We first met Pascal Wagner in front of his small wine cave on a quiet street in sleepy Puligny Montrachet. He was anxiously pacing back and forth, chatting 200 miles an hour on a cell phone, in three different languages, with a client from some far off country. I didn’t want to disturb him but I had just begun braising an AOP Bresse chicken and needed an older white wine worthy of the celebrated bird. With a lit cigarette dangling precariously from the corner of his mouth, he motioned for us to be patient while he disappeared inside. He returned a moment later, still talking on the phone, clutching two fantastic bottles of an older white Meursault (chardonnay)….
In the old days of France, wine grapes were traditionally pressed by feet. The winemakers nicknamed ‘bar rosi’, or pink bottomed, due to the pink color of their feet when they were done squishing the grapes. There is a lovely sculpture by sculptor Noël-Jules Girard in the center of Dijon of a bar rosi, or bareuzai in the traditional dialect of Dijon, treading grapes.
Steak Bareuzai is the true product of the Burgundy region; local Charolais beef cut into thick steaks, spicy mustard grown in nearby fields and milled in Beaune, wild mushrooms hunted for in the damp woods and great red wine that seemingly flows from every winepress of the region. I love the fact that this is so quickly prepared, with no advanced planning other than having the ingredients on hand and perhaps a bottle of wine open. The only controversy seems to be whether or not you finish the sauce with a healthy spoonful of Dijon mustard; some recipes add it and others shun it. I personally add a big spoonful and like the creamy punch good mustard provides.
There are many gastronomic paradises in France, but there is a paradise of paradises — Burgundy. – Curnonsky
Boeuf a la Bourguignonne is perhaps Burgundy’s most iconic dish; a rich beef stew made infamous in America by Julia Child, prepared from marinated beef simmered in local red wine with a calves foot, pearl onions, bacon lardons, herbs and button mushrooms. In truth, cooking proteins this way seems much more a regional style than a one off creation, you will find this combination of flavors taking many forms, from the equally iconic Coq au Vin (chicken in wine) to lesser known dishes like Oeufs en Meurette (eggs poached in red wine with bacon, mushrooms and onions) and Pochouse Bourguignonne, a rustic fish stew made with an assortment of river fish and crayfish simmered in Chambertin with onions, bacon and mushrooms. Technically, meurette is the name for highly flavored red wine sauces from Burgundy, though the word is seldom used in that connotation today.
Beef Bourguignon undoubtedly started life as a humble, peasant dish used to cook tougher pieces of beef, long before becoming a seriously tasty way to eat braised beef at regional restaurants and tables around the world. I have seen a few websites claiming the first appearance is in an Escoffier book, but I would argue the recipe is timeless and was been published several times prior without the word ‘bourguignonne’ added to the title. Most of the older French recipes mention larding the beef and adding a calves foot to the pot to provide a certain unctuousness. Larding, or inserting strips of pork fat into cubes of beef, is the proper way to take tough cooks of beef and make them tender. I certainly would advise adding a calf’s foot if you can find one; try looking in ethnic Asian or Mexican markets where they have a better selection of animal parts than typical mainstream grocery stores.
My top ten list of favorite French dishes to eat at home
I usually steer clear from these sorts of posts, but after a recent long walk in the Columbia Gorge rendered me insatiably starving and seriously contemplating eating my family, I decided to post what I do love, and dreadfully miss most about French food, in a vain attempt to save their lives. Earlier in the week, we had cut every single thing I love dearly about life as part of some satanic ritual known as the ‘new year’s resolution’. Foolishly, we thought adding exercise might reduce our surface circumferences quicker; instead visions of the doomed Donner party haunted my mind….
Last weekend we were feeling rather nostalgic for Burgundy and began to relive our recent vacation. We remembered all the visits to the great bakeries, cheese shops, markets and wineries. We reflected upon the wonderful meals we shared. and which were the best. One of our favorite experiences was sitting in the warm sun, surrounded by the world’s most iconic vineyards, indulging in a plate of escargots while drinking a glass of Pommard. Soon we were in the kitchen, preparing our own plate of escargots and opening a bottle of wine we brought home from France….
Coq au Vin is as synonymous with French culture as hamburgers are with American. It’s a dish I grew up eating quite a bit and still find very soul-satisfying and comforting when I’m longing for my mother and France. The sauce is packed with flavor and begs for a starchy vehicle to soak it up. Classically boiled or mashed potatoes are served but I think a creamy spätzle, potato gratin or noodle work better. It’s important to let the raw chicken marinate overnight and let the wine and aromatics fully penetrate. Like all great stews, flavors continue to develop as they sit so resist the urge to eat it immediately. I let mine sit for a day or two. The obvious wine choice is a pinot noir with bright acidity. Birds and Burgs as my friend Peter often says….
Admittedly I am not a huge proponent of California wines. Both my wife and I worked for wineries in California for several years and have drank our way through many greats. I enjoy them. Yes, there are great California wines, but if you asked me what my last drop of fermented grape juice to pass thru my lips would be, I would answer a great Bordeaux or Burgundy. Please do not say anything about elitism. It simply is preference. I just wish those wines would be friendlier on my pocketbook….
Nothing gets me more excited as a Chef than the beginning of truffle season. My first batch of truffles rolled in today from Burgundy. While they are not as pungent or expensive as Perigord they still are beautiful and fragrant. Here are my specials for tonight! Please stop by Figue in the Palm Springs market for dinner and be sure to say HELLO!
Di Stefano Artisan Burrata Caprese $16
slow cooked Cherry Tomatoes, Pesto, Sicilian Organic Citrus Oil
house pickled Currant Tomatoes, Fig Vincotto and Di Stefano Burrata
Salmon Crudo with Citrus and warm Merguez Olives $16
Mint and Citrus cured Salmon, drizzled with 1,000 year Olive Oil
Grapefruit, Kaffir Lime and Mandarin Orange, fried Sausage stuffed Olives
Salt and Pepper Moroccan Calamari and Octopus $18
deep fried Calamari and Octopus with Harissa powder, Green Charmoula
American Berkshire Prosciutto $18
Di Stefano Artisan Burrata, Brioche Crostini, Fig Jam,
Carpaccio of Octopus $18
Truffle Basil Aioli, Arugula and Asparagus Salad, shaved Manchego, Brioche Crostini
Turban of Sea Scallop and Burgundy Truffles $30
Spaghetti, shaved Truffles, Cabbage Salad, Beurre Blanc
Paleta Iberica de Bellota $42
Cinco Jotas pure bred Iberico shoulder Ham aged two years
Tomato Olive Focaccia, Green Tomato Jam, shaved Idiazabal Cheese
Warm Truffle Tart $95
Filo, Smoked Bacon and Candy Onion Jam, Burgundy Truffles
Squid Ink Chitarra Pasta in Guazetto $28
Greek Branzino, Mussels and Shrimp in a Saffron Tomato Brodo, Hand Cut Squid Ink Pasta
Buckwheat Pasta with Rabbit Ragu $28
hand rolled Buckwheat Pasta, Rabbit Ragu, Sicilian organic Citrus Olive Oil, aged Pecorino
Spit Roast Jidori Chicken $26
Chickpea Fries, Ratatouille, Preserved Lemon Jus
Daube of slow braised Wagyu Beef Cheek $36
baked Ricotta galette, Cherry Tomato confite, Pumpkin Seed Crumble, Micro Arugula
Whole Roasted Daurade Royale $38
Mediterranean Gilt Headed Sea Bream, Artichoke & Fennel Barigoule, Olive Tapenado
SWEETS & TURKISH COFFEE
Moroccan Donuts and Harissa Hot Chocolate $9
house made Donuts, Cinnamon Sugar, spicy Hot Chocolate
Turkish Coffee $10
Honey and Cardamom flavored Coffee served in a Copper Ibrik
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! What an incredible start to the day! Despite staying up later than I wanted sorting through over 300 pictures taken yesterday I feel great. Beau still hasn’t fully adjusted to the time change but is doing better. He is a little crabby and needy when he wakes up but after a double espresso he seems to be able to cope. Just like his Daddy….
There comes a time on a gastronomical whirlwind where stomach fatigue sets in. Champion eaters and drinkers out there will understand. I call it Bacchusitis. Maybe it was the second bout of Epoisses or the Steak Tartar with Frites or maybe too much great wine most likely all the above. It is funny that my slender wife Lisa woke up raring to eat and I needed coaxing to face food today.
For the first time this trip we ate petites dejeuner at the hotel we were staying at. I love French breakfasts in their simplicity. Café au lait, croissant, a perfect baguette, really yummy sweet French butter, preserves, more café and here in Burgundy a plethora of salumi, hams and cheeses. Given my over-saturation of cheese you’d think that three cheeses on the breakfast buffet would be like kryptonite to superman. But no, somehow I mustered the strength to persevere and march onward. Forget the fruit and yogurt, fill my plate with charcuterie, bread and butter!
The first stop of the day was 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 all of Burgundy. Today’s tasting was unbelievable.
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 from Beaune. Beau kept grabbing the wire shopping baskets and moving them all over the cave. Somewhere between dropping 288 euros on three magnums on vintage liquid gold and us mentioning that both Lisa and I worked for wineries in our checkered past the guy warmed up, even offering that he came from a family of 12 and had a million grand kids. He poured us an amazing Volnay Premier Cru and asked us to bring it for a private tour of the lower caves where the ancient 100 year old Burgundies lived. By now we had crossed from annoying customers to family. The Volnay was outstanding and had me dreaming of food. We wandered through the caves and surprisingly Beau never grabbed one of the ancient bottles though I thought about it several times.
Descending into le Cave
Look at the dust accumulated on the magnum.
This bottle hasn’t moved since it was born!
Feeling much like we just robbed someone we stole out into the afternoon and walked through an outdoor market on our way to Boeuf Bourguignonne, quite possibly the most known Burgundian cliché dish. We spent the afternoon walking between moments of beautiful sunshine and thunder crashing hail through the streets of Beaune. It truly is an amazing city!
As if to apologize for his outbursts petit Beau, ever the ladies’ man, would periodically grab Lisa all day, say mama, and give her a huge on the mouth kiss
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 both should be visited. We stopped at a non-descript brasserie for a kir royale, champagne mixed with local cassis where Beaumont gave his best shot at being annoying before falling asleep, DEEP SLEEP.
The entire walk through Beaune’s bustling streets involved us running a pattern of stopping any threat. by all means necessary, that might provoke petit Satan. This involved muffling dogs, knocking loud children over and pantomiming BE QUIET to several Frenchmen along the rue. If France launches an overnight attack on the USA, it is my fault – sorry. We were the first customers at La Ciboulette and 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 set about making the dining almost too quiet. Other guests entering, maybe some that had witnessed or at least read about in La Monde the infamous America family who’s child melted down in a Champagne restaurant quicker than the nuclear plants in Japan did after the tsunami, quieted themselves and ate in almost Monastery tranquility. Marcel Marceau pantomimes broke out in the dining room. I almost felt like I switched on an old episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, well, without the spam.
My beautiful perfect little boy sleeping like an angel
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. 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 over indulgences 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), Foie Gras, 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 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 applause and at least one drunken patrons’ poor adaption of of Marceau’s wall, and a nomination for the French Medal of Honor for his performance tonight. If I understood the hostess correctly, he has been invited to the Presidential Palace in Paris for a full pardon. No longer, well at least not till the next meal, will wait staff’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… demain Chateauneuf du Pape. Stomach update: My liver has gone on strike and is refusing any more rich food. I cried when Lisa enthusiastically said yes to breakfast, again. Where is my zantac? God help me!