This is the right time of year for Avignon. The weather is perfect and the tourists are gone.
La Mirande is nominally one of the top restaurants in town. The chef, Jerome Verriere, was a pupil of Alain Ducasse (but was he a good pupil - that's what we want to know). The location is ideal: in the hotel of the same name, across the street from the papal palace. The hotel needs to be described first since it is, surely, one of the finest in France. The building was a residence for church dignitaries. The 18th century facade is stunningly elegant. The interior, which boasts some 25 rooms, was decorated by Mme. Stein, the owner. The overall impression is of unostentatious luxury and impeccable taste. Everything is exactly comme il faut. There is fine art in the rooms and hallways, printed silk on the walls, and details like antique pushbutton light switches, linen sheets on the beds, and elaborate English fixtures in the bathrooms.
The restaurant is decorated with the same flawless taste, but that is the end of the good news. Given the ratings in the guidebooks (a Michelin star, a 15/20 in the G-M) M. Verriere punches well below his weight.
Dinner started with an amuse bouche of pumpkin cream, foie gras and mousseron mushroom. The alarm went of immediately. This (unimaginative) mixture had almost no discernable flavor, as if prepared in a spirit of mockery. My heart fell, since, in my experience, a bad beginning in a restaurant almost never leads to anything better (movies are like that too). The principal meal featured some slices of nearly tasteless seared tuna topped with an insipid tapenade. This was followed by sweetbreads with farfalle and truffles. Ris de veau are a good test of the quality of any restaurant. The outside of the meat (which should not be too thick) needs to be nicely sealed, and the inside without any trace of stringiness or glopiness. La Mirande just barely passed the test. It isn't that the dish was bad it just seemed like all of its components had been chosen for their blandness. And, anyway, truffles are out of season. These smelled and tasted like nothing.
With dessert, the bottomless pit nearly opened. The pistachio cream had spent too much time in the fridge, and the only recognizable flavor of the frozen topping was that of freezer burn. The waterlogged nuts on the bottom were a disgrace. I couldn't finish it.
The wines were splendid: a 1995 white Chateauneuf du Pape, and a 1990 red. Oddly, the glasses were like something you would buy at the Monoprix. The service was very correct.
I have no idea how much all this cost, since my menu had no prices. Too much, in any case.
Incredibly, the chef organises cooking lessons in an impeccably restored kitchen. Lessons? Hell he could take lessons from me!
Overall, this former residence of cardinals is heaven for a lounge lizard, but purgatory for a chow hound.