We were in Beaune, the capital of France’s Burgundy wine country, for a friend’s wedding…and from a foodie point of view, that meant we had dinner plans. But what to do for lunch? We were staying in the Hotel Le Cep, where I heard Bernard Morillon, a lauded Michelin rated restaurant, was housed. But when we arrived on a beautiful day in wine country, there was no such restaurant–instead, there was a sign that said “Bernard Loiseau” and beneath that “Loiseau de Vignes.” Apparently, there had been a change.
Not sure of this new development, and having arrived in town too late for lunch, we meandered through the ancient city center of Beaune, marveling at architecture hundreds of years older than anything in the United States, let alone California. We always tend to marvel at architecture in other countries for this very fact, before also admiring the particularities of French Belle Epoque, for instance, or English Edwardian. Or in Beaune’s case, architecture from the Middle Ages.
Late in seeking lunch, we settled down at a crowded, nondescript brasserie full of European tourists and took our chances. I ordered a non-risky simple croque monsieur and the husband ordered a classic Burgundy dish.
Escargots. Otherwise known as snails, slathered in butter and cooked. He happily ate them, and he allowed me a taste. We were definitely in Burgundy, and this set off a food theme for the next day’s lunch. I was going to eat food indigenous to the wine region.
So the next day, having woken up late again (jet lag, jet lag!), we hurried out of our room, eyes on a clock that moved closer and closer to 2pm, closing time for all the “good restaurants” in town. No time to search for a place to eat–we looked at each other and thought, “Let’s try Loiseau de Vignes.”
We checked out the menu, salivating at its classic mien–the rehearsal dinner had been replete with ornate cuisine. Standing there, our bodies a bit parched from the previous evening’s wine and still groggy from jetlag, we wanted nothing but simple and straightforward. The menu, a stark white reflecting the midday summer sun, and printed in equally stark block print, appealed to us in both its aesthetic and content. Simple and straightforward it was.
So we stepped in.
And commenced on a delicious lunch that helped lift the food of Burgundy in our eyes. This was–fabulous!
I have to admit, at this point, that I do not speak much French at all. In fact, I would say I could not speak French at all, if not for the words, “au revoir” and “bon jour” (I learned “bon soir” and “bon nuit” on this trip) and “merci.” Yes, it’s that bad. I know more culinary French than conversational French–but you see that that’s not such a high bar. (Thank goodness my hubby speaks a good amount of French–my pronunciation of the 5 phrase French phrases I knew, as well as French words on signs, drove him nuts).
So ordering was a delightful guessing game at times. What EXACTLY was my boeuf bourguignon on a bed of? What EXACTLY was my pate accompanied with? And what were the dishes I did overlook? Was I passing by something amazing in favor of dishes I could identify? It was a delightful escapade, at least at Loiseau de Vignes, where everything came out delicious…and simple…and straightforward. (Even the interior decor of the restaurant is carried on in that vein–medieval and unadorned stone walls, unadorned cutlery, white plates).
Our meal started off with the most gorgeous, hot out of the oven, poofy, gougeres. If you know about my one and only previous attempt to make gougeres, using a bad recipe out of Ruth Reichl’s otherwise brilliant book Garlic and Sapphires, then you know my ongoing fascination with perfect gougeres. Mine were such a miserable failure, that I am in utter admiration of perfect gougeres. Popping gougeres into my mouth, while peering at the menu at a table next to a window looking out over the hotel courtyard (complete with our friend the nervous bride in jeans and sweater pacing back and forth the morning of her wedding) was a wonderful start.
The hubby ordered a Millefeuille d’Aubergine:
He was kind enough to let me have a bite of this dish that was quite a display of eggplant–fried pieces of crispy eggplant, with creamy eggplant puree in between. How decadent.
Because I heard that Bernard Loiseau (this restaurant is in homage to him, no?) is a stickler for French classicism, and because I was in Burgundy and was on a mission to eat all that was classic to Burgundy, I decided to go for a pate, Boeuf Bourguignon, and a Grand Marnier souffle.
I prefer foie gras pate (if you know me, you know this goes without saying)…but I rather enjoyed this!
But things got even better with the boeuf bourguignon. The day before, my hubby had ordered the same dish at the tourist-ridden brasserie, and he looked with envy at my plate of beef, so tender it fell apart, doused with an aromatic red wine sauce. Say it together, please: Mrmmmmmmm…..!
On a bed of pasta, mushrooms, and croutons. And yes, I did let my husband have some boeuf bourguignon.
But the best was yet to come. We each ordered a grand marnier souffle–normally, if we’re both ordering the same dessert, we decide to share. Maybe we were starving, maybe we each just wanted a souffle to ourselves (I mean, really–isn’t it fun to take the first bite of a souffle? And who wants to fight over that privilege?)…but this time, we each ordered the souffle, which arrived like chiral images on our table.
They looked magnificent–even as I took this picture, it only deflated the slightest amount, holding its loft for the camera splendidly.
Lunch was a great deal at about 30 euros per person. The restaurant has an exceptional burgundy wine list–with a good selection of wines by the glass (something I find sorely missing in the U.S.)
I hear that the restaurant, just recently opened, was limited to guests of Hotel Le Cep until July 24th, when it opened to the public. By the time I got to Paris, where we had an internet connection again, I found very little information on Loiseau de Vignes–only word that it had a lot of promise, in the hands of Patrick Bertron, who was the late Loiseau’s second in command for 20 years, and Dominique Loiseau, Bernard Loiseau’s wife. I also hear that this is a bistro version of the restaurant Loiseau itself. All this, I read after the fact–which I think made our experience all the more unblemished and without prejudice.
We were just looking for a good simple meal. And we found one.