18 October 2013

yonne bike trip: le bistrot des grands crus, chablis

Here's a hoary chestnut of dining wisdom: when choosing amongst countryside bistrots, one doesn't often go wrong sticking to those associated with Michelin-starred restaurants. In the best cases, one gets access to the mothership's wine list, while avoiding fusty lobster-themed dinners that begin and end with variations of costly eclair. The bistrot-offshoot, furthermore, is often where the locals actually dine.

No locals were in sight, though, when after our tasting with Vincent Dauvissat in Chablis, my friends and I eschewed the one-star cuisine of Michel Vignaud at L'Hostellerie des Clos for an early table at Le Bistrot des Grands Crus. Chablis in summertime might as well be Devon: it's positively crawling with elderly well-to-do Brits. If, like me, you have ever given serious thought to who on earth actually orders half-bottles, well, cased closed.

But that's beside the point. Le Bistrot des Grands Crus is straightfowardly true to its name: a place where average country fare provides a wonderful excuse to open bottles of serious Chablis in a comfy courtyard terrace.

The interior, understandably desserted that evening. 

The list isn't exceptionally deep, but it contains good names.

We'd been curious to try the wines of Domaine Christian Moreau, since earlier that evening Vincent Dauvissat had lauded the work Fabien Moreau had been doing to raise quality standards. The domaine itself dates from 1814, but has changed hands several times; I read from their website that Fabien Moreau returned as head winemaker starting in 2001, after studying in New Zealand and Bordeaux.

But tasting even quite-good Chablis after tasting at Dauvissat is bound to be a mild let-down. Moreau's 2011 1er cru "Vaillons," from 77 year old vines, was sturdy, well-structured, herbaceous - but ultimately not especially memorable, lacking the shining limpidity of the wines we'd tasted earlier. (Writing this, back in the land of significantly higher Chablis prices, I regret not choosing something older, from any random domaine.)

A highlight of the meal was J's persillé de Bourgogne, which in retrospect I credit with finally making me dig aspic. The key is that there wasn't much of it: the focus was on the delicate, savoury, filigreed ham.

E and I shared some poorly-translated "river fish simmered in Chablis wine," a rendering that neglected to mention the gallon of cream which drowned said fish.

In one of his routine displays of virtuosic Frenchiness, my American friend J engaged our waiter with an interminable repartée about whether he (J) ought to order the bistrots' cherries that evening. Were they truly excellent, as the waiter claimed? Or were they just good, as J suspected? This went on for minutes. The waiter won the day through sheer unflinching persistence, and we were soon able to determine that he had lied and the cherries were merely acceptable.

E was much happier with her café gourmand, a childishly pleasing dish that she would go on to request in every restaurant on the trip, regardless of Michelin status.

Le Bistrot des Grands Crus
8, rue Jules-Rathier
Tel: 03 86 42 19 41 

Open Sundays

Related Links: 

2011 - Beaujolais Bike Trip
2011 - Jura Bike Trip

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