Lunch at Oxalys, Val Thorens, France, 9 March 2011

With Stephanie Lyndon

Back in March, Stephanie and I went skiing in the Alps.  One of the highlights of the trip was lunch at Oxalys, the highest (as in altitude) starred Michelin restaurant in the world.  I’ll get to the actual food in a second, but the lead up is a story in and of itself.  It took us all morning to ski there, and after meticulously scoping out the location (on the side of the mountain) we set off for another run.  Except we miscalculated our timing and ended up, 15 minutes before our reservation, down the hill from restaurant.

What to do?

Most people (although surely no one I know), might have skied down, taken the lift back up, and then skied down the correct trail – almost certainly arriving 15 minutes late.

But not us.  Intrepid skiers and ladies who lunch that we are, we snapped out of our skis right there, swung them over our shoulders and hiked up the hill, to the general amusement and bewilderment of  everyone else skiing down it.  I reflected at various points in this trajectory that there are few things that would induce me to climb up a hill in ski boots with skis over my shoulders, but apparently lunch is one of them.

In the end we arrived, switched out our ski goggles for some chic sunglasses, and proceeded on to the deck for lunch.  We were seated in full sunshine with a panoramic view of the mountains.  I promptly ordered a Kir Royal.  And the tasting menu.

The View

The first thing to arrive was the aperitif – a small parmesan cracker with peas and watercress.  Followed by the amuse bouche, a trio to be eaten left to right:

1.    a goat cheese sandwich with gooey oh-so-soft cheese between two crisp, layered crackers
2.    a small pot of crab with grapefruit jelly
3.    a smoked egg with asparagus veloute served in the eggshell – kind of like a souffle (or heaven, take your pick)

The Amuse

Then the first course: Papin oysters poached in Jerusalem artichoke and foie gras veloute with walnuts and “vin jaune” (yellow wine, but don’t ask me what that means).  It was creamy and rich, while at the same time light as a feather, with the silkiness of the oysters and the veloute perfectly complemented by the crunchy bits of walnut.

The Veloute

Second course: I had trout, perfectly cooked and nice and pink on the inside, with a watercress puree sauce and fresh watercress on top.  Stephanie had the homard bleu (blue lobster) with a curcuma sauce and beetroot.

The Trout       

Third course: we both had the filet of beef, mine cooked rare (the only way to eat meat, really), with a sarrasin (buckwheat) puree and spring onion.

The Meat

Then the cheese tray arrived.

Le Fromage

All sourced from Savoie, we chose 8 different kinds including three varieties of Reblochon, the local specialty, one classic, one smoked in pine and one that was ½ goats milk ½ cows milk.  We also tried a yummy hard goat’s milk cheese with fennel.  Did I mention I love cheese?

Oh, you thought it was over?  Think again.  In comes the palate cleanser (sorry, no photo, we at it too fast).  Followed by (drum roll please) the real dessert: La Pomme.  The house specialty, La Pomme is a meringue shell enclosing small bits of green apple in a sort of creme anglaise (but better).  You eat it by cracking the meringue and eating it all together kind of like Eton Mess (link for the Americans).

La Pomme Avant          La Pomme Apres

At this point we had run out of wine (both half bottles of it) and so naturally ordered two glasses of pink champagne.  We topped it off with an espresso.

The Aftermath

Sidebar: I got up to go to the toilettes before the cheese course and missed the visit from the chef – Jean Sulpice.  Stephanie, not speaking French, was able to say it was delicious but couldn’t get out anything else.  When I got back, I was of course devastated to hear I had missed this and so asked the waitress if he could come back, which he eventually did, at which point, in addition to telling him how amazing everything was, I also regaled him with the story of how we had hiked up the hill so as not to miss our reservation.  He looked at us like two crazy Americans (not unfounded, given the circumstances), and laughed.

It was 4pm by the time we finished, having outlasted every other table there.  A little bit tipsy, we somehow managed to get down to the chairlift and then onto the gondola home.  We skied down – trails completely in shadow and starting to ice up, but thankfully nothing too steep.  Thankfully, because skiing through an almost completely flat stretch, with no ice patch, bump or other obstacle in sight, I managed to fall spectacularly, throw both skis and end up caught in the orange plastic netting on the side of the trail, designed of course to keep people like me from falling down into the trees below.  I was duly hauled out by a nice, if slightly bemused, woman and her husband.  It was a miracle both my skis were still on the trail and not down in the woods.  I was unhurt, mostly embarrassed, but not even much of that as I was still rather drunk.

And so concludes another food adventure, beginning with strenuous phyiscal labor, and ending in a near death experience.  So worth it.