Colmar, Alsace and Besancon, Franche-Comte Report
My partner recently spent 3 days in and around Colmar. The following are my recommendations:
Tuesday night, our first dinner in Colmar was a rousing success. JY’s, the Michelin-starred restaurant of chef Jean-Yves Schillinger, is a gorgeous contemporary space where we were seated on plush sofas. The food is contemporary too, beautifully presented and stunningly delicious. After a couple of amuses-bouche, we had (from the ala carte menu, as the prix-fixe was not the most interesting dishes) salad of tete de veau, vitello tonnato (the veal was rolled with vegetables, topped with porcini mushrooms, and flanked by a sauce of tuna and foie gras and a salad of potato and carrot. The main courses were langoustine ravioli with a truffled cream sauce with cabbage, and pigeon with polenta, small fava beans. Desserts are too complicated to fully describe, but one was based on chocolate and the other on raspberry. Suffice to say they were scrumptious. With petit fours, coffee, water and an excellent Riesling, the bill was under 180 euros.
On Wednesday, we took a driving tour in the Vosges mountains, and stopped for lunch at Les Bas Rupts, outside Gerardmer. We had been there 12 years ago, and loved the tripe in particular. This is a Relais & Chateau hotel and restaurant with a beautiful rustic elegance, and a magnificent mountain view. The food was even better than we remembered. We had the 32 euro lunch menu which is a terrific bargain. There are 3 choices for each of the 3 courses. The amuse was a foamy soup of langoustines, starters were smoked salmon with fennel salad, grapefruit and pastry crisps, and a plate of 4 appetizers (huge) that included gazpacho, sander and crayfish wrapped in eggplant, a mousse of liver and a vegetable I couldn’t identify, and a crabmeat salad, main courses were the tripe, of course, which is cooked in Riesling and served in a mustard cream sauce, with potatoes on the side, and a ballotine of young guinea hen (pintadeau) stuffed with foie gras served with a butternut squash soufflé topped with girolle mushrooms. Desserts were strawberries with crumbled pistachios on top of a custard with a pistachio cake on the bottom, grand marnier ice cream, and nougat glacee with figs, strawberries, caramel sauce and sorbet. Wonderful petit fours and chocolates. With a pinot noir d’Alsace and coffees, total was 110 euros.
Dinner was at l’Echevin in Colmar. Though it may qualify as one of the most romantic restaurants in the world, the food falls short. We shared 2 different menus of 4 courses each, one priced at 38 euros, the other at 58. You get your money’s worth, but after the spectacular meals we had at lunch and the previous night, this was a bit disappointing. The dishes look very appealing in the menu descriptions, but are somewhat lacking in flavor.
Things improved greatly with lunch on Thursday. We drove to Besancon in the Franche-Comte, which I have been curious about for a long time. The small, attractive city is set in a valley in the foothills of the Jura mountains. It is not a region frequented by tourists, but is known for good food and interesting but little-known wines. We had originally planned to dine at Christophe Menozzi, which offered menus with wine pairings. M. Menozzi is a sommelier, and his restaurant had one Michelin star. Unfortunately, the response to my email was that the restaurant had been sold. Our hosts in Brussels happened to have close friends in Besancon, and emailed them asking for recommendations. Of the two they suggested, we chose Le Poker d’As, after walking around town checking out menus (a great way to see the city). There were several menus offered, and we chose the 4-course for 34.50 euros. There were 3 choices for each course (except for the cheese) so we each had different dishes and switched halfway through each. We had madeleines of pheasant and foie gras (very light and delicious), a presse of duck with apples, roasted monkfish with a carrot reduction and scallions, breast of pheasant with chestnuts and scallions, a wonderful selection of cheeses, both local and other regions, a layered chocolate dessert with mousse, fudge, pastry and ice cream, and poached pears, one in red wine and one in vanilla, with sorbet of red wine. We had two half-bottles of wine from the region, a white Domaine Montbourgeau, and a red Arbois. With amuses and petit fours and coffee, the total was 105 euros. A splendid lunch.
Our last dinner in Colmar was also a success. Le Rendez-vous de Chasse is in the Grand Hotel Bristol opposite the station, and was populated by a mix of business groups and well-heeled hotel guests. The room is pretty but feels like a hotel dining room, which it is. It has a well-deserved Michelin star, and though we enjoyed JY’s a bit more, the food was excellent and they really give you a lot. We had a 5-course menu with several choices and a 5-course with no choices, and shared the dishes. There were also canapés, amuses, a pre-dessert, and petit-fours. Standouts were the langoustines with shellfish foam, potato and truffles (big slices of truffle), venison medallions, breast of Bresse chicken with cabbage, chicken cracklings and fried gnocchi (very clever combination), wonderful cheeses, grand marnier soufflé, and chocolate and coffee croustillant. With aperitifs, pinot noir and water the total was 166 euros. Not bad.