Oh, Bordeaux!

Bordeaux is a fantastic city, one that I found surprisingly big and surrounded by a comparatively huge expanse of vineyards, chateaux, and grapes.  The city has a very medieval feel to it, reminiscent of towns both in the south of France, like Saint Paul de Vence, as well as those in England like Oxford and Cambridge.  The culture of the town clearly revolves around wine, and it was no trouble whatsoever planning a daylong wine excursion outside the city to the fields.

Wine country is gorgeous.  Field after field of vines, row after row of grapes, all basking in the sun while sitting content in the gravel.  We did four tastings of grapes in the Margaux region of Bordeaux, and while that was fun and interesting in its own right, I think my favorite part of the trip was the constant breathtaking views of the Bordeaux vistas.  A few pictures are included below to give you all an idea of what I’m talking about, but nothing really compares to seeing it in person.

I found this to be an especially important aspect of the trip because being able to see, touch, smell, and taste exactly where your bottle of wine is made is being able to enjoy it on another, deeper level.  It’s akin to traveling to the farm where your favorite beef is raised: it brings you closer to your food and allows you to enjoy it with a more intimate knowledge of its provenance.  I feel the same is possible with wine, and we certainly enjoyed the wine there with a particular sort of joy.

Really, though, all this has just been a prelude to the real part of the trip: the food.  Wow, the food.  I could go on and on about how amazing all the food was here, from the boulangeries to the cafes to the fine dining spots, but I’ll talk only about the two nicest restaurants that I went to.  One was called Le Chapon Fin, a one-Michelin-star restaurant, and another was called Chateau Cordeillan-Bages, a two-Michelin-star restaurant.  Click to continue to all the food wonderfulness!

Le Chapon Fin

This restaurant was right in the heart of the city of Bordeaux, and apparently has occupied the same spot since the early 19th century.  It also recently became a national historical landmark.  Hearing this was strange since the interior was a weird, Frankenstein-esque blend of gothic, gorgeous, and luxurious (think Daniel in New York) with weird, foresty, and woodsy.  They literally had stuck a rock-and-tree scene on top of the original columns and molding to create a sort-of haven-in-the-forest atmosphere, which I suppose wasn’t entirely unpleasant, simply out of place.  When I asked what the purpose of the redecoration was, nobody knew.  Strange…

Anyway, the food was tremendous, so I quickly forgot about the scenery.  We had about 12 courses, all perfectly sized, and mostly locally sourced.  It was typical French haute-cuisine: roast pigeon, fresh vegetables, and loads of butter.  My favorite part of the meal was being almost alone in the restaurant: besides us, there were only two or three other tables occupied, and that allowed us to get near-VIP treatment.  I always thought that the right kind of service is one in which everything you may want is done for you before you ask, and Le Chapon Fin accomplished this in strides.

My favorite dish (also the favorite of my dining companion) was a foie gras foam, which was accompanied by terrine de foie gras and filet de canard (duck).  Foam was a common food preparation technique that we encountered in Bordeaux, apparently it’s part of ‘modern’ French cuisine.  Regardless, the foie gras foam was outstanding and was completely unlike any foie gras, terrine or otherwise, that I’ve ever tasted before.  Light in the mouth yet exploding with flavor, it was like a super-concentrated infusion of taste into the tiniest wisp of air.  Overall, a fantastic, though overly-filling, meal.

Chateau Cordeillan-Bages

This Chateau is a two-Michelin-star restaurant, a Relais et Chateaux hotel, and also a vineyard and winery in the Pauillac region of Bordeaux.  I can safely say, without a hint of doubt, that this was far and away the best lunch I’ve ever had in my life.  Also the longest, lasting from noon until almost 4pm.  We began our meal outside on their gorgeous terrace with two kirs and a few quirky amuse-bouches.  We selected from the menu that is prepared and printed fresh each day for each customer only three courses, though our meal unfolded into a 13-course monstrosity.  Once we moved inside, the real magic began.

The interior of the restaurant was modest, with relatively low ceilings and white, modern walls and tables.  Clearly, the focus was on the food, not the décor, which was fine by me.  One thing I did appreciate was that the two of us were seated at a table sized for four or even six, giving us a luxurious amount of room to spread out.  Wave after wave of expertly prepared, modern, fresh French food greeted us through an army of servers, backservers, waiters, and assistants.

There were two particularly memorable moments from the meal outside of the food itself.  The first was that, along with a cart with a hefty fresh bread selection (which was stupendous), we were also offered butter from a separate butter cart containing four different, distinct, and fresh butters from around France.  All were delicious, but what an idea!  Oh, the extravagance!  The second memorable moment was having our sparkling water poured with care into a special decanter with accompanying glass ‘cork’ so that the carbonation stays.  Quite the attention to detail there.

All of the dishes had spectacular presentation, many were inventive in both taste and texture, but the one that will forever remain imprinted on both my tongue and mind is the dessert course.  It was a milk chocolate-covered white truffle crème brulée.  Truffle in dessert?  I know, it’s strange, but this dessert was eye-opening.  A marvelous combination of savory and sweet, rough and silky that plays with the palette with so many flavors it’s hard to keep track.  The first is the overwhelming power of white truffle, mellowed slowly by the melting milk chocolate, then completed by the creaminess of the crème brulée, all coalescing in the final moment into a lasting, though well-blended, finish.  Truly a unique dessert, and one in a class all of its own.

I unfortunately had to say good bye to both Chateau Cordeillan Bages and Bordeaux shortly after the meal, but my experience in the city was so phenomenal that I hope to return as soon as I can.

Update: You can now check out the full photo album from my Bordeaux trip in the photo gallery here.

Mark posted this on June 23, 2008 and is filed under Restaurants.

2 responses to “Oh, Bordeaux!” so far, care to add your two cents?

  1. In case anyone is wondering about the pictured Chateaux Bellegrave, 2003; and why this wasn’t substituted for the neightboring Chateaux Latour?

    Chalk it up to wanting to devote all of our monetary attention on the food, which I will say was worth every cent.

    Nice entry, I miss that dessert most of all…

  2. personally, I think every gourmet restaurant should have their own personal wilderness…sounds like a stupendous trip, I’ll have to make it there in the fall.
    Also, fun fact, the way they scoop the ice cream on that dessert is called a connette, it’s done using two spoons that you heat by rubbing on your palm to make them melt the ice cream slightly as you mold it. Supposedly all the rage right now in high cuisine dessert…

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