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.
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.
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).
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?)
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.
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.
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