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"Pour de France" graphic by David Ryan

“Pour de France” graphic by David Ryan

I was recently sent this interesting infographic from its author David Ryan of the Headwater holiday adventures (including interesting wine and food themed trips). It is packed with some interesting facts, so I have decided to share it here with my readers at winebeing.com.

Radka

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Dining table at Le Strato

Dining table at Le Strato

Cuisine: Gastronomic – mountains meet Provençal fare. The restaurant received two Michelin stars in 2012.

Visit: January 2013

Price: Very expensive (location at a luxurious hotel & two-michelin-stared chef from a legendary restaurant in Provence, both do not come cheap; dishes from €70 up).

Chefs: Sylvestre Wahid (cooked at Plaza Athénée in Paris, Alain Ducasse “at the Essex House” in New York) has been cooking at the two-star Relais & Chateaux property L’Oustau de Baumanière in Provence for years before he took charge of the menu at Le Strato. There, together with his talented brother Jonathan Wahid, an award-winning dessert chef, they pamper the palates of skiers and non-skiers alike visiting Courchevel each winter. Using top ingredients and their boundless creativity are the signatures to both brothers thus joining the ranks of top chefs in France.

Modern interior

Modern interior

Atmosphere: Modern, stylish, cosy and warm. The interior is fresh and clean while still keeping the cozy feel of a mountain retreat. The two fireplaces in the dining room create a relaxed and warm atmosphere. There is also a small bar area, gently separated from the main dining room by a mirrored wall. One can see through the glass wall behind the bar into the hotel main lounge bar. More private tables are secluded from the 360-degrees views of the rest of the diners. Although the hotel is located in the mountains, the gastronomic restaurant is quite formal so do not wear your ski suit and Moon boots. No ties or special dresses needed though. Smart-casual clothes gets it right.

"Artistic" pieces of bread

“Artistic” pieces of bread

Food: Creative, light and superb ingredients. The menu changes on daily and seasonal basis, although most of the chef’s signature dishes tend to be included more often. The bread is superb, yet be careful how much you eat since there will be more dishes than those you order from the menu. As at any Michelin-stared restaurants you will get an amuse-bouche before your first course and a small dessert or petits fours after your main course or a dessert.

Amouse bouche

Atrio of amuse-bouche

The trio of amuse-bouche served in glass cups whetted our palates for creative and tasty starters. I followed advice of a helpful and professional waiter and started with the Seabass carpaccio. He lured me saying that it was freshly delivered that day straight from the sea. As my highly fish-discernible palate later confirmed, he knew what he was talking about – the fish was tremendous. Melting softly and tasting fresh, abundant with the flavours of the sea and not as fishy-tasting as the less fresh products of the sea often tend to be. The chef’s unique take on foie gras, Alaska snow crab or scallops are also interesting options as an appetizer.

Sea bass carpaccio

Sea bass carpaccio

The main courses looked in writing so interesting making it hard to decide which one to select. We went for two daily dishes we both liked the most and sampled from each other’s plate. Luckily me and my fiancée were seated at the more secluded table so we did not need to keep up the high dining standards (etiquette) generally expected at gastronomic restaurants. Nibbling from my dining partner’s plate is my penchant and one could say one of my bad habits. Of course I always ask when appropriate, although if it was up to me, I would have just served food at all restaurants in the asian share it all manner.

Tender chicken Le Strato way

Tender chicken Le Strato way

A tender and moist Chicken from Bresse (the legendary French region famous for its superb chickens) was our choice number one. We always remember the tremendous chicken we ate at the three-Michelin-stared restaurant in the village of Vonnas cooked by the chef Georges Blanc, whom we call “the king of chickens”. (Apologies Mr. Blanc if you are reading this, but we mean it as a compliment). The chicken at Le Strato was not a far from the chef Blanc’s perfection. Cooked to an utmost tenderness, the meat was succulent absorbing the creamy sauce with easy. The resulting duet of flavours was harmonious, jazzed up a bit with crunchy and fresh vegetables served on the side.

Fresh sea bass

Fresh sea bass

Even in the main course we went for the fish. The Sea bass was really a hit on that evening so we enjoyed it in tow versions – raw and cooked. I do not dare to say which one was better, but one thing is sure – they were both excellent. The grilled main course was a perfect harmony of each-other-enhancing ingredients with the delicate fish not being quelled by the creamy tomato sauce, zesty fennel and savoury herb puree. Veal, lamb and other meats feature on the menu as well so serious carnivores will be not cut straight.

The desserts are not to be missed. Masterminded by the pastry chef Jonathan Wahid these sweet delicacies can rival even the France’s dessert legend Pierre Herme. Each piece is perfection. From chocolate to innovative take on classic desserts such as the Month Blanc he creates desserts that will be loved even by the less serious sweet lovers. The petit fours are so pretty that one hesitates eating them. The idea of how much perfecting work must have gone into each piece made me appreciating every single bite much more, similarly to relishing the world’s most celebrated artisanal chocolate truffles.

Chocolate creation in les petit fours

Chocolate creation in les petit fours

Drinks: The wine list fashions the top producers from France as well as a good selection f wines from Provence. Since the restaurant is quite France-centered it makes sense. The wines-by-the-glass were chosen smartly – appealing to most of the palates with high quality attributes. The tea selection is very good as well so if you do not feel like drinking alcohol go for a pot of a warming verveine or a jasmin tea.

Address: Le Strato hotel; Route de Bellecôte, 73120, Courchevel 1850, France.

Contact: Tel: +(33) 0 479 415160

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Cuisine: French brasserie in Savoyard style

Visit: January 2013

Price: Medium (starters mostly under €10 and main dishes between €10 – €20).

Les Trois Vallées is a popular ski area in the Northeast of France thus finding a good place to eat on the ski slopes is not too hard. There are huge differences in prices and atmosphere though and some places just have better food than the others. I have been eating at Le Grand Lac for years and I have always found it serving great mountain food for a reasonable price while still maintaining high service standards and the rustic mountain feel.

Le Grand Lac

Le Grand Lac

Atmosphere: During the high season lunch time the restaurant is packed. The dining area is humming with hungry skiers looking for their depleted energy boost, while the terrace is a popular chill-out spot on sunny days. It is very casual. Families, friends and couples, they all cross each other in their ski boots, some with their helmets still on their head. You can reserve a table there, but if you are patient enough and not reeling with hunger you can just come whenever you ski-by. Waiting in one of the comfy beach chairs on the sunny terrace actually is pleasant when the sun shines.

Food: Traditional Savoyard, generous and tasty. This is perfect food for avid skiers in need for energising and comforting food. A plate of the local style pasta or the Onion soup au Gratin are quickly made and satisfy. From the traditional dishes the Croziflette with morels (local type of pasta with morel mushrooms) and the Savoyard toast with melted cheese and side salad are both great options, especially for the cheese lovers. Similar to the later is the Grande Tartine Savoyarde – a slice of country bread with onions, lardons, cream and melted reblochon cheese. It is bigger and has more savoury ingredients than the Savoyard toast.

Melted cheese on toasted bread

Grande Tartine Savoyarde

A slightly lighter cheese delicacy is the Warm goat’s cheese salad with pine nuts. The cheese is served warm inside a crisp pastry and is simply delicious. The lettuce with dressing is crisp and tasty, plus it adds more vitamins to your plate. An ideal dish if you want to ski hard after the lunch as it does not make you feel too heavy cruising down the slopes.

 Goat cheese salad

Goat’s cheese salad

The Tartiflette, Sausages and other simple foods typical in the mountains are also good options. And, of course you can get the typical brasserie fare like the Salade niçoise or

The daily changing Lunch menu consisting of three courses: Salad Grand Lac, main dish and a dessert or cheese. All for less than 20 EUR, excluding drinks.

Drinks: If you are a fan of hot chocolate then try the organic homemade “chocolat chaud” that will warm you up without the side dizzy effect of mulled wine – the “vin chaud” that you can get at Le Grand Lac as well. If it is very cold outside though, why not to try both? The combination of cocoa, sugar and alcohol will surely make you warm! The restaurant’s speciality is its coffee and the Café Gourmand is particularly tasty as it is served with a plate of small sweet treats.

Hot chocolate

Hot chocolate

The wine selection is very local. An excellent opportunity to switch from the Italian Sassicaia or bottle of Chateau La Tour with your lunch to a more humble yet enjoyable bottle of “Vin de Savoie“. The wines from the Savoy region can have many taste facets. Feel like a light and crisp white wine? You can get it. Or something with a flank of meat or a generous cheese dish? You can get a blend of a bolder, bigger wine made in Savoy with plenty of acidity and some tannins like we had (look below). The great news is that these wines will not ruin your valet and work with the local food very well.

Vin de Savoie

Vin de Savoie

Opening season: Open daily usually from 15.12. to 20.04 of the following year.

Address:  Le Grand Lac; Secteur des Allamands; 73440; Saint-Martin-de-Belleville; Les Trois Vallées; France. The access map on the restaurant’s website is more useful when you are on the ski.

Contact: Tel: +(33) 0 479 082 578

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How one gets there (new winery above) from here (piece of untamed land below)?

The land before the winery comes in.

Philippe and Cherie Melka have perhaps the most challenging work in their entire career in the wine business ahead of them. Building a winery from scratch is more complex than building a house. One has to consider a number of factors such as visitors room, storage, cellar, cooling system, special permits in protected areas (which often wine regions are) and above all the location itself as it is more advantageous to have the winery as close to all vineyards as possible to avoid unnecessary manipulation with the picked grapes.

The success of the construction will influence the future success of the wines produced under the Melka name here in Napa.

Their wines are a huge asset for them already, but they have been made so far at other wineries where Philippe Melka has been consulting.

Philippe lived during his childhood and teenage years in Bordeaux, France, where he earned a geology degree from the University of Bordeaux. In the last year of his studies he took a wine course out of curiosity and that has changed his life completely leading him to work at the legendary Chateau Haut Brion as well as Chateau Petrus between others.

Philippe and Cherie Melka.
SOURCE: melkawines.com

Melka’s philosophy

Soil and its influence on quality of grapes and later wines became his primary quest and he travelled the world to learn more about this intriguing relationship. Melka was so fascinated by the potential and diversity of soils in Napa Valley that he decided to stay there to consult for a number of wineries. After a couple of years he and his wife Cherie (a well-known microbiologist in Napa) gave birth to their own brand the Melka Wines. Recently he was recognised by Robert Parker as one of the top wine consultants in the world and that was a huge game changer for him as well as for his brand.

I wish their new winery in Napa will be built soon and serve them well to create such magnificent terroir-driven wines as he has been making so far.

Melka Wines

Their main high-end line is called Métisse, which is a French word meaning “a blend of cultures”. Philippe is French (with Moroccan roots) and his wife American so their winemaking represents “a blend of cultures”. Recently its label got a modern colourful revamp.

Old vs new: Old label of Melka wine replaced by this modern one today.

There are three wines under the Métisse label, each coming from a different vineyard:
  • The Jumping Goat Vineyard – is a small vineyard owned by Jim and Stephanie Gamble and located in the heart of St. Helena in Napa Valley.
I have tasted the 2009 vintage which is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot. Only 400 cases of this wine have been produced for a retail price US$155.00. It was balanced, elegant, with tones of cassis and dark cherry, complemented by a smoky touch of cigar box. With such an intense and lingering finish you will not forget this wine soon.
  • La Mekkera Vineyard – is located in Knights Valley. Only 200 cases are made for US$125.00 retail price.

In 2008 vintage a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet Franc has enchanted my palate the most from all the Melka wines I have tasted now in 2012. Smelling it in the glass was just a teasing start. It revealed the aromas of black tea, dark chocolate, plums, dried flowers and a scent of kirsch. The volcanic soil in the winery influenced the smoky black tea character (Pur-eh) on the palate, enhanced with exotic flavours of dried flowers, this was a very soft and balanced pleasure for my taste buds.

Moving from Napa to Bordeaux, Philippe makes wine in St. Emilion under his Métisse label as well.
  • LE CHÂTELET VINEYARD is a ST. EMILION GRAND CRU blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

It is the smallest production for Melka with 120 cases made in 2009. Licorice and fennel vegetal character is underlined by a rocky strength and richness of cherry marmalade. The tannins were still too young so I would drink this wine in a couple of years from now. It has a life span of more than 25 years so no worries it would die any time soon.

Melka CJ Bordeaux blend

  • CJ is an acronym for Philippe’s and Cherrie’s two children, Chloe and Jeremy.

It is a wine meant to be enjoyed young. It is a good value for money (US$52.00) compared to the more expensive Métisse line. It is a Napa Valley blend that changes every year depending on the wine makers decision.
The 2010 vintage was intensely fruity with sweet cassis, cherry, and refreshing spices on the palate. Too lush and rich for me though.

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The vineyards of Luberon

The House of truffle and wine of Luberon is located in a picturesque old village of Menerbes, just a short ride from the region’s commercial hub of Apt. Driving through the hilly countryside crowned with the lush vineyards one wonders about how all these different wines might taste.

Truffle museum

Now, you can stop wondering and just stop by at La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in Menerbes and try as many wines as your palate desires. Here, you can also learn a bit about the diamonds of human food gems – the truffles. The exhibition is well-presented, organized and extremely interesting not only for connoisseurs but also anyone seeking knowledge about good things in life. I have learned that there are truffles in countries one would not expect them to be found. For example in the US or in China. The quality though is a far flight from the truffles from Piemonte (Northern Italy) and Provance (South of France). You can discover more about the types, prices, quality, recipes and history of truffles at this great museum.

The view

Truffle museum

There is also a restaurant serving dishes – of course – made all with truffles and offering wines from Luberon. It has a lovely garden with magnificent views across the lush valley. The menu spans from truffle scrambled eggs, risotto to deserts made with truffles! We came after lunch so we have not tried it, but it looked seductive so it is on my “must do” list for my next trip to Luberon.

The restaurant’s terrace

Wine tasting cellar

Heading downstairs you will find the wine tasting cellar, where a very helpful gentleman guided us through the wines and later gave us to taste everything we have selected. The choice of local wine here is tremendous. From whites, through rosés and reds you will find bottles from a majority of the wine producers in the region. Not everyone though submits their wines to the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin. The reason might be that the tasting is free of charge and some producers do not wish their wines to be tasted in other places than their own property and restaurants.

It is a shame though, since offering their wine for tasting here is a great opportunity for the wineries to promote their wine. On the other side of the coin the wine enthusiasts as well as newcomers to the region can find their favorite wine from Luberon excluding the products from those not participating.

Luberon’s rose wines

We were surprised how many red wines we liked. Most people know only rosé and white wine from the region, but as this tasting taught us there are some great value gems in the realm of red wines as well. Even the current French legend, the Rhone Valley based producer Michel Chapoutier makes red blend from the area.

Address: Place de l’Horologe, 84 560, Menerbes, France

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Menu designed for the first owner Paul Roux

Its history is perhaps like no other restaurant on the world. Paul Roux opened Colombe d’Or in 1920s (under the name “Chez Robinson”). It was only a couple of years later, when he added a small inn, where the most prominent artists of its time lodged and created their masterpieces. Roux’s penchant for art draw many art bohemians – from the ranks of Picassos, Braques, Légers and others – to the lovely Povençal village of St. Paul d Vence.

Cuisine: Provençal; traditional French

Visit: August 2012

Price: Medium

Atmosphere: Vibrant, fresh and inviting. Whether you sit under the umbrellas at the terrace or between the walls bejeweled with Picasso’s inside, you will feel comfortable and welcomed. That is perhaps the reason why the biggest artists of this as well as of the past century have been flocking to La Colombe d’Or (“The Golden Dove”) to wine, dine and be inspired. One of the newest admirers of the area became the talented Spanish artist Antonio Villanueva, who still spends a couple of weeks in the area each year.

Umbrella terrace at Colombier d’Or

Food: Authentic, rustic and in the grandmother style.

You can start with a Basket of crudités (raw vegetables) and dip them in an artichoke sauce or with a large Plate of appetizers – the Selection of Colombe d’Or. Judging from the picture bellow, the later may become an entire lunch for two or three people without the need of ordering any main course. There are 14 different dishes cold and warm served at the same time at your table. One does not know what to dive in first, but trying all of them will bring light into your preferred choices. The gratinated eggplant and red pepper, pickled red beet, chickpeas risotto and lentil salad were my personal favorites. My male partner loved the meat paté and cauliflower salad.

Selection of Colombe d’Or

Although, one might spare some space for the excellent lamb that many diners here praise. There is also a seasonal selection of desserts from fresh strawberries to local cakes and seductively looking ice cream, so prepare for a feast.

After all, this is a place to be enjoyed slowly, no rush to leave, just relish the art, fresh air and holiday atmosphere with all that granny-style food.

Drinks: The wine selection is smart. From local Provençal staples (and more affordable) to Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy wines. It is all French selection though. We have tried the Cuvée la Colombe d’Or made for the restaurant by winemakers from Pierrafeu.  This rosé had lots of depth and elegant peachy aroma typical for Côtes de Provence pink wines. After you lunch or dinner all guests (except children) get a complimentary shot of a local digestif. A bit strong for me, but its sweetness makes it easier to drink than a shot of plain vodka. It works perfectly as an après-dîner [dèjauner] (after dinner – lunch) drink.

Provencal rose Selection for Colombe d’Or

Digestif

Address: Place du Général de Gaulle; 06570 Saint-Paul de Vence, France
Contact: Tel: +33(0)4 93 32 80 02

Opening hours: Lunch: 12noon-2pm; Dinner: 7:30-10pm

Opening season: Closed from the end of October till Christmas.

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Cuisine: French Mediterranean; gastronomic bistro style Visit: August 2012 Price: Medium (great value for the quality and originality: 2 courses 24 €; 3 courses – plats 29 €)

Just outside of La Petite Cave

Atmosphere: Old yet modern, vibrant yet relaxed and casual despite serving gastronomic fare. The waiter was very friendly when we dined there and proved that he cares about how his guests feel. The restaurant is located in the small ancient village of Saignon, just up the hill from Apt. You have to park near the church and then walk through the cobbled village streets and charming little squares with fountains until you find a tiny entrance to the cave where the restaurant is located. The atmosphere is charming and cosy. There are not many tables so I would recommend booking your dinner table ahead. (La Petite Cave is closed for lunch)

Vaults at LaPetite Cave

Food: Fresh, inventive and reasonably sized. The menu changes seasonally and in some cases instead of duck you might be served chicken, although the waiter will inform you about it. Some days it is perhaps challenging to find the right amount of ducks in this countryside area! Important though is that the food tastes good and here at Le Petite cave it is more – the food is excellent! I chose a refreshing starter of Soupe Froide de Petits Pois, Mousse de Crabe, Avocat – a Chilled Pea Soup with Crab Mousse and Avocado. It was delicious! The thick and concentrated pea soup was nourishing but also refreshing at the same time, the crab with its soft texture and sea salty nature added the dominant flavor and the avocado and herbs mousse added volume and depth to this dish.

Chilled pea soup with crab and avocado

A more traditional starter are Rillettes de Maquereaux fumé, Cornichons, Raisins, Menthe – Rillettes of Smoked Mackerel, Cornichons, Grapes and Mint. The rillettes of chopped slated mackerel are served in a glass pot with gherkins (pickled cucumbers) and grape halves with mint infusion. A prefer this to the traditional pork rillettes version as it is more refreshing and not too heavy. Moving to main courses with Saumon Poché, Pommes de Terre au Safran, Cocos Plats, Sauce Béarnaise – Poached Salmon, Saffron Potatoes, Runner Beans and a cup of Béarnaise Sauce. Delicate salmon and potato with touch of saffron got a bit more zesty not just after squeezing a bit of lemon over it but also with the bean mash adding vegetal touch to this dish. La Petite Cave’s take on the Béarnaise Sauce was a nice surprise. Not only butter and egg yolks, this sauce had more herbs in it that I am accustomed to, and I liked that for it even more.

Poached salmon

My partner wanted Confit de Canard, Pois Chiches en Curry, Purée de Choufleur, Coriandre – Confit of Duck leg, Curried Chickpeas, Cauliflower Purée, Coriander. The restaurant was out of duck so he was instead offered a chicken in the same version. I had a taste, or two, and loved it. The curried chickpeas added Middle Eastern flavor, cauliflower softly balanced it, and grilled garlic cloves brought it to perfection.

Confit de Poulet

Later you can have either cheese or some sweet delicacy. We tried the Fromage de Chèvre et Miel de Saignon – Creamy Goat Cheese with Honey from Saignon. Served warm on a sizzling pan and sprinkled with noisettes of red pepper, there was no flaw in this cheese preparation. Just dip a piece of bread into it and let yourself carry away on a cloud of eternal taste bliss.

Goat cheese

I was craving chocolate so went fora desert. The Fondant au Chocolate, Mascarpone, Sorbet de Cassis – Chocolate Fondant, Mascarpone and Cassis Sorbet brought me to a chocolate connoisseurs’ heaven. The Fondant had just perfect melting texture, richness and two friends on each side. On the left was a refreshing and rich home-made cassis sorbet and on the right a creamy whip of mascarpone and vanilla pods. I did not know which one to eat first or which one to leave for the last mouthful (I usually leave the best part to the end) as all the three little pots of these delicacies were incredible. This desert will be a main subject of my dreams in many nights to come.

The ultimate chocolate delicacy

Drinks: For an aperitif you can have a glass of pastis or local wine. The wine list is all local and very reasonably priced. The most expensive wine on the list when we dined there was €55. On the waiter’s suggestion we ordered a bottle of white wine from Château la Canorgue, Luberon. This organically certified blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc was deep, complex and full of life. The winery has been practicing biodynamic and organic winemaking for over 30 years, so they are not new to this area and it seems that they have learnt to do it very well. Opening hours: From 7:30pm Tuesday to Saturday for dinner. Contact: +33(0) 490 766 492; Mobile: +33(0) 637 850 922 Address: Rue Le Quai, 84 400 Saignon, France

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