Day Six: Endurance of the Stomach
There comes a time on every gastronomical whirlwind when stomach fatigue sets in and you just cannot wield a fork in the name of gluttony any longer. Champion eaters and drinkers alike will certainly understand this dilemma. Years ago, my good friend Peter and I traveled to France on a Michelin starred eating binge. The challenge was ten Michelin restaurants in five days. By the ninth, we had eaten countless variations of foie gras and downed more wine than some small countries consume in a year. I will never forget the sad look of defeat in Peter’s eyes after lunch at La Pyramide. We were standing outside of Guigal’s famous vineyards unable to go any further. Not even one more amuse bouche or sliver of truffles would march past our lips. The flag of gourmandizing was buried there, somewhere among the grapes.
The French always complain it’s their livers. I simply refer to it as Bacchusitis. When I woke up this morning I felt like I was back there with Peter. Sure, it could have been triggered by the second helping of that perfectly stinky unpasteurized Epoisses or maybe the extra-large helping of steak tartar served with quite possibly the best frites known to man. I hit the culinary wall and was thinking I couldn’t go further. I found it humorous that my wife woke up raring to eat. I clearly needed gentle coaxing.
For the first time, we decided to eat our petit dejeuner at the hotel. I love French breakfasts in their simplicity; café au lait, buttered toast, flaky croissants, some jam, maybe a yogurt. Apparently here in Burgundy one adds a plethora of salumi, hams, and cheeses. Given my oversaturation of cheese, you’d think that the three kinds of cheese on the breakfast buffet would be like kryptonite to Superman. But no, somehow I mustered the strength to persevere and march onward to the altar of Bacchus. Hair of the dog, in the most edible form.
Cave du Covent des Cordeliers
A Montrachet should be drunk kneeling with one’s hat off. ~ Alexandre Dumas
The first stop of the day was a wine tasting at Cave du Covent des Cordeliers. Alexandre Dumas once wrote ‘A Montrachet should be drunk kneeling with one’s hat off’. I think that should be expanded to include any Burgundy at all. The tasting started on shaky ground as Beau decided a convent was a good place to test his screaming abilities. At first, I thought the gentleman conducting our tasting was going to banish us not only from the winery but all of Beaune.
Somewhere between dropping 288 euros on three magnums of liquid gold and both of us mentioning we worked for wineries too, the guy warmed up. He said he came from a large family of 12 and had a million grandkids, and that Petit Satan was no trouble at all. He poured us an amazing Volnay Premier Cru and invited us for a private tour of the lower caves where the ancient century old Burgundies lived. With that one golden sip, we crossed the bridge from annoying customers to family.
After several more pours, we stole out of the darkness and came into the full light of afternoon. We passed through an outdoor market on our way to a tourist brasserie for Boeuf Bourguignonne, quite possibly the most cliché Burgundian dish.
After a short rest at our hotel, we returned to the city center for dinner at La Ciboulette. La Ciboulette rivals Ma Cuisine for King of the Regional restaurants and in many ways surpassed it. The menu was more interesting, the owners more engaging and the food at least as good. Ma Cuisine has history and magic. But why say one is better than the other, both are great and should be visited. We stopped at a brasserie for a kir royale, champagne mixed with local cassis where Beaumont gave his best shot at being annoying before falling fast asleep, I mean DEEP SLEEP.
The entire walk through Beaune’s bustling streets involved us running a pattern of stopping any threat that might provoke the slumbering petit Satan, by all means necessary. This involved muffling dogs, knocking loud children over and pantomiming BE QUIET to several Frenchmen along the rue.
We were the first customers when La Ciboulette opened. I did my best Marcel Marceau imitation to convey to the wait staff that if he wakes it is their fault, not mine. The wait staff quickly got the point and made the whole dining experience almost too quiet. Arriving guests were silently warned as they entered. Maybe even some of them had witnessed or at the very least read about in La Monde, the story of the infamous America family who’s child melted down in a Champagne restaurant quicker than a Japanese nuclear plant after a tsunami. Word spread as they quieted themselves and ate in almost Monastery like tranquility. Marcel Marceau pantomimes broke out in other parts of the dining room. I felt as though I was living through an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, well, without the spam.
After every course Lisa and I looked at each other with a ‘I know exactly what you are thinking, please god do not say it out loud and jinx us’ look. Every time someone would make a peep everyone’s attention focused on sleeping cutie to see whether or not he had awoken. When he hadn’t, glasses went up for silent toasts. I honestly believe the guillotine would have made a comeback this night if someone disturbed his sleep.
We ate like gods on regional cuisine. Not Parisian cream and butter overindulgences, but good old fashioned solid Burgundian fare. Oeufs a la Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon and mushrooms), Pied de Veau sauce Vinaigrette tiede (veal feet served in a room temperature vinaigrette), Joue de Porc sauce Bourguignonne (Pork cheeks simmered in red wine), Parmentier de Confit de Canard (Shepherd’s pie made with duck confit) and sweetbreads with morels.
We drank the best wine of the trip so far – a 2007 Volnay 1er cru from Boillot’s ‘Les Caillerets’ vineyard. The wine sang, well quietly sang, the virtues of Heaven and Earth and God’s love for mankind. Truly a liquid orgasm I never wanted to end.
The cheeses arrived and were served at the perfect temperature. It is not enough to have great cheese. You also need to understand how to present and at what temperature. The basket was a great way to bring a large selection of cheeses thru a tight dining space. After cheese came dessert and then café… truly a pleasant night.
Beaumont did wake up after everything to applause, pantomimed of course, and at least one drunken patrons’ poor interpretation of Marceau’s wall routine. The maître d’ suggested a nomination for the French Medal of Honor for Beau’s performance tonight or at least lack of. If I understood the hostess correctly, we have been invited to the Presidential Palace for a full pardon. No longer, well at least not till the next meal, will waitstaff’s shutter windows and lock doors as we near the entrance of their restaurants. Viva la Beaumont! My adorable petit gourmand!
Bon Soir from Beaune… tomorrow Chateauneuf du Pape.
Stomach update: My liver has gone on strike and is refusing any more rich food. Where is my zantac? God help me!