[Written for wine.com]
Burgundy Restaurant Reviews
By Elizabeth Sagehorn and Don Lipper
Ever since Gallo-Roman times, Burgundy has been famous for its cuisine. The Bishop Princes of Sens enjoyed their food so much they had to cut indentations into their table to accommodate their huge stomachs.
To provide this overview of Burgundian cuisine, we made the sacrifice and, strictly in the name of science, stuffed ourselves silly. We picked three (‘spensive, medium, and cheaper) that we loved, all for different reasons, and highlighted the best that each has to offer.
Big bucks doesn’t necessarily buy the best experience. Our first (and most expensive dinner) was at Hostellerie de L’Ecusson outside Beaune. First, the good news. The service was excellent. Everyone from the hostess to the waiter summoned up their best attempts at English and bent over backwards to ensure that we enjoyed ourselves.
- We started with a foie-gras and escargots. The foie-gras was the most delicious we’ve ever had. It was creamy, melted in the mouth and tasted like buttah. When smeared over the slice of spice bread it came with, our senses sang out a chorus of Hallelujahs. The sweet dessert wine that our waiter recommended with the escargot was a delightful complement. The escargots were also exceptional. They were tender, served piping hot in hollowed out beef bones with shaved garlic, butter and marrow. Yum.
- One of our entrees was a pigeon in brown sauce. Its little appendages had been removed and artfully arranged around the carcass. The meat was tender and fell off the bone easily. A finger bowl was thoughtfully provided.
- Our waiter chose dessert for us: a scoop of raspberry sorbet ringed by two long meringues and covered with several different kinds of local fruit including sugar-covered cranberries. Dollops of different flavored jellies ringed the perimeter. Very tasty, with the tart flavors nicely offsetting the sweet ones. (We can vouch for the freshness of the ingredients. While we were waiting for dessert, one of the waitresses came scurrying out from the kitchen and picked a few sprigs from the lemon thyme bush in the herb planter by our table. Ten minutes later, they were festooning our plate.)
The dining room is pleasant in a generic country kind of way. Since it was such a beautiful evening, we sat outside on the ivy walled patio. Unfortunately, loud and long freight trains barreled by every ten minutes or so. (If you’re planning on proposing here, or having any other kind of intimate conversation, first get a train schedule.) In addition, they played an audio tape of bird calls which actually masked the real things in the trees nearby. “Curiouser and curiouser.” Dinner, wine and bottled water for two came to 1045F (about $150). Go for the food.
Our next recommendation is Ma Cuisine in Beaune proper. Owned by Pierre (host, speaks excellent English and has a wry sense of humor) and Fabienne (chef) Escoffier, it is a small and unpretentious, but completely delightful, bistro just off the Place Carnot. The décor is country home-ish, with light, bright, blue patterns and colors. It is very cozy, we felt like we were visiting a friend’s house. To add to the casualness, every evening they write the night’s selections on their chalkboard. It’s a little like being at camp, only much nicer.
- The tuna tartare knocked us out. Super fresh and delicately flavorful, the tiny cubes of fish were spritzed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and herbs. It was perfect.
- The veal entrée was delicately sautéed, tender and delicious.
- Dessert consisted of the best crème brulee we’ve ever had. The top was lightly toasted, with just a slightly crunchy light-brown patina. Underneath it was warm, perfectly smooth and tasted of cream, rather than the usual vanilla.
- The almond torte was also delicious. It tasted like real almonds instead of extract flavoring and was smothered in crunchy clusters of lightly toasted almonds.
Dinner, wine and bottled water for two was 585F (about $83). Best overall experience.
Blessed with the most ambiance, but the least impressive food, was Abbaye de Maizieres XIIes, a converted 12th century wine cellar. After negotiating the low doorway and steep steps, the very hospitable manager Alain Sirugue will be happy to show you to your table. Claustrophobes and allergy-sufferers need not fear the prospect of dining in a cellar. The high ceilings and broad walls (one of which is Roman and dates from the 3rdcentury) have been thoroughly scrubbed, and they are hung with reproductions of small Medieval tapestries. The food was unremarkable, but the wine list was extensive and delicious. Ask Alain for his suggestions. He is very knowledgeable and will come up with the perfect wines to compensate for your so-so meal. Because he also works as a local tour guide he will regale you with the entire history of the vineyard or winery in question down to the name of the woman who stomped the grapes. Dinner, wine and bottled water for two was 355F (about $50). Go for the coolness factor of eating in an ancient wine cellar.
Not much has changed in the last 700 years. The food and wine in Burgundy never cease to surprise and delight. And since it’s outside Paris, you can also expand your waistline without thinning your wallet. Just be sure you don’t have to start cutting stomach indentations out of your dinner table.