01 February 2012

n.d.p. in burgundy: ma cuisine, beaune

As we walked to the restaurant, J explained that it was a sheer fluke to have landed table at Ma Cuisine in Beaune at such short notice. The place is usually booked solid and owners Fabienne and Pierre Escoffier are tactically very lax at responding to the phone, because they operate with the certainty that any unbooked tables will no doubt be filled by passing winemakers in the course of the evening. We had only gotten our reservation, he mused, because it was a national holiday, and most people probably assumed the place would be closed.

Tant mieux,* as the natives say here, often when profiting from the ignorance or negligence of others. That the meal at Ma Cuisine was my very first in Burgundy, land of plenty, was, I think, entirely incidental to how totally sumptuous and fulfilling I found it. With its heartbreakingly long wine list, its brisk service, its richly satisfying menu, Ma Cuisine succeeds by any standard. Only later was I to understand that the restaurant's success stands out yet further in Beaune, where curiously enough there are not many good restaurants. 

Ma Cuisine accordingly is sort of the lifeblood of the town. Every Burgundy winemaker, importer, major collector and retailer passes through the dining room a few times a year, it seems.

J and I were dining with Axelle Machard de Gramont, at whose estate we'd tasted earlier that afternoon, and her friend E, a sommelier presently working for Aloxe-Corton estate Domaine Comte Senard, both of whom knew the Escoffiers. (One of the continual surprises of visiting famous wine towns comes in the repeated realisation, almost never dulled, that they remain small towns, despite fame.)

The restaurant's menu is structured in a manner I am coming to recognize as mock-egalitarian: a positive bargain of a set menu, containing nothing remotely as enticing as what's on the much larger à la carte menu. I can't imagine restaurants do this specifically to get into more inviting price brackets in mass-market guidebooks.

I found myself in the uncomfortable position of truly desiring the most clichéd dishes on the menu - snails and boeuf bourguignon. This is a strange middle-class affliction I have, the tendency to burden every service interaction with undue meaning: what do the waiters think of me? What are they saying by the bread station? Etc. In any event I after self-consciously placing this hackneyed order I was relieved to note that no beret had appeared on my head, my shirt did not develop stripes, and my accordion skills remained poor.

The snails were snails, basically unbotchable as long as the butter's good (it was).

The boeuf bouguignon, however, was majestic.

There is that old chef maxim, universally disobeyed, which states that one should only cook with wines one would happily drink. I would be curious to know what sort of wine Ma Cuisine employs for their boeuf bourguignon, because the dish was wondrously rich, acid, and finely spiced, and because if anyone has access to great wine cheaply, it seems to be Ma Cuisine, whose wine list is an embarrassment of riches.

This is a place where old bottles of Romanée-Conti are employed to block an unused stairway.

As my friends and I are, alas, not yet in that income bracket, we instead did what seemingly every American wine geek does upon visiting Burgundy: we drank Coche-Dury. Just the basic Bourgogne Chardonnay from 2007, vibrant, luminescent, perhaps a bit polished, compared to what I'm used to. (Not a fault of the wine.) All around the villages of Burgundy, but especially at Ma Cuisine, one sees these sought-after wines and finds them madly underpriced, only rarely stopping to consider that they may simply be overpriced everywhere else.

Later, enjoying the meal, enjoying the company, and looking to be wowed by something, we alighted on a 2007 Chambolle-Musigny by Domaine Georges Roumier, a historied Côte d'Or estate presently overseen by the eponymous founders' grandson, Christophe Roumier.

Burgundy enthusiasts shall find no shortage of web info on this celebrated winemaker; for my purposes I'll just note here that his views on organic and biodynamic wine production are typically Burgundian, in that they evince foremost regard for the evident health of the vines as he sees them - no paeans to lunar cycles or biodiversity. After some initial difficulty in the early nineties, Roumier completed conversion to organic viticulture in 1999 - 'as organic treatments against mildew are now available.'*

I would comment that this seems contrary to the spirit of the enterprise, but in fact Christophe Roumier's outlook is not so dissimilar to ones I hear from identifiably natural vignerons at La Dive Bouteille. Outliers and visionaries exist, but my impression is the chief concern of any winemaker is the health of their investment, with attainment of gustatory pleasure coming a close second. The association between natural wine and actual ecological concerns is, I suspect, almost incidental, an invention of urban consumers like myself.

But I digress. If I can't fault the production methods of the 2007 Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny, I can nevertheless say that it felt like drinking a Hollywood blockbuster film trailer: impressive, stratospheric production values, almost exciting, too soon to judge.

It was also, as the perfume critic Chandler Burr once quoted the film critic David Denby saying of such a film, "'critic-proof.'" Sniffing this wine, swishing it, enjoying the gracefully integrated tannins, the dark red fruit, the faint cranberry-incense accord, I discern no flaws in this wine, but nor could I find much soul or grit or personality.

I thought: perhaps I have cheap tastes. But my anxieties were dispelled by Ma Cuisine's cheese plate, among the greatest I can remember tasting, so unimaginably beyond the chewy chalk and curd-lumps one so often gets served that it may as well have been a different substance entirely.

Particularly the Brillat-Savarin, a famously innocuous cheese that, it turns out, is criminally misrepresented almost everywhere else. Ma Cuisine's is as light as meringue and seems to levitate on the tongue, a trick that, were I to live in Beaune, I'd return every night to experience.

Much like, it seems, everyone else in town.

* TR: So much the better !

** As quoted in Stephen Brook's excellent Decanter article from a while back.

Ma Cuisine
Passage Ste Hélène
Beaune 21200
Tel: 03 80 22 30 22

Related Links: 

An account of a 2010 meal at Ma Cuisine by my friend Steve Goldun @ Vinodoro
A strangely mild 2010 blurb on Ma Cuisine @ GillesPudlowski (apparent evidence that successful French food writers share the near-total wine ignorance of their American counterparts) 
A short 2010 summary of a meal at Ma Cuisine by James Halliday @ AustralianWineCompanion

A nice profile of Domaine Coche-Dury, including video @ KermitLynch
A refreshingly skeptical take on Domaine Coche-Dury @ BurgundyReport

A 2009 profile of Domaine Georges Roumier @ BurgundyReport
A long article on Christophe Roumier by Stephen Brook @ Decanter
Another substantial piece on Domaine George Roumier @ CliveCoates


  1. Is that Grange des Pères on your table??

  2. yep. can't mention EVERY wine at every meal... usually i try to limit myself to discussion of just one. in this case the burgundian wines seemed more relevant. although to be honest we all seemed to enjoy the grange des pères the most.

  3. bourgogne regional coche and village roumier without defining their aoc sure sounds like a nice title for a "story"...and hardly represents the heights of those two great domaines...and at ma cuisine surely does not represent the best value for them either....NEXT!

  4. Coche Bourgogne regional and Roumier Chambolle village surely do not represent the heights of those two great domaines but surely sound like a nice title for a "story"... The prices at Ma Cuisine surely do not represent the best values either...for the money saved on petrol you can drink those domaines for 50% less at Chez Troisgros in Roanne (not that far). ..I am sure given the wines the author of this blog understands Grange des Peres is more preferable.

  5. hi anonymous ! you seem to really have something against this place. in fact i do mention in previous commentary that we all enjoyed the bottle of Grange des Peres the most of what we drank that night. but i chose to write (briefly) about the other wines because they were more on theme. get it?

    many thanks for the chez troisgros rec, in any case. will check it out if i ever get to roanne !