Paris / Jura / Burgundy Report
I’m just back from a trip to Paris and the Jura, with a couple of Burgundy excursions, with my wife and 5-year-old son. Some brief thoughts:
Paris is covered to death, so only limited comments:
I still love Le Rubis for lunch, as it represents a real page out of the past, with very good food and fair prices (2 plats and a bottle of their Morgon was Eur40).
Café Constant was excellent and a good deal. Foie gras and pork terrine plus three mains and a Morgon was ~$105. We went right at the open and walked in, which was great with the jet lag of our first day, but latter it was a complete zoo.
I liked both Le Baratin and Le Verre Vole, but maybe neither could exceed the extensive hype. We stuck to wine by the glass at Baratin, with significant variety among the known natural names (Genevat, Mosse, etc.) LVV we went for a bottle and got another to take away, but my crude French and the lack of a printed list made it hard to take full advantage. The menus were actually quite similar – does everyone have mackerel tartare these days? The cold quail escabeche at Baratin was memorable.
Chez Denise reminds me of a NYC steak house, with a masculine, almost clubby feel. The food was plentiful and good in its way, but I wouldn’t go often as a matter of style. House Beaujolais was fine. I did enjoy the fish terrine in particular.
Matisse at the Pompidou was great, and 5-year-olds love climbing the Eiffel Tower.
We stayed in Chateau-Chalon, in the southern part of the wine area, at the Relais Des Abbesse. Ch-C is a very quiet town itself, beautiful, but with not much to do. If you want more walkable infrastructure (shops, cafes, etc,) stick with Arbois. I liked the hotel (a B&B, really), which had room for perhaps 12 guests and was generally full, mostly with couples from nearby Switzerland. Breakfast was great (sausage, cheese, pastry, etc.), and we also had dinner a couple of nights. Dinner was simple home cooking, not restaurant food, but a supplement bought you massive quantities of huge fresh morel mushrooms in cream and vin jaune. I’d eat my shoe with that sauce. It was reasonable, with a triple room at EUR 85 including breakfast. Dinner was, I think, EUR 20 per person (they didn’t charge for my son, who ate little bits but not full dinners) with a supplement (EUR 20, I think) for the morels, which was a bargain.
We had two days to look around, so we spent the first in the north around Arbois, about 30 minutes north of Chateau-Chalon. Arbois was a nice medium town, with several restaurants, cafes and shops. We started by visiting a shop, Vin et Vinegar, where we bought some vinegar made with the vin jaune. It had the very specific salty flavor of Arbois vin jaune and will be an interesting condiment. Later I visited the open tasting rooms of Pinte, Tournelle and A&M Tissot, all on or near the main square. In each case, many wines were open and you could direct the tasting to your interests.
I knew both Tournelle and Tissot, so I focused on the vin jaunes. Tissot had 4 cuvees of 2005, a regular plus three specific terroirs. I didn’t take formal notes, but the differences were marked, with a range in acidity and flavor profiles. I actually ended up preferring the regular, as it was brighter to me, even though there might have been more complexity elsewhere in the range.
At Tournelle, I did try the trousseau that is destined for the States in the coming months and liked it enough to buy a bottle for later in the trip at the hotel. Oddly, that bottle showed a bit heavier and flatter. The vin jaune was nice and I picked up one for the return, as it isn’t yet imported in NY.
At Pinte, I tried the range of poulsards, a 2006, 2009 and 2010. All were light, bright and interesting. These could find a market in the US, I think, at least quality-wise. Prices were nice and the 2006 a steal on sale for EUR 7. I also tasted the Arbois vin jaune against the Chateau Chalon, both 2004. The differences were marked, and later tastings elsewhere with similar differences suggested it was a matter of terroir. The vin jaune was acidic, with a specific salinity, while the Ch-C was rich and had a peat character. I think I prefer the vin jaune for my tastes, but the richness of the Chalon was marked.
We lunched at Bistrot le Claquets, which seems to have a cult following in the wine trade. Honestly, the food was simple, with better starters than mains, the wine was good and the price was fair, but I think we might have missed a certain connection / inside joke being outside of the wine business ourselves (i.e., we probably sat next to famous winemakers, but who knows?). We had a funny exchange with a shopkeeper later that day who asked where we ate. She was horrified that this was what we chose to represent her town!
Dinner was at Le Grapiot in Pupillin which was amazing – best of the trip. The service was a nice mix of formal but friendly, and we were relieved to see many kids around, perhaps even the owner’s, who seemed to live upstairs. The Tournelle team and their 3 kids sat next to us. The wine list was complete for the region, but for me the only choice was the 2010 (~EUR 40) or 1999 (~EUR 60) Houillon-Overnoy Poulsard. At the owners suggestion, we did the 2010, which was great – the perfect balance of amazing lightness and amazing complexity. I had a re-imagined jambon persille (ham AND foie gras) and an interesting version of blanquette de veau, with a rich duxelle on bottom, falling-apart braised veal and crisp-cooked vegetables above, all covered with an almost foam-like cream sauce. I have to try to make this. Very memorable.
The following day, we spent time in the southern area, nearer Chateau-Chalon. We visited the cheese maker in Doucier, where you could watch the daily production though glass, but we got there a little late and watched mainly the cleaning up. Still, the videos about cheese making were good, and we were able to buy comte to bring back. Next was Baume-les-Messieurs, with its beautiful waterfalls and the bat-filled caves. Both were worth the time, especially with my son along. We had lunch there at Le Grand Jardin, which was nice. I had an interesting goat cheese, vegetable and popcorn (!) salad followed by morteau sausage roasted with local wine and comte cheese. Great. Lunch for 3 with a bottle of nice trousseau (I can’t remember the producer) was around $100.
In the remainder of the day, we went to Arlay, hoping to see both Chateau Arlay and Jean Bourdy, although we hadn’t made reservations. We pulled into Bourdy to see a sign suggesting they would be closed that day, and so we started to leave only to have Madame Bourdy start yelling to us to come back. She then spent probably an hour with us, talking in enthusiastic, patient French about the vineyards, wines, serving suggestions, food, the business, etc. It was beyond the call of duty. We tried the full range. I particularly liked the red blend, using all 3 main grapes, and enjoyed seeing the same contrast between Arbois and Chateau-Chalon in the jaune category – lean and salty versus rich and peaty. I went with Arbois again. The real treat, however, was the cellar, with a section of old bottles that astounded – scores from the 19th century, and one marked 1791! They also had an extensive list of old wines for sale (a copy of which I sadly left behind!), dating back to about 1890. I picked up a red and a vin jaune from 1994, my wedding year.
Given the long stay at Bourdy, we skipped Arlay but went to dinner at Les Seize Quartiers in Chateau-Chalon proper. Another solid choice. I shared a smoked fish plate with my son and had what they called croquant of morels, essentially a huge bowl of morels in vin jaune and cream with some toast. Really, probably a pound of mushrooms. That works for me.
We took two side-tracks in Burgundy, first stopping in Beaune en route from Paris to Chateau-Chalon. Ma Cuisine does, in fact, live up to the hype. Jambon Persille was amazing, and the Brest chicken roast with spices set a new bar for simple chicken. I couldn’t resist the 1966 Chapelle Santenay at EUR 80. It was certainly alive and kicking. My son devoured a cheese plate, including some really serious Epoisse.
Later we went to Savigny-les-Beaunes to the Chateau, not for the wine but for the huge museum of race cars, tractors, motorcycles and airplanes, both real and in toy form. This was, of course, especially a hit with the 5-year-old, but I have to admit it was impressive, especially the motorcycles ranging back to around 1900.
Our second Burgundy adventure was a drive from Chateau-Chalon on Easter to Nolay, west of Beaune, where we went to the local antiques fair. It was about an hour drive, but gave us a target on what otherwise might have been a quiet day. The fair was small but high quality and there were a number of things that would have been interesting if shipping wasn’t an issue. Lunch after was in Santenay at L’Ouillette. This is a bit more white tablecloth than some of our stops, and a nice Easter lunch. The EUR 35 menu had a cream of snails, Charolais beef, cheese from an amazing cart selection, and dessert.
From Santenay we went to Monthelie for the annual Les Printemps de Monthelie, when all of the local producers opened the cellars and had vendors selling cheese, sausages, crafts and more. For EUR 5, you got a glass and access to 15 wineries, tasting the lot of both Monthelie as well as other crus. It was a good chance to get to know Burgundy in a very specific area and to contrast the styles of a single terroir. The day was lively, with a manageable crowd mixed between (mostly English) tourists and locals. For the wines, I focused on Monthelie red in particular, and Eric de Suremain and Denis Boussey stood out.