Imagine eating lunch in a museum dedicated to food. The walls and soft pastel furnishings have the regal feel of a palace. The food is presented as a series of exquisite courses, each a work of art; each outdoing one another. The atmosphere in the dining room is one of pure reverence, silence as each diner focuses on the plate ahead. It’s so quiet, in fact, that it feels wrong to speak above a whisper.
That was my experience at Le Parc restaurant at Les Crayeres, the finest hotel in Reims, France. My traveling partner in crime and I were anticipating our over the top lunch, but it did little to quiet the sticker shock of what turned out to be the most expensive meal – let alone lunch -that I’ve ever had. That actually says a lot, as I can be cheap or practical about most things in life; yet I’m perfectly willing to blow a lot of money on a good meal. The best meals I’ve had aren’t necessarily the most expensive, but ones that provide the best experience and return on the money you spend.
Individually, each dish at Le Parc was not a standout, but as an entire dining experience, it is certainly one of my best. Each dish was a piece of the entire experience. But what was shown on the menu as four actually amounted to more like 8 courses – 4 larger courses and 4 smaller ones, the latter of which were the the chef’s selections not listed on the menu.
We arrived for our reservation on time, and a maitre d’ escorted us to have a cocktail first in the sunroom. We ordered a glass of rose champagne (this was Champagne country, after all – literally), which we sipped contentedly while nibbling on a series of small bites and selecting our prix fixe menu. While we chose the four course option, a six-course option and a la carte menu were available, but the four-course menu was a much better value than ordering individual courses.
Shortly, a hostess escorted us back to the dining room. Pale cream, white, and grey tones; heavy window drapes and delicate wainscoting awaited us, as we were seated at a very white table. We ordered a bottle of the “cheap” red wine (only 75 Euros) and shortly received our first amuse bouche. Unfortunately, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I want to say it involved a celeriac mousse in a spoon or something similar. Sidebar: I know it’s shocking that I can’t remember each dish; there were just so many! I was overwhelmed by this experience. Sidebar over.
Our first course came next.
I recall a bit of poached foie gras, quail eggs, and a small bit of vegetables. I remember thinking that poached (cooked/boiled in liquid) sounded unappetizing, but it was quite good. Next, we were served another interim course of soup and then the first of two main courses. The second main course was a succulent lamb served with root vegetables and Israeli couscous or pearl barley.
Ready for dessert course, I was in heaven when, unexpectedly, the waiter came around with the cheese trolley. Wait, I could have any of about eight cheeses – and as much as I possibly could eat? I am such a cheese fiend, and I couldn’t get enough – despite being already full – of my sampling of hard and soft cheeses, accompanied by baguette, a whole grain and nut bread, dried fruit, and nuts.
Dessert was a beautifully symmetrical fig delight (photo above): fig mousse, fig gelee topped with a dollop of fig compote, all atop a fig creme and accented by three fragile cookie discs. It was so lovely that I had to violate my self-imposed food photo ban inside dining room and take the shot above.
Pleasantly satisfied, I was delighted when the meal concluded with the one thing any meal should include: dark chocolate. Four dark chocolates, including a chocolate lollipop, were served with our coffee on a tiny plate. My stomach was distended and painful after successfully leaving no chocolate behind, and I still turned to help a friend out by eating one …or two…of theirs.
The full experience of lunch at Le Parc is one French food adventure I won’t soon forget.