If one disembarks the train from Paris at Vincelles and travels in the direction of Irancy, one crosses the Yonne into another blip-sized town beginning with V, Vincelottes. One is immediately struck by the serene riverside terrace of l'Auberge Les Tilleuls. How nice to dine there in between visits to wine domaines ! one thinks.
But one is subsequently struck by the rather high menu prices at Auberge Les Tilleuls, and upon inquiring about the more reasonable-sounding "bistrot déjeuner," one is directed away from l'Auberge's serene riverside terrace, into a low-ceilinged attic-like space above the restaurant's kitchen called L'Atelier à Jean, where one overlooks a sideroad, and not the river Yonne, or even the riverside terrace, which circumstances prevent one from jealously hurling hunks of bread at the wealthier diners by the river.
The upshot is a pleasant hokey country meal and a few glasses of well-aged Chablis.
|The terrace where we did not dine.|
Chef-owner Alain Renaudin deserves credit for offering the Auberge's fine wine list to the plebs scarfing at L'Atelier.
My friends and I hadn't yet biked very far, or even tasted very much wine, however, so we refrained from splashing out that early in the bike trip. I contented myself with some glasses of Daniel Etienne Defaix's 2002 Chablis 1ér Cru Les Lys.
I hadn't actually heard of that Defaix at the time, which I later learned is probably indicative of how rarely I drank French wine back in the states. Daniel Etienne Defaix is a huge and well-known estate. The domaine exports some 60% of the production of its 28ha, much of it via Rosenthal. J and I stopped by the domaine's tasting room in Chablis later in the trip, and were pleased to make the acquaintance of a fellow wine blogger, Laurent Barraou, who is presently doing a spell working for Defaix.
Barraou explained that the estate is in the practice of keeping large stocks of wine in reserve, and so can offer a range of aged cru chablis at any given moment.
Defaix's 2002 Chablis 1ér Cru Les Lys was positively glowy at lunch that day, showing polished minerality, and a pliant apricot - vidalia accord that went very nicely with Atélier à Jean's tiny cheese plate. Despite the miniature scale of the pairing, I was overjoyed - because aged Chablis was what I'd come to the region to taste.
Outside of the region itself, one seems to see aged Chablis exclusively on the lists of very serious, stratospherically expensive Michelin-starred restaurants. Which is to say one doesn't see it often enough. The Chablis most consumers encounter in the rest of the world of restauration is the coltish young version, with its acid kick and stony bite. The wine is arguably just as nice that way. But it's an incomplete picture of Chablis, and it would be a shame if the evanescent, ghostly flavours of well-aged Chablis were to be altogether forgotten in favour of immediate satisfaction.
The meal itself at Atelier à Jean was a perfectly lovely fusty lunch. I began with the jambonneau en gelée, because I'm in the long slow process of trying to teach myself how to enjoy aspic. It's a preparation that, in the minds of Americans such as myself, will always vaguely recall Jell-O salads.
My pork was correct, as they say here, although I hate seeing ramekins standing in sauces like offshore oil rigs.
My friend J fared less well, having gone for the breaded fish, unawares that it was to arrive accompanied by unsauced pasta, which is like the "yadda yadda yadda" of the idiom of French country cooking - a recourse for chefs who don't feel like finishing the story of a dull dish.
The man who rang us up after the meal was in fact Renaudin the chef-owner. He took the opportunity to press into my palm a thick promotional pamphlet listing all the "Maitres Cuisiniers de France" and their country restaurants. He explained, as he stamped my promotional book, that if I were to visit ten such restaurants and get ten such stamps, the organisation behind the promotional pamphlet would mail me a magnum of middle-market Champagne.
This struck me as a splendid idea, if one were retired and abandoned by ingrate children and had nothing left to live for. I thanked Renaudin, before depositing the book in a rubbish bin and speeding off with my friends to our appointment in Chablis.
L'Atelier à Jean
Auberge Les Tilleuls
12, quai de l'Yonne