Friday, December 01, 2006

Le Charlemagne

The finest meal of our France trip, considering both Burgundy and Paris, was most certainly our dinner at Le Charlemagne, a smart and beautifully designed restaurant nestled in at the base of the hills in Pernand Vergelesses. Walkable at about a mile and a half from the Villa Louise, our lovely little hotel in Aloxe-Corton, we drove because nothing other than the moon illuminates the narrow road through the vineyards. It was a beautiful drive through a valley, expansive views of hills and vineyards, and of the lights of Beaune in the distance.

Le Charlemagne is owned by the very young chef Laurent Peugeot and his wife Hiroko, originally from Japan. They also own the popular sushi place just outside Beaune called Sushi Kai. Part of the idea at Le Charlemagne is to fuse classic Burgundian cuisine with that of Japan. This merging of sensibilities was on display immediately upon arriving at the restaurant - the building itself looks like part of a chateau that spent several years in Japan. Tall drowsy bamboo growing outside, swaying in the breeze, and cedar planked walkways that guide you up towards the second floor entrance. The interior is reminiscent of a Buddhist temple, very spare with wooden floors and simple white walls. And a temple it is, a temple of thoughtfully composed and skillfully executed haute cuisine that is sometimes shocking in its kinetic energy, and always beautiful.

After ordering we were presented with a shot glass containing an amuse-bouche of shrimp in a dill gel with shellfish creme. This, along with the bread that came piled vertically on a somewhat menacing looking skewer, served as a message about what was to come - inventive presentation, to say the least. BrooklynLady started with Veau du limousin, kind of like tuna tartare with small chunks of veal. Absolutely delicious with its light miso vinaigrette, but sadly BrooklynLady was not eating raw tuna so after a few illegal bites, she adopted my escargots ravioli with edamame bouillon and escargots butter. That dish was artfully presented - the fried ravioli resting on 2 chopsticks that served as a bridge over the bowl of edamame bouillon.

BrooklynLady had a shortrib cake with shallot and red wine gel for a main dish. Amazing! Perfectly textured and full of rich beefy goodness. This one is called Parmentier de Queue de boeuf on the menu (which you can see if you click on the link to the restaurant, above). I had quail with tandoori spices with another treat in a shot glass, this one some sort of souflee. I think it was cheese, but BrooklynLady suspects puree of an organ meat like kidney. Again, I go with cheese, and I think the menu supports my claim. Anyone know what "potimarron" means?

Then came the kicker - a salmon "pizza" delivered in a box like they use at Joe's in Brooklyn. A comic flourish for sure, but this was very serious pizza indeed, so serious that the fate of our great nation might in fact depend on it (?). Thick slices of salmon and pickled sea vegetables were arranged on a potato galette - savory, with a great contrast of soft salmon and crisp pickled vegetables and potato. I tried using silverware but pretty soon I had to just pick it up with my hands like I was walking down 86th street in Bensonhurst.

With all of this food I ordered a half bottle of 2004 Domaine Pierre Maray at Fils Pernand Vergelesses. The wine list was quite extensive, including many half bottles, but I figured that I'm in Pernand Vergelesses, so why wouldn't I try the wine from the village? We were well rewarded - bright and floral with good citrusy acidity and some hints of honeyed richness, this wine worked great with food. We were so impressed that we resolved to come back to the village to try more wine.

The cheese plate was phenomenal. A helpful waiter selected cheeses for me from an old school cart, including Ami d'Epoisses and Epoisses (the description on Fork and Bottle is as good as any other), creamy and quite strong cheeses made locally, and tasting of grass, flowers, and the laundry hamper in the boy's locker room.

Dessert began with another shot glass, this time filled with pear sorbet and clementine chunks. BrooklynLady had Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit the size of a lime but orange, with a sweet/tart flavor), Mascarpone, and Genmaicha, an inventive sweet that combined creamy cheese with tart yuzu and green tea. I had chestnut ice cream with a chocolate cookie, very tasty. I learned in Burgundy that I really like chestnut as a sweet flavor. Dessert came a set of accouterments that strongly resembled a chemistry set. If you go tothe restaurant's website and allow the flash photographs to scroll by, a picture of this will come up. One test tube had a small green apple and white chocolate popsicle, another had what turned out to be poprocks, and another had what I think was that mixture of spices and tiny candies that you can take by the handful when you are leaving an Indian restaurant.

The menu makes it look like we spent LOADS of money on this meal, but remember, they offer a set menu that allows you to have four courses for the same price as the beef shortcake a la carte. We floated happily out of the restaurant to the car (why I turned down what I'm sure was a luscious dessert wine) and said goodnight to Pernand Vergelesses. Le Charlemagne was an experience not to be missed if you go to Burgundy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You had a puree of "potiron" not potimarron. To reassure you both, it was pumpkin!