After a week of hard work, swirling, sniffing, tasting, spitting and trying not to make choking sounds when I found a rather noxious wine that was offered with a warm, expecting smile, I decided to treat myself. I had been making dinner every night at my rented apartment in Beaune, which was just lovely (there’s nothing like shopping for fresh ingredients everyday; for some reason I don’t do this in New York, but that will change), but this last night I wanted to try the new bistrot at l’Hotel de Beaune. For those of you who don’t know, l’Hotel de Beaune is a small hotel located in Louis Jadot (yes, that Louis Jadot)’s old home. With seven rooms, it’s a luxury retreat with a cellar to die for at easy prices (and I make sure to raid it every visit).
The owner had recently opened a small restaurant in the building next door, and the care and love (and money) put into it were quite evident. The ever-beautiful Marie-Aurelie, concierge at the Hotel, took my reservation, making sure that the chef, Yohann, was aware that I would be stopping by. When I arrived he came out and sat with me a bit, making me feel quite welcome. He shopped everyday for the freshest ingredients at all the markets up and down the Côte d’Or, ensuring a market menu that outshone most of what was offered in Beaune’s establishments (which has a pretty nice restaurant scene for a 20,000 inhabitant town).
I ordered a fricassée de girolles et trompettes de la mort avec herbes fines (sautéed girolles and horn of plenty mushrooms with fresh herbs) and a ris de veau a la Dijonnaise (veal sweetbreads in a Dijon mustard sauce). Alongside, I picked a 1997 Mommessin Clos de Tart, a great wine from a ripe year that should be showing well.
The mushrooms arrived and I inhaled their amazingly fresh earthy, herbal fragrance: as my friend Drew says, C’est super bon! The mushrooms were cooked to perfection, not too soft and not too hard, and the excellent olive oil added a lovely earthy-olive note to the dish. The wine was poured, and I slowly inhaled, letting a long, deliberate, sly smile cross my lips: I had chosen well.
Musky, earthy cherries filled the air above the glass, with hints of sous-bois (undergrowth) and a slight suggestion of oak that just seemed to dance and glide with each other through the air. Oh man, I could snort lines of this all night! I swirled and tasted, letting the dark liquid expand over my palate and fill every nook and cranny of my mouth: no way was any of this going to waste! Absolutely fantastic, with tons more of ripe, dark cherries and earthy, musky accents, the wine tasted much fresher than it smelled. This was like dating an older woman and discovering she had the body of a young lady. The finish was extremely long-lasting, giving me tiny tremors of excitement knowing that the wine, just opened, would take time to really begin strutting its stuff.
Then came the moment all wine and food geeks seek: the marriage of food and wine. When done incorrectly, it can ruin a meal, leaving your taste buds rebelling and wondering at the injustice that was done to them. When done correctly, it can send one into fits of orgasmic, gustatory delights. One and one become four, five and even six if done correctly. The solid and the liquid mesh in the mouth, transcending each other’s qualities and opening the door to another universe of perverse pleasure. It is a moment that is more exciting than Viagra and more exhilarating then cocaine. Aside from sex itself, it is Heaven on Earth.
And this is where I found myself as I sipped the wine and ate the mushrooms.
The two just went so well together that I sat there for a very, very long time, sipping the wine, taking a small bite of the mushrooms, and just enjoying the orgy of flavors that I was experiencing. In fact, I was sitting there so long that Yohann came out to make sure everything was OK. “Why do you ask?” I said. “Because you’ve been sitting there for an hour eating your first course,” was the reply. “I wanted to make sure everything was alright.”
Oh man, yes.
After the fireworks of the first course, the veal sweetbreads were a bit of a letdown. But that’s being relative, of course. It was a fantastic preparation, a delicious dish cooked exactly as it needed to be. And the wine went quite well with this too. But nothing like that first course. Sigh…
Then came the cheese course, of course, a massive cart showcasing the fermented, smelly, curdled beauties of the region. It’s funny how that lovely stink doesn’t bother a cheese-lover like me, but instead makes my heart beat faster and faster (and no, it’s not a cholesterol-induced heart attack). I swooned in delight over the choices, so many to pick from, which ones to grab? For have no doubt about it, I was going to choose more than one!
And thus I ended my meal with four fantastic cheeses, each one smellier, nastier than the one before it, each one trying to outdo the other, yet holding its own with typical Gallic pride.
And folks wonder why I love Beaune so much…
OK, off to the Loire.