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Trip Report Trip Report: A Culinary Adventure Through Burgundy

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This past week, I traveled with my parents to Burgundy. It was our first visit to the region, having previously been to Paris a number of times as well as to Normandy, the Loire, Provence and the Cote d’Azur. Of all those trips, I have to say that we’ve never eaten so well as we did in Burgundy. The attention paid to food and its partnership with wine was a wonderful discovery. Here is a recap of our week:

Sunday, March 13 – Journey from New York to Paris

We flew from New York to Paris on Sunday night via Air France. It was an uneventful journey and we arrived at CDG about a half hour ahead of time. That half hour, however, was squandered standing in the longest line waiting to get through French immigration.

Monday, March 14 – Noyers, Vézelay, Dijon

When we finally made our way through CDG and located our Hertz rental car, we left Paris with the intention of visiting Noyers to take a look at the medieval architecture and have lunch at Restaurant de la Vieille Tour. Their website indicated that they would be open, but when we arrived, there was a sign posted in the window indicating that they would not reopen until mid-March. In fact, nothing in the town was open given that it was Monday. At this point, it was close to 2 pm and we were starving so we opted to stop at a Courtpaille close to the A6/E15. Lunch there was fine and we were happy to find it. We continued from that point and drove to Vézelay which was much more alive than Noyers. We parked in the main square and began walking up the street to the Abbey. As we walked, we passed the restaurant Le Bougainville and it was then that I realized that we had strayed from my itinerary completely. We were supposed to have visited Vézelay later in the week and dined at Le Bougainville. I’ll blame the confusion on the jetlag or, perhaps, the hunger that had set in. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and we enjoyed visiting both the Abbey and the surrounding park which provided great views of the surrounding area and Morvan. I would love to return to this town and to dine at Le Bougainville in the future.

After having an espresso in one of the local cafes, we set off for Dijon. In Dijon, we stayed at Le Petit Tertre – a bed and breakfast located on Rue Verrerie in the old center. We had the Empire Apartment which was really lovely with one bed on the first floor and another bed on the second floor. The bathroom had been wonderfully renovated. Our host, Yuki Sasaki-Michler, was a very nice woman who came from Japan to study in Dijon twenty years ago and wound up meeting her future husband in the city. They both now run the bed and breakfast. Each morning she served us breakfast in the suite which included the standard French pastry products, cheese, meats and, on one particular morning, a small omelet.

On Monday evening, after settling in at Le Petit Tertre, we walked to La Dame Aquitaine. I chose it because it was one of the few restaurants in Dijon open on Monday nights. The dining room is in a lovely below-ground cave and the food was excellent. The amuse was a sampling of Edmond Fallot’s mustards and breads, followed by escargots and rabbit for me. My mother had an outstanding apple dessert.

Tuesday, March 15 – Dijon

On Tuesday morning, after enjoying Yuki’s breakfast, we made our way outside to follow the Owl’s Trail. We started at Les Halles market to see what the shops were selling. It was a good thing we had just eaten breakfast or we would have spent a lot of money on all of the delicious looking food products. We continued on the Owl’s Trail, visiting Notre Dame, the Place de la Liberation, and the other sights included on the tour.

My plan that day was to have lunch at Chez Leon. Unfortunately, when we arrived, I learned that I should have called in advance and made a reservation as they were fully booked. The back-up plan was to eat at Le Bouchon de Palais but they were also full. Next door to Le Bouchon de Palais was a restaurant called Carpe Diem so we decided to try it. It was a very lucky discovery – only French speakers inside and no English menu to speak of. The food was excellent (particularly the pork tenderloin with cassis sauce) and we had a nice conversation in French with an older gentleman who was seated next to us and dining alone.

After lunch, we wandered into the Palais de Justice and watched some oral argument in their civil courtroom. We then continued on the Owl’s Trail, stopping at La Rose de Vergy to buy some of their gingerbread products and the Edmond Fallot store which was nicely set up to allow you to sample all of their different mustards.

We returned to Le Petit Tertre for a rest before heading to Restaurant Stephane Derbord for dinner. The restaurant was relatively quiet with only about six other tables occupied. The food and service was fantastic, particularly one of the amuse bouche that was designed to replicate an oeuf en meurette. The escargots casserole and Charolais beef were also excellent and we really enjoyed the cheese cart with its enormous selection. The meal took the better course of 3.5 hours which is just as well because we couldn’t ever have finished that much food in a shorter time period.

Wednesday, March 16 – Chateau de Clos du Vougeot, Marsannay, Beaune

We got up early this morning and drove south to Chateau de Clos du Vougeot. The self-guided tour in English was very nice and we really enjoyed the 20 minute film about the history and traditions of the Chateau (perhaps made more enjoyable because it was shown in the only heated room in the Chateau). The staff at the Chateau was busy preparing for a dinner on Saturday night to celebrate the arrival of spring and it was great to see all of the chefs hard at work in the kitchen of the old building. After leaving the Chateau, we stopped at Domaine Bertagna, which is just a two minute drive away, for a tasting. They charge 10 euro for a tasting of 3 wines if you don’t buy anything. The employee was informative and we enjoyed this short detour.

We then drove north to Marsannay for lunch at Restaurant Les Gourmets. This meal was fantastic and a great value. For 31 euro, we were treated to a selection of amuse bouche, including our first gougeres of the trip, a choice of appetizer, entrée, and cheese or dessert, followed by a selection of small chocolates and pate de fruits. I had the most delicious salmon quenelles to begin followed by a duck and onion parmentier. The service was excellent and I would definitely return to this restaurant.

After lunch, we drove south again to Beaune, arriving at our second B&B – L’Octroi Saint Jacques. The B&B is located in a 15th century building that used to serve as the place for collecting the toll required to enter the city. The owners were warm and welcoming people and we stayed in the Suite Louisiane which had two bedrooms and another lovely bathroom, complete with an extra-large soaking tub which was particularly useful for shaking off the chill of the day. We explored Beaune a little, including the Collégiale Notre Dame, before heading to dinner at Le P’tit Paradis. It was a warm and cozy restaurant with a very nice waitress. We tried their special cocktail – crémant with a gingerbread liqueur – which was a really nice start to the meal and then enjoyed charolais beef in a bourgignon sauce, a modern preparation of escargots and a Jerusalem artichoke salad, among other dishes.

Thursday, March 17 – Wine Tour

The breakfasts at L’Octroi Saint Jacques are served on the ground floor of the house where the three guest rooms are located. The breakfast room is located adjacent to the family’s wine cellar. Each morning there were homemade crepes waiting for us as well as freshly squeezed orange juice in addition to all of the standard French breakfast items – cheeses, meats, and a number of delicious pastry items. On our first morning, the host came down and shared some of his homemade Marc de Bourgogne with my father. He noted that marc is only for men! He then gifted us with a bottle of his own wine. This would be the start of our growing collection of wine from Burgundy. I arranged for us to do a wine tour with Burgundy Discovery and our tour guide, Patrick, picked us up outside the bed and breakfast. The tour was really fabulous and a highlight of our trip. We started by driving around the ring road that separates the old center from the rest of Beaune with Patrick explaining a little about the history of the city and the negociants whose large houses can be found next to the ramparts. From there, we drove to Savigny-les-Beaune to visit Domaine Henri de Villamont. We saw some of their vines and then toured the cellars and their vats. We sampled about 5 different wines and after making some purchases, we drove off to Fussey to visit Domaine Marcillet. The cave was really beautiful and after a tour by the vigneron herself, we sat down with her to sample another five wines.

As part of the tour, we enjoyed lunch at L’Hostellerie de Levernois where I had my first taste of jambon persillade (a modern twist on it served with thinly sliced gingerbread) and a delicious duck breast followed by cheese. We enjoyed a white wine with the first course and a red wine with the second course. The hotel is located in a lovely park and the dining room was warm with a fireplace nicely placed in the center of it (I believe it used to serve as the kitchen’s oven).

From there we continued onward to Sentenay to visit Domaine Choupette. The vigneron had nicely set out some more jambon persillade to accompany our tasting of 5 different wines. She also took us up the street to see some of her vines and explain her philosophy behind her winemaking.

After leaving Domaine Choupette, we drove through the vineyards on our way back home, with numerous bottles of wine in tow.

That evening, at the suggestion of our hosts at the B&B, we dined at La Ciboulette. We began the meal with kir royales. I enjoyed a delicious pumpkin soup followed by pork cheeks in a Burgundian sauce. The hosts were warm, friendly and attentive. We ended the day by walking through Beaune at night to see the various landmarks lit up. Of particular note was the Hotel de Ville which had been beautifully illuminated in red and white lighting.

Friday, March 18 – Beaune to Auxerre

We toured the Hospices de Beaune this morning which is not to be missed. The English audio guide is very comprehensive and the spaces are beautiful and inspiring. We spent about two hours inside and then continued to walk around Beaune exploring. We eventually made it to La Cave Madeleine for lunch. They were serving a set menu of carrot soup followed by duck leg with mashed potatoes and a hazelnut cake. The food was outstanding, particularly the main dish. We enjoyed the atmosphere and the fact that it was filled with locals (or at least people speaking French)! After finishing lunch, we set out to find a luggage store. We had purchased about 14 bottles of wine on the previous day’s wine tour and needed some way of getting them back to the states. We were lucky to find a luggage store that was having a sale with a very nice proprietor who even had cardboard containers specially designed for wine bottles. Clearly, they get a lot of this sort of business! Our hosts at the B&B had suggested that we visit Patriarche Pere & Fils to sample some of their wines, but we were already concerned about the number of bottles of wine we were carrying, so we skipped it in favor of heading north to Auxerre. Before arriving in Auxerre, we stopped in
Semur-en-Auxois, a pretty little town. We took in the views of the town from the other side of the river and then drove and parked in the square behind the church. The church, the Collégiale de Notre Dame, is impressive from the outside, but a tad neglected on the inside. We spent about an hour exploring the town before continuing the drive to Auxerre. We stayed outside of Auxerre in Lindry at another bed and breakfast called La Bichonniere. The house was really lovely and set on beautiful grounds. It was a change from having been in the center of things while in Dijon and Beaune. We stayed in the Squirrel Room which consisted of two bedrooms and a bathroom. It was a very comfortable space and the breakfasts were delicious, complete with a large selection of Julia’s homemade jams. Julia suggested that we try Le P’tit Bersaude in Auxerre for dinner which worked out perfectly because it had been one of the restaurants I wanted to try. Before going to dinner, however, we began Auxerre’s version of the Owl Trail (called “In The Footsteps of Cadet Rousselle”) which is much more comprehensive than the trail in Dijon. After spending about an hour doing that, we went to the restaurant where we began the meal with kir royales and gougeres. I enjoyed escargots followed by duck breast in a cassis sauce. The hosts then brought over a delicious family style serving of cabbage and ham, zucchini puree, and some of the best French fries I’ve ever had.

Saturday, March 19 – Chablis, Chateau de Tanlay, Tonnere, Auxerre

At the suggestion of Julia, our first stop was to visit Domaine Bersan in Saint-Bris-Le-Vineux. We drove to the village and couldn’t find anyone at the winery on one side of the street so we crossed to the other side which was also marked Domaine Bersan and met the vigneron who invited us down to his cave. Communicating only in French, he spent an hour and a half with us, explaining his family history, his winemaking philosophy, and finally offering a taste of about four of his wines. As we were paying for the bottles that we purchased, we learned that he and his brother had split up the family business several years earlier and it was actually his brother’s winery that we first tried to enter (little did we know – that was the winery that Julia had intended on us visiting!) It was a happy accident, however, because we had a great time with him. He recommended that we visited Les Caves Bailly, but we continued onward to Chablis. Chablis is really a lovely town with plenty of winemakers. We had been told by Patrick that unlike the Cote D’Or, the Chablis region is the kind of place where you can just show up at a winery and ask to sample their wines. We had lunch at the Bistro des Grands Crus which was very good and then spent some more time walking through the streets of Chablis. From Chablis, we drove to the Chateau de Tanlay which, from my research, seemed to be one of the only chateau opened this week. The rest all seem to open in April. They were only offering tours in French so we went along with a French couple and had a nice tour of the chateau. I was able to pick up about 60% of what our guide had to say. We left Tanlay and drove to Auxerre, stopping at Tonnerre on the way because our Michelin guide of the Burgundy Jura recommended it as a charming town. Perhaps it was once charming, but it no longer is and we were sorry that we had wasted the time, particularly after getting our rental car stuck on top of the hill where the Église Saint Pierre is located. We returned to Auxerre and had some coffee in the Café Biarritz on the Place des Cordeliers before setting off for a continuation of the “In The Footsteps of Cadet Rousselle” tour. There’s something to be said about doing these tours after the sun has set and you can see the sights illuminated. We had dinner on our last evening at Restaurant Poivreetsel at the recommendation of our hosts at the B&B. This was probably the least enjoyable meal of the trip – although the place was full of locals, I thought the food was only okay and the atmosphere was seriously lacking. It’s probably the only restaurant we dined at to which I would not return.

Sunday, March 20 – Auxerre, departure to NY

We woke up early this morning to finish the “In The Footsteps of Cadet Rousselle” tour through Auxerre. We particularly liked visiting the Saint-Étienne Cathedral. We spent about two hours walking through the city before ultimately returning to our car and beginning the drive to CDG.

It was a really wonderful trip and I look forward to returning in the near future. When I do, I’ll remember these lessons: (1) Make reservations for lunch and dinner and (2) Make sure you have space in your luggage for your wine purchases or bring an extra suitcase with you!

Some books/films that I found helpful in preparing for the trip: The Road to Burgundy by Ray Walker, Premiers Crus (French movie), A Year in Burgundy (documentary)

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