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Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

Jamikins and Bikerscott Go Francing: Cooking in the Alps and Alsace

Jun 2nd, 2014, 01:19 PM
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Posts: 541
Day Eight

We didn’t take too long to pack up and load everything into the car. We said goodbye to Nikki and Hugh, promising to keep in touch (and actually meaning it – we’re going to need someone to help us decorate and finish our villa in Le Marche when we get around to buying it, and if we can get some advice based on what they achieved in their chalet we won’t go far wrong) before pointing down the hill.

It doesn’t actually take that long to drive out of the French Alps. There were a lot of mountains and curves in the road, then a long tunnel. Coming out of the tunnel was like diving into another country – we’d clearly left the mountains behind and were into the plains. The plan was to make a bit of a detour to Burgundy for lunch, which for us is a completely reasonable thing to do. It was only an hour out of the way more or less, which is hardly anything at all on a five hour drive.

Lunch was in a town called Tournus at a restaurant called Restaurant Meulien. I have an aversion to driving through the centre of towns in Europe, so found parking on the far side of the river and we walked through the village to the restaurant – it looked like a really nice little place on the banks of the Saône river, with the market just clearing up as we walked through.

Lunch was excellent, especially as it was the first meal at a restaurant in a week which is unusual for us. On the other hand, you have to expect quality at a Michelin starred place, and this didn’t disappoint. The menu was relatively light with fish featuring, and sous vide yet again – this seems to be the current way of preparing pretty much everything these days, although this time the salmon was cooked to perfection.

After lunch we walked back through town and managed to find the car (always a bit of a mission with a rental, sometimes hard to remember what it looks like and a comparison between the licence on the key ring and the plates on the cars in the parking lot is necessary). We drove back half an hour or so to the turnoff to start back north, heading towards Alsace (so much more fun in the UK, where all the signs when driving north say “The North” on them). It’s amazing how flat some parts of France are, especially after spending a week deep in the Alps.

We eventually found Riquewihr after driving through seemingly endless little villages – we were getting worried as it wasn’t on any of the road signs, but it turns out that’s because it’s really small. The instructions we had were very explicit that we could drive up to the gates through the Hotel de Ville, but under no circumstances could we DRIVE THROUGH THE GATE INTO TOWN. The reason for this became clear later that night.

We found a spot to park Ingrid the Ford and bought a ticket for a few hours – it seems Saturday is an extremely busy day in Riquewihr so we may have scored the only spot available in the road around town. We left the suitcases were they were and walked into the central part of the village to meet Valerie, who showed us our little home for the week. We’ve got a small studio flat on the main street of Riquewihr, although towards the back so we’re shielded from the noise of tourists on the street. It’s not big, but it has everything we’d need for a week. We rented through http://i-love-riquewihr.com/o_8-EN.html

We collected our suitcases and put the little laminated parking card in the car which means that we probably won’t get a ticket (apparently it can happen, although we just need to bring the ticket and the card to the office and they’ll sort it out). Our first mission was a drink, as I was exhausted from the driving. We found a seat in a restaurant that looked quite busy with people having drinks more or less next door called “Le Dime” or similar, and sat for far too long waiting for someone to take our order (we saw the waitresses, but apparently we were invisible for some reason…).

We gave up and walked a bit further up the road to a bar just in front of the big clock tower (and the bit of the town that burned down – jeez were they lucky that it didn’t spread and only affected a few buildings). We found a seat outside, ordered some tasty beverages (a lovely white beer for me, and a surprisingly sweet gewürztraminer for Jamie) and proceeded to watch the procession of people in front of us.

In terms of entertainment value, we couldn’t have done much better. As we’d pulled the cases through the town we’d heard some yelling, songs played through a little tannoy, and lots of splashing. It was in front of the tourist office, and while we couldn’t see what was going on we’d assumed it was something to do with that. We were wrong.

It turned out a local guy named Ben was getting married to a local girl named Pricilla, who was having a quiet start to her hen do at the same bar we were at. Ben was NOT having a quiet start to his stag, and he and his friends had been playing in the fountain in front of the tourist office while drinking copious amounts of wine and other assorted beverages, which I have to assume were highly alcoholic. They were a hot mess. One of them had lost his jeans and shoes and was forced to frolic in his underpants, fortunately the armour of inebriation meant that he didn’t appear to feel the cold or the stones of the street on his bare feet (and that’s not all that was bare later that evening, according to the eyeful Jamie got).

When the boys saw the girls, it was pandelerium. They started by forcing poor Pricilla to chug quite a large part of a bottle of wine (they didn’t have to do much convincing, to be fair) before Mr. Pants picked her up and tossed her in the fountain by the clock tower. We were surprised that she wasn’t all that upset, as were they I think because after helping her take off her boots, the tossed her in again. Can I just mention that these are not the cleanest fountains in the world; I’m hoping they don’t get infections from the water.

The party really got going at this point, and as they were locals and the bar seemed to be mostly a locals bar, rounds of beer in plastic cups came out. There were various songs, various drinks, and a few more splashes in the fountain. They did a group number at one point that appeared to be something like the hokey pokey, but involved a chorus of “ticka tocka ticka tocka” and then various things involving where your thumbs were meant to go (up, down, in front, beside you, etc).

We eventually finished our drinks and walked down the street, somewhat bemused and a little tipsy to find our restaurant for the evening, where we had a completely adequate meal (adequate only, not a stand out). This is the land of Tarte flambée so we started with that, followed by ham with potato salad, and then an ice cream cake sort of thing.

We finished the evening at a wine tasting room called Jung and Fils on the main street which also sold wine by the glass. We may have had a few. Or possibly more, it’s hard to say in retrospect. Eventually we made it back to our little studio flat and went sleep. I assume, because we woke up in the morning in bed, which is always a good sign.

Day Nine

I hate children. Not all children, and not all the time, but at 7:30 in the morning when I’m not feeling particularly healthy whilst on holiday and they’re jumping and running the flat above me while screaming, those are the children I hate. I hate people who have children who do that and don’t stop them while in a block of flats even more. To be fair, maybe these people live in a big house and have never lived in a flat below complete twits who have children, so don’t understand how loud it is and how disruptive to a hangover it can be.

So we were up fairly early on Sunday morning. I went downstairs and across the road to the conveniently located grocery store to buy provisions for breakfast while Jamie was in the shower. By the time we’d finished our croissants and coffee the little ******* upstairs had finished running and screaming, which was nice. We collected ourselves and went outside to explore Riquewihr.

It didn’t take all that long – the main road through the centre of town is maybe half a kilometre, which sounds longer than it is. The region has been traded back and forth between France and Germany over the years, and pretty much avoided being damaged in either of the wars, so is more or less a perfectly preserved bit of medieval Alsatian history. Riquewihr is amazing in that respect. Most buildings date from the 1600s and are as quaint as you’d expect from timbered bits of living history. The entire economy of the town seems to be split almost evenly between tourism and wine, which is a pretty good combination from our point of view.

We spent a few hours walking up and down the main street and the few side roads we could find taking photos of pretty much everything while we waited for lunch – we had reservations at a restaurant called La Grappe d’Or that got relatively good reviews online, but wasn’t on the list of recommended restaurants that we’d been given. It was disappointing, especially for the price (€5 less than the Michelin starred restaurant the previous day). I hate paying too much for mediocre food, it seems such a waste.

Following lunch, we decided to be a bit more athletic and walk up the hill and into the vineyards next to the village to find the perfect vantage point for a photo of the town. We didn’t make it all the way up, finding a little path into the vines about halfway up. This worked out well, as I think it was actually the spot that most of the scenic posters of the town were taken from, as far as we could tell.

At this point we were parched and hot, so we decided that beverage was in order. As we are in a wine-producing town with loads of little vintners with little tasting rooms, we though a degustation tour was in order. We started at one under our building and discovered that one of the tastiest wines they make here is cremant, which is basically Champagne only not from Champagne so has to be called something else. We tried a few varieties (blanc de noir and brut particularly) before moving into the surprisingly dry Rieslings and the amazingly sweet gewürztraminer, which is the opposite of the nature of those wines in British Columbia, which is what we’re used to.

Next was a little place down one of the side streets called Selig, with the least tourist friendly woman I’ve ever come across. We tasted a few wines, enjoying one in particular. I commented in my best French that it was really good; her reply was “Yes, I know.” It was all I could do to not burst out laughing, and was forced to buy some for her sheer honesty (it really was good though).

We followed this up with a few too many glasses of wine at Jung and Fils, our favourite wine tasting room where we’d finished the previous night. Dominik recognized us and welcomed us back. There was quite the cast of characters who filtered through throughout the course of the evening, including a very odd Danish couple who wouldn’t stop talking to us, one of Dominik’s school friends from the Vosge who again wouldn’t stop talking to us (this time in French, and only interested in telling us how much she loves the Vosge area), various elderly relatives and friends. It was quite the evening. We asked a few questions about the harvest and the work in the vines, and to our surprised were invited for a tour on Wednesday – evidently the spring work is beginning and we’re going to be shown what’s involved, assuming the weather holds out.
BikerScott is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2014, 01:48 PM
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Riesling tends to confuse a lot of people, because it is a dry wine in France and a sweet wine in Germany.
kerouac is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2014, 02:22 PM
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So true - sweet in Canada too...Riesling is much sweeter in BC as well!
BikerScott is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 04:42 AM
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Nonsense on Riesling, I've drunk sweet Alsace Riesling and Troken Mosel Riesling . Still that may just be due to too much experience rather than a focus on quality.

The critical issue for Riesling is its ability to do well in frosts and a short growing season, hence its use in BC. Still no idea why Eden Hills near Adelaide should be such a mecca, maybe it gets chilly there
bilboburgler is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 06:40 AM
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Bilbo, if you drank sweet Alsace Riesling, it must have been a practical joke on you.

kerouac is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 07:00 AM
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Great report! My father's family is from Alsace and it's long been on my wish list. Your report certainly just further cemented that.
indyhiker is online now  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 07:48 AM
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Oooops sorry for "sending you home already" in my previous post. Did not realize you had another week vacation!! Lovely report. Entertaining and fun as always. Continue having a super time!!
Flame123 is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 07:53 AM
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No but the guy who sold it was pretty wealthy

On the other hand should you be taking french AC rules seriously??
bilboburgler is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 09:12 AM
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don't know much about french rieslings or similar, but the fashion in Germany was until the last 10-15 years for them to be sweeter than in france. Then the dreaded and mouth-puckeringly dry Sauvignon blanc became popular, and the makers of German wines decided to compete, goodness only knows why.

now trying to get a german wine that is not "trocken" or even "halb-trocken" in the UK is pretty difficult, unless you have an arm and/or a leg to spare.
annhig is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 09:24 AM
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In any case, consumption of white wine in France has dropped to less than 15% in the last decade. (I'm sure it is higher than that in Alsace.) Rosé continues its inexorable rise since young French people don't care all that much anymore and "rosé goes with everything."

Actually, I quite like rosé... sometimes. And there are some that are quite high quality although my personal favourite is not French at all but Boulaouane Gris from Morocco. http://www.boulaouane.com/
kerouac is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 12:03 PM
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In any case, consumption of white wine in France has dropped to less than 15% in the last decade.>>

good. That means that the competition [and thus the price] for those lovely white burgundies may drop. Unless it's very hot, the young can keep the rosés. I don't think that it much matters which rosé you drink - having tried a load, I just get Waitrose's cheapest.
annhig is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 12:11 PM
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Most of the whites are exported, so you'll have to get the other countries to turn away from white wine for the prices to drop.
kerouac is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 01:50 PM
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Well I am certainly enjoying the 'dry' Rieslings! Fabulous wine!!!
jamikins is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 05:13 PM
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Hey Jamikins and Scott, this is a shout-out to you both !

I was just looking at some pics this past Sunday (June 1st) that a friend of mine posted on FB of a trip she did last week in the Alps (she has no connection to FODORS), and imagine my shock and surprise to see both you and Scott in them ! My friend is Didi and you were all at Chalet Savoie Faire, with Nikki S. What an amazing coincidence.
Didi tells me that she had dinner with you last Thursday. What a small, small world !!! I cannot believe it, lol.

The pics look awesome, and Didi tells me that I'd love it too and she will introduce me to Nikki so it's on my list when I'm next in France.

Wow !

PS Enjoying your reporting as always. I haven't looked at your pics yet but will do so soon. Based on your previous pics, I can only imagine that these are equally spectacular.
Mathieu is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2014, 05:45 PM
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My close friends own the apartment site that you rented from. I spent some time with them a few months ago in Riquewihr and we went to Black Forest etc. They are lovely places. They stayed in a very large apartment with me so we could all be together. Some good and 'starred' restaurants there, too. I saw where the fire was etc. It could have been much worse, but was really limited to a small area.

They came to PAris and we had dinner together at Violon..a favorite...nice evening.

a bientot...
gracejoan3 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 12:03 AM
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Mathieu that is truly incredible!!!! We did have dinner with Didi and her daughter Charlotte!!! How crazy is that - it is such a small world!!!

On our first trip to La Tavola Marche in 2012 we had dinner with a lovely family from the US...turns out someone on fodors (slipped my mind who right now) was related to them and saw them in our photos here!!!

Joan - the apartment is just lovely and perfectly located. Yes, the fire was awful and they are so very lucky they were able to contain it. You cant even see the site from most of town so very lucky!
jamikins is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 02:35 AM
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Cathinjoetown is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 06:59 AM
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The apartment we stayed in was called the Alsatian Hart. Nice apartment.

gracejoan3 is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 07:10 AM
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bookmarking. Can't wait to read this.
TDudette is offline  
Jun 4th, 2014, 01:55 PM
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Day Ten

We’ve found a “Super Hits of the 70’s” radio station on my iPhone, which I have playing as I write this – imagine some classic soft rock hits from the golden age of radio as you read…

We were once again woken by annoying children being annoying. My dislike of them has intensified, and if I hear them again tomorrow I’m going to go upstairs to let the parents (whom I know speak English as we saw them in a restaurant) know exactly how I feel, and this before I’ve had my first cup of coffee. They may not survive.

Our plan for the day involved quite a lot of driving, as it turned out. We collected the car and drove almost all the way out of town before being diverted – apparently they were repaving the main square at the entrance of the village, and thus we were sent through the little residential streets near Riquewihr. Gaz the Satnav was not impressed, and didn’t really get over it, sending us on random side-roads all day.

We started with Obernai on the horizon. Despite Gaz’s best efforts we found it with hardly any issues, as there aren’t a lot of options when driving the Alsace wine route. We even found a parking spot on the first try, which is unusual for us, as I have a tendency to park at the first sign of a free spot to avoid driving into the centre of villages.

Obernai was a cute little town. We stopped in for yet another coffee on the way through the mostly pedestrian area. As with pretty much all the towns in the Alsace, it was untouched during any of the wars so is more or less as it was 400 years ago, other than the sunglasses shops which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have back in the middle-ages. To be honest, there wasn’t a lot to see other than the ramparts that protected the medieval village and the wood-frame buildings. We spent an hour or so wandering around before moving on to the next location.

It wasn’t a long drive to Ottrott, which barely merits a mention in our Green Guide. I did my old trick of parking in the first signed posted parking lot we came to, which wasn’t the best option as it turned out. Ottrott is a very small town, but is spread between the low village and the high village. We made a series of fortunate choices on streets and more or less accidently ended up in the right place, finding L’Ami Fritz (http://www.amifritz.com/, I’m not sure who Fritz was, or why he had a friend, but there you have it). It was mostly uphill.

We went to quite a few Winstubs in Strasbourg when we were there a few years ago, and found they were generally pretty casual affairs. The ones in Alsace seem to be a bit more posh, so my jeans and t-shirt felt a bit out of place. We’d booked a place on the patio to eat, but the clouds were somewhat ominous so we chose to eat inside.

Lunch was better than expected – very traditional with foie gras to start for me and a goat cheese tart for Jamie. The main was steak in one of the richest sauces I’ve ever had with potatoes dauphinoise and salmon for Jamie, followed by an oddly American cherry pie and a French version of Eton mess for desert. Despite the t-shirt, the service was excellent, if a little formal.

The walk back to the car was a bit of an adventure. We’d taken a few random turns on the way up the hill, and hadn’t really kept all that much track of them. We thought that the return couldn’t be that confusing, so didn’t bother checking any maps…we didn’t realize we’d taken a wrong turn until we walked past the sign telling us we were leaving Ottrott, which wasn’t ideal. We eventually found the car with some relief.

We didn’t really have much planned for the rest of the day, but had seen a very large building on top of the hill above the village and were curious. One of the advantages with having very little planned and a lot of time to achieve it all in is the ability to take detours and side-turnings to satisfy any little whim. We followed the signs for Mont Ste Odile and drove up what turned out to be quite a large hill to the monastery.

We’ve noticed that even though we’re in our late thirties, we’re still pretty much the youngest everywhere we go on holiday. Mont Ste Odile didn’t change this trend in any way. I suppose the mountain top monasteries don’t really attract the younger crowd, but given this I would’ve thought they’d spend a little more time on the pedestrian footpath from the parking lots to the interesting bit up the hill. The view from the outlook is impressive. You can see most of the Alsace valley from up there; it would be even more spectacular on a clear day.

The drive back to Riquewihr took quite a while. It turned out we’d driven quite a ways, and I was ready for a beverage by the time we got back. Fortunately there are a few places in Riquewihr that can help with that, and the wine is pretty much universally fantastic.

Dinner was at a slight unusual but excellent restaurant up the road called the Trotthaus (http://www.trotthus.com). Despite the rather traditional name, this restaurant combines classic Alsatian flavours with Japanese ingredients and techniques. We sat in the slightly more traditional restaurant upstairs and had an excellent meal before retiring for the evening and a glass or two of wine back at our room.

Day Eleven

Both of us felt that a lie-in was required for no apparent reason. It’s amazing how wearing a week or so of holiday is on the body, especially the way we tend to travel. The little grocery store across the road is great for lazy mornings, with a sure supply of croissants and fresh baguettes for mid-morning breakfasts, although I wouldn’t want to leave it too late. Riquewihr takes almost as long to get moving as we do, but it was starting to pick up by the time we found the car in the nearly empty parking lot (roadworks were still going on. We’d found a gravel residents only road through a parking lot and behind a bunch of houses that led to the main parking that most people wouldn’t have known about, thus had more or less our choice of parking).

We started in the farthest village for our tour of the day – St Hippolyte, which was only about 10 km from Riquewihr. The green guide description of the town says that it’s an attractive village with some flowers and a church (it’s literally a single sentence), and it gets it 100% correct. There are flowers, a church, and it is definitely a village. We parked at the top of the village and walked 200 yards to the bottom for a photo, then returned to the car.

Next was Bergheim, which merits three sentences, despite being a very picturesque little town. The number of medieval timber buildings in this part of the world is simply amazing, and quite a few of them are in Bergheim. There seemed to be some sort of school event taking place, with large numbers of adolescents running about with notepads and harried-looking teachers trying to prevent accidents and fights.
In addition to the pre-teens were a huge number of M.A.M.I.Ls (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) having picnics, which wasn’t the most pleasant of sights, plus they took up all the benches where we wanted to sit while having our pre-lunch éclairs (we’re adults, and are allowed to have pre-lunch desert if we want to).

Lunch itself was in another Wistub (note the difference in spelling – according the to menu, the Winstub vs Wistub spelling is due to a difference in dialect, however both mean Wine (wi or Win) combined with dining room (stub). Again, I was underdressed, but other than getting a dirty look from an older woman wearing a dress that was so brightly green that all other green was slightly less green as a consequence, no one seemed to mind.

Again, lunch at the Wistub was excellent, if a bit heavy. While we haven’t had the Strasbourg charcouterie which we didn’t seem to be able to get away from on our previous trip, they’re not afraid of big flavours in this region – glad I brought my anti-indigestion tablets. Jamie took a whole bunch of excellent photos of lunch as we went, attracting the notice of the woman at the table beside us who was very impressed with her camera – she was born in the region but lives in Switzerland, returning whenever she feels the need for some home flavours.

Our final stop was the barely-rated town on Ribeauvillé (accent on the final e intentional, both in spelling and pronunciation, which is odd), meriting only an underline but two full pages in the famous guide. We loved it, finding its meandering main road lined with timbered houses and shops to be really interesting. Jamie’s only complaint was that the main street wasn’t completely pedestrianised, but she says this about every town we go to and almost no one has taken her advice.

A few coffees, a few dozen photos, and the requisite beer stein later (I collect steins stemming from a gift Jamie bought me years ago on her first trip to Europe almost before we started dating), we had more or less exhausted both the possibilities of Ribeauvillé so drove back to Riquewihr. We’d managed to while away almost an entire day, never getting more than a few kilometres away from home.

Both of us were at a bit of a loss for dinner – a week and a half of heavy French food featuring large portions of butter and cream were starting to affect us. We wandered around for a while checking menus somewhat unenthusiastically before remembering that the Trotthaus has an asian tapas bar in the basement. We figured that it couldn’t be that bad if the quality of the food upstairs was anything to go by, so gave it a try.

We come from Vancouver which has a large Japanese population, and more or less grew up eating sushi and Japanese food. I’m not saying we’re experts on traditional flavours, but we know what we like and have had some experience with the cuisine. While not cheap, it was fantastic. The sushi chef downstairs is Japanese but from LA, and is interested in the fusion of traditional Japanese and Alsatian flavours and techniques. I can’t believe how good it was, with old standby favourite such as salmon nigiri and chicken gyoza, but also with new tastes such as peppered tuna nagiri and spicy tuna maki (not the same flavours as spicy tuna we’re used to).
We finished with a glass or two of wine back in our little room before calling it a night.
BikerScott is offline  

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