Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Our First Dinner in Burgundy

We had at least 5 restaurants on our eat-here list, but the only one with a table open on Saturday night, our first night in France and the eve of the Hospices de Beaune auction, was Le Gourmandin. Wine people from all over the world were in the area for the auction and it's amazing that we were able to get in anywhere on short notice. Located in the Place Carnot, a large open square in the middle of Beaune, it was easy to find even for jet lagged people who were just starting to remember some of their French.

While walking to Place Carnot we had to pass through the street festival and could not prevent ourselves from stopping at the lively huiles (oysters) and vin chaud (hot wine) stand. Cheerful men shucked oysters like champs and arranged them temptingly amongst lemon slices on dishes with broken ice. Another man stirred a large vat of red wine with orange sections, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and other spices bobbing about. As raw oysters and intense jet lag just didn't seem like a good combination, we got a glass of the vin chaud - delicious! And warm in your hands on a chilly, rainy evening.

The set menus are the way to go, offering an entree (what we know in the States as an appetizer), a plat (main dish), and a cheese course or dessert, sometimes both. This menu is always far less expensive than ordering a la carte, and sometimes, very strangely, less expensive than just ordering an entree and a plat. I also came to love the French tradition, expectation really, that you will enjoy an aperitif before your meal. I ordered a glass of Cremant, the sparkling wine of Burgundy. Cremant can be made with any and all Burgundy grapes, and is creamy in texture and fruitier than Champagne, without the chalky sensation. It is far less expensive than Champagne, and can be a lively and tasty aperitif, especially if combined with a splash of Creme de Cassis to make a Kir Royale, or with Framboise to make a yummy and as far as I know, unnamed raspberry sparkling drink.

Now, what to eat? Pregnant BrooklynLady could not east most cheeses, cured meats, and raw vegetables or shellfish. She is not supposed to eat rare meat either. Her choices were somewhat limited at times, and I think that it was tougher for her than she let on to watch me eat all of those things. But before you say that I'm an insensitive oaf for enjoying in front of her what she could not partake of herself, she insisted that I eat and drink whatever I wanted. As the article in today's NYTimes reiterates, pregnant women are probably allowed a little more leeway than you would think in eating and drinking. She tasted lots of wine, although almost always in minute amounts. She decided to allow herself one real glass of wine on our trip, one glass to drink "like a normal person," as she put it. And what a glass it turned out to be...but that's another post.

She enjoyed her taste of my Cremant (and that's not some sort of sex euphemism - get your mind out of the gutter people). We both chose as an entree the cepes (a local mushroom) ravioli with wild champignon mushrooms in a light mushroom jus/cream sauce. I know, why not order different dishes and share, but there was only one other entree BrooklynLady could eat and this one just sounded sooo good. And it was good - better than good. A melange of textures; smooth ravioli filling, springy and woody slices of wild mushrooms, foamy broth. Warm earthy flavors and soothing jus, neither of which relied too heavily on salt or garlic - common problems in mushroom dishes, in my opinion. This dish encouraged the mushrooms to be the star, their earthiness taking its time to work its way through the mouth and throat, into the sinuses so you breathed mushroom air long after finishing.

I had a glass of 2004 Jean Boillot Savigny-Les-Beaunes Les Vergelesses 1er Cru, $13, with the mushroom ravioli. This wine was somewhat reserved in aroma (after 4 days of tasting I now understand that it might be too young for more in the nose), full bodied with some citrus and some vanilla flavors that are probably associated with oak. It paired well with the mushroom dish, but a more acidic white might have been better - an "opposite" kind of a pairing - the acidity serving as a counterpoint to the rich and savory food. Or a lighter Pinot Noir would be a good choice.

BrooklynLady had duck leg and thigh that turned out to be too rare (basically raw) for her to eat. So she had a little of the venison I ordered, perfectly grilled and served with caramelized onions and some kind of venison jus. Shame on me, but I didn't note the specifics on the Chorey-Les-Beaune red I had with the venison. BrooklynLady then enjoyed some fresh cheese, the texture of yogurt, while I had my first Burgundy cheese plate, including the intimidating Epoisses, a creamy and very strong cow's milk cheese. Dessert was an apple custard tart (not so good) and creme brulee (YUM). By that point, both of us were only half awake, as is probably clear from the lack of detail I am providing here.

A first dinner that left us excited and eager to experience more Burgundy food and wine. A sleepy walk through the closed down street fair booths back to the car, and off to bed. Tomorrow we go to the Hospices de Beaune auction.

1 comment:

bacchus said...

wow- what an exciting experience.

can you help me track down tasting notes on 1998 hospices de beaune dame hospitaliere domain michel picard?

i will turn you on to where there are a few bottles kicking around at a very attractive price.