a train of marrons

a train of marrons

I am no vinophile, not even a particularly enthusiastic drinker. So wine was not first in my mind when I floated the idea to P to hang out in Beaune for the weekend. Instead, the thing that captured my imagination was the food, especially the food fair with all sorts of gustatory delights advertised in various blogs. The food must be good, I rationalized. After all, Burgundy is the purported stomach of France.

Escargot!

Escargot!

 

 

 

The food fair was as good as I imagined. The advertisements did not lie. Imagine a New York street fair, without the mundane stalls selling socks and knockoff bags, strip out the ubiquitous kebab stand and the badly made crepe trucks, take away cotton candy and kettle corn. Replace the dirty water dog carts with cauldrons of steaming andouillette and merguez, add stalls dedicated to the sale of mushrooms fresh and dry, organic honey, and macarons; standkeepers giving out samples of foie gras on toast; crowds huddling around picnic tables extracting fat nubs of escargot meat from their shell while sipping glasses of local wine.  It being late fall/early winter, glasses of hot spiced wine and bags of warm toasted chestnuts were also readily available. That would be Beaune’s food fair. For 2 days we eschewed sit-down lunches in favor of incessant munching on the go. Sunday’s lunch read like this: a plate of buttery fried frogs’ legs, a thick slab of jambon persille – chunks of smoked ham encased in a radioactive green parsley aspic, a loaf of fresh baked baguette and for dessert, half a dozen of freshly shucked oysters. The family sitting next to our park bench were spooning creamy cheese onto bread and feeding their kids Camembert and Brie. That’s my idea of a picnic!

deconstructed oeufs meurette

deconstructed oeufs meurette

For dinner, we relied on the suggestions of our lovely innkeeper, Mdm Grillon of Hotel Grillon, who even helpfully made our reservations given our limited (nonexistent for me) French. We had dinner at L’Ecusson on our first night at Beaune, where we landed an hour ahead of our reservation due to a rapidly losing battle to jet lag. Being the first to arrive, we got to relax in the elegant ochre colored room and enjoyed the full attention of the charmingly hospitable front of house. The meal, innovative and delicious helped lift our flagging spirits some more. I was expecting my oeufs meurette to resemble other oeuf meurettes I’ve eaten, poached eggs in red wine broth. Instead, I got a trio of bites, a most satisfyingly earthy puree of mushrooms topped with a wobbly raw yolk and a sprig of chive, thick slices of bacon on a sesame toast, and a shot of vin chaud. Our mains were a contrast of heavy and light. P selected coq au vin for his main dish and was rewarded with a rich, almost inky stew of wine cooked chicken with its usual accoutrements of pearl onions and mushrooms whereas my perch was simply pan-seared and served on a bed of diced tomato, zuchinni and a tinge of citrus that summoned memories of a warm summer’s day instead of a chilly fall night. We ended the night with a round of cheese and the best baba rum P’s had.  A great deal for less than 30 Euros each, not including wine. We walked back to the hotel drowsy and full, thanking our lucky stars that our hotel is a good 1 km away from the town center, allowing us to digest while we strolled home.

tarte tatin

tarte tatin

On the second night, Madam Grillon had booked a table at La Ciboulette, a very popular bistro location on quiet side street of Beaune. La Ciboulette excels at traditional Burgundian cuisine in a relaxed setting, and compared to the calm elegance of L’Ecusson, the dining rooms at La Ciboulette were a picture of activity, with servers weaving around packed tables of diners delivering platters upon towering platters of food. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Beaune, it means toasting to an aperitif of kir, a pretty pink cocktail of local aligote wine and cassis. The appetizers came after our welcome plate of olives were polished off, for me two thick slabs of foie gras mi cuit served with warm toast, and for the boyfriend liquid cashmere, incarnated in his dish of quenelles, morels and sweetbreads enrobed in a most luxuriously creamy butter and cream sauce that was heart attack inducing but worth every sip. I won the main course challenge, for although P enjoyed his simple dish of huge seared scallops, my steak charolaise was spectacular, cooked a point and full of savory meat juices. The sliced fresh Burgundy truffles were just icing on the cake, imparting a light earthy aroma to the sauce. A platter of stinky cheeses including the lovely Citeaux and a big slab of Epoisses (smells like wet socks, but tasting much milder) and a bowl of fromage blanc later, we attacked our desserts as though we were starving, my Tarte Tatin beautifully golden brown, with a firm crust and the cooked apple disintegrating in my mouth effortlessly while P had his first creme brulee for the trip, with a rich pistachio taste but unfortunately a little charred. For $38 per person, a lot of deliciousness. No wonder La Ciboulette was awarded the Michelin Bib Gourmand designation in the most recent guide.

Of course, we did touristy things while not stuffing ourselves silly, visiting the well restored hospice and following the many roving brass bands in colorful costumes as they marched through the streets of Beaune playing upliftingly loud tunes. But even without the festivities, I still expect Beaune to be worth a visit regardless of seasons, particularly for the eaters and drinkers of the world.

Names and websites:

Hotel Grillon

http://www.hotel-grillon.fr/

L’Ecusson

http://www.ecusson.fr/

La Ciboulette

http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/viamichelin/gbr/dyn/controller/poiPerformPage?productId=41102&id=901

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img_3610Its only my second day in Beaune, and I already understand that everything here is about wine. The town is surrounded by wineries, the layout of this medieval town is such that every third or fourth shop is a wine shop and wine caves and cellars lined with walls and walls of wine bottles make up an alternative underground city. On this weekend, vinophiles go extra-wild as it is La Vente des Vins, an annual festival celebrating, what else but the famous Burgundian wines. The festival revolves around Les Trois Glorieuses, three events happening in Beaune this weekend: the grand tasting meal at the prestigious Chateau du Clos du Vougeot, the multi-million dollar wine auction benefitting the Hospice de Beaune and La Paulee, the most drunken BYOB lunch imaginable. While P and I did not participate in these events, we still had a glorious time literally soaking in the bacchanalian good cheer, voluntarily stuffing ourselves like force fed geese with wine and food. 

img_3658

Wine is the first order of business. We are in wine soaked Burgundy after all. We took an informative wine appreciation lesson at Sensation Vins, where the instructor patiently went through the essentials of Burgundian wines and guided us wine novices through a blind tasting of 6 wines. The lessons about terroir were a truly a little more than over our heads, but we walked out more confident about wine tasting abilities and tested them out at the wine caves later on. Upon our instructor’s recommendation, we then found ourselves at Maison Bouchard Aine & Fils, a venerable wine merchant since 1746 for a cheese and wine degustation. For an hour, we took its “tour of the five senses”, where it converted some of its musty underground cellars into interactive classrooms to showcase the sound, sight, taste, touch and scent of wine. We also tasted 11 wines in a tasting glass we got to keep as a souvenir, including multiple grand crus and a Corton Grand Cru almost as old as my dad. The cheeses were all local and we fell in love with the Citeaux cheese, a raw, runny and funky smelling cheese made by monks of the Abbaye de Citeaux. Now to find it and smuggle it back home.

Next up, the food of Beaune….

Sensation Vin

http://www.sensation-vin.com/en/

Bouchard Aine & Fils

http://www.en.bouchard-aine.fr/index.php?p=365