I admit that I had not sampled Michel Bras's fare in decades, a bit put off by photos of the restaurant's ultramodern architecture and the hyped "nature boy" publicity. Now I am glad that I gave him, and son Sébastien, a chance. Perched at 1,200 meters in the open, verdant and rugged Auvergne, the Bras complex is welcoming, open, organized, and completely original. The food is kaeidoscopic and full of Kodachrome flair, but most of all, tastes are full-flavored and thoroughly delicious. A vegetable garden and well-chosen plots of edible herbs and plants provide a living larder for the chefs. You cannot say the Bras family does not make use of every single herb and vegetable that the earth offers. Their famed gargouillou -- on our visit a colorful and abundant vegetable salad mix of yellow and green zucchini, caulifower, paper-thin slices of turnips and beets, nasturium flowers, pimprenelle, garlic flowers and arugula, to name a few of the ingredients -- made me return home to appreciate the "supermarket" of herbs and salads I had in my own garden, and had stupidly ignored over time. But the star of the day was ther onion and summer truffle tartelette (photo), a generous, lively creation: a buttery pastry base, topped with soothing and mild young onions (here cébes de Lézignan), then a festive froth of cream and a generous halo of fresh summer truffles. An accompanying herb salad was reminiscent of Joel Robuchon's trademark salade aux herbes fraiches, a well-measured mix of fresh herbs and mixed salad greens. Even though I am not normally a fan of vegetable desserts (I don't like seeing carrots on my plate at midnight), the Bras dessert of dried, paper thin slices of eggplant paired with tomatoes cooked long and slow with a touch of sugar was beautifully architectural and rapturous in flavor. Although one might not think of going all the way to the Auvergne to sample great Burgundies (or any other French wines) Bras is worth the detour for the well-priced wine list alone. All the greats are there, and we sampled two favorites from the Lamy collection: including their white Saint-Aubin La Chaténiere 2009 and the red Saint Aubin Derrière chez Edouard 2009, both at their peak of perfection.
Michel et Sébastien Bras, route de l'Aubrac, 12210 Laguiole, France. Tel: + 33 (0)5 65 51 18 20. www.bras.fr. Menus at 120, 145 ,and 191 euros. A la carte, 170 euros. Rooms from 270 t0 580 eur0s. Open early April to end of October. Closed Monday , Tuesday lunch, Wednesday lunch (except July and August.)
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