Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trip to Burgundy – Day 2 (Sunday Feb 26, 2012)

Given how quiet Burgundy is at this time of year, we knew that it would be even more so on a Sunday when many things are closed. Therefore we did not have much on our agenda other than visiting the local market in Semur-en-Auxois and having lunch at Restaurant Bernard Loiseau– a restaurant in Saulieu.that has been awarded 3 Michelin stars.

We slept in as long as we wanted, got ready (what a great shower our rental house had!) and headed up into Semur. This time we walked around the bottom of the hill to find the road up to the main village entrance. We kept our eyes open for an open boulangerie as we were pretty hungry, and really, who can resist fresh baked goods for breakfast? We saw one on our way but decided to wait and see what the market in the village center would provide.

 It was a very small market – only about 15 vendors or so. Didn’t take us long to walk through it. Knowing we were going to have quite the lunch and not knowing if anything would be open for dinner, we decided to make it a cheese, salami & bread kind of night. We stopped by the fromagerie truck 1st to pick out some cheese. The cheese man was super friendly and kept giving us tastes of cheeses. We ended up with a yummy Comte that he recommended, Roquefort, Époisse (the local stinky cheese you sometimes can’t travel with), and a Brie. Cheese in hand, we wandered off to find some fresh bread and croissants. We ended up heading back to the bakery we had seen earlier and got 2 loaves of bread and croissants. The dogs were wanting some too.

 After dropping our stuff off at the house, it was time to head to Saulieu where we would be dining at Relais Bernard Loiseau, a Michelin 3 star restaurant. We arrived in town a bit early and wandered around. Another cute French town with fantastic buildings. While walking, we realized a big mistake we had made – we had forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine to go with our bread & cheese dinner. Looking at all the closed stores, we realized that was truly a big mistake to make on a Sunday when most things are closed. Luckily there was a boutique associated with the restaurant that was open, so we were able to pick up a couple of bottles. Whew!

We were very nervous about our meal at Bernard Loiseau as we are not the most adventurous eaters and often, fancy restaurants are full of things we can’t/won’t eat. But we figured we needed to give it a try. The restaurant is located inside a “hotel”, and they seated us at a little table in a lounge area when we arrived. We wondered if it was like waiting in the bar for your table to get ready, but they served us an apertif and some snacks, so I think it was part of the whole process. Indeed they give you the menus while you are in this area, and you place your order there. We sat and enjoyed the apertif and snacks, though neither of us could bring ourselves to try the snail. Noticing we looked a little lost while looking at the menu, a very nice waiter came over to explain things in English for us. As usual, there was a lot of shellfish we couldn’t eat, and other things, but there were quite a few items we could choose from. And for once, I could actually enjoy the tasting menu as it wasn’t full of shellfish or pig parts! Sean ordered a green salad and fish, and I got the tasting menu. We ordered a half bottle of wine (since Sean was driving) to enjoy with our lunch. That is one thing I love about France – so many wonderful options of half-bottles of wine.

They have an apertif in the Burgundy region made with a type of white wine called Aligot and Crème de Cassis liqueur (a regional specialty) – you must try it if you ever see it on the menu. The apertif the restaurant served was similar to this with the addition of some sort of chocolate liqueur, and made with champagne instead of Aligot. It was very tasty though chocolate before my lunch was little too sweet - I would have enjoyed it more without the chocolate. It is similar to a kir royale if you have enjoyed one of those. They served gougéres with it that are another Burgundian specialty – delicious little bready cheese puffs. I have made these for parties before, but these ones were so light and delicious, we could have eaten 100 of them!

 After we placed our orders, they brought another plate for each of us composed of 3 different items – a crisp with cheese, a smoked salmon and fish egg item, and then the aforementioned snail crusted in something (sorry, can’t remember what). Again, very tasty and so nice to have as a start to our meal. When we were finished with the drinks and snacks, they brought us to our table in the dining room to begin our meal. They offered us bread served with 2 different choices of delicious butter (have I mentioned how yummy the butter in France is?) and salt. Wow – that bread and butter & salt combo was to die for. We had to remind ourselves that we had more food coming, or we would have stuffed ourselves with bread.

To start, Sean had ordered his green salad special as there was no simple entrée (in France entrée = starter/appetizer) that appealed to him. Unfortunately the salad the chef made for him wasn’t very exciting, and was full of the lettuce that we find a little too spindly. It had a very simple oil and vinegar dressing and tasted fine, but definitely not 3-star worthy. My entrée was a mushroom soup with some foie gras and foam - I finally was ready to try some foie gras. Boy was it delicious! It was slightly seared and just so creamy and delicious with every bite of soup. The portions were small versus American sizes, but just right. Left you not too full and still wanting a little bit more. As a watcher of the show “Top Chef” I enjoyed my experience with foam! 

The fish portion of my menu was served next. Sean got to just eat bread and relax while I ate this course. It consisted of 2 different preparations of a white fish. One was simply steamed with a rutabaga reduction sauce. This had a nice soft texture, but the flavoring was very bland. I definitely felt that I had made better fish myself, but I like strong, bold flavors. Steamed fish is also my least favorite preparation method as I prefer grilled or sautéed. The other fish item was absolutely delicious. Another piece of white fish (brandade) coated in a sesame-gnocchi mixture served on a puree that was so flavorful I couldn’t stop eating it once I started.

Next came our main dishes – Sean’s was a delicious Bernard Loiseau classic – sautéed whitefish served on cooked shallots in a red wine sauce. It was very light and yet very flavorful. The fish was cooked perfectly and was a nice size. My next course was a lovely piece of beef (wish I could remember exactly what cut it was) served also in a red wine sauce with cabbage and the always-present piece of lardon/bacon. The meat fell apart it was so tender, and the sauce was rich and yummy. I’m not a huge cabbage fan, but I ate some of the side and it was fine. Still not my favorite vegetable!

Dessert, oh dessert. Gotta love the fancy desserts. We both went chocolate – all the way. Sean’s dessert was an incredible work of art with so many different types and presentations of chocolate that we lost count. It was hard to figure out where to even begin to eat this beauty. But eat it we did. Parts of it we enjoyed more than others, but overall, we loved both our desserts – worth the experience! In addition to our 2 chocolate desserts, they served us each a plate with 3 little chef desserts on them. They also were quite beautiful and more fruit-flavored which was a nice change from all the chocolate. Sean couldn’t even begin to eat his 3, but I felt I owed it to the chef to eat all of mine. J They were lemon, strawberry, and some other fruity deliciousness.

All in all it was a fantastic lunch. Some of the dishes were better than the others, and it is not an inexpensive proposition, but it was well worth it. The entire experience was very delightful – fine French dining in a friendly and inviting atmosphere. Bernard Loiseau’s widow even came to chat with us and say hello. Of course she knows all of our great Bay Area chefs! It’s a sad story about Bernard Loiseau – he committed suicide a few years ago when he heard a false rumor that his restaurant was losing a Michelin star. The new chef manages to put his own imprint on the restaurant while still keeping the influence of the original master chef.

We drove home after our 3-hour lunch happy and full. We were glad that we had planned a mellow evening at home with just our cheese (yum!) and bread and wine. We napped, read, watched tv and just relaxed – true vacation mode.

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