Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dining in Dijon, France

Bonne Journée, Readers!

Dropping a gear, relaxing in authentic France, Dijon!

Leaving Paris on our 9:43 am train bound for Dijon I couldn’t help feeling an intense sense of relief to be heading towards the slower, more sedate pace of the more rural towns in France.  Paris was an amazing experience; we crammed a bucket-load of touristic endeavours into our action packed couple of days and made the most of our Paris museum passes, but now it was time to kick back and enjoy a couple of well earned days rest.   Honestly, I cannot think of anywhere better to take in a few days of authentic FranceDijon has touristic wonders to be uncovered by the inquisitive, it has sights to spend hours taking photos of, but for WinGaz this location was slotted into our itinerary for one reason:


Food is the only reason we added Dijon to our European Adventure.  Food is what we headed to Dijon for.  We had researched the best places to eat traditional French dishes, drink mellow French wines and enjoy a setting that looked and felt like the picture-book photos of France we all saw as children.  Dijon is a wonderful place, and in true French style, the sun came out into a cloudless sky for the duration of our stay.  Dijon is one of those places where taking a relaxing stroll, can be enjoyed day or night.  It’s large enough to allow you to stretch your legs yet small enough to feel quaint and disconnected.  This was a pleasurable experience for us, after the hustle bustle of the previous week.

Anyway, food and relaxation is what we were hoping for; relaxation and a gastronomic adventure is what we received.  Within a few hours we were enjoying a budget meal in a small local diner.  One thing that can be said, is that in these rural towns (most of France) you can get a good deal on a “Menu du midi”, which is a small lunchtime meal which includes various permutations of a dish and a drink for a relatively low price.  We opted for the lower end of the price range which delivered us to a quiet little eatery, near to the Dijon Arc de Triomphe.  We received a dish and a coffee to finish.  This was nice.  I had a dish that comprised a lovely piece of chicken, mushroom sauce and a penne pasta.  Winnie opted for a beef lasagne and salad.  Naturally, we shared and decided that the lasagne was better value, more flavoursome.  The chicken and mushroom pasta lacked the density of the sauce, whilst the lasagne was rich and tasty.

After lunch we walked around Dijon, up and down the narrow side streets and generally getting off the main drag of town.  It was peaceful, and the warm sun kissed our skin.  It was great just wandering around, talking about everything and anything that popped into conversation.  It’s amazing how little time you spend having deep meaningful conversation whilst sightseeing.  Dijon allowed us to disconnect from our focussed sightseeing side, to embrace the more thoughtful and romantic.  We chatted, and made jokes about silly things; took some time to just sit and watch the weird and wonderful people who live and work in Dijon.  Best of all I tried numerous flavours of real French Dijon Mustard, Dijonaise (mustard mayo), Dijon balsamic oils and tasty dips that made your nose buzz with enjoyment – a bonus since the smog of France left me feeling a little under the weather.  It was awesome to finally taste Dijon from Dijon!

As the afternoon moved on, we decided to try a local ice cream parlour.  It was quiet and the place was organised into little booths that made you feel more alone that you actually were.   We sat down, ordered a three scoop sundae with Chantilly cream (the French are famous for Chantilly) and enjoyed a taste experience.  I don’t remember the flavours that we ate, but I do remember that excited glow that comes over you as you eat a well made ice cream.  I was in heaven, or so I thought until later that day.

I must explain, at first it felt like heaven and sure enough the ice cream was wonderful, but how could I be in heaven if what came next topped it?  Let’s rewind slightly.  After completely devouring my ice cream and watching Winnie do the same (so it must’ve been good ice cream) we decided to head back to the hotel to relax until dinner.  That’s right, we had planned Dijon precisely by food.

So, a little snooze, some internet surfing and a couple of episodes of “Smallville” later the time had zoomed past us.  We had big intentions to get dressed up and go to a posh little restaurant for dinner, but in true WinGaz style we chucked on some clothes and bounded out of the door – we were very hungry and we had over-snoozed.  Later than planned we headed out, but feeling totally refreshed and relaxed for the extra rest that we clearly needed.  We had asked the staff at our hotel, “Le Chamberlane”, about traditional Dijon restaurants and they pointed us in the direction of one place.  It had been reviewed by many guests, all giving positive feedback.  We took the recommendation and the directions to find it, heading towards the area near to the town hall; a brief five minute walk. 

“Restaurant Le Fredline” is located at 6 Rue Bouhier, just off of Rue du Palais which is a small street that takes you to the Place de la Libération.  It is easy to find.  They have a website and I believe the menu is on there.  Place de la Libération is usually lit up at night and looks wonderful.  For us, the area seemed deserted compared to Paris and this just added to our relaxed state!

Restaurant Le Fredline offers cuisine du marche and spécialités Bourguignonnes, which fits the bill as far as we were concerned.  On arrival we were promptly shown to our table and given menus.  The Menu was good, not too over populated and diverse yet not sparse lacking options.  We decided to try the special bourguignonne set menu.  This was an excellent choice, for 23.90 Euros, and we received a wonderful entrée, main and dessert.  We also selected a 500ml carafe of local white burgundy wine, priced at around 8 Euros (I think)!

The Moutard-Retarde
The waitress was lovely, helping me with my spoken French (which she insisted was better than it was) and also explaining the menu in English too.  She brought bread to our table and shortly after she delivered our first dish.

The Entrée: Oeufs Pochés à la Crème d'Epoisses

Poached eggs on toast, baked in crème sauce served in an earthenware pot.  As you cut into the egg it popped open and the runny egg yolk bled out into the tasty cream sauce which was garnished with chives.  The combination of flavours was complimented by its variety of textures.  

The thick runny egg yolk and its velvety poached white flesh coupled with softened toast and deliciously smooth sauce (which has a cheesy undertone?).  The fresh French bread that came with this dish was the perfect accompaniment, made better only by the addition of a touch of Dijon mustard.  I particularly enjoyed this dish, having never eaten baked poached eggs I was curious to start and impressed by the delicate way the eggs were served.

Whilst waiting for the main I realised that this was amongst some of the best food I’ve ever started a meal with.  Taste bud heaven was getting closer!

The MainBoeuf Bourguignon Charolais en Cocotte

An obvious choice and a mere formality on this gastronomic journey was to try Boeuf Bourguignon.  Le Fredline delivered with this dish.  It was perfect in every way.  The presentation was beautiful; each generous serving came in a perfectly sized black pot, the vegetables and garnishes were artistically placed on the plate – the pot being the centrepiece.  The dish included lovely dauphinoise baked potato, asaparagus tips wrapped in jambon bacon, and a well balanced serving of Roasted Julienne Carrots, onions, shredded cabbage and garnished with fresh chives.  The Boeuf Bourguignon consisted of a rich deeply flavoured sauce and tender beef pieces.  The beef was beautiful, it melted in your mouth and tasted like it was pre-marinaded in the wine before cooking.  It was not in anyway over cooked.  They were clearly using top notch beef for this.  The sauce/gravy was densely flavoured and balanced perfectly.  

Each mouthful you were made subtly aware of the burgundy roots of this dish, yet the high quality of the wine used was never overstated.  There was still a deep beef flavour to the sauce and the balance of the wine to beef ratio was spot on.  This was an intensely satisfying Boeuf Bourguignon experience.  As you can see from the photos the bourguignon sauce had this wonderful red-brown colour, lifted almost by the vivid green of the chives.  The side-dish elements all worked.  The Dauphinoise potatoes were not too creamy, had a slight peppering of cheese that matched the boeuf bourguignon for intense flavours.  The elegant asparagus wrapped in bacon worked so well.  The combination of the slightly salty pork with the fresh and crunchy asparagus almost assisted in lifting the flavour out of the beef.  I really liked the carrot and cabbage, which added to the wholesomeness of this traditional French wonder.  Additional bread was needed to mop every drip of this sauce up.  I left the plate and pot completely clean!

By now, my taste buds were in a hyper drive of enthusiasm and the subtle white burgundy wine was full of peach and citrus flavours that cleansed your palate and complimented the dish.  Perhaps a red choice could have been the only improvement, but I was not dissatisfied at all by this local white wine.  

How on earth could the dessert beat the main?  Two dishes out of two were an adventure that lifted my senses to ethereal.

The Dessert: Coupe Bourguignonne

What a way to finish the meal.  Homemade Cassis Sorbet and Vanilla Ice Cream, garnished with Chantilly Cream and Pistachio shavings bathing in Créme de Cassis.  The fresh cassis sorbet was to die for.  The strong blackcurrant flavour really raised the bar.  The vanilla ice cream contained vanilla pod which gave a lovely depth of flavour combined so well with the cassis sorbet.  I really enjoyed the light fluffy Chantilly peppered with shavings of fresh pistachio nuts.  With each spoonful I was transported to the sublime.  The strong hit of alcohol that the crème de cassis offers instantly mellowed by the creamy textures of the vanilla and the Chantilly sends you on a roller coaster ride of pleasure.  The sorbet revitalising your mouth for the next eagerly waited spoonful.  The pistachio was a nice touch, that pungent but very subtle flavour seemed to combine all of the flavours in rich and extravagant manner.  It was like eating the Queen of Desserts!

As we were (and still are) celebrating our recent engagement, we decided to try some of the local after dinner drinks.  We mentioned our engagement to the waitress who gave us an additional taster for free, which sealed our evenings enjoyment.  Very happy, deeply relaxed and satisfied for eating one of the best meals on the trip, we waddled back to our hotel.

Our second day in Dijon was a repeat of the first, including the evening meal.  We returned to Le Fredline for a second bout of the same.  I wanted to test for consistency, to see if they could deliver this level of cooking day after day.  

Day 2 was just as good as day 1.  We both enjoyed exactly the same meal, this time enjoying it with the local red burgundy wine.  The flavours did compliment the beef, and the wine was extremely mellow – but in my honest opinion, the white was crisp enough to topple the red (on this occasion) when drinking it with the delicious beouf bourguignon.  I believe the red in the dish was enhanced more prominently by the white wine, and was subdued almost by the red wine on the second night.  In both cases, I was intensely impressed and in awe at the talents of this restaurant’s  chef.  I spoke to Christian and thanked him for this experience, and he was really cool (even though he struggled with the eftpos machine!).

Dijon was a blast.  Next up we head to Lyon for a short stay of one day.

See you there?

Super Dijon makes Super People!

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