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/.... 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=gast... . 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-... . 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
The 4-year old comte from M. Antony that I enjoyed at L'Agape Substance this past summer was probably the best cheese I have ever consumed, and I've consumed a lot over the years.
Thanks for these discerning reports, Jake. This kind of honest appraisal is extraordinarily useful, much more so than blanket praise for country and village charm.
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.