Where to Wine and Dine: The Beaune Edition
Post by Chuck Hayward | May 23rd, 2012
Wherever one finds vineyards and wineries, good dining usually follows. And
when it comes to Burgundy, the local cuisine expresses itself in a very direct and focused manner. This is not a region of haute cuisine for the wealthy, the gastronomes, or foodspotters who populate cities and other foodie destinations. Rather, Burgundy’s cuisine perfectly reflects the region’s wine culture. Honest and straightforward without embellishments, the food is much like the vignerons who have worked the land for so long.
Dining out in Burgundy makes you realize how much of its cuisine populates America’s tables. Here, the menus often feature escargots presented in their shells or puff pastries. Your meal might start off with some jambon persille, a country-style pate featuring chunky ham joined in aspic with spices and parsley. And it will be hard to escape the classic boeuf bourguignon, chunks of fork-tender beef in a deeply flavored, richly colored gravy, a dish almost too intense and powerful to pair with the region’s subtle pinots. You’ll also see the trademark gougeres, warm cheese puffs that are so prevalent, and addictive, at receptions or before a meal. The highlight of the cheese cart is epoisse. Pungent and runny, it commands your attention and pairs well with an after dinner marc de bourgogne.
As befits a region that seems stuck in time, restaurants move at their own pace, with leisurely service in relaxed surroundings. This is not a place for a quick meal or formal service. Restaurants are minimally staffed, often with only one or two people handling service, plus maybe an assistant for the chef if he is lucky. Tables are adorned simply, with plates and glasses often more sturdy than elegant. But the flavors are pure and unadulterated. This is real French comfort food.
Below are some favorites I’ve been lucky to experience during recent trips to Burgundy. They represent a great cross-section of the local cuisine and are essential places for a lunch or dinner when you visit.
If there is one restaurant that has become synonymous with dining out in Burgundy, it is Ma Cuisine. Tucked away in a hard to find alley off the Place Carnot in Beaune, the small dining room is housed in a renovated 15th century stable. This is a classic Burgundian restaurant, with menus on the wall and a comfortable din as excited diners, glad to have secured a reservation to this temple of Burgundian cuisine, tuck into hearty food, chattering away as the food and wine flow.
Given its reputation and superb wine list, there are as many diners speaking other languages as there are French speakers.
And as this is such a hallowed spot, it’s likely you’ll see winemakers dining with exporters and journalists. In fact, the frequency with which business is conducted at Ma Cuisine’s tables has allowed the Escoffier family to amass a wine list of incredible breadth and depth, especially as it relates to older vintages.
There is an unparalleled assortment of digestifs and other liqueurs, including ancient bottlings of Chartreuse and other exotic spirits. A required visit when in Burgundy, reservations are a must as it is open only 4 days a week and closed for two months of the year.
The sleepy village of Flagey is located on the proverbial “wrong side of the
tracks,” on the flat plain of the Cotes de Nuits east of the Route des Grands Crus. There is little to distinguish this special restaurant’s site save for a small sign on the street. But inside is a set of small rooms with simply appointed tables, complete with elegant tablecloths and dishware. A touch more upscale than the classic Burgundian bistro, this is a perfect place for a leisurely lunch featuring classic French cuisine.
With flavorful and complex sauces to accompany the region’s fresh fish and game, this delicious food would cost significantly more if it were offered in a larger city. Off the beaten path, this is clearly in demand with the locals given the number who were enjoying lunch with their children. The family helps everywhere, handling orders, serving plates, and bringing a relaxed feel to the meal. Everything is done at a leisurely pace, perfect for taking full advantage of the sumptuous sauces adorning the local ingredients. An impressive cheese cart will introduce you to the large assortment of local cheeses.
12 place de l’Eglise, Flagey-Echezeaux
If there is one place in Beaune I would recommend for those who like dining with the locals, Caves Madeleine is it. The Place Madeleine, a quaint square situated just outside the ring road that circles Beaune’s center, is full of small cafes and restaurants, any number of which provide serviceable food. But Caves Madeleine stands out.
The small, low ceilinged dining room showcases exposed wood beams and stone walls painted white. In the center, a long communal table stretches the length of the room with smaller tables tucked here and there. The highlight is a wall of wine which serves as the restaurant’s wine list. Customers select a bottle from the shelves to take to the table, returning again and again as the wines are so attractively priced. The menu, listed in great detail on a large blackboard, changes on a regular basis depending on what’s locally available. This is quintessential Burgundian cuisine that’s well priced and honest.
8 rue Faubourg Madeleine, Beaune
The town center of downtown Nuits St. Georges is composed of small streets
sprinkled with pedestrians stopping to pick up pastries and newspapers or have a beer in the small quiet square. In a region where food is steeped in tradition and could be seen as resistant to change, La Cabotte stands out for its contemporary approach and has quickly made a name for itself among the winemaking community.
The small dining room is clean and modern, and the chef prepares food in an open kitchen. With only a handful of tables surrounded by painted stone walls, reservations are a must. What you get is a small, focused menu that highlights local ingredients presented in a modern and contemporary manner. The wine list is not a heavy leather-bound tome but a well selected assortment of local wines along with a sprinkling of selections from other areas of France. Service keeps the right pace given that there’s usually only the chef and a waiter managing things. The food is inspired and unique, an unexpected surprise for the hidebound region.
24 Grande Rue, Nuits-Saint-Georges