We finished up a ten day trip to France and Italy with a night each at Georges Blanc in Vonnas and La Pyramide in Vienne. Both were worthy stops, but for the money (lots in each case), Pyramide was better.
Georges Blanc (the business as opposed to the chef) is the industry of the town of Vonnas. In addition to the original restaurant (now expanded to three buildings, pool, helipad, etc.), GB has two large boutiques (one for prepared food and wine, the other for gifts), a second bistro type restaurant and another hotel with relatively modest accommodations. The physical plant of the main building is nothing short of stupendous. Our room was simply terrific, with a bathroom that we wanted to pack up and ship back to the U.S. The dining room defines elegance. There are great kitchens to watch through plate glass windows, fabulous lounges and a new breakfast area that would do honor to the Ritz in Paris. As always, the service was impeccable. Most impressively, Madame Blanc was everywhere to be seen in the dining room as was the restaurant's long time Maitre d'Hotel. The chef himself was in residence that night and did the rounds of the tables.
Without in any way denigrating the overall experience, we nevertheless found the food and the wine list less than thrilling. As for the wine, no doubt GB still has one of the best Bordeaux and Burgundy collections in France. Prices for same are not unreasonable for a three star restaurant, but the list lacked serious attention to the rest of the major French wine areas, even the nearby Rhone. Consequently, it was hard to escape without paying $150 for a half bottle of white and a good red. The wine service was knowledgeable, but we could not help feeling that we would have had more attention from the sommelier had we ordered a $300 bottle of Cotes de Nuits.
The food was very good, but lacked consistency. A poached lobster starter was bland. Scallops in an intense stock reduction scented with lemon, however, could have won awards anywhere. We opted for tradition on the main courses, both ordering poulet de bresse in (two different) cream sauces (one simple, the other with poached garlic and foie gras). These were very good, but the portions were small and they neglected to ask simple questions like whether we preferred white or dark meat.
The true highlight of the meal was the cheese cart: fabulous runny cheeses like Epoisses and St. Marcelin made us remember why we occasionally spend rediculous amounts of money on three star restaurants. The desserts, however, were wholly forgettable.
La Pyramide in Vienne (the now much refurbished former restaurant of Ferdinand Point and his widow)holds the promise of becoming a destination restaurant. The chef, young Patrick Henriroux, is both creative and respectful of traditionl. Our starters were from the avant garde part of the ledger: an interesting chilled version of the provencal soupe de poisson matched with various kinds of seafood (much better than it sounds)and an Asian spiced grilled scallops. Main courses were closer to the old fashioned. A gorgeous squab roasted with vegetables for one; a beatiful baby veal roast with wild mushrooms for another. Both were carved at the table. Cheeses once again were terrific, although perhaps just a lick short of GB. Desserts were excellent. Service at Pyramide is as good as any three star restaurant (though they have only two stars) and the wine list, though shorter than GB, was more varied, interesting and better priced. We particularly enjoyed the Cote Rotie recommended by the sommelier from a little known small producer.
Rooms at Pyramide has been refurbished and are very comfortable. The rest of the restaurant is beautiful, without being overly grand, with just enough touches of the original to remind any lucky persons who may have eaten there in the 50s and 60s of what was then the greatest restaurant in France.