A Beaune to pick...
- Gareth Williams
I am heading off with my parents in a couple of weeks for a retrospective family tour of Alsace and North Burgundy (A la recherche de temps perdu...).
I have unearthed some long and helpful posts on Alsace from the archives of this board, but relatively little on the North Burgundy area (with the exception of Melanie Wongs post...). Can anyone suggest places to eat in this region (Dijon...Beaune..Gevrey) ? I anticipate that we will look to cover the full gamut of dining - wanting to intersperse the haute cuisine highlights with some good honest affordable cooking.
All suggestions appreciated. Also, in anticipation of kindly responses I have heroically refrained from inflicting painful Hound & Beaune puns...
Caveat: I have only just started taking decent notes(i.e. in the last year or so) and I'm terrible with directions (i.e. "north Burgundy v south -I'm assuming you mean wine country v. farm country) since I don't drive.
I last did a 'comprehensive' tour of wine Burgundy two years ago (have since returned to 'farm' Burgundy a few times, with easy side trips to the wine part, so it's all within driving distance).
Beaune is beautiful, by the way, and small enough to get a sense of in an afternoon. I also love Dijon which is much bigger, worth a few days...but my Parisian friends say Dijonnais the are mean - ahem - I have never experienced this.
These are in 'order' of our itinerary, which started and ended in Dijon, and involved a very leisurely drive through Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-St-Denis; Chambolle-Musingy; Nuits St Georges...then went to Vezelay, Chablis...with overnight stops and lots of wineries along the way...with lots of criss-crossing so I can't promise it's "logical"!
Our first or second night we ate in a fantastic place called Ferme de Rolle, which if I recall correctly, was in or near the Haute Cote de Nuits. It was very 'rustique' with lots of wood beams and a fire, and the food was hearty and completely unpretentious - a real 'local' joint.
We also had lunch at Olivier Laflaive, one of the winemakers you may have heard of. It was prix-fixe, and menu-fixe so picky eaters beware...but I seem to recall it also involved a major tasting of wines that went with the meal, which (if you can believe I remember in my pre-note taking phase!) was a fantastic blanquette de veau.
We then stopped in St Aubin and Gamay, cute little villages near Montrachet...then Meurseault and Pommard. That night we ate at Chateau Gilly, which is also a hotel. It was quite formal - you eat in the vaulted 14th C. cellar. It was also I think the most expensive meal we had on our trip. Nonetheless impressive.
Next day we went to Vezelay, and I absolutely adored where we ate there: the pilgrims' hostel. I think it's pretty much on the tourist track, but worth a visit. Again - only one or two choices but all cooked by the host and his wife. The bread was out of this world, as was the apple pie. I was also introduced there to fromage "tete de moine" (monk's head!) a mild-flavored cheese that is distinguished by the fun contraption used to slice it into flower-petal-like curls.
THe next day we went to Chablis and had a picnic made of what we bought at the market...and to Noyers which was beautiful and very near by. We ate dinner one night at our hotel, the Hostellerie de Clos, which has a Michelin star but for some reason I can't for the life of me remember anything about it (must have been the wine!) I do rememeber eating at L'Auberge de Tilleuls in Vincelottes, which was fantastic - just next to the river and really magical. Delicious food, too.
MOre recently we went to a zillion star michelin restaurant in Saulieu, called Bernard Loiseau. It was out of this world - with prices to match but well worth it. Imagine fantastic food and wine served expertly in a lovely setting - and you don't have to dress us, either. I wanted to take the cheese cart (and the sommelier) home with me...
PS I just found out that Bernard Loiseau also owns several restaurants in Paris...and has a food and products empire...this shouldn't turn you off though.
I'll see if I can find any more notes or scribbles...
Restaurants: Beaune and environs
27, rue Maufoux
Bernard Morillon, located on the ground floor of the Hôtel Le Cep, has a reputation for being unwaveringly traditional (translation: much butter and cream), yet a recent dinner there showed a lighter hand than I would have expected. Really quite good, and the cheese service--along with that at Levernois--is one of the best around. Weakness: dreary wine list, full of lame négociant bottlings. The woman who runs the front of the house, by the way, looks like an opera star, and oozes charm and warmth.
Hostellerie de Levernois
This is about 5km southeast of Beaune proper in the hamlet of Levernois. Jean Crotet, formerly propriétaire of La Cote d'Or in Nuits-St.-Georges, moved his hotel-restaurant down here a few years ago. It's far and away the most luxurious and tranquil lodging for miles around, installed, as it is, in a bucolic parklike setting. The restaurant is quite good, though I sometimes question its two stars in Michelin (one might be a fairer assessment on most nights, and Michelin evidently agrees, as they just them docked them a star in the 2000 guide). Expensive by countryside standards, but not so expensive compared to Paris lodging.
Hostellerie du Vieux Moulin
Tucked away another 10-12km into the woods back beyond Savigny-les-Beaune, Jean-Pierre Silva's restaurant-hotel is considerably more upscale than the neighborhood would suggest. Highly imaginative cooking (two stars in Michelin, which it deserves some nights if not others) and a very well-selected wine list, the latter helped out in no small part by the fact that his next-door neighbor is none other than Becky Wasserman-Hone, an American-born courtier en vin whose palate and portfolio of growers (which includes the likes of Denis Bachelet, Alain Burguet, Daniel Rion, Philippe Engel, et al) are legendary. The rooms are not expensive, by the way, though its middle-of-nowhere location makes it a less-than-perfect choice as a base of operations.
Young Jean-Pierre Senelet did a stint, I believe, as fish chef at Taillevent in Paris before opening his own place down here in Beaune, about two or three blocks from the train station. There used to be some inconsistency here, I'll admit (everything regrettably oversalted on one visit; bright, vivid flavors with interesting vinegar-laced, lightly acidulated sauces on the next), but he's at the top his game right now, at least based on three visits in the last 13 months, which were uniformly excellent. If you go, have him compose a surprise menu of his choosing. As he's buddies with many of the very best young growers (and tastes with them regularly) his list has both more depth and breadth than you would expect for a restaurant that's been around only for a decade or less. He had a Michelin star five years ago or so, if I remember correctly, lost it, and never got it back, a situation bordering on the scandalous, as, for my money, this is one of the very best restaurants in the area right now (though if someone wants to make the case for Moulin de Martorey, you might persuade me).
Le Jardin des Remparts
10, rue Hotel Dieu
Back in 1992, Francois Millet, winemaker at Comte de Vogüé suggested I go here, but without supporting documentation from the latest Michelin or Gault-Millau, I didn't on that trip. Stupid me (just like these geeks who won't try a wine without a 90+ from the Speculator): it subsequently got some favorable writeups in G-M, and earned its first Michelin star in the '96 edition of the red guide. Moreover, I finally ended up trying it five years ago, then again the following July, again last September, and twice (!) this past April, and each time I've come away impressed. Not only is the food quite good, but the restaurant itself is very handsome: a beautifully renovated traditional bourgeois French home, brought smartly up to date with Italian halogen lighting, etc. The wine list needs a little work, but I'm confident that will come with time (fingers crossed).
25, rue du Faubourg-Bretonniere
I finally tried this place two trips ago, since it had begun to gain some recognition in the French foodie press (e.g., Gault-Millau, etc.). Word-of-mouth, however, had been not so hot. My take on it: the food coming out of the kitchen is genuinely excellent, and whoever's back there actually knows what he's doing. But the service is amateurish at best (plates going to the wrong table, then "Who gets the veal?," once it finds its correct destination), and the wine list was without question the poorest I'd encountered in some time when I last visited 18 months ago: virtually nothing but third-rate négociant crap. However, when visiting Dominique Lafon last month, I noticed some of his wines boxed up and awaiting delivery to Le Bénaton, so I asked him if that was a sign that things were starting to look up in terms of their wine list, and he answered in the affirmative.
69, rue Lorraine
Bright, clean bistro serving bright, clean bistro fare. Extremely popular with locals, so book in advance. Some pleasant surprises on the wine list.
8, place Carnot
I used to consider this an excellent small bistro, serving traditional bistro fare, with some downright excellent choices to be found on the wine list. And while it's still not bad, it strikes me as a bit dispirited these days, likely as a result of Ma Cuisine (see below) having completely usurped its spot as best casual restaurant with excellent food and wine at reasonable prices. Le Gourmandin is owned by Jean Crotet of the deluxe Hostellerie de Levernois above.
Just off the place Carnot and opened by the same guy (Pierre Escoffier) who owns the Caves Ste.-Hélène wine shop, with which this new informal bistro shares its wine inventory. His vivacious wife, Fabienne, does the cooking, at damn wonderful cooking it is: closer to anything in the area to the Chez Panisse esthetic, i.e., take fresh, high-quality ingredients and use simple cooking preparations to showcase their inherent goodness. Wine list, as you would imagine, is far better than most. The most welcome addition to the Burgundy dining scene in a long time. And super-reasonably priced on top of it all. Reservations imperative!
Le P'tit Paradis
25, rue Paradis
This sunny and delightful, and minuscule, place is another new arrival. The food is quite good, and the people who run the place exceptionally warm and welcoming. I have heard that the reason the wine list is only so-so is that they just don't have the working capital to focus on that end of things just yet. Still, I'll drop in here anytime (but not without a reservation!).
Delightful hotel-cum-restaurant right on the square in Puligny. Rooms are attractive and no more than $100 a night or so. The Michelin one-star restaurant is no slouch, and refreshingly informal. The wine list is decent, too, though starting to look pretty picked over, based on my last visit there.
Fax: same as phone
About 6 or 7km outside of Beaune on the route de la Bouzaize. I had the best roast chicken of my life here in 1983, though La Bouzerotte has had its ups and downs in the interim. I had avoided it in recent years, as Burgundians whose judgments I trust had warned me away, saying that it simply wasn't what it used to be. As of July 1995, however, things apparently got back on track: Dominique Lafon (who knows a thing or two about taste) had been insisting since that date that it's back on form, apparently the result of new ownership, and has been strongly urging that I book a meal there ASAP. Unfortunately, all the locals had the same idea and a reservation was impossible to come by every time I made the attempt on subsequent trips to the area. Well, finally!!!, a couple of weeks ago I eventually got in. And it was worth the wait. Honest, forthright, "cuisine du terroir," but with higher culinary ambitions than that term might imply. Quite a number of choices, both in menus and on the à la carte side. Even some "luxury" ingredients such as foie gras and the like. Very informal and friendly. I can't vouch for the wine list, as I went with one of the new breed of "micro-négoce" who brought his own wine. By the way, there's a place nearby where some crazed Scotch fanatic (yes, a Frenchman, if you can believe it) does his own élevage of special small lots of single-malt scotch!
Moulin de Martorey
On the southwestern outskirts of Chalon, making it a navigationally tricky 20-minute excursion from Beaune, you'll find this gorgeous converted mill, the original gears and ancillary machinery of which have been cleverly incorporated into the decor of the dining room. Truly modern cooking of an exceptionally high standard (one star in Michelin) and an excellent wine list. I really have to wonder what the Michelin inspectors are thinking when a place like this can't seem to rise above a one-star ranking, yet a place like Levernois--which is in no way any better--kicks back and receives two stars year-in and year-out (except for this year, as noted above). Also in Beaune are another couple of relatively new places (Les Tontons, and something else a few doors away that I'm forgetting) I can recommend, but they'll have to wait until I can dig out their business cards. Wait, I just located Les Tontons' business card. They are located at 22, Faubourg Madeleine, 21200 Beaune; phone: 03.80.24.19.64, fax: 03.80.22.34.07. Quite good cooking, with an adequate, if not great, wine list.
RESTAURANTS: The Cote de Nuits
Chateau de Gilly
The latest entrant in the luxury sweepstakes in the area is a former Cistercian abbey with formal gardens. It's in kind of a funny spot, lying just east (about 2km) of the Route Nationale 74 (all the vineyards are to the west). But it is reasonably plush and, I believe, a member of the Relais & Chateax group. Recently someone told me that they have rooms in the $100/night range, i.e., not just at the high end. The restaurant isn't bad either, though unapologetically traditional; unfortunately, when I was last there (three years ago), the wine list didn't show much effort or imagination. That might have changed, however, as Henri Jayer considers this one of his favorite places, and I'd like to think he'd not waste his time where the wine selection was abysmal, but you never know.
25, rue l'Église
I love this place. In the past it has been criticized for inconsistency, but I think (or hope) that has largely been overcome. Michelin gives them one star, which I think is deserved. The Sangoy family (a couple of sone replaced dad in the kitchen since his untimely death a couple of years ago; mom and daughter run the dining room, another son Didier the cellar) has created a lovely ambience down in their cave-turned-dining room, a well-executed cuisine that draws equally from the traditional and from the contemporary, and a formidable wine list that is utterly staggering in its scope and depth. Seriously, it is the single finest list for Burgundy anywhere (though you'll pay dearly for mining its treasures), and that includes Taillevent, Troisgros, Georges Blanc,...you name it. Page after page, it presents a virtual who's who of the best small propriétaires-récoltants. They also have an informal bistro now, as well, just off the N79 that's OK at best, but nothing special. Still, some of the same wines are available here, although at lower prices than at the "big deal" restaurant.
8, rue Puits de Tet
One of my newer restaurant entries in some time. Imaginative, contemporary cooking of a very high standard; in fact, I might even lump Joel Perreaut in with the likes of Gillot at Moulin de Martorey and Senelet at L'Écusson.
Aux Vendanges de Bourgogne
47, route de Beaune
An even newer addition to my restaurant list. Informal bistro serving really well-executed traditional Burgunian fare. The wine list must have 50-75 different references, all from Gevrey, and mostly from the better small growers, listed in ascending order of price (since this was first written, I've been back, and I can now report that the list has gotten even better and now encompasses more than just the wines of Gevrey; moreover, the chef is strating to take some chances with touches like a Thai-influenced fish preparation, for example). A welcome addition to the dining scene here.
I'm not mentioning such obvious temples of gastronomy as the Michelin three-starred Lameloise in Chagny, as you likely already know about it. Hope this helps.
Santa Barbara, CA