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London/France trip of a lifetime!

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We're off on my life-long dream, a 3-week stay in London, Paris and throughout France. Here are some stops we're making. CHOWHOUNDS please help with suggestions?

3 days London, then:
TGV down to Avignon/Aubagne/Beaucaire for 2 days, then:
2 days in Beaune/Burgundy, then:
2 days in Reims, then:
7 days in PARIS!

I've read hundreds of London/Paris messages in threads on this International Chowhounds Board, but figured it couldn't hurt to post a message of our own.

We're looking for at least one or two 3*/blowouts in Paris, but the rest we just want the Chowhound ideal of great value, glorious experience, fun and exploration, and as always, delicious food.

Restrictions: none (not even price!)
Special requests: a chocolatier, patisserie, and your favorite cheese shop.

Thanks and triple thanks for suggestions!

Peter and Gary
Peter Wells
Director, Classical Music
EMusic.com, Inc.

Link: http://www.emusic.com/genre/3.html

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  1. If I were in your shoes, I would spread my 3* experiences beyond just Paris.Around Beaune there are several choices and Reims has Boyer, which should not be missed if you are in that neighborhood.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Jeremy Newel
      Peter and Gary

      Yep, to my surprise and delight we're staying at Chateau Les Crayeres and booked an evening meal there, at Gerard Boyer's wonderful restraunt.

      We chose the place because of the beautiful chateau--we were just looking for a lovely place to stay. After reading the CHOWHOUNDS International Page, though, we realized that restraunt is a 3*!

      I consider it an omen of good fortune.


      1. re: Peter and Gary

        I love the pastries at Peltier, especially the pain au chocolat.

        1. re: Dave Feldman
          Peter and Gary

          Peltier? Do you know where it is, specifically? Sounds wonderful!

          Thanks in advance!

          Peter and Gary

          1. re: Peter and Gary

            Peltier is located at 66 Rue de Sevres (near the Vaneau metro stop in 7th Arrondisement). I believe it is closed both Sunday and Monday. I found out about it from Patricia Wells's FOOD LOVER'S GUIDE TO PARIS, a wonderful book, especially for non-restaurant food options. Unfortunately, the latest edition was published in 1999, so the info is at least three years old.

            For some reason, I've had bad luck with Paris restaurants, but had such success with the boulangeries and patisseries that I started eating a maximum of one restaurant meal a day, and concentrating on bread, cheese, fruit, and desserts.

        2. re: Peter and Gary

          Les Crayeres is a very, very lovely place to stay indeed and the food, when I was there a few years ago , was amazing. A friend in whom I have implicit trust, especially where food and wine are concerned, was there last summer and loved it as well (was a return trip for her). If you are going to be in Reims overnight, you MUST investigate a way to see at least one of the chmpagnes caves. Various producers sometimes allow tours--I can't believe I have no recall of which one it was we saw (could the amount of champagne we'd ingested be the reason?), but I do remember it was fascinating.

          1. re: Martha Gehan
            Peter and Gary

            We'll do our best to find a cave! Thanks for the notice, I hadn't thought about going underground. :)

            Take care, and thanks again!

            Peter and Gary

      2. I would suggest the two following restaurants for when you are in the Beaune/Burgundy area. Both are 3 star Michelin, and both are exceptional experiences.
        Georges Blanc in Vonnas

        Looks like that 57 cents per share went a long way for you. I had to make do with a trip to the indian take-away. Have a great trip.

        1. With so much travel, aren't you going to tire yourselves out? OK, I'll stop sounding like your mother or something. :-)

          Bon voyage et bon appetit!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Pan
            Peter and Gary

            We'll be exhausted, but it's a happy exhaustion. The best kind!

            Thanks, and we'll try to report back!


          2. I just wanted to pass along some personal thoughts; I've just returned from a one week stay in Provence - we made the mistake of planning to spend 3 days in Avignon when one day would have been fine. In the time we were there, we could not find one decent restaurant (partially due to the fact that there was a public holiday on the Monday and everything seemed to be shut all weekend...I did hear that Wooloomooloo is fun for French-North African food). If you are on a tight schedule you will have no problem 'doing' Avignon in one day. We decamped early to Arles which is FAR more interesting and characterful - there is a wonderfully charming hotel there too (Hotel Calendal). The best dinner we had on this trip was at a restaurant called Nord Pinus in Arles (very reasonably priced for what it was - but then again, we are used to extortionate London prices). There is a rail link from Avignon to Arles so if you don't have wheels of your own, it is only a short trip on the train.
            Beaucaire is picturesque but there is really, quite literally nothing to do there. If you can possibly get to a small town just slightly north of there, go (no run) to Uzes - which is jaw droppingly gorgeous (with a number of good restaurants and a 'biscuiterie' aka; a cookie shop in the main square that sells local baked delicacies such as orange flower water and nutmeg cookies).
            As all of this information is very fresh in my mind, I thought I would put it to good use. Enjoy your trip!

            5 Replies
            1. re: Hallie
              Peter and Gary

              This is powerful advice, thanks. We don't really know the character of the places we'll be staying--I know Avignon from the history books and assumed it had to be chock-full of interesting things. But if Arles is the way to go, we're there!

              When we're outside of Paris we have a car of our own (luckily I know how to drive a stick shift!), so even though we'll be staying in Avignon, we can drive anywhere we want. So we're off to Arles!

              We'll also hit Uzes, and we'll try to catch dinner at Nord Pinus in Arles. I'm a huge Van Gogh fan, so Arles would have been a natural destination anyway. Thanks for confirming!

              Peter and Gary

              1. re: Peter and Gary

                We were under exactly the same impression about Avignon (being avid historians) and therefore were disappointed when we actually arrived and found that it was not as good as we had been led to believe. The Papal Palace is very interesting, and depending on how much you like 14th century depictions of the Madonna and child, the Petit Palais Musee is worth a look. Also, we found Avignon very overpriced - the hotels were not very good value for money. The Hotel Calendal in Arles was a dream for us. I believe its run by an American ex-pat and there are so many lovely thoughtful touches about the place - a buffet breakfast, a peaceful walled garden for use by the guests where you can sit by latern light at night, extremely helpful staff, etc. It is also literally across from the Roman arena and right in the heart of everything. All of this for much less than we were paying for a dingy room in Avignon with springs poking through the matress! They have a web site (if you are considering staying in Arles - though I can't remember the web address, I'm sure you could find it on a search engine).
                Also, the best thing we did in the South of France was to rent a car. Having your own transport makes a huge difference, especially as the roads are brilliant and everything seems to be within a 20 - 30 minute drive of everything else. Whatever you do, don't miss Uzes! I also hear they have some fabulous restaurants there (though we didn't stay for dinner).
                We just returned from our trip 2 weeks ago and like any returned traveller I'll use any excuse to ramble at length about our experiences. I'm sure you will have a fantastic time! Best of luck and happy touring to you!

                1. re: Hallie

                  A Hearty Mais Oui to the recommendation of the Hotel Calendal in Arles!

                  My husband and I stayed at the Calendal several years back and found it wonderful. I'm glad to hear it's still true.

                  Bonne Voyage!

                2. re: Peter and Gary

                  Whilst in Avignon there are a couple of decent restaurants, although one of your other replies seemed not to have found any. I would recommend the restaurant La Mirande
                  4 place de la Mirande, Avignon. tel 33-(0)4-90-85-93-93
                  Has an extensive wine list. The Chef is Daniel Hebert who has a solid history behind him working a long time under Ducasse. Food is original and quite experimental. Grand renaissance/baroque style dining room.
                  Take plenty of Francs, it is expensive but worth it.
                  Try to get in at Lunch when they offer a very reasonable Prix Fixe, that way you can get the experience and not have to wash the dishes afterwards.

                3. re: Hallie

                  I can also vouch for the hotel Calendal. Stayed there several years ago it is quite charming and comfortable.

                4. Right, here goes:

                  chocolatier: Denise Acabo - Etoile d'Or - written up everywhere and rightly so, 30 rue Fontaine. The owner is Heidi-meets-One-of-the-Fat-Ladies minus a few pounds

                  Patissier: no idea what it's called but it has also been written up, on rue du Seine, two blocks from Fish/La Boissonerie (also written up herewith). You can't miss the Philip Treacy-esque display and bet you could wear the cakes too.

                  Fromagerie: Cantin - there are at least a couple of them

                  And more of my two cents:

                  Spectacular food at fab prices (we thought they left a zero off our bill): La Regalade, in the 14th - make a reservation for after 21h00 for best crowd, no need to dress up - it's a bistro

                  Best overall place for everything foodish - including a wine department that has some screamers: Bon Marche's food halls at metro Sevres/Babylone

                  Have a great time! I'm VERY envious

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: magnolia
                    Peter and Gary

                    Sounds wonderful, thanks! La Regalade will give us something to look forward to in the 14th. We're trying to have something special in every arrondissement.

                    Peter and Gary

                    1. re: Peter and Gary
                      Caitlin McGrath

                      Not exactly what you're asking about, but related:

                      You no doubt already know about Berthillon, the ice cream shopon the Ile St-Louis. I thought it was very good--nice, clean, intense flavors. Two of us wentand shared two coupes of three flavors each, one ice creams, one sorbets. The cassis (blackcurrent) sorbet was wonderful--something that's hard to find in the US.

                      There's a tiny shop also on Ile St-Louis called L'Epicerie that carries very good confitures, sauces, and mustards.

                      If you are at all tea drinkers, don't miss Mariage Freres in the Marais. It's been discussed here--you could do a dearch. A 150-year-old business selling around 400 varieties of top-quality tea from all over the world. They have a salon de the and a tea museum, as well. There are other locations around town, but this is the original (and a short walk from Ile St-Louis, if you want to combine).

                  2. This isn't exactly what you've asked for in Paris, but if you're into chocolate, don't miss the hot chocolate at Angelina's on the rue de Rivoli (just about across the street from the Tuileries Metro station). It's called Chocolate Afrikaan, and is made with melted chocolate bars. Unusually and extremely rich, with the consistency of pudding as it's being cooked. IMHO one should taste this hot chocolate at least once in his lifetime. We went for breakfast, and I found their croissants too sweet for my taste, especially when paired with the hot chocolate. Your trip sounds wonderful. Bon Voyage and Bon Appetit!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LBQT
                      Peter and Gary

                      THANK YOU! I'd heard about this place, but had forgotten the name. I hear it's the hot chocolate of the Gods. We'll definitely go.

                      What a wonderful site this Chowhounds is! It's making our vaction something astounding, and we haven't even left yet!

                      Peter and Gary

                      1. re: Peter and Gary

                        Glad to have helped. It is food of the gods - truly ambrosial.

                    2. the best places in london that i know of are middle eastern, and the best advice i can give you when you go culling for tips on these boards is to completely avoid whatever that welsh bengali, simon majumdar, recommends.

                      but try these:

                      1. mohsen, warwick road. an irani restaurant that is superb. get whatever the special of the day is, and get the mirza ghosemi salad. its a version of mashed eggplant that is supreme.

                      2. beiteddine, harriet street. very, very good. apart from the usual hummus, baba ganouj, tabbouleh, get the fattoush salad. and get chicken shis taouk with extra toom (garlic sauce), and tawayeh (lamb sauteed with onions and peppers).

                      3. al-dar, kings road, close to sloane square. a lebanese counter par excellence. even better shis taouk than beiteddine.

                      4. AVOID everything on edgware road, indian restuarants on drummond street. but do go to green valley grocery on upper berkeley street (just up the edgware road a couple of blocks from marble arch) for some very good lebanese dishes; get 'em to make you a chicken shawarma sandwich.

                      5. boshporous kebab house on old brompton road, a 100 yards up from south ken tube, serves delicious turkish kebabs. excellent is the lamb steak over rice with hot sauce, onions and kisir.

                      6. if you want genuine indian food, go to bombay brasserie behind gloucester road tube. its a little faded, pretty expensive, but what the hell, you are at least getting competent versions of the real thing. allegedly, tamarind in park lanes great. zaika on fulham road is an interesting version of nouvelle indian. and india club in the strand is decent indian canteen food.

                      7. visit the food hall at fortnum and mason; go ballistic with pleasure.

                      8. you MUST go to the savoy grill for expert english grilling; if you can't fit that it, splurge on breakfast in the breakfast room overlooking the thames.

                      9. the dove is a pub on the thames in hammersmith - simply the best kept fullers ale i have ever tasted. you get to drink it right on the thames, watching the river lazily turn a bend. its not that well known, and its completely off the tourist beat. tell me if you think you'll get there, and i'll give you detailed instructions. otherwise, the anglesea arms on selwood terrace in chelsea is one of the best pubs in terms of well kept ale and vibes (no silly piped music etc).

                      10. go for tea to browns if you want to see where all english grandmothers go when they're in the mood. go to the ritz (you may have to book) for an over the top experience. the lanesborough in kightsbridge has a funky pink and green room if you feel up to it.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: howler

                        We had an exquisitely delicious Indian dinner at Vama about two years ago. I think it was on Knightsbridge Road.

                        Also, the food halls at Harrod's are legendary. Make sure to wander through them. I doubt if there's a food craving that couldn't be satisfied there.

                        1. re: howler

                          hi i'm in london now and would like to get to the dove. please tell me how. tnx.

                          1. re: Manny Akis

                            as you are already a native, this makes it a bit easier: i've appended the url to a map which will bring up the area centred on ravenscourt park tube on the district line; when you click it up, you'll see, due south of the arrow, a road called rivercourt leading to the upper mall.

                            so take rivercourt rd and turn left once you hit the river (thats left on upper mall). walk a hundred or so yards and you'll see the dove.

                            pull up the map and tell me if its not clear - i'll try again. and if you do go, please post your impressions.

                            Link: http://www.streetmap.co.uk/streetmap....

                        2. r
                          Robin Majumdar

                          Just returned from a trip to Rheims. I had dinner at Les Crayeres which was expensive but the food and service was very good. Be sure to schedule some vists to some caves, many are within walking distance of the centre but you may need to pre-book.

                          Have fun !


                          1. I have gotten fatter all over Europe, eaten my way through Paris and London, been fortunate enough to eat at many three stars although often one and two stars (with less formality) have better food. A value judgment: the best Indian in the world is in London. This is simply unobtainable in America. You absolutely must have one Indian meal there. There are two restaurants to consider: Vama and Zaika. The latter won this past year's London restaurant award as the best Indian restaurant in the city. It is worth it. Zagat gives it a 24 as well as Vama which is just as good. I actually prefer Vama because of the Kings Road neighborhood but both are equally superb. If you go to Zaika have the Biryani treatment of chicken. It is superb and unusual. At Vama the Tandoori shrimp. \
                            Zafferano won the London restaurant award for best Italian in London. It has one Michelin star and is incredibly difficult to get into. You have to reserve one month in advance to the day and they will book up quickly for a weekend. Weekdays are better. Generally this is equal to Italy's best less the formality. It is also expensive because it is in London. It's wine list is appropriately high. But this is truly worthwhile.
                            Gordon Ramsey won the award for London's best restaurant. It has three Michelin stars (just won third) and is also considered the best and most expensive restaurant in England. Restaurants such as Tainte Claire, Aubergine, etc. are no better than, say, the best in Baltimore or Cincinnati, etc.
                            Having said all this about expensive starred meals you should also have fish and chips. There are several truly excellent ones but you will not believe how good fried fish can be.
                            About Paris: my single biggest disappointment there has been Alain Ducasse. $225 prix fixe per person (1500 francs) plus wine, etc. Other than the presentation of his baba au rhum dessert (choice of three 25 year old rums over sponge cake with fresh whipped cream dolloped on top in a sterling silver spoon at the table) the restaurant was, simply, not what I expected. I give him credit: he knows how to buy sterling silver though and hire teams of waiters to serve you.
                            My best dish in Paris has been the breast of veal at Violon d'Ingris (excellent pan fried foie gras also). This two star is a bargain at 480 francs prix fixe.
                            When you eat cheese don't dare come back without eating eppousse. Generally find any cheese shop where they don't speak a word of English and let your nose lead you. The greater the stink the better the cheese!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Joe

                              >A value judgment: the best Indian in the world is in London.

                              Not in India? The world is larger than just Europe and America... ;-)

                              Deb H.

                              1. re: Deb H.

                                yes, but where else will we find the delightful gordon ramsey?

                                not in india-thats for sure

                                pip pip

                            2. Here are some notes from my travel diary from a visit last year to Burgundy. I didn't get around to documenting three other restaurants I tried that trip and will try to get to it. I was in Burgundy again this spring and wanted to have lunch at Petit Caveau - was disappointed to see a closed sign and that ownership had changed. Also Ma Cuisine was featured in Saveur magazine in the last year and may be harder than ever to get into - well worth it though if you're into wine.


                              March 20, 2000

                              Just before dark I arrived in the Cote de Nuits at the chambre d'hote which would be my home for the next 7 days. I was not displeased to see that Lucien Boillot and Alain Burguet were on either side.

                              Mrs. Genevieve Sylvain
                              14 Rue de l'Eglise
                              21220 Gevrey-Chambertin
                              230FF/night, including breakfast

                              My room was spacious, double the size of the hotel room in Paris, on the second floor overlooking the garden where spring bulbs were just starting to bloom. Papered in sky blue with pink rosebuds and furnished with white wicker chairs with pink and white chintz cushions, I imagined that this had been the girl's room at one time. [I later learned that the "little girl" was now a post-doc in chemistry at Stanford U.] The mantle over the closed-off fireplace provided a good spot for organizing my reference books and maps. Dark wood floors, a double bed with a white coverlet, small armoire, a round breakfast table with electric coffee pot and slipcovered chair, and a pair of wicker nightstands with lamps completed the ensemble. The private bath with a deep tub and separate WC included a hair dryer and two sinks. The radiators had in-room controls with plenty of steam heat all night. Off-street parking was available across the street.

                              Located in the center of Gevrey-Chambertin, the tourist office, two banks with ATMs, a handful of restaurants, post office, convenience store, a wine retailer, wine bar and several producers are within a two-block radius. Over the next few days as I visited other villages, I became more appreciative of the ready amenities available near my hosts.

                              On Sunday night only Guy Rotisserie among the 7+ restaurants in this small village was open for dinner. After the dining excesses of the days in Paris, it was a relief to have a simpler meal of only two courses. The amusŽe was cheese crisps and cheesey puff pastry, then brochette of lamb with thyme and garlic cream and strawberries with anisette and florentine for dessert. A glass of 96 Esmonin Cote de Nuits Village showed
                              earthy spice and wild cherry nose and palate, good structure and ripeness, closed down with airing making acidity more obvious with tart finish. Very Good. Total tab was 133FF including a liter of mineral water.

                              I slept very well, and was awakened by a knock on the door and "bon jour, Mme. Wong!" Breakfast was served downstairs in the sunny breakfast room. Really great croissants (the best of the trip), raisin/toasted hazelnut bread, heart-clogging sweet butter, fresh fromage blanc, homemade preserves, cafŽ au lait or tea, and a basket of assorted fresh fruits.

                              Soon I was back on the road on my way to the day's tasting in Chablis.

                              March 22, 2000

                              We stepped over to Le Petit Caveau for a quick and simple lunch (by Burgundian standards). I'd been told that this near hole-in-the-wall is the best place for the regional specialty, oeufs au meurette, and I wasn't disappointed. The lapin au moutarde was the most sweet and tender rabbit I've ever tasted and perfectly balanced to the character of Gevrey wines. We wrapped up with a shared plate of regional cheeses. The short but well-chosen list features a nice selection of local wines. John picked this one for us.

                              90 ALAIN BURGUET Gevery-Chambertin En Renardes - Just starting to show the maturity of middle age, well-stored bottles should have many years ahead. Dark and brooding nose with dense black fruit layered with musk, tar, smoke and underbrush, full and firm with some chewiness on the palate, well-integrated showing of primary dark fruit, spice and leather, very long and complete. Excellent The skill of this winemaker in extracting so much intensity and complexity from his simple holdings puts many Premier Crus to shame.

                              My plan had been to visit Rousseau and Boillot for an afternoon of Gevrey cellars, but neither were to found at the appointed hours. My attempt to drop-in on Fourrier was also unsuccessful. So much for buying at the cellar door --- I headed off to the retailers John had recommended.

                              Along the way I stopped at each Grand Cru in Gevrey-Chambertin to collect rock samples. These will be part of the clos wall to be built at the new planting on the Trenton Estate.

                              Le Cavon de Bacchus, 12 Rue CrŽbillon in Nuit St. Georges is located on the pedestrian walkway in the center of town. Surveying empty bin after empty bin marked with very desirable producers and prices, the buying hordes had wiped out the stock ahead of me. Allegedly owned by Faiveley, none of this producer's wines are on the floor but can be purchased off a stock list. This is definitely a place to revisit on a future trip.

                              Perardel, Avenue du GŽnŽral de Gaulle, Beaune, www.perardel.com is a discounter with fine wines from all over France and some from other countries, although I never got beyond the Burgundy shelves. Part of a chain with several stores in other parts of France, those in the know order their wines ahead of time and pick them up on arrival. On this first visit I just wandered the aisles and picked up a catalog to study further before buying.

                              The wine shop adjoining Ma Cuisine on the Passage Ste. Helene in Beaune was closed both times I stopped by. Another time.

                              I met up with the California crowd at the sidewalk bars on the Place Carnot in Beaune to make plans for dinner. While Brian had a Michelin guide in hand, fortunately Robert Helms joined us and was the man of the hour with his cell phone and French-speaking abilities. The boys had been to Perardel that afternoon and were loaded down with wines they were hot to pop open. We ended up at La Gourmandin across the square which allows BYOB with a modest corkage charge.

                              This was the first of three dining experiences at different Beaune restaurants where service suffered due to not being adequately staffed for the full houses during this busy week. The food was simple and adequate, my first experience with a pan-fried "bleu" steak of dry-aged Charolais beef was satisfying.

                              Brian and Eric had carried in the remains of a magnum of a 92 HENRI GOUGES 1er cru N-S-G from their lunch with Russell Hone of Le Serbet-Becky Wasserman Selections at Aux Vendage des Bourgognes in Gevrey. Still very attractive after being open many hours and bounced around in the car, with forward and plump ripe fruit, the acidity of the vintage had started to overtake the structure. Of the wines purchased at Perardel, a cut-rate Batard-Montrachet was dilute lemon water and worth even less than the low price; the 92 ROBERT CHEVILLON "Les Roncieres" Nuit St. Georges was liqueur-like and delicious for current drinking; and the 97 D'AUVENAY Auxey-Duresses was rich and concentrated with excellent potential and far beyond any A-D that had ever passed my lips. From the list we followed our waitress's recommendation for a 1er cru white Burgundy (maybe Puligny-Montrachet?) that was very pleasing and the 96 CHAVE Hermitage. The Chave was a matter of some debate over whether we should go outside of Burgundy, was it too hard, etc., until I became insistent and guaranteed to pay for the bottle if it was not satisfactory. The Chave turned out to the be wine of the night! When Trey and Keith of K&L Wines joined our party later we even ordered a second bottle to share.

                              The best part of the evening at La Gourmandin was drawing on the collective experience with great Burgundy at the table to vet the price list from Perardel for my own purchases. John Kwitkor was particularly helpful with his retailer's perspective on pricing and availability at home to help my buying strategy.

                              23 MARS 2000

                              Oh dear overslept, well I really didn't feel like driving down to the Cote Chalonnaise. I'll learn about Mercurey and Rully another time, switch gears to shopping mode.

                              First stop, the tiny wine shop, Au Pinot Noir, on the Place de la Mairie in Gevrey, a block away from my chambre d'hote and adjacent to Guy rotisserie. In fact, a sign directs you to inquire at the restaurant to open the shop. I snapped up a bottle each of the 93 A. Rousseau Grand Cru Chambertin for 520FF and 93 A. Rousseau Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin for 320FF (7 FF/USD).

                              Then to PŽrardel in Beaune, armed with the recommendations of my dinner companions. The hardest part was limiting purchases to the slots in my luggage and packing boxes. My purchases here were one each of 96 Dom. Dujac Grand Cru Charmes-Chambertin, 305FF; 96 J. F. Mugnier Grand Cru Bonnes-Mares, 422FF; 96 J. F. Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny "Les Amoureuses", 422FF; 96 RenŽ et Vincent Dauvissat Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses, 212FF; 97 Dom. d'Auvenay Auxey-Duresses "Les Clous" blanc, 245FF; 95 Louis Jadot Beaune "Clos des Ursules", 175FF; and 95 Bruno Clair Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru, 165FF. I didn't torture myself any further by browsing outside the Burgundy racks.

                              Back in the town center, I checked out La Boutique des Domaines in the Gožts de France shop at 12 rue d'Alsace which Lisa Hall had also recommended. This is a cooperative retail outlet for Dominique Lafon, Henri Gouges, Bruno Clair, De Montille, Michel Ganoux and other top producers who wanted an alternative to selling at the cellar door. Prices are higher than PŽrardel but some older vintages and rare bottles are available here.

                              Dinner tonight with Robert Helms was at L'Eccuson, just outside the walls of old Beaune. With a very attractive interior of sunny yellow and gold, the restaurant holds only a small number of tables amply spaced. I'd heard that L'Eccuson has gone back and forth between having 1-Michelin star and losing it due to not-up-to-snuff service. Service was off on this visit, friendly but absent-minded.

                              In light of a recent Wall Street Journal column on Jean ThŽvenet and his contentions with the appellation regulations over his "atypical" wines, I was delighted to find one of his wines on the well-priced wine list. Just swirling the 96 JEAN THEVENET M‰con CuvŽe Tradition in the glass to reveal the thunder thigh legs and catch a waft of the tropical aromas and lees foretold that this would be no ordinary M‰con. Opulent, super-ripe, weighty and viscous in the mouth supported by precise acidity and a touch sweet, it had an extra depth and honeyed richness that probably came from a bit of botrytis ThŽvenet contends that this was the M‰con of his grandfathers, before yields shot up. I'm sure that Robert found the match with his poelŽed foie gras more than satisfactory. My appetizer was the restaurant's signature dish of escargot with bone marrow. The combination of rich layered upon the ultra-rich bone marrow, earthy snails and roasted garlic was one of the most decadent pairings ever. Did I really have two more courses coming?

                              For our red we settled on the 91 CHARLOPIN Grand Cru "Clos St Denis". Once again, I was impressed with how well the wines of this vintage are drinking. Open and giving from the first pour, the well-developed bouquet was ripe and generous with mineral-laced red and black fruit. More sous bois on the palate, the layers of sweet raspberry, cherry, mineral and enoki mushroom were broad and forward, almost flashy in a relatively low acid package. Perhaps not as complex as greater vintage, it's now a point, very complete and easy to love. Stuffed from my first course, I could only pick at my roasted squab which, though delicious, was only the condiment accenting sips of this satisfying wine. After so many on-line conversations with Robert about cheeses, it was a pleasure to peruse the cheese cart with him this evening and learn how to order young and mature versions in French. Just the right ending to polish off the rest of our wines.

                              24 MARS 2000

                              This was the most intense day of the event . . . it was a pleasure to kick back on Beaune's Place Carnot with Lisa Shara Hall and Dermot Nolan, MW at day's end. Plus, it was a wonderful surprise to run into Birger Sparr and his friends who had driven down from Germany for the weekend!

                              All week I'd been trying to squeeze into Ma Cuisine but the lucky tableholders had booked far in advance. Tonight I was able to join Lisa's party. Ma Cuisine offers simple but well-prepared food at reasonable prices, but its biggest draw is the deep wine list at bargain prices. My tuna tartare, veal sweetbreads with fresh pasta, and assorted cheeses (perfect Epoisses) were accompanied by
                              NV LAURENT PERRIER Rose
                              95 DAUVISSAT Grand Cru "Vaudesir" Chablis
                              92 MICHEL LAFARGE "Clos de Chenes" Volnay
                              94 E. GUIGAL "La Landonne" Cote Rotie
                              86 J. DIETRICH Gewurztraminer VT, 1/2 bottle
                              96 CAUHAPE "Noblesse des Temps" Jurancon.

                              We were upgraded on two of our selections at no additional cost when they were unable to locate the Premier Cru Chablis and the basic Jurancon we had requested. Later we learned that the premise stocks had been depleted and their young son was looking for the bottles in their home cellar and shuttling them by bicycle to the restaurant.

                              Our friend Shawn from San Diego was celebrating his birthday with the California contingent and Nadine Gulbine from Antonin Rodet was dining with the sommelier from NY's Daniel. Many glasses were passed back and forth among our tables including
                              95 Pouilly Fuisse - botrytis affected
                              96 COCHE DUREY Meursault AC, magnum
                              91 COMTE LAFON Volnay "Santenots"
                              66 CH. HAUT BRION.

                              The next day Birger said his party had tried to get into Ma Cuisine after their dinner to have a bottle of wine. The proprietor stopped them at the door saying, "No, no more, the American customers are CRAZY tonight!"

                              1. so we know when to stop adding hints :)

                                We were in Rheims and Epernay in mid-1999 and did cellar tours at Krug, Perrier-Jouet and Veuve Cliquot. All arranged in advance via e-mail in French (they all have web pages, and all speak English)

                                Krug - fantastic small English-speaking tour. 6 persons total. Tour given by the sister (whose name I cannot remember) of Henri and Remi. She opened their cellars and their bottles for us. Non-commercial, they had no place to buy champagne or trinkets. This was just after they were sold, though, so things may have changed.

                                Perrier-Jouet - private tour by a woman who does their marketing. we also got to tour their small Art Nouveau building across the street. Painstakingly restored, brilliant place. Open to the trade as a B&B. They opened their Cuvee de Blason for us. Small shop for purchasing trinkets and wine, but not a big operation.

                                Veuve - we were on the 30-person English tour, after the 30-person German tour and before the 30-person Japanese tour. It was a week day, too! Huge, beautiful caves - the populace of the town hid here during the war. Carvings in the walls done by candle-light causing the artist to go blind. Tour led by 2 uniformed popsies, much of it videos. Huge shop with all manner of things to buy. Go just to see how far marketing a so-so wine will take you ;)

                                Link: http://www.champagne.fr/

                                1. don't know if its too late or not, but we just got back from 10+ days in france, and in choosing your 2 or 3* places, i still think in Paris nothing comes close to arpege, even without his baby pork with the "harrisa flavors" he is currently serving a dish of baby green peas with a basil icecream that is inexpressabily wonderful; the "dragee" of pigeonneau is still without equal; you can't go wrong with taillevent, del burgo is cooking better and better and the wine list makes me weep each time we go (although they do need work on the non-chardonnay whites); pre catalan is really delightful, especially if the weather is nice and you have lunch outside in the garden.

                                  If you can swing it, Troisgros in Roanne was a revelation; i now know why its been so revered for so long; perfect service, warm yet correct; lamb and vegies cooked to let the quality of the ingredients shine, and until Passard brings back his pork, the home of my new favorite pork loin. beautiful hotel as well (even though its across from the train station); also they're simpler restaurant nextdoor "Le Central" looked very solid, but we didn't get a chance to try it.

                                  in reims the only place (at least for this trip of yours) to stay and eat is Boyer; every bit as good as its reputation and the degree of warmth, grace and charm that everyone there (M. et Mde. Boyer especially) exudes is not to be believed.