As I have written before, the two greatest chefs from Valence to the Mediterranean coastline, in that corridor which encompasses the Rhône Valley and Provence, are Anne-Sophie Pic of Restaurant Pic and Reine Sammut further south in Lourmarin. Is it a coincidence that both are women? I had long been a loyal customer of Anne-Sophie’s father, Jacques Pic, one of the most generous and gracious great chefs of France. He passed away long before his time, and the restaurant went through a number of difficulties before Anne-Sophie took over the kitchen and quickly restored it to its Michelin three-star glory. She has the Midas touch with just about everything, and I must make a point of eating at her bistro, which is adjacent to her flagship restaurant, as the menu looks incredible. Restaurant Pic is beautiful in its simplicity and elegance, and the staff here is one of the most gracious among all the Michelin three-star venues. The wine service has long been directed by Denis Bertrand, who was there when I first ate there under the administration of Jacques Pic in the early eighties.
All of Anne-Sophie’s courses, from her oysters to her remarkably precise, beautiful to look at, but more importantly, sensational to taste anchovies. I also had the langoustines and both my wife and I had the famous dish created by her father in 1971, the whitefish called Bar topped with caviar. It is an extraordinarily generous dish, and the combination is exquisite. Another mind-blowing dish is her extraordinary poularde de bresse, the famous appellation controlée chicken. It is hard to believe how much flavor this chicken has as well as its succulence and juiciness. It makes me wonder if she injects certain flavors under the skin with a hypodermic needle. In any event, it is a tour de force in terms of simple chicken raised to the level of a gastronomic tour de force. I try and avoid desserts as well as cheeses as a concession to managing my waistline, but the cheese selection here is out of this world. Moreover, the desserts, which my wife enjoyed, looked remarkable, and I did have a few bites, which were superb, particularly the fig made with Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee ice cream!
Many food insiders think that the two greatest Michelin three-star restaurants in France are Troisgros in Roanne and Restaurant Pic in Valence. Both are in towns not normally considered to be major tourist destinations, so they have to deliver, if not over-deliver, something special, in their cuisine and experience that keep people coming back. Certainly I will return as many times as I can.