Given the flavor of our times, I decided to report to you from an extreme gastronomic frontier created for those of you who have more money than you know what to do with, a world where, if price is an object, you won’t have an ounce of fun—imagine yourself sitting down hungry and thirsty where the only aperitif is sixty dollars per glass. A world in which, given my métier, my expenses qualify for tax deductions.
Lake Annecy is forty-five minutes by car from the Geneva airport. Should dining be an important part of vacationing, your smile of delight will grow along with your waistline, because in Savoie, the wines keep getting better, and the food is as good as (and probably better than) in any of the French provinces. Even with snow on the ground, Savoie is a hotbed of deliciousness. Plus, the Alpine landscape is magnificent, the architecture of yesteryear striking, the people civilized. They take time to be pleasant. That’s all good.
Woodsy hotel/restaurant Yoann Conte is right on the lake in Veyrier—lovely views. And you’ll eat well. Their all-vegetable menu at 160 euros is what first prompted me to file this report. Delicious is the word for it. Imaginative, too. Even the carrot dans tous ses états. Another meal included snails in absinthe. The resto bakes their own breads and pastries, and it is a great place to explore Savoie wines and the region’s fabulous cheeses. One evening, to avoid a crise de foie, I ordered from room service and enjoyed the best since I began traveling many years ago. Incredible! Even the little serving of pasta was covered with a tomato sauce that rests vividly in my memory. And I’ll never make another soup of winter squash without a sprinkling of little bits of fried lardon or pancetta. Oh yes, one final marvel: they’d smoked a fish called fera from the lake, and I’d like to still have its magical aftertaste on my palate.
One night I drove into Annecy ville to dine at the Michelin two-star Le Clos des Sens and enjoyed discussing wines with their young sommelier. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed the cuisine. Maybe it’s me, but I found the speeches delivered with the arrival of each plate very distracting—wondering, for example, if the food would still be warm after the speech explaining what a genius the chef is. It was like having a museum guide who blathers on so much you can’t think for yourself. Conversation at table is continually interrupted by the staff’s rote self-congratulations.
My other hotel was nearby in Talloires, the Auberge de Père Bise, where my room was comfortable and classy, with superb lake and mountain views. The village itself is gorgeous. Let’s hope it is preserved as is—idyllic. I kept thinking I should move to Talloires for good, but the place has to cope with summer and winter flocks of tourists. October was a good time to go—fall colors, yet too cold for swimming and too warm for snow, so no mobs. Their two-star restaurant was fine enough but didn’t find room in my memory bank.
Also in Talloires, there’s a cool little joint run by a husband-and-wife team: Le Confidentiel. Sébastien cooks, and Fanchon does the service and the wine list. It was cozy and comfy and well done in all respects. Fanchon knew my name, because when she worked in Château Thivin’s cellar, she had to put my import strips on each and every bottle destined for the U.S. The chef’s quinoa roasted with dried tomatoes, capers, and confit de citron impressed me—that and his butternut soup. All was reasonably priced.
One day I said, “Price be damned, I owe a full report to my clientele,” and headed higher and higher up into the clouds, to visit Marc Veyrat’s remarkable restaurant. I felt like I was on top of the world, although maybe not this world. The prices are loony high, too, but it is worth ignoring the cost for such a magical, gastronomique extravaganza. I’m saying that if you go, you have to ignore the price—get it out of your mind. Push, push, let go, let go! Either that or you will suffer every bite of the way.
I’d say it is one of the five best meals of my life. It is hard to detail what each dish consists of—you will have enjoyed a meal made of hundreds of ingredients, all chosen and combined with genius. The important thing, the shocker: it’s all unbelievably delicious. The trout from Lake Léman smoked and served in tree bark. Foie gras with Alpine herbs and fig jam. Yow! Ris de veau with wild mushrooms and vegetables from his extensive garden. There were many plates, consistently delectable. They make their own breads, but no, you shouldn’t permit yourself to fill up on them, right? It’s tempting but not smart.
And finally, the cheese platter. When I see a cheese selection, I judge by the visuals. Each I gazed upon at Veyrat’s deserves a spot on the wall of the Louvre. A four-year-old Tomme de Brebis (I believe that’s what they called it) caught my eye. I asked the Italian sommelier to choose a glass of wine for it. The cheese was thick-textured, deep-flavored, brilliantly characterful. A crusty, wrinkled beauty! He brought me a Chardonnay from the Jura, one of the last wines I would ever have thought to order. It was a perfect match. The Chardonnay had no new oak, and splattered my palate like rays of the sun sparkling in the oxygen-thin Alpine sky. I know—that doesn’t make any sense, but Veyrat’s symphony left me in a stop-making-sense kind of mood.
Vive la Savoie!