and a little flour, rolled into shape and baked. Nestled in the basket was a variety of mushrooms, asparagus and plump frog's legs. The flavors were earthy, woodsy and sensual. For our next course, health-oriented dining, we had a St. Peter's fish, exquisitely decorated with carrots and basil, accompanied by shallots and mushroom stuffed tomatoes in a sauce of onion, tomato and olive oil.

It takes a big wine to match the formidable flavor of a Gribiche de Langueand Pied de Veau (tongue and calves feet) served in a cylinder of baked mashed potatoes. We drank a 1985 Chateau de Beaucastel, a Chateauneuf-de-Pape of great character, organically grown for four generations in the Southern Rhone. A filet of beef, encased in a crust of herbs and girolles, was joined by vegetables which Henriroux raises from the mundane to the sublime.

We were ampling well-chosen local cheeses when suddenly, further magic entered the dining room. To gasps of astonishment, desserts were carried in and the expressions on the faces of diners reminded one of children's delight upon opening Christmas presents. A plate was brought to a neighboring table on which a tropical island, including waterfall and rain forest had been constructed of spun caramelized sugar, exotic fruits, sorbets and sauce. Other desserts included an ice pear flavored with pear liquor, topped with mint leaf, sitting like a bird's egg in a spun sugar nest; a perfect creme brulee, perfumed with coffee; a lemon artist's palette with exotic fruits, including three-leaved physallis and a tangy sauce of grapefruit and orange; a mint butterfuly,its tail spun sugar, floated over an apple dumpling in a light plum sauce.

Patrick Laage, the patissier, is in a class by himself. His practical knowledge of the grasses of the fields, their variations and combinations, is reflected in the varieties of breads and rolls served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the bread baker is the down-to-earth side of Laage, the dreamer soars above the fields, into the realm of fantasy. He seeks quiet time from his busy day to permit his imagination full play. He visualises new desserts and sketches them. Back in his work area, once Point's entire kitchen, he studies the drawing, selects his ingredients and spins, sculpts and paints sugary and caramelised whimsies. The end results are as extraordinary to view as they are to taste. Picture a thin, curving pastry fence upon which sits a cookie in the shape of a butterfly, ready to take flight above a colorful garden of seasonal fruits and sorbets which decorate the plate. Or a dark chocolate piano, its keyboard made from dark and white chocolate, its interior a milky chocolate mousse. It rests on swirls of chocolate notes which float across a page of creme anglais, beautiful music on the palate.

We calmed our gastronomic excitement with an infusion, an offering of verveine, mint, reglisse, orange, sapiente and hibiscus. At that moment, we determine to return again. And we did, for Christmas, but that is a story for another time.

Henriroux's cooking reflects the lessons of the past and builds upon them. In the process, he brings us an original cuisine. Along with other great French chefs of this generation, Robuchon, Lorain, Bras, Meneau and Passard, he is respectful of tradition, yet at the same time, aware that he inhabits a world of experimentation and change. His ambition for the third star is evident, but despite that, he seems genuinely unpressured. He knows thata restaurant must not only earn that coveted status, but be prepared to sustain it. He is quietly confident that he can restore La Pyramide to its former greatness. The Gault-Milhau agrees, naming him the Chef of the Year for 1996. Henriroux has met the daunting challenge of Point's legacy for seven years. Though the road is long and hard, he is sure of his destination. One day, this writer believes, three stars will shine brightly once again over La Pyramide. The spirit of Fernand and Mado Point lives on in Vienne.

La Pyramide
14 Blvd. Fernand Point
38200 Vienne
Tel: 011-33-74-53-01-96
Fax: 011-33-74-85-69-73

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Burgundy
by David Peretz and Eileen Peretz

Want to spend some time exploring Burgundy? One luxurious overnight stop is located not far below Chablis in the charming town of Saulieu, a two and a half hour drive from Paris. There, you will find, in addition to a 12th century church and the nearby Park of Morvan (superb forests dotted with lakes and villages, hiking and bike trails), Le Cote díOr-Bernard Loiseau (Tel: 3-80-90-53-53; Fax:33-3-80-64-08-92; e-mail: loiseau@relaischateaux.com; or have a look at the website: www.bernard-loiseau.com). This hotel-restaurant is one of Franceís finest, itís restaurant rated three stars in the Michelin and its overnight accommodations superb. Day trips to Beaune and the Burgundy vineyards are within easy reach, as is Dijon. Additionally, there are abbeys and castles aplenty along the route from Paris, as well as the magnificent church at Vezelay.

Be warned, such quality does not come cheap: Le Cote d,Or is very expensive. But if you are prepared to splurge, you canít go wrong at Loiseau. In addition to the world-renowned cuisine, you can avail yourself of the spa facilities as well: massage (remarkably skilled, Amelie and Julie Elaine use a unique amalgam of light pressure and classic massage to produce great relaxation; a variety of skin, facial, body, hand and foot treatments are available). There is a small indoor countercurrent pool as well as an outdoor swimming pool and a small gym. Unfortunately, the gym facility is located in an open area adjoining the heated swimming pool and the room temperature makes aerobic exercise unwise. The management, cognizant of the problem, is wisely planning a renovation and a new gym facility in the near future. It should correct the problem. Of course, weather and season permiting, you can do your aerobics by walking, running, hiking or biking in the Park of Morvan.

The cuisine, lives up to its three star billing. We tried two menus: one vegetable and the other a tasting menu. The amuse bouche was a delicious pea soup. The vegetable menu consisted of three plates and dessert. The first course was a pot au feu of vegetables: cabbage, radish and potatoes. This was followed by a poached egg over mashed potatoes with a fabulous brown sauce. We "licked" the plate. A millefeuille of artichokes and black truffles (in season) came next- and was a four plus mmmmm. Dessert was a sorbet of tropical fruits. The degustation menu began with scallop and ossetra caviar in a vodka sauce. Next came frogs legs with parsley and garlic, a moist delicious preparation of river pike, steamed chicken, truffled, and served with foie gras and potatoes. We finished with a platter of local cheeses and a chocolate dessert. The meal was complemented by a 2001 Chablis and a 1999 Bourgogne, Loiseau wine selections, excellent quality, and available by the glass.

The a la carte menu offers great variety, including game in season. The tab can run up ordering a la carte. As it was, the menus were 152 and 158 euros (without wine), no more than the going rate for 3 star cuisine in France. So, if you are a gasronome, and flush, bring your appetite and your bank book. Room rates, we note, range from 300 euros, junior suites from 385 euros and suites from 430 euros. Service in the hotel-- and the dining room, is superb!

A very sad note. In 2003, Bernard Loiseau died. The restaurant lives on.

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