Yann Rio has a pretty weighty resumé. He's cooked his way through the celestial spheres of Guide Michelin at Paris' Hotel Crillon, Le Pré Catelan, and Apicius, as well as the famed Bernard Loiseau in Saulieu.
But his new place, Nothing but the Best, is located in an obscure corner of the Roads. Here, he eschews the fat, calories, and cholesterol of traditional French cuisine in favor of a lighter, olive oil- and vegetable-oriented Mediterranean approach. That means clean, bright, vibrant flavors enhanced, not masked, by judicious use of butter or cream.
NBTB wears its cloak of elegant, sophisticated chic like a hand-tailored Armani. The small dining room is a study in cool shades of gray and natural tones of stone and wood, with cream-colored leather banquettes, a glassed-in wine room, and a partially open kitchen. Dominating the space is a pair of works by local artist Christian Bernard — one is a vaguely Japanese affair with three golden panels set against a black, white, and red background; the other is an installation that appears almost otherworldly but is actually the resin cast of a gnarled tree trunk bathed in silver leaf and dramatically backlit.
That same sense of drama and artistry extends to Rio's plates, mostly polished white rectangles approximately the size of a tennis court. A quartet of crisp risotto croquettes arrives lined up like soldiers on a smear of verdant basil-mint pesto, with a fifth orb suspended over a shot glass of truffled chicken stock. You're supposed to take a bite of the croquette and chase it with a sip of the aromatic stock. It sounds more interesting than it really is.
Rio coaxes every microgram of flavor out of his asparagus soup. Made with asparagus puréed with its cooking water and just a touch of cream, it captures both the vegetable's herbal elegance and its grassy intensity, a duality accented by the addition of a spoonful of the accompanying porcini-infused chantilly cream.
Foie gras is delivered in all its blessed excess. Two thick coins — richer than the House of Saud and with the texture of edible cashmere — are sliced off a terrine, laid atop wafer-thin croutons, and plated with a bit of lightly dressed greens and "foie gras crème brûlée," an inventive play on the classic dessert that adds foie to the traditional custard base. It's a lovely dish, almost perfectly realized, but one that cries out for some fruit or acid or something to cut all of that aching richness.
Though the foie needed more, beef tartare needed less — as in less of the multitude of accoutrements that obscured the beefy flavor of the tenderloin, hand-chopped to order. Onion, pickle, capers, shallot, parsley, Tabasco, Worcestershire, ketchup, mayo, soja sauce — almost more gilt than lily. Then there was the starch. Irregularly cut "shaved potatoes" served with the tartare were limp and soggy. The potatoes "Pont Neuf" served with flank steak Bordelaise were limp and greasy. The potato "churros" served with the paprika butter lobster were nearly raw and gummy in the center.
Still, there are other things to like. The flank steak was as tender and flavorful as any flank steak has a right to be, even if cooked closer to medium than the requested medium-rare. And its bacon-spiked Bordelaise sauce was pure genius. The lobster was composed of fat, buttery pieces of tail meat set adrift in deeply savory, bronzed lobster broth fortified with slivered leeks and peppers. Indeed, the broth was so vibrantly flavorful it nearly stole the show from the lobster.
But the tamarind sauce gracing duck breast cooked a la plancha was inexplicably bland, like garden-variety demiglace, with none of tamarind's beguiling sweet-sour nuances. Its partner of sautéed spinach and caramelized onions, though, was priceless.
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Priceless too (OK, it's really $12) is a riff on the runny-centered chocolate cake — a plush, airy, intensely chocolatey disc that when pierced with a fork spills a river of warm, gooey dark chocolate laced with white chocolate and pistachios. Deconstructed tarte tatin is more hit-and-miss, hitting with rosemary-scented chunks of caramelized apple that happily dance the razor's edge between sweet and burnt, missing with dust-dry, crumbly shortbread subbing for the traditional buttery dough.
Hit, miss. Miss, hit. So far, at least, nothing but the best intentions doesn't quite add up to nothing but the best.