As I reported last month, Bistro de Paris, the upstairs, upscale restaurant at Epcot’s France pavilion, reopened Dec. 10 as Monsieur Paul. The restaurant is still expecting some fixtures, such as lights, tables and artwork, but the menu is set and the restaurant is open for business.
In some regards, the menu has been set for some time, as most of the items on it are signature dishes of Paul Bocuse, the monsieur of the name. Bocuse, of course, is considered by many foodies to be the world’s first celebrity chef. Fifty years ago he did something no other chef had ever done: he put his name on the restaurant. “Basically, my father was the first chef to come out of the kitchen,” says Bocuse’s son, Jerome, who owns the operation in Central Florida. “Fifty years ago, the chefs were working in the cellar, treated as third-class or fourth-class citizens.”
So he opened Paul Bocuse, also known as l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, just outside Lyon. Soon, says Jerome, other chefs were coming to his father to ask for advice. “He told them to come out of the kitchen, talk to the guests, talk to the press,” he says. That seems unimaginable today with the Ramsays, Bourdains, Lagasses and other chefs who are lionized (if not Lyonnaised).
Monsieur Paul is meant to educate its guests about that history, as well as his contributions to culinary excellence. The history will come from photos still to be placed along the curving stairway that leads to the restaurant and in a menu exposition. The food will speak for itself.
Under the direction of chef de cuisine Francesco Santin, who cooked for 15 years at l’Auberge before joining the team at Epcot a year and a half ago, the menu is a concise version of what one might find at the restaurant in France.
Perhaps the most iconic of the items is the soupe aux truffes V.G.E., a beef broth soup with oxtail, vegetables and black winter truffles. The initials in the soup’s name stand for former president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, for whom Bocuse first created the soup in 1975 at a dinner in the Elysee Palace, the residence of the French president. The soup, it seems, made quite an impression. It does here, too. It is served in crockery topped with a dome of puffed pastry. The broth is meaty and rich, and the multitudinous truffle slices take it to another level. There weren’t as many truffles in the soup here than in the one I enjoyed at Paul Bocuse in France, but there were plenty.
I enjoyed the mussel soup just as much, if not more. Plump mussels were submerged in a light fennel cream broth tinged with saffron. It had a taste reminiscent of a lobster bisque.
But lobster was the star of another appetizer, homard du Maine a l’Armoricaine, which features a Maine lobster but prepared in the style of Brittany. The lobster meat was served outside the shell in a reduction sauce with brunoise carrots and celeriac, which added a nice spicy note.
But even as good as those starters were, I liked the saumon mi-cuit marine, a fine piece of Canadian salmon that was barely cooked but so buttery tender and moist, accompanied by a blini and a round of cucumber with dill and salt. So good.
For my entree I had the herb-crusted rack of lamb, a perfect medium-rare temperature, with a wonderfully mild gamey taste. It was served with a Nicoise style tart with goat cheese, onions and arugula. On the side was a cassolette of flageolet beans with big hunks of ham.
My companion had the rouget Atlantique (red snapper) topped with tiny scales fashioned out of potato slices. The fish, perfectly cooked, sat atop braised fennel and in a puddle of rosemary sauce, which was a wonderful complement to the snapper.
For dessert, I appreciated the cool lightness of the raspberry sorbet, although the three chocolate cake and raspberry Napoleon were also quite good.
Service, as always at the France venue, was exemplary.
And now for the pricing. Dinner at Monsieur Paul will not be an inexpensive proposition. The truffle soup is a hefty $29; the five entrees range from $38 to $43. When one considers the quality, the prices are not outrageous. (Indeed, the truffle soup at the restaurant in France is currently priced at 80 euro, or almost $106 USD.)
The question is, will a restaurant of this calibre and price point be accepted inside a theme park? Jerome Bocuse says that his intention was to keep the restaurant as upscale as the Bistro de Paris was, but to make it a little less formal. The servers are no longer in tuxedos -- just white shirts with ties and black aprons -- and with the new tables, the linens will be removed. The atmosphere won’t be as jarring when the T-shirt and shorts wearing patrons are seated. But there will still be an incongruity.
And the prices still suggest formal. However, it is the cost of a fine meal, and for those who have never been out of the country, a chance to taste a bit of true French cuisine.
Paul Bocuse, of course, is one of the chefs of Les Chefs de France, the restaurant on the pavilion’s first floor. He, along with chefs Roger Verge and Gaston Lenotre opened the restaurant with Epcot. Lenotre died in 2009; Verge rarely leaves his home in Mougins, where his restaurant Moulin de Mougins is a jet-setter’s destination. And Bocuse, who will be 87 in February, doesn’t travel as much these days, not even to Central Florida where he has a home and a grandchild to visit.
It’s important for that legacy to continue.
Monsieur Paul is in the France Pavilion at Epcot. It is open for dinner daily. For those to whom such things are important, the restaurant is on the Disney Dining Plan and requires two credits. Here is a link to the website. Reservations can be made at the central dining reservation line, 407-939-3463.