A so nice journey
But which one to choose, considering that all are splendid ?
Reading and reading again the guide, I suddenly hit a trigger : why not coming back to pay a visit to the friend Marc Meneau, in his "castle" of L'Espérance in Vézelay (in Burgundy) where he fights hard to keep his "house".
We so booked on one of the early days of August, we are on the road, taking the "school childen way" (note of the translator : French expression meaning a long and not direct way for children who are not in a hurry to reach the school)) in order to benefit from that clear pretty day.
We arrived in Auxerre by 11:00 AM and I thought then that one of my friends, a cook, Jacques Delfontaine, had mentioned to me a young couple who "make well", in Saint Bris le Vineux, in this magical square of the Auxerrea area, between Coulanges la Vineuse, Irancy and Chablis, i.e in a village surrounded by reminiscent names of this are of wineyards (note of the translator : "vineux" and "vineuse" relate to wine).
So we seat around a table in this charming restaurant and as expected following Jacques recommendation, we made a remarkable, sincere and convivial lunch and what to say regarding the quality/price ratio ?
A nice first course nicely presented then a thick chicken breast covered with a shellfish sauce and served with fresh green beans and a few chanterelles, and followed by a nice cup of candied morello cherry ice cream, the whole served with a bottle of Irazncy from Bienvenu (the producer), for a total of 55 euros for 2.
We thanked the Steinger's for their welcome, Fabrice the cook and Stéphanie, her smilling wife who, despite a severe back pain, continued to welcome their clients as if she was in good condition.
It was now 2:00 PM and because we were much early on our timing schedule to go to L'Espérance, we decided to pay a visit to one of the most beautiful basilicas of the Christian West, i.e. the one of Vézelay.
We left our car below but we did not imagine that climbing up to the city walls and visiting the basilica was already the first steps onto the Santiago di Compostella pilgrimage way.
Hovever, our efforts were well rewarded by the unique site seeing proposed to the visitors : both inside by its outstanding dimensions and the exceptional view that makes you, from the top of the city walls, discover the first foothills of Burgundy.
But even somewhat "beatfied", we have to take the road again to go to St Père sous Vézelay.
The most surprising is that starting from our arrival, only one person was standing there ; Marc Meneau came to greet us with open arms and kissed my wife without any hesitation, although our last visit was twenty years ago. It seemed that time has stopped and that only our white hear was the witness of our passed years.
A charming man helped us crossing the street to install us in one the rooms inserted in this wonderfull resort called "Le Pré des Marguerites". The visit was worth being made, with a pretty swimming pool framed with reeds, small torretns, well a total disorientation. The room was of the same sort, exactly decorated following the taste of the owner, with touches of ceruse and also modern decoration of the nicest effect.
It was now 8:00 and we had an appointement in the magnificient garden for a drink and for looking at the menu.
2 excellent kirs, served with very original appetizers (« amuses-bouches ») : a small salted cotton candy (candy floss) on a slate plate, a Provence type chilled stock and a a small square of vetetable tabbouleh.
A few moments after, we were invited to take place around our table and looking around, we could admire the 2 colour symphony (pale green and white) of the decoration of the dining room, the dishes and even of the flowers (wonderful white orchids.
We wanted to taste Marc's cuisine as he feels it currently. My wife chose, as a starter, a first course called using only 3 simple words : “foie gras cherry” and I chose a “millefeuilles of sardine and blue lobster”. Between us, many cooks who name their dishes with long and sophisticated descriptions as if we were still at school should follow Marc's simplicity …
The foie gras came, superb dish : a plain slice, on one side of the dish, and 2 small domes filled with foie gras and protected by a cheery jelly and 3 nice cherries from Yonne (note of the translator : Yonne is a department of Burgundy famous for cherries and other excellent things) to complete the “landscape”. My millefeuilles : 3 thin vertical slices of cooked puff pastry which are supports for fresh sardine filet wrapped on their sardine butter and small thin slices of zucchinis wrapped around blue lobster flesh, a simple product melted with lobster flesh.
We were served a white Burgundy Vézelay wine from the Meneau vineyards.
You have understood that the lunch had started well ; the following was of the same standard : for my wife, a filet of a pike perch panfried with a raw sorrel juice and garnished with 3 small domes of celery with a mayonnaise type dressing topped with a thin sorrel julienne that nicely surprished our palate with their textures.
Regarding myself, I really enjoyed a boneless pork head roasted on a spit and served with small stuffed vegetables : the taste was exceptional, the meat rolled into breadcrumbs before roasting and then sliced and served with mustard hollandaise sauce, served in a sauce boat.
The smiling wine waiter (sommelier) served a Côteaux du Giennois from the Domaine de Villargeau ; it was a perfect choice for both our dishes.
Then came the cheese : the cottage Burgundy cheeses on one side and, on a sideboard, standing as 2 monuments, pieces of Cantal tome cheese of 20 kilograms each (45 lb) ; these wonders were old Cantal made with Salers milk (note of the translator : Salers is an extraordinary midde ages village in the Auvergne region and also the name of a local specific breed of cows from this area in the Cantal department), from dated 2006 and the other 2007, served with fresh celery : what elase to say that their tasting was exceptional.
The dining was getting empty, so Marc came to our table and during one hour, only with the rumour of the torrent and the fragrances of his near kitchen garden, our common memories came back onto the surface.
I still hear him taking to me about the three principles that have guided his life : cuisine is an art in its conception, a workcraft in its application and a design in its presentation !
And before closing the chapter of this great spent moment, I kept in mind, and it should be good that the other cooks do as well as a model :
- be simple in naming the courses
- stop making lines of sauces and juices that are coming together with the course and from which one could not even take one spoonful ; here, for each course, the head-waiter is proposing a full separate sauceboat and God bless him for that.
On the leave after a great breakfast the next morning, I was thinking that we would probably not often have the opportunity to live such exceptional moments because one day or another, few or no chefs owning their restaurant could keep this number of employees so skilled in their job for each specialized job to keep this level of excellence and the search of extreme quality.
In order to end our small journey, we had to hear from our charming young couple who work alone in their restaurant “Le Charme” in Mercurey : Fabien, the husband, ex-cook from the Michelin 3-star “Lameloise”, and Corinne, his wife, still so smiling and so erudite in Burgundy wines.
We who were coming from Meneau's, can you imagine that this young couple can propose at lunch, during the week, a Euro 14.10 menu with a fist course, a main course plus a dessert.
We made a very good dinner with elaborate courses and pretty wines ; this restaurant should be better known because one day, exhausted, they will go back into a “city” to make a good living…
Please find below the addresses of the restaurants and resorts where we spent some time and of a few well deserving wine producers who are worth to be discovered :
Restaurant « Le Saint-Bris »
Fabrice et Stéphanie Steinger
13 rue du docteur Tardieux
89530 Saint Bris le Vineux
Phone : 03 86 53 84 56
Wines to discover : Saint-Bris (white) , Coulanges-la-Vineuse (red), Irancy (red)
Restaurant « Domaine de L' Espérance »
89450 Saint Père-sous-Vézelay
Phone : 03 86 33 39 10
LAST NEWS : Marc Meneau, thanks to the old so friendy relationalship he has with Chef Patrick Asfaux and thanks to the respect he built in our Aftouch website, has put a web link to Aftouch in his own web site : we are extremely proud of it, considering that the number of such links is very limlited on L'Esperance web site and considering the value of L'Esperance and of Marc Meneau who is one of the highest respected French chefs
Wines to discover :Bourgogne Vézelay « vignes blanches » from Meneau vineyards (white),
Coteaux du Giennois du Domaine de Villargeau (red)
Restaurant "Le Charme"
Corinne and Fabien Benoit
Route d' Autun
Phone : 03 85 45 28 49
Wines to discover : Mercurey 1er cru « les Veleys », François Raquillet owner (white), Mercurey 1er cru « La Chassiére » Philippe Garrey owner (red).
We are extremely proud to say that Marc Meneau and his resort have accepted to put a link from their web site to Aftouch-cuisine web site