David Downie: some restaurants to add to the Food Wine Burgundy guidebook

By Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Permalink 0

by David Downie

Change is the nature of the edibles-and-potables business everywhere. In Burgundy the region’s symbol is the snail. Change comes slowly. But the snail, like the tortoise, defeats the hare in the long run—or the long slide.

Cuppa? Change-resistance is part of the Gallic gene pool

The down-slide first: reliable fellow gourmets who scour Burgundy for great food and wine confirm that Amaryllis, the discovery of a few years back, is being spoiled by success. Michelin rewarded this unlikely candidate with a star after only a few years of operation, and crowds and crowns of laurels soon followed. So too did a precipitous move from funky quarters in an unattractive highway-side location in a nowhere village – part of the discovery experience – to fancy-dancy, flower-filled premises: the former home of stuffy-but-likeable Le Moulin de Martorey. This reconverted millhouse complex is at San Remy, near Chalon-sur-Saone. Now Amaryllis and its still-very-young chef-owner Cédric Burtin is becoming staid, in a beautiful, mainstream setting… another one-star Michelin place serving elaborately plated, microscopic portions of France’s notorious silly haute food.

The good news is much more abundant.

Burgundy has great wines and ancient chestnut trees too. That’s me, the tree-hugger

Start with the new wine bar at Le Cellier de l’Abbaye in Cluny, one of southern Burgundy’s best bottle shops. Owned and operated by Alice Brinton, a transplanted American wine guru, flanked by an eager, young local expert, Le Cellier finally got permission to put out tables on the sidewalk on the abbey-side of the street – we’re talking Cluny’s famous, 1,100-year-old-abbey – with other tables on Cluny’s main square. On offer: the region’s finest wines, from bargain local bottles (Macon-Bussières by J&P Saumaize, for instance) to Domaine de la Romanée Conti (no, DRC is not sold by the glass, ever, and if you’d like to buy a bottle you need to reserve a year ahead). To go with the wine: hams, salami, cheeses from the likes of Alain Hess (the finest cheese-maker in Beaune). The success of Le Cellier de l’Abbaye so far has surprised those who thought Cluny was too conservative to showcase a place like this.

More good news: at Bourgvillain, a compact village in Lamartine country, near the lake at Saint-Point due south of Cluny, the good-ole fashioned Larochette Aubergiste has returned from the dead and is again serving succulent regional fare. This restaurant has a great outdoor terrace and two handsome, totally redecorated dining rooms — contemporary classic, quietly chic — and serves fine, rustic salads, Charolais steaks, freshwater fish (the pike-perch can be excellent), and appealing if unaesthetic housemade desserts. Chef-owner Eric Bonin took over from a tired, semi-retired Parisian who’d gone to seed at Bourgvillain. The menu is ultra classic — no fancy or silly food here. The clientele is strictly local. Noteworthy: the wine list is short but very good, largely because Le Cellier de l’Abbaye helped Bonin put it together. All in all, for about 30 to 40 euros per head you get a great meal from egg to apple, including wine (unless you order something extravagant) served in unpretentious, charming, relaxed surroundings, with friendly service.

Here’s the beef… Burgundy on the hoof…

At Cluny, one of our longtime haunts, Hostellerie d’Héloïse (next to the Pont de l’Etang), gets better all the time. The prix fixe menus featuring market specials and terroir classics are excellent value: snails; rumpsteak sautéed in a red wine sauce with shallots; fresh local farmstead cheese with cream (or a choice of regional cheeses), and housemade chocolate mousse or other antebellum delights. The seasonal menus range from French classics (Ile Flottante the way someone’s great-grandmother used to make it…) to modern, pneumatic, vertical fare for trendy diners. Local bottlings are the specialty, and the prices are amazingly low. This is a professional, classy operation, but manages to avoid the kind of persnickety attitude that so often plagues the French eating experience.

We always love eating at L’Auberge de Jack, a bouchon-style country bistro, and have been back many times of late. Since I just wrote about the auberge for Gadling (the AOL travel website), I’ll simply suggest you click to read about that.

Other thumbs-up commentary: Le Relais d’Ozenay (between Tournus and Chapaize on highway D14) continues to be one of the northern Maconnais area’s best tables. And nearby La Table de Chapaize is also turning out to be a favorite among upscale gourmets: artfully plated mouthfuls that follow the seasons and the chef’s inspiration, a very very short menu with table d’hôtes-style yes/no choices, aspirational décor (as in, Michelin, please notice!)… not a terroir place, but an up-and-coming hotspot. If you liked the old Amaryllis, or the current Aux Terrasses in Tournus, you’ll love La Table de Chapaize.

I could go on and on, but Google tells me I’ve already overshot the optimum word count. Why not pick up a copy of Food Wine Burgundy for more?

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