Jacques Chibois is the chef orchestrating this symphony of flavor at the fine five-star hotel, La Bastide Saint Antoine in Grasse. Renowned among the culinary cognoscenti, La Bastide Saint Antoine is a powerful magnet drawing visitors up to the hills of Grasse otherwise known for its flowers and perfume. Maître Chibois is firmly grounded in the terroir Grassois, successfully integrating the heady aromas of Grasse with Provençal products and produce. His dishes evoked the scent and colors of a flowery bouquet without actually using any flowers. Fortunately!
The weekday lunch menu offers a wide choice of seven or eight starters, main courses or desserts which I think is important in this age when everyone is on some strange diet or another. Trying to cut down on high glycemic index whatever, I forsook the risotto appetizer with lobster and shrimp and ordered the Poitrine de Caille tiède, sur leur Croustillant de Carottes et Courgettes de Nice, Safranée à la Cardamone, which is to say “warm quail breast on crusty carrots and zucchini perfumed with cardomom”. The small chunks of quail breast were lightly grilled on the outside while pink and tender on the inside. The cardomom and other mysterious flavors added just the vaguest whiff of exoticism without overwhelming the dish.
My skinny companion went for the Le Mitonné de Homard, grosses Crevettes en Risotto de Cèpes secs au Champagne which I tasted and found extraordinary. “Isn’t the rice undercooked?” he asked. No, no! Risotto should be and rarely is al dente. It was perfection.
My quail was followed by a delightful Loup Sauvage poêlé aux Aubergines, zestes d’Orange et Févettes, Fondue de Tomate Basilic et huile d’Olive, sauce Citron vert or “wild sea bass pan-cooked with eggplant, orange zest and fava beans with tomato, basil, olive oil and lime fondue”. The melt-in-your-mouth sea bass combined so surprisingly with the citrus-y flavors and the zesty tomato sauce.
I’m not a partaker of pork but my companion was pleased with the Cochon accompagné de Cèpes Sautés, avec ses Pâtes Rôties au persil, Pain Perdu de Cèpes Sauce Elégante de Tonka. Tonka? Tonka? What’s tonka? It’s a South American bean described as “the ingredient so good it has to be illegal” Often used in perfume (ya see?) the indescribable flavor is alone worth a trek to Grasse to try.
But of course there was dessert. Most of the desserts used fresh fruit in contrasting flavors and adorned with chocolate or perfumed with nuts and spices. I couldn’t resist the strawberry soufflé with sorbet. It was so light and fruity. The little selection of “post-desserts” to accompany the coffee was perfectly balanced to end the meal with just a touch of sweetness.
The suggested wine for our choices was a white Sainte-Marguerite which went perfectly with all we had ordered.
The service was friendly and the outdoor seating around a lawn was tranquil and conducive to fine dining.
My only slight disappointment was not having something to nibble on with our champagne cocktail although the amuse-bouches soon came and were entirely satisfactory.