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Archive for October, 2010

fried shoestring courgettes (£2.50)

Two Fridays ago, Gourmet Chick and I went on a double date to Tinello, a newish Italian that’s gotten lots of publicity thanks to its association with Locanda Locatelli, where Tinello’s owners used to work as sous chef and sommelier. As Gourmet Chick has already noted in her excellent blog post about that evening, our husbands struck a rich vein of conversation in voicing the indignities they suffer at the hands of their food-blogger wives. There was even talk of creating an anti-food-blogger blog. (Good luck with that, guys).

fried artichoke (carciofi) £3.50

Gourmet Chick has covered the evening pretty well, so I highly recommend that you read her post. My own thoughts on the place are:

  • The interior’s mix of exposed brick walls and stylish lighting fixtures is both cool and welcoming, especially for a spot so close to not-usually-either Sloane Square.
  • Appetizers of the bacaro-small-plates variety were boring/classic, but generally very tasty. The person manning the fryer knows what’s up.
  • Our server’s wine suggestion was spot-on in terms of both the budget and style of wine we described as desirable. So I’d definitely recommend Tinello as a great place for snacks and wine.

chicken liver crostini (£1.90)

calamari chickpea (£7)

  • Things got a little rocky when it came to mains and desserts at Tinello. In fairness to the restaurant, we didn’t try any of the meat or fish courses, and instead we stuck to the pastas, which turned out to be nothing special.

pumpkin ravioli (£11.50)

  • My pumpkin ravioli was by far the best pasta ordered at the table that evening, and although there were a few too-large-and-therefore-too-tough chunks of pumpkin lurking in the ravioli, overall, I enjoyed the pasta.

Gnudi (£11)

  • Gourmet Chick’s gnudi wasn’t the fluffy-fresh ricotta-gnocchi fest I was expecting. It tasted like loose filling swimming in olive oil, which wasn’t appealing.

paccheri with burrata and nduja sausage (£11)

Jon and MTV Boyfriend both ordered the paccheri with burrata and nduja, a spicy, spreadable sausage. We hit a bump in service when both men thought their pastas were still crunchy in parts (i.e., a bit too al dente).

Our servers seemed conflicted between wanting to continue offering friendly, helpful service (and taking the dishes back for reheating or remaking) and falling into an unpleasant “the customer is wrong” mode (explaining to us that the dish was meant to be this way/al dente). It was awkward all around, and even though ultimately our servers took the dishes away to be remade or heated until the pasta was softer, the damage was done. And we felt both indignant and embarrassed at the same time.

By the time the dishes arrived again at our table, Gourmet Chick and I had finished our mains, and nobody was in the mood to appreciate the contrast between the silky-cool cream of the burrata and the spicy heat of the tomato-nduja sauce. Service really can make-or-break a meal.

"apple cake" on the menu, apple strudel on the plate (£4.50)

We finished our dinner with a generous hunk of pecorino with bite (£5.50) and something that was described on the menu as “apple cake,” but was instead a passable apple strudel.

With teas, coffees and a tasty bottle of wine (a Carmignano) for £45, our total came to a modest £30 per person before service.  If not for the service hiccup, I’d say Tinello was a pleasant, reasonably-priced addition to the Sloane Square dining scene.

Tinello Restaurant, 87 Pimlico Road, SW1W 8PH; 0207 730 3663; closest tube station: Sloane Square
Tinello on Urbanspoon

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la table lumiere at Alain Ducasse Restaurant

Last Wednesday evening, I finally gave in to the temptation of accepting a restaurant’s “invitation to review.”  I figured that if I accept only one freebie in my life, it might as well be a 3-Michelin-star one.

Four other bloggers (A Rather Unusual Chinaman, Cheese & Biscuits, Hollow Legs, Greedy Diva) and I were invited to eat or drink anything of our choice at Alain Ducasse, housed in the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane.

behind-the-scenes in the kitchen at Alain Ducasse

Greeted at the restaurant by Alain Ducasse’s internal PR person, we were definitely not anonymous diners.  So that’s the end of my guilt-ridden full disclosure.

I’ll start with the high and low points of the evening, followed by all the pictures of the food and the blow-by-blow for the hard-core food nerds (myself included):

High points:

  • The private “table lumiere,” which unlike other private tables, still benefits from the buzz of surrounding tables by cleverly using a wall of fiber optic strings to provide privacy without blocking out noise.  When the fiber optic lights are on, it’s all very shimmery and pretty in a blingtastic sort of way.  A nice contrast to the otherwise staid dining room.  (Of course, the curtain does lure you into a sense of complacency,  so it’s hard to remember that everyone around you can just as easily hear you as you can hear them).
  • The service.  As you’d expect at a 3-star resto when the service know you’re there to do a review, everyone (the restaurant director, Nicolas, the sommelier, Mathias, all the servers) was friendly, helpful and attentive in a discreet sort of way.  No detail was overlooked, and no glass went empty.  We got 3-star service, no ifs ands or buts.
  • The kid-in-a-candy store feeling of ordering anything we wanted from the menu.  The regular tasting menu is £115, and the seasonal one is £180.  Wanting to see what the kitchen offered at such a lofty price point, we chose the seasonal menu.
  • Desserts.   I lack a sweet tooth, but the five of us tried all six desserts currently offered by the restaurant, and they were uniformly wonderful, ranging from merely delicious to geniusly-creative.  Lime souffle with Sichuan peppercorn ice cream, I will remember you always.
  • The subversive high of not paying the bill at the end of our meal.

Low Points:

  • The feeling that most courses on our £180 tasting menu were a tick-box exercise in luxury.  I probably won’t remember any of them a week from now.  In contrast,  six years on, I still crave the oysters and pearls, smoked salmon cornet, and golden, magically-translucent crispy bone marrow of Per Se.
  • The lobster course.  Overcooked and overwhelmed by the cinnamon-red-wine sauce.  It makes me sad when lobsters die in vain, and even sadder when it dies at the hands of a kitchen that should know better.
  • The beef fillet course.  I’ll take partial responsibility for this one because I find filet mignon generally flavorless, so it wasn’t a surprise that I kept wishing the steak on my plate had more char and fat.  I should have asked for a substitution here, but at this level of cooking, if the restaurant’s going to offer the dish on its menu, shouldn’t it appeal to even filet mignon skeptics?

Would I go back on my own dime?

  • Not for the autumn tasting menu.  For £180, the autumn menu offered a stunning variety and quantity of luxury ingredients.  Caviar, foie gras (twice), lobster, filet mignon, truffles.  But other than the desserts, the food just felt dutiful.  Where were the moments of wonder?  Like the ones I remember at 3-starred Per Se, or at the relatively-humble 1-starred La Grenouillere?
  • Thinking about recent haute cuisine experiences in London, I recall the tasting menu at 2-starred The Square for £100.  No question that the Square’s menu lacked the OTT luxury ingredients of what we tried at Alain Ducasse, but the Square’s menu seemed to achieve the elusive “value for money” designation because for £80 more per person, I wanted more “wow,” not pricier ingredients.
  • In fairness to Alain Ducasse, I had a marvelous time at dinner that night, because undoubtedly the front-0f-the-house is more than half the battle in the 3-star world.  I can say for sure that when the service at Alain Ducasse wants to be charming and helpful, you’ll feel like you’re the most special person on earth.  But of course, because none of us were dining anonymously, I can’t tell you whether I would have felt this cared for if I’d been just a regular schmo with £400 per person to burn (because surely, with wine, champers, digestifs and service, that’s about what our bill would have totalled, at least).
  • I’d be curious to hear what people think of Alain Ducasse’s £115 “regular” tasting menu.  No question I would have been a lot more forgiving at that price point, and the amazing service and setting would have tipped the scales more in favor of “yes” when answering the above question.

Below is the full shebang on the food:

marinated scallop in a rich nage topped with "Kristal caviar"

Caviar.  Check.  It may be farmed (“Kristal” – such clever marketing, no?), but we all have to do our part to help that wild sturgeon population recover.  The important thing is that the caviar still tasted nutty, briney and creamy.  The scallop was irrelevant.

seared duck foie gras, potato gnocchi, ceps and fresh almonds

Nice textures, and the foie gras did its meaty melt-in-your-mouth job, but  instead of adding duck jus tableside,  something sweet or acidic to break up the one-note meatiness of this course would have been nice.

roasted Scottish lobster, apple and quince cooked in cinnamon and salted butter

Even if the lobster hadn’t been somewhat tough, I suspect the cinnamon-spiked apples and quince and red wine sauce would have overwhelmed the delicate sweetness we all know and love in fresh lobster.  I can’t resist contrasting this disappointing course with the still-translucent succulence of the lobster roll at Daniel Rose’s Spring, as well with the delightfully delicious roast lobster tail at La Grenouillere (likely the best haute cuisine experience of 2010, by the way).

turbot fillet cooked Florentine style and with shrimp, walnuts and Arbois wine

Very good.  I never get my home-cooked turbot to turn out this beautiful or delicious.  And look at those carved mushroom caps – charmant, no?  The shrimps could have been more thoroughly-deveined, though (see e.g., the shrimp in the upper-left-hand corner of this photo).  You expect better.

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Filet mignon, seared foie gras ("tournedos Rossini") and super-cool lettuce

A slight play on a classic dish, the filet mignon “Rossini style” was memorable mostly because I wondered how I could recreate the charred-but-not-limp lettuce at home.  The other reason the lettuce was a highlight is because it was dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette that went perfectly with the foie gras on toast.  In case the other courses weren’t luxurious enough, this course doubled down with both filet mignon and foie (again).

truffled brie de Meaux

Cheese course time.  Sometimes you wonder if truffle is added just to make something more expensive.  Not here, though.  The floral-earthy scent of truffle melded right into the creamy brie and lifted the cheese out of boring land.

lime souffle, white cheese and Sichuan pepper sorbet - genius

Reading off the menu, you could say “souffle?  yawn.”  But you’d be wrong.  Not only was this souffle technically-perfect (light as air, yadda yadda) and intriguingly-flavored (sweet and tart, always a winner), but also the accompanying Sichuan pepper sorbet was genius.  The peppercorn’s citrus scent matched the souffle perfectly.

coco-caramel delight, lemon-vanilla sorbet

praline-chocolate biscuit, milk-salt flower ice cream

I love the taste and crunch of praline, especially when married with bittersweet chocolate.  What lifted this dessert beyond mere delicious status was the accompanying milk-salt flower ice cream, which, eaten alone, tasted horribly salty.  But when taken with the biscuit, the salt ice cream heightened the flavors of the praline and chocolate.

rose and raspberry pleasure

At any other restaurant, a highlight.  but here, merely very good and refreshing.

pear variation - coup de poires, sorbet mascarpone

Same comment as applied to the raspberry rose thingy.

rhum baba

The famous Alain Ducasse rhum baba.  You can tell it’s special because of the elaborate serving dish, no?  I’ve never liked rhum baba, which, at its worst, is just soggy stale cake.  So it’s no surprise that this one, while better than most, still tasted too much of rhum and too little of cream and cake.

And that’s it.  There were tons of delicious mignardises and gourmandises (I wish I’d taken more than a single salted caramel), digestifs to choose from, and the fresh-herb tea options were dramatically wheeled out on a cart for our choosing.

  • £55 for 2 courses (appetizer and fish or meat)
  • £75 for 3 courses (appetizer, fish or meat and dessert)
  • £95 for 4 courses (appetizer, fish and meat and dessert)
  • £115 for the tasting menu
  • £180 for the seasonal tasting menu

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel, 53 Park Lane, W1A 2HJ; 0207     629 8866; closest tube station:  Hyde Park Corner or Green Park.
Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester on Urbanspoon

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Montreal as viewed from Mont Royal

 

 

at the maple syrup museum - so Canadian

 

The weekend following the one we spent in Wicklow, Ireland, Jon and I arrived in Montreal to attend another friend’s wedding.  At Montreal-Trudeau airport, a bit of karmic payback for all the Canada digs I’ve inflicted on my Canadian friends:  a 90-minute queue at immigration.  Who knew so many people wanted to get into Canada?  : )

 

croquembouche

 

In addition to attending our friend’s wedding (croquembouche should be the de facto wedding cake for the whole world, no?), Jon and I were able to sample a few of Montreal’s delights and sights.

 

Fairmount Bagel bakery in Montreal

 

 

Montreal bagels (.70-.85 CAD) from Fairmount bakery

 

First up, the Montreal bagel.  Our friend, born and raised in Montreal, recommended Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel.  Indifferent between the two, we visited Fairmount and ordered a half-dozen bagels (sesame, onion, and everything) to get us through two breakfasts in Montreal.  The bagels are sweeter and smaller than their New York cousins, and while I see the appeal of the Montreal bagel, I didn’t think they were chewy enough.  Maybe the dough wasn’t boiled enough before baking?  Or maybe, just maybe, I’m too biased towards New York bagels to make an objective assessment.

Fairmount Bagel, 74 Fairmount Avenue West, Montréal, QC H2T 2M2, Canada; +1 (514) 272-0667; Underground: Station Laurier

 

poutine classique (5.80 CAD) and poutine Rachel (6.95 CAD) at La Banquise

 

 

onion rings (3.25 CAD), the perfect side dish to your poutine, bien sur

 

Then, for lunch, we had to try poutine.  That’s french fries covered in beef gravy and cheese curds, in case you didn’t know.  Jon and I were directed to try the poutine at La Banquise, which is open 24 hours a day and is a poutine specialist.   The place is huge and the clientele varied (old, young, yuppie, scruffy, tourist, local).

We tried the poutine classique and the poutine “Rachel,” a version topped with sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms.  And I couldn’t resist getting onion rings, too, because when your main course is a large plate of French fries, clearly a side of onion rings is called for.

Much as I love fries, I didn’t love my poutine.  The gravy was bland (i.e., not particularly meaty), and the cheese curds were rubbery, much like fresh mozzarella that doesn’t quite melt when you add it to your hot pasta.  Jon called his poutine “a waste of perfectly good fries,” and I must confess I agree based on our one try at La Banquise.  Although I can see how wonderful poutine would be on a cold day when you’ve been out playing ice hockey for nine hours (or after a late night out), I can’t imagine other scenarios in which I’d crave it.  Verdict:  an acquired taste.

La Banquise, 994 Rachel Est, Montréal, QC H2J 2J3, Canada; +1 (514) 525-2415; Underground: Station Mont-Royal

 

fantasy armies clash in Mont-Royal park

 

Feeling rather weighed down after our poutine extravaganza, Jon and I decided to walk to Mont-Royal park, which is a 20-minute ramble from the resto through the shop-filled Plateau neighborhood.  The stretch we walked reminded me of Adams-Morgan in DC — rather studenty-raffish-hippiesh.

Mont Royal Park was beautiful and full of Montreal’ers enjoying the sunny fall weather.  Best people-watching moment:  coming upon what appeared to be fantasy armies fighting for victory.  The “armies” were comprised of young and old, and Jon and I wondered how these armies/teams are organized.  Are they part of some league?

Jon and I also spent time exploring old-town (Vieux) Montreal, whose cobblestone streets are indeed picturesque, but the high percentage of shops selling tourist schlock was disappointing.  Also, there’s no nice way to say this, but if you’ve spent a lot of time in France, Vieux Montreal will seem really, really small.  Like a Hollywood-set version of France.

 

Basilica Notre Dame in old Montreal

 

Our friend’s wedding ceremony took place in Basilica Notre Dame, which is also a major tourist attraction in Montreal.  So we were happy to play both tourist and wedding guest and ooh and ahh at the basilica’s size and splendor.

 

Le Roi du Won Ton ("Taiwanese Restaurant) in Montreal

 

Having over-indulged at the wedding reception (which took place at one of the old mansions left standing in downtown Montreal), Jon and I sought out the comforts of Chinese noodle soup the next day.  Chowhound pointed us to Le Roi du Wonton, located in Montreal’s “real” Chinatown near Guy-Concordia metro station (which is *not* the pagoda-marked Chinatown that gets touted in guidebooks).

When we found the restaurant, I was amused to see that in Chinese characters, the place is named “Taiwan restaurant.”  But for French speakers, the place is called “Wonton King.”

 

won ton soup at Le Roi du Won Ton

 

 

dan bing (egg pancake) at Le Roi du Won Ton

 

 

fried pork chop at Le Roi du Won Ton

 

In tribute to both names, Jon and I tried the wonton soup (great broth, good, but not royally good, wontons), as well as the Taiwanese comfort food dishes.  Dan bing (a cross between an egg crepe and a scallion pancake) was satisfying in an oily way, but the fried pork chop was a bit dry and underseasoned.  The straight-from-a-bag veg was also a bummer.  So overall, I’d stick with the noodle soups and won tons and ignore the “Taiwan” part of the restaurant name.  Service was slow but homey and friendly.  I don’t recall anything costing more than 8 CAD.

Le Roi du Wonton, 2125 St. Marc, Montreal; +1 514 937 5419; Underground:  Guy-Concordia

Overall, we had a relaxing weekend in Montreal, and I regret not being able to sample its famously laid-back, cool nightlife.  We’ll have to pay a visit on our own, when we don’t have a wedding to attend.

Logistics:

Using vrbo.com, Jon and I rented a mint-condition 2BR apartment near the Berri-UQAM metro station for 165CAD/night.  Renting this apartment was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had with vrbo.com (and I suspect we’ve used vrbo.com almost a dozen times).  The owner, Sue, was friendly and extremely helpful.

Within Montreal, the metro, taxis and Boris-bike-style programme make getting around super easy and inexpensive.

Taxis from Trudeau Airport to downtown Montreal are fixed price at 38 CAD for the 25-minute ride, but I heard good things from other wedding guests about the 747 Express Bus that costs 7 CAD per person each way.

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Rathdrum, Ireland

 

Two weeks ago, Jon and I celebrated the wedding of good friends in the rolling countryside just south of Dublin.  Luck was with us and the weather that weekend was sunny and mild, and while most of the weekend was spent at wedding festivities (such that I didn’t get a chance to eat out in local restaurants), the parts of County Wicklow we saw were so pretty that I thought I’d do a brief write-up anyway.

 

McGowan's Lounge Bar/The Cartoon Inn

 

We spent one afternoon walking around the small town of Rathdrum, whose highlight is McGowan’s Lounge Bar, which is connected to the Cartoon Inn.  The Lounge Bar entrance is labeled with signs telling you that Michael Collins was filmed here, and the Cartoon Inn portion is amusingly wall-papered with old cartoons.  Rathdrum used to host the Rathdrum International Cartoon Festival, you see.

There’s not much to see in town, so if you’re in the area, I’d skip Rathdrum itself and visit nearby Avondale House instead.  I’ve visited Ireland only twice, but based on both trips, I agree with everyone who says Ireland’s beauty lies in the countryside, not in its towns and cities.

 

The full Irish brekkie

 

Jon and I didn’t like our B&B (see below for more deets), but I will say the full Irish breakfast hit the spot the morning after the wedding reception.

 

Trinity College, Dublin

 

With a couple of hours to kill before our flight from Dublin back to London, Jon and I enjoyed the sunshine and people-watching in St. Stephen’s Green and then walked down the unimaginably-crowded, chain-store-packed Grafton Street.  We ended our time in Dublin by paying 9 euros each to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College Library, which was an underwhelming experience.  I knew going in that the Book was a really old, illuminated Bible, so if I’d thought about it a little more, I probably could’ve predicted that it’d be disappointing.  After all, I remember seeing the much-older Dead Sea Scrolls for free at the New York Public Library, and there was no shortage of illuminated manuscripts for perusal at the university library when I was young ‘un.  So yeah – seeing four pages of the Book of Kells – not worth our 18 euros.

Overall, I’d love to return to Wicklow and see more of the countryside.  So the next time you’re planning a trip to Dublin, schedule some time in Wicklow, too.

Logistics:

Jon and I stayed at a small B&B near Rathdrum called Birchdale House.  It was inexpensive (70 euros a night) and close to the wedding venue.  But I wouldn’t recommend it.  When Jon and I arrived, the B&B owner told us he’d accidentally double booked the room we’d reserved and so we’d have to take a room without a bathroom.  He knocked 10 euros off the price, but I’d rather he’d called us earlier to tell us about the mistake so that we could have chosen to stay somewhere else.  Our room was tiny; the sheets were scratchy; and overall, the room still wasn’t worth paying 60 euros a night for.

If you haven’t rented a car and instead have taken the train from Dublin to Arklow, I’d highly recommend Aughrim Cabs to get around once you’re in that part of Wicklow.  They were super reliable and friendly, and although most of our cab rides were 20-minutes long, the fare always seemed to be 10 euros.

We used a taxi between Dublin City Center and Dublin Airport, costing about 25 euros for the 30-minute ride.  There’s an express bus that costs just 12 euros return, but we were too short on time to figure out where the bus stops were.

For the London-Dublin route, there are a million flights to choose from.  Jon and I used RyanAir because Stansted is handy to Liverpool Street station, near both our offices.  Our tickets cost £75 each for a return ticket.  From a cost perspective, there’s no reason *not* to return to Ireland soon.

  • To read about my only other visit to Ireland (embarrassingly, five years ago), click here.

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charcuterie at sunset in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Although Jon and I were in Burgundy for a week, our dining options were constrained by the fact that (1) someone else chose our hotels for us; and (2) we were traveling by bicycle.  Dinner options were therefore confined to restaurants within the town where our hotel was located, and lunch options couldn’t be too far off our daily route or else we wouldn’t reach our hotel by sunset.

As was the case in the Loire Valley last summer, the Via Michelin website was pretty handy for planning out restaurants based on a driving or cycling itinerary, and my favorite two meals of the trip were of the bib gourmand variety.  Although I agree with the many who argue that the Michelin guide is skewed in favor of French techniques and flavors, that particular flaw is no bad thing when you’re, you know, in France, looking for French food.

At all restaurants we tried in Burgundy, regardless of whether the food was good or bad, the wine lists were huge and markups not too bad.  So even if the kitchen was a bummer, the wines generally saved the meal.

 

outstanding steak tartare at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin

 

 

cheese course at Chez Guy

Lunch at Chez Guy in Gevrey-Chambertin was my favorite meal of the trip.  The day was sunny and warm, and the restaurant terrace is large and comfortable.  The menu offerings were classic, simple and well-prepared.  My steak tartare, a tender, chopped-up onglet steak, was a thing of beauty despite the humble cut of meat used.  The tangy-sweet seasoning was exactly what I craved and so I forgave the wimpy, limp fries.  Even the cheese course, too often an after-thought at casual places, was attractively presented.  And while epoisses is offered everywhere in Burgundy, at Chez Guy, everything was of good provenance (from fromagerie Gaugry, bien sur).

Chez Guy, 3, Place Mairie , 21220 Gevrey Chambertin, +33 (0)3 80 58 51 51;  open every day; 29.50 euros for starter and main or 26 euros for main and cheese or dessert.

terrine at La Ciboulette in Beaune

 

 

pot au feu at La Ciboulette in Beaune

Second favorite restaurant of our trip:  La Ciboulette in Beaune.  So good we ate here twice:  once at the start of our trip, and once more at the end.  Again, this was a bib gourmand restaurant doing a great job of transforming humble cuts of meat with careful cooking and seasoning.  The duck leg pot au feu was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the broth was both rich-tasting and clear-feeling.  Generally, mains and starters were very good, and desserts less so.  So when faced with the choice of cheese or dessert, go with the cheese.

The restaurant offers 19.50, 26.50 and 32-euro menus, which varied only in the type of main courses offered, and the 32 euro-menu includes both cheese *and* dessert.  Great wine list and efficient, welcoming service.

La Ciboulette, 69, rue de Lorraine, Beaune 21200 (close to Beaune’s triumphal arch); +33 (0)3 80 24 70 72; closed Monday and Tuesday (which means it’s open on Sunday – excellent).

 

Burgundian bar snacks at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

 

pork loin at Le Montrachet in Puligny-Montrachet

 

Le Montrachet is ambitious.  A former one-Michelin-star place gunning to get that star back.  The food was fine, but for the price (55 euros prix fixe), I expected more deliciousness and originality.  The pleasant surprise of the evening:  an excellent pork loin course.  Otherwise, foie gras foam this; hot-and-cold that.  Fun bar snack renditions of regional classics like jambon persille and gougeres.    I’d recommend going there to try a wide variety of pricey wines by the glass.  17.50 euros for a glass of wine sounds like a lot, but short of hanging with some really generous friends, when else are you going to be able to try a 2004 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes without having to pay for the whole bottle?  (Sampler, are you reading this?)

 

oeufs en meurette at Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny

 

 

Oeufs en meurette at Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis

 

Second restaurant falling in the “pretty good/not bad” category is Restaurant Le Millesime in Chambolle-Musigny.  We’d hoped to eat at bib-rated Restaurant Le Chambolle, also in town, but Le Chambolle is closed on Wednesday and Thursday, which of course were the two nights we were in nearby Morey-Saint-Denis.

In any case, the service at Le Millesime was friendly, and the cooking relatively ambitious, with foie gras plated as if it were a contemporary painting.  Burgundy classic oeufs en meurette (think beef bourgignon, but using poached eggs instead of beef) were standout-silky-smooth and elegant, bathed in a rich wine sauce infused with the sweetness of onions.  (Contrast Le Millesime’s version with that of Castel de Tres Girard (pictured above), which was ham-handed to say the least.  The poaching wine used by Castel de Tres Girard was so far past its prime as to be vinegar).

Restaurant Le Millesime, 1 rue Traversiere, 21220 Chambolle Musigny; +33 (0)3 80 62 80 37;  27 euros for three courses.

 

escargots at Castel de Tres Girard

 

 

boeuf bourgignonne at Castel de Tres Girard

 

Caste de Tres Girard, I’m still traumatized by you.  We asked for water three times and ended up resorting to the @sshole tactic of refusing to order any food or wine until the water finally arrived.  Breads were still frozen in the middle.  A travesty in a nation of excellent boulangeries!  The least expensive menu was 37 euros for a romp through Burgundy classics.  Escargots were lukewarm and I’ll admit that I’m not capable of eating those suckers unless the garlic-parsley butter is hot.  Boeuf bourgignonne was buttery enough to pass as flavorsome, but the braised beef was stringy and tough.  I make a much better one at home.  Skip this place and get yourself over to nearby Chambolle-Musigny instead.

Caste de Tres Girard, 7 rue de Tres Girard, 21220 Morey-Saint-Denis, +33 (0)3 80 34 33 09. 

 

cabillaud at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon

 

The last meal of our trip, at Bistrot des Halles in Dijon, was also a disappointment.  I didn’t do any research at all because Dijon was a last-minute addition to our itinerary, and I figured anything near the covered food market would be alright.  Wrong.  Exhibit A:  what’s with the cones of stale chorizo rudely shoved into the fillet of over-the-hill-starchy-tasting cod fillet?  Don’t get me started on the straight-from-a-jar tomato sauce dumped on top.  At least we sat outdoors and the mains were generally under 15 euros.

Surprisingly, the snack of croque Monsieur with salad we’d had earlier in the day at Agora Cafe for 6.50 euros was much better value.  I say “surprisingly” because Agora Cafe’s outdoor seating is on Dijon’s Place de la Liberation (i.e., tourist central).  So if in search of something basic and good, check out Agora Cafe.

Bistrot des Halles, 10, rue Bannelier, Dijon 21000; +33 (0)3 80 49 94 15

Agora Cafe, 10 Place de la Liberation, Dijon 21000

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Gevrey-Chambertin

After three days of cycling in the Cote Chalonnaise and Cote de Beaune, Jon and I headed north from Beaune to sip the (mostly) reds of the Cote de Nuits for another three days.

First, the low point of the trip:  we stayed two nights at the Castel de Tres Girard in Morey-Saint-Denis, which is best described as style over substance.  It looks lovely enough from the outside, but inside, our room windows opened on to the industrial-sized exhaust vents from the kitchen or boiler room (maybe both).  Why would the hotel even have a room like this?  Oddly, there was also no place to put our clothing – no dresser drawers.  Just a closet already stuffed with extra bed linens.  And forget about free internet, unlike the other hotels of our trip.

  • Service at the hotel was also pretty unhelpful, especially in the hotel restaurant, which has the distinction of serving us the worst  meal of our entire trip (to be summarized in a separate post about Burgundy restaurants we tried).  I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo of the burnt, wrinkly, fresh-from-the-freezer croissants that were a centerpiece of the hotel’s breakfasts.  It’s not like we were in a country full of good boulangeries or anything.

On the plus side, we fell in love with the Caveau des Vignerons in Morey-Saint-Denis.  If you go, ask for Catherine, who started out a bit wary of us in our cycling clothes, but in response to our questions, quickly grew warm and chatty, as well as generous with the tastings.  She’s passionate and knowledgeable about all the local wines and winemakers (e.g., who’s just had a baby, who’s been sick).  It was a dose of small-town charm in a region of big-money wine.

At the end of our first visit, we asked Catherine if she’d open (for tasting) a bottle by Alain Jenniard, a local vintner whose wines sounded appealing from the tasting notes (in French) located throughout the shop.  Sure enough, when we dropped by the next day, Catherine was waiting to open one of Jenniard’s bottles for us to try.   (On any given day, “only” five or six bottles are open for tasting).

We also happily tasted and purchased several wines by Domaine Virgile Lignier, and I would love to return to taste more.  The shop stocks a full range of local wines, with plenty of bottles in the 25-35 euro range (a modest sum in Burgundy), along with offerings by big-ticket local vineyards like Clos de Tart.

The furthest north we reached in the Cote de Nuits was  Gevrey-Chambertin, where we ate a simple but very delicious and relaxing lunch at Chez Guy.  More to come on this place in a separate post.

who wouldn’t want to be a member of the Chevaliers du Tastevin?

Not far from where we were staying in Morey-Saint-Denis was Clos de Vougeot, which was a lot more fun than I expected.  For starters, after the 18-euro travesty at Chateau de Pommard, I was delighted that Clos de Vougeot’s ticket price is a humble 3.90 euros.  Even better, the displays and exhibits inside are actually well-written and interesting.

  • Clos de Vougeot’s ancient wine presses were especially impressive for their size, age, and the fact that I suspect it could still be used if needed.  It was easy to picture medieval monks putting their back into it to squeeze out every last drop of precious juice.
getting close to the fields of Romanee Conti

The stretches of Cote de Nuits vineyards that Jon and I cycled through felt less divided-up than in the Cote de Beaune, and we were amused to find carloads of tourists clumped around certain patches of vines.   This is what celebrity looks like in the Cote de Nuits:

Romanee Conti:  surrounded by groupies every time we passed by

At the Romanee Conti field, you’ll find several prominent signs saying, in short:  “don’t even think about coming near these vines,” in French and English.   Personally, I wouldn’t have even considered climbing over the wall into the field but for the sign.

view from the panorama point at Pernand-Vergelesses

Cycling south back to Beaune, we couldn’t resist making a small detour to climb up to a recommended panoramic viewpoint in Pernand-Vergelesses.  Let me tell you – that was one steep motherf*cker.  It wasn’t just steep for cycling.  It was steep for walking.  I’m including in this post the photo I took because I need the world to see that I made it to the top, except I’m sad that it doesn’t look that high up in the photo.  Like most “must-see views,” it was nice, but probably not worth the effort.  It was a good place to break for a picnic lunch, though.

Chateau de Corton Andre in Aloxe-Corton

We knew we were close to Beaune when we passed by Chateau de Corton Andre with its colorful glazed tile roof, typical of Beaune and its surrounds.

Back in Beaune, the highlights were the personal tour of the Hospice led by Sarah, one of the owners of Detours in France, as well as the Saturday town market, which is much livelier than the Wednesday version.  Jon and I couldn’t resist picking up an old champagne bucket from one of the antiques stalls.  For 25 euros, it seemed a steal until we realized that it’s not easy carrying around a champagne bucket back to London.

rue Verrerie in Dijon as viewed from our hotel balcony

We spent our last night in Burgundy seeing the sights in Dijon.  The old town is quite charming, and I learned that in addition to mustard, Dijon prides itself on its gingerbread.  Mulot et Petitjean is the fountainhead of all pain d’epices, apparently.  I can’t tell you firsthand because the portions sold were too enormous for one or two people to share.  The shop had that cluttered “grandma would love this” look.

  • If you’re in town for just one night, I’d recommend staying at the Hotel Le Jacquemart.  The place is bring-your-own-toiletries no-frills (Jon esp. loved dragging our suitcases up four flights of stairs), but it’s clean, shabby-genteel-looking, and incredibly well-located near the old Cathedral.   For 60 euros a night, we couldn’t have asked for more.  Skip the hotel brekkie and walk half a block left down the street to a superb boulangerie.  Also nearby is the old covered market, Les Halles.

And that’s it on everything-but-the-food from our trip in Burgundy.  Next and last post about Burgundy will be on the restos.  A bientot!

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