Auberge des 3 Pucelles (Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, France)

After a hectic April and May of traveling, I was looking forward to a relatively quiet June, and then work came up with an opportunity; for several days my coworker and I were visiting a commercialization partner in Grenoble, France, culminating in a trip to the Paris Air Show. So yeah, life is tough. After packing up and catching a flight out of Montreal (my general rule seemed to hold; Montreal is cheaper than Boston for French-speaking destinations, I’m guessing because of higher demand and competition?) into Paris, and then catching a flight to Lyon, and then about an hour’s drive, we found ourselves in Grenoble in the western foothills of the French Alps.

After an afternoon of actual work and facility tours, our hosts wanted to take us out to a nice dinner. Normally an easy task, much like the US, Monday isn’t the greatest day for restaurant outings; most of the places in Grenoble are closed on Mondays. But our host had a place he enjoyed west of town, up in the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors, up a winding mountain road outside of the village of Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte): L’Auberge des 3 Pucelles (roughly “The Inn of the 3 Virgins”, named after the nearby rock formation).

Arriving at L’Auberge, the interior is a pleasant and surprisingly-well appointed dining room (with a bit of a “mountain lodge” theme), and while in the winter months that might be great, during the summer months the attraction is definitely the terrace: behind the restaurant is an expansive, open-air terrace with surprisingly good rain cover (it was pouring the most of the time we were there, and we didn’t get wet at all). And, most importantly, a view, looking across the valley at the nearby Chartreuse Massif and the slightly further French Alps to the East, during our visit complete with rainbow. So it’s a very enjoyable spot to dine out in the open air, enjoying the mountain views.

The regular menu at the L’Auberge is “Traditional French”, with a selection of dishes, including steak frites, langoustines, fish, scallops (including the regional favorite Coquilles St Jacques) and lamb, but the daily specials included a seasonal asparagus salad and a Côte de Veau aux Morilles (veal steak with mushrooms), and almost everyone in our party went with that, relaxing with a light cocktail of Champagne, orange juice, and raspberry.

The asparagus salad was a surprisingly elaborate dish. As described on the menu, it was “a salad with asparagus, smoked duck breast, and some lemon sorbet”, and it came out as a large platter with several slices of duck breast, some very tender and pleasant asparagus with a light citrus sauce, both served up over a nicely dressed salad with vinaigrette, and a small bowl of lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser. I’m somewhat picky with my asparagus, and I rather liked this dish in both composition and execution, and it was a great start to the meal.

For my main course, it was the Côte de Veau aux Morilles. The Côte de Veau was a surprisingly large veal chop, a solid inch thick, and cooked up a perfect medium rare (if there’s one thing I’ve learned about French cuisine and steaks of any sort, it’s that I don’t have to worry about them overcooking it; the French adore rare and medium-rare meats) with a nice crisping on it. The veal itself was very flavorful; I typically find that the US meat industry overshoots when it attempts to raise white, tender veal, resulting in a less flavorful meat; this côte had a lot more color, texture, and flavor than most US veal, and was a pleasant change-up.

The rest of the dish was good as well; the mushroom sauce was nicely flavorful, the pommes de terre dauphinoise (basically “scalloped potatoes”, a regional specialty) a nice combination of tender potatoes with crisped edges as a nice gratin, and the frites perfect for dabbing up bits of the gravy and mushroom sauce.

Overall, I enjoyed L’Auberge des 3 Pucelles, and have to thank my hosts for a most pleasant meal there. The dining terrace and view were excellent, the staff friendly and accommodating, and the food enjoyable and nicely executed, even though it was apparent that Monday is not a busy day for them (indeed, there were only two other tables we saw that evening). The restaurant even has two friendly cats and a very large and gregarious St Bernard roaming around as well (I realize this isn’t every diner’s cup of tea, but the dog was friendly and well-behaved). I wouldn’t mind coming back for another visit.

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