Being a closet foodie, I’m well aware of the Michelin star rating system in France (and globally). After our new friend in Saorge, George,  mentioned visiting a starred restaurant in a nearby town, it got the wheels churning. When would we next have the opportunity to dine at a restaurant regarded as among the best in France?

So on Sunday in Saorge, I began my research. My eyes bulged at the prices. 100 Euros or more per person! Still, as we often say to one another, we won’t bemoan the money we spent on such an indulgence on vacation, but rather remember fondly the experience. So I settled on a buffet at La Table De Patrick Raingeard, located in Hotel Cap Estel in Eze, located about an hour away.

Buffets aren’t the norm in France, but I figured it would be more enjoyable to be able to taste a variety of foods.

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A Whole New World

The drive down the mountain and into Eze, located just outside Monaco, was pleasant, despite the impending clouds. We wound back and forth down a sloping hill toward the coast, and arrived at the walled hotel. We parked on the street and descended onto hotel property. The view was breathtaking.

We walked into the hotel, and I was prepared to ask where the restaurant was. But the 5-star staff anticipated my request.

“You are here for the restaurant?”

“Oui.”

“What is your name?”

“Payton.”

“Ah, bienvenue, Madame et Monsieur Payton. Francois will escort you to the restaurant. Please enjoy your meal.”

Wow. Quelle service. I was already impressed.

We took the elevator to the bottom level and emerged into a room of light, mirrors, and white. The handful of late-dining customers glanced up to see if we were anyone of note. We weren’t. I was nervous, I confess. What if the staff was snobby and made us feel like we didn’t belong? We’d been out for nice meals, but this by far surpassed any experience we’d ever had. For a moment, my sense of vertigo — of not belonging — turned me into that teenager I once was, wearing torn baggy jeans and a thrift store shirt going into the fancy hotel in my hometown, getting raised eyebrows and upturned noses.

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I needn’t have worried. Laurent, the Director of the Restaurant (we don’t even have a comparable title) made sure we were taken care of. The staff flitted around us like butterflies, ready to clear our plates or refill our champagne glasses before the need even arose.

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Food to Die For

I’d been pretty disappointed at the French food we’d had thus far. Microwaved, half-cooked steak hache sandwiches. Reheated pasta. Nothing to brag about. But this was an entire different echelon. The buffet itself was art. Shrimp and snails piled magnificently in a silver tureen. Delicate slices of salmon draped across a tray. Salads of every type glistened with olive oil and glowed with the colors of freshly-picked vegetables.

The system was interesting. You fill your plate at the buffet with these starter items, then come back for a plated meal. I chose the cod and Tirrell, the duck. Now, cod gets a bad rap in the US. We fry it as fish sticks, but it’s really amazing if cooked by a Michelin-starred chef! And despite my thinking I didn’t like duck, I really enjoyed Tirrell’s. Laurent asked how he wanted his duck cooked. I’ve never heard anyone ask that. It’s always a little overdone, making it gamey and chewy for me. But this was tender and ruby red in the middle.

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After two hours of leisurely eating (that’s the French way, after all), we ambled over to the dessert table. Normally I’d have one of everything, but I settled for a large slice of tarte tropezienne and a cup of coffee. Heaven.

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Topping Off the Day

After our amazing meal, we wandered around the hotel property and took photos. The light rain had begun, so we didn’t stay as long as I wish we could have. We drove home, contented with our experience, and ready for the next great meal.

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