Best restaurant of 2019
By leaving their Parisian Haï Kaï to garden in the village of Vailhan – a Languedocian paradise with a mere 160 souls, Amélie Darvas and Gaby Benicio have found happiness (äponem in the Pataxó language) in a seventeenth-century presbytery with views of the Peyne River. Seated in the Panavision dining room (bay windows, blonde hardwood floors, velvet seats), the day we went for lunch, we enjoyed terroir-heavy strokes of genius from a chef who unblocked our chakras. After a trio of amuse-bouches, Amélie’s surprise menu featured five perfect flavor bombs: fresh tomatoes with beehive honey vinaigrette, a peppery grapefruit sorbet, summer purslane, amaranth and marigold; subtle Albacore tuna marinated raw in lavender-infused grape seed oil, smoked under a bell and shacked up with beets from the garden; fresh cuttlefish seasoned only with lime, and carbonara-style linguine in an Iberian chorizo cream. Then, after a trou normand with cucumber-yuzu juice, there was a perfectly prepared supreme of pigeon, with a jus infused with tonka beans and white fig; before a delicate meringue bûche turned ashy with vegetable charcoal, filled with a kaffir lime crème madame. To wash it all down, the biodynamic Gaby had control of the corkscrews: Le Presbytère, a red Faugères from Le Mas d’Alezon (€8 a glass), Les Canilles, a Clairette from the Domaine Ribiera in Aspiran (€8), and a dry Muscat from Sauta Roc in Vailhan (€35 a bottle). Menus €38 (lunch), €55 and €75. // D.N.