“The $220 Chicken” Or Our Experiences at a 3-Star Michelin: Paul Bocuse

Actually, it was a friend who talked us into going. We read all the
reviews, talked to the guide. All of them pointed us to many other
gastronomic delights in Lyon. But he said, “How often in life will you
get the opportunity to go to a 3 Star Michelin?” Admittedly, curiosity
got the better of us so I emailed my reservation. 
Now, those who know us know we are not strangers to fine dining. We
have been to most of the top restaurants in LA at least once, and have
experienced many great meals at top restaurants in other parts of the
US and beyond. But a 3 Star? How good could it be?
When we arrived for our 8PM reservation on a Sunday night, the place
was almost empty. (The crowd really picked up by 9:30.) The ambiance
and the place setting was everything you would expect, extraordinarily
elegant. I did find the oil painting of the the fresh-killed rabbit (a
hunting picture) over our table a little disconcerting, but well,
perhaps we just don’t understand the French.
We were not starving, having feasted on wine and cheese at the Lyon
farmer’s market just hours before. But I was anxious to try this Bresse
Chicken I had heard so much about and we were ready. For those not
familiar with the Bresse Chicken allure, think Kobe beef but a bird.
The chicken gets daily massages and enjoys a diet of burgundy,
escargot, and chevre. The secret to the great flavor is that they are
so drunk when they are sacrificed that they never have that adrenaline
rush so their flesh stays all sweet and tasty. Ok, maybe I have a few
of the details not quite right. But tonight was the night for Bresse.
We perused the menu. They offered a fixed menu option (most restaurants
in France offer this) for $195 Euro ($273)/pp. It did in fact include a
course of Bresse chicken. But there were large quantities of other
things on there as well, and we were not starving. Also, another item
caught my eye – an a la carte Bresse Chicken for two, cooked inside a
pig’s bladder. Sticker shock: $160 Euro ($220). With our limited French
and the waiter’s limited English, he agreed that this menu item was the
way to go, so with much trepidation, we agreed. There was an appetizer,
a duck pate with interesting pistachio gelee, but not that memorable.
There was champagne, and a great Meursault. And then came the chicken.
It arrived in a platter looking like a giant balloon, which turned out
to be the pig’s bladder. They “pop” the balloon in front of us, and
then whisk the (surprisingly small) chicken to the side for carving. To
Scot’s chagrin, only the breast of the Bresse is plated. Scot only
likes dark meat. I assured him the dark meat will return, but he is
worried, so again, a waiter is summoned for reassurance. The chicken
was tender, succulent. It was very chicken-ey without being gamey, like
you would get in a heritage turkey. It was covered in a classic
cream-based sauce that while tasty I found unnecessary. Assorted
vegetables accompanied the bird. True to his word, about an hour later
the dark meat from the thigh and leg is then presented as a 2nd course.
(How did they keep it warm? Hmm.) I mourned the MIA status of the back
and some of the other parts I normally cherish. So was it worth it? I
would say it was definitely better than Costco’s Rotisserie chicken.
And also !
better than the Jidori chicken we had at the recently opened Foundry in
Weho. But was it the best darn chicken we ever had? It was up there,
but considering I don’t think I have ever paid more than $30 for a
chicken up until then, the subtleties are kind of lacking in
significance.
And then it was gone. But not before Mr. Bocuse himself came out for a visit. He is 82 now, so we appreciated his presence. Pictures were taken.
But there was even more to come, even though we were already quite
full. Next came the cheese. But this wasn’t just any cheese course.
Three waiters arrived with not one but three HUGE cheese carts. There
had to be 100 cheese options or more. They engulfed the table, begging
us to choose among them. It was quite dramatic. But wait, there’s more.
No sooner did we finish savoring them, but now it was time for dessert.
Three more huge carts arrived, filled to the brim with all manners of
pastry, fruits, chocolate, and more. Dozens of options. We settled on a
few pastries, a crepe, some fresh wild strawberries and crème. They
made us each take two desserts. Are we done yet? No. Then they brought
out a swan-shaped chocolate terrine with a candle for our anniversary.
Nice touch. Now we are done. No, then they brought out a pyramid
serving platter with many mini pastries and candy and place it on the
table. I love those meringues that look like little burgers. Sigh.!
The bill came, and we shook our heads in amazement, but we
were delighted to have experienced an amazing foodie adventure, unlike
anything we had done before. I am not going to say we have not had
better meals, but as far as the overall experience? It was luxurious
and uniquely special, and well worth what we spent. I would definitely
recommend it to all passionate foodies anywhere.

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