Alsace in mid-Sept 2011: Le Pressoir de Bacchus, Le Chambard, Aux Armes de France, and more -- including Bernard Antony along the way
Thanks to all who have given us dining advice, and now here’s a little report covering our recent experience in the area near Colmar.
Our base was Hotel Restaurant Schwendi (2 Place Schwendi, Kientzheim, near Kayserberg). http://schwendi.pagesperso-orange.fr/web_en.htm. We love family run hotel-restaurants in the countryside, and this certainly is one (three generations are in place here), but despite our rather lengthy stay, and although we loved the crisp Swiss-like feel of the rooms (great down comforters, etc.), we will not likely return because the establishment and personnel did not exactly exude warmth or welcome (quite the opposite once), our one dinner there was only OK and not memorable, and we were not very impressed with their wines (they serve only the wines from their own winery). But we enjoyed some nice dining elsewhere:
Le Pressoir de Bacchus, 50 route des Vins, 67650 Blienschwiller. (No web site that I can find.) Fittingly, we were here at harvest time, and we had fun dodging the slender tractor trailers of grapes fresh from the vineyards. As Michelin says, “Regional fare with a hint of originality and a wine list featuring all of the village’s 27 winegrowers” (plus they get a bib). And as the sign outside the door says, “Ni Bistrot, Ni Gastro . . . C’est la cuisine de Sylvie!” We quickly learned to love Sylvie (whom we could glimpse in the kitchen) and her husband (who runs the room), and still think about an amazing mushroom dish. At that end of our lunch, one of our companions said to the husband, “tell your wife she’s good” — to which he responded, with a slightly raised eyebrow, “How do you know”? We want to return to good Sylvie, and the serious and non-touristy village of Blienschwiller.
A l’Agneau, Katzenthal. This is a traditional hotel restaurant, and we may stay here on our next visit to this area. It’s a typical-style regional house next to a family-run winery, with two small, pretty, and packed, Alsatian dining rooms.
Chambard, Kaysersberg, http://lechambard.fr/main.php?pg=gastronomique/restaurant.php . This hotel/restaurant on the quite touristy main street has a cookbook-author chef and one Michelin star. The carte is surprisingly limited. The options were five savory dishes, from which you order a la carte or as one of two menus: either three plus cheese or dessert, for 80 euros, or all five savories plus dessert(s) and cheese, for about 120(?) or so. We went with the smaller option. The food was very good, but at this price it did not send us, and although we like and want small portions, some of these were surprisingly small indeed, especially the “ombre chevalier” (a deep lake fish similar to trout, we were told), on the carte for about 45 Euros. Local sparking water was charged at 10 Euros per bottle, yikes.
Aux Armes de France, Ammerschwihr, http://www.armesfrance.fr/restaurant-aux-armes-de-france-restaurant.html . This is an “interesting” place. We suddenly needed dinner on a Monday night, when we decided not to dine a second time at our hotel restaurant. The lobby of Aux Armes present a wall of framed newspaper articles from around the western world reporting about how the chef, Philippe Gaertner, “gave up” his Michelin star, in order to cook the way he wants and preserve his restaurant’s economic viability. (Still, Michelin gives him three forks and spoons, and a bib.) And yet, in the curved stairway leading up to the restaurant, there were photos of Gaertner standing among the other 21 or so Michelin “stars of Alsace.”
The room generally looked and felt good to us, and so we reserved for later that night. But during our dinner we were not very pleased, and the feeling came over us that it had lost, or not yet found, its way. Two of us split a house specialty — poulet facon “Francis Staub” for two ” — but it was not very special. The carte offered a simple Weisswurst entre (a chef friend in Munich has instructed us that it is to be eaten only before noon, but anyway), which I happily got and liked (passing on the odd offering of something like “American BBQ’d ribs,” hmmm — maybe his was better than my own, but I doubt it, and I was not in Alsace to have that). The entrecote ordered by another at our table was dry, tough, and apparently lousy as well. I can’t recall the other plat or entrees, but overall, the place just felt tired and searching. Being only half-full on a Monday night probably added to that sense. True to the bib, tho, it was not terribly expensive (210 for four, including two bottles of wine, one sparkling water, two desserts, and a tea).
Other culinary excursions in the general area: In Ampfersbach, near Munster, we returned after a few years to have lunch at Restaurant des Cascades, an end-of the valley place where the wind is sure to kick up at about 14:00, and it did, blowing in a little storm as we watched from the cozy interior. Unfortunately, we could not enjoy the oven-fired tartes flambees, which are offered only at night, but we still like this very local place.
Over the river and border in Freibourg, on a coldish Sunday, we stumbled upon Englers Weinkrugle, Konviktstrasse 12, nicht schlecht at all, and I got to have some schnitzel and a very good beer.
Finally, I have to mention Bernard Antony. When driving from Burgundy (Pommard) to the Colmar area, we detoured for a cheese tasting lunch at the “Sundgauer Käs Kaller,” http://fromagerieantony.pagesperso-or... , which we know from Souphie and DCM is the home of “probably the most famous affineur in France.” It was great, and Monsieur Antony, alone with the four of us on a lazy Friday at noon (until his son joined us at the end), was charming, a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, and gamely went along with my bad German and worse French. As I’d arranged with him by email, we opted for the 8-cheese “Assiette de fromages” (he actually gave us 9, and we had two aged demis of Riesling) rather than the daunting “Cérémonie des fromages,” and when we mentioned that we are going to le Chambard that evening, he packaged a special aged cheese to deliver on his behalf. The folks at Chambard later told us they could not figure out what it was and would have to call him. Which may have been Monsieur Antony’s intent, since they are apparently not yet clients. What a great stop that was. — Jake
DCM, I'd like to take you up on that, but I can't; Antony wrapped it mostly outside my view, and after we handed it over at the restaurant, they did not open it in front of me, but came to our table later to comment about it and say they did not know what it was and would call him.
Nancy S., he added a Comte to the middle of our tasting plates -- in part, I think, because I'd mentioned to him that I love the Comte at L. Dubois in Paris -- but I must say that although it was very good, I prefer the Dubois (we most recently got some 4-yr there 3 weeks ago, and are still enjoying it, along with an incredible 5-year Gruyere). I'm not sure that Antony gave us his 4-year tho; it looked and tasted a bit younger.
Mangeur, I just had more reason to be critical at this part of our trip than, for example, our recent stay in Burgundy or Nancy, and I figure that candor is best on this forum. I will be very intersted to hear if others venture to and enjoy "Le Pressoir de Bacchus" in Blienschwiller, as we did for lunch.
re: Jake Dear
Interestingly, on my last visit to Dubois, I preferred the 2-year comte to the 4-year specimen. The 4-year was a bit too salty and not the perfect texture for me. (Although in prior purchases, I very much loved the Dubois 4-year old comte.) Nevertheless, I have never tasted a more impeccable 4-year old comte than M. Antony's sample at L'Agape Substance.
Thanks for an excellent and detailed report. I was in Alsace around the same time as you were.
I had dinner at Chambard after an excellent tasting at Domaine Weinbach. In their defence, I didn't think our portions were particularly small (including the ombre chevalier, which I absolutely adored) and this was after a few days of gargantuan serving sizes in Colmar and elsewhere! That said, there was a niggling inconsistency in execution and delivery (citrus pips left behind with the flesh, long time to clear plates), so it wouldn't surprise me if your portion was perhaps smaller than what we got.
I must also add in their defence that they happily pour the perfectly tolerable local tap water and were doing so at quite a few tables (including ours), so guests shouldn't feel like they are being cheap or will be ostracised if they don't stump up for the 10E sparkling. Also, Emmanuel Nasti's wine list has excellent breadth and is worth a visit in itself if you are a wine buff, with a few gems at very reasonable prices.
All in all, the food and service were very good and I would happily return there on my next visit.
Julien Teoh, thanks for your comments, which make me think of a few more things: We did not get to Domaine Weinbach, but we had one of its aged Rieslings at Antony, very nice. (We did have a great terroirist tasting at Marcel Deiss in Bergheim — http://www.marceldeiss.com/, highly recommended.) Yes, Chambard had a nice wine list, we had a very good Riesling (“Schlossberg Grand Cru Cuvee Ste Catherine Colette Faller et ses filles,” 80E), and quite decent local pinot (A. Boxler, but expensive for what it was at 60E).
We have nothing against the local tap water, here or elsewhere in France, and we always get it along with a bottled water (or in this case, two bottled waters, we had a table for 4 and it was warm in the room). We enjoy sampling the various sparkling waters in France — and in this area, we like the local product, Carola, bottled at Ribeauvillé. The tap water at Chambard was just fine, and usually, it came with ice. And the carafe was elegant. What was not elegant, I think, is being charged 10 Euros, twice, for Badoit. (Admittedly, it was in the sleek tapered fancy Badoit bottle, not the normal one, but still.) It just strikes me as piling on when we are already spending big euros.
Bigos, glad you know and like Restaurant des Cascades, too, it’s a neat place, and next time we will do some hiking beyond the restaurant where the road ends in the forest on the slopes of the mountain.
Finally: I’m still thinking of our lunch at Le Pressoir de Bacchus, and will mention our plats there (we split the great “mushroom bouillabaisse” dish as a mini entrée for the four of us): Ravioli of carp — very nice; pork cheeks — dandy!; the local fish of the day (forgot its name) was super; and one of us got choucroute garni that was so much better than other versions we’ve had (including two days prior at Schwendi) — the choucroute itself was light, thin, and delicate; the meats were high quality, altogether yum.
I also had a very disappointing experience at Aux Armes de France a few years ago, shortly after the chef had "given up" his star. I don't remember the details now, apart from a red Alsace wine which I sent back to the kitchen, but I remember thinking that I'd rather eat at Courtepaille and that I couldn't imagine how such a place could stay in the Michelin guide at all.
Hi Jake - sorry to limp in rather belatedly to this, only just spotted it. Thoroughly recommend a stay at L'Agneau in Katzenthal next time - Thierry Hohler and his wife are some of the most welcoming innkeepers round here, not inevitably the case as you've observed. We've stayed there a few times, simple bedrooms, very reasonably priced, classic Alsace breakfast, red and white checked kelsch tablecloths, buffet table groaning with kugelhopfs, croissants and sundry breads. We've never lunched or dined there as we're usually heading for one of the tasting-dinners organised by oenoalsace.com at La Taverne Alsacienne Ingersheim (another for you to bookmark for a next visit, chef Jean-Philippe Guggenbuhl does a fine job, modern Alsatian cooking and a wonderful Menu Retour du Marché at, I think 32 euros) rather than drving 1 hour home (we live dangerously close to Antony)
Aux Armes de France is kind of sad, once had 2 stars and in its heyday everyone tipped it to get a third to join the Auberge de l'Ill (which btw is still worth a visit - ex. lunch menu at a kick under 100 euros, weeping willows bending low to the river and Hansi the resident stork comes to say hello/goodbye through the window). Then they went down to 1 and now it seems they've relinquished (or been docked) that one. Used to be a real institution, but not worth worrying about these days.
I agree 100% with your take on Chambard, at least their so-called gastronomic restaurant. Chef Olivier Nasti is a MOF and should do/know better, brother Emmanuel (sommelier) is a mite too cocky and the food overpriced and underperforming. As for your 10-euro water, I'd have been hopping mad too. Plus the dining room is a horrible shape, long and thin like a train carriage. Their Winstub next door is a much better bet: honest Alsatian classics like foie gras, coq au riesling, meat au pinot noir, porky/hammy things en croute, real apple tart, done really well (all too rare, sadly - witness the mountains of greying choucroute and tired tartes a l'oignon you can find the length of the Route des Vins)
As you seem to get to Alsace fairly often, may I recommend a few more (I daren't mention my website or my blog as I got ticked off last time I referred someone to them, but you'll find loads more there.) Try the Brendelstub in Riquewihr, a brasserie/bistro-style place with a mix of Alsace classics and modern stuff, including from the rotisserie and the wood-fired oven (lobster from the latter to die for) and a good blackboard of wines by the glass. It's just opposite Hugel, so take in a tasting there before or after.
In Wettolsheim in the truly ghastly (decorwise) La Palette, chef Henri Gagneux also mixes ancient and modern and does a good job, always packed, so book. Don't miss a tasting chez Albert Mann when in the village too, their Pinot Noir is one of the most noteworthy produced in Alsace at the moment (they're improving by leaps and bounds - there was room for it!)
One of our fave fermes-auberges is the Rain des Chenes above Orbey (go on up from Kaysersberg after you've visited Madame Faller et ses Filles at Domaine Weinbach). All the meat is raised on the farm, in fact 70% of all they serve is either raised or grown by them and they make their own Munster. Lovely chalet-style wood place with fab views down over the valley, snowy in winter and lush green pastures in summer (nice terrace too).
There's more, but don't want to bore you. You can eat wonderfully well in Alsace, whether trad. or more modern, but like any place that has hordes of tourists (ever tried to find somewhere decent to eat in St Emilion?) it has its fair share of horrors and you need to know where you're headed. Good tip: ask any wine grower; they always have the skinny on the latest places, trends, who's heading towards a star or a listing in Le Fooding guide, and who's on the way out.