26 May 2014

sancerre bike trip: restaurant la tour, sancerre

The most expensive fallacy of wine travel, to which I habitually succumb, is to assume that, to experience the full breadth of a given region's cuisine, one must dine at least once at a formal restaurant. This is how I convinced myself and my travel companions to dine at Restaurant La Tour, a Michelin-starred restaurant helmed by chef Baptiste Fournier, whose parents owned the restaurant before him.

Fournier previously trained with Guy Savoy and Alain Passard, among others, and in this case the chef's estimable pedigree illustrates why I ought to avoid restaurants like La Tour. High-value chefs tend to produce high-value cuisine, more representative of individual ambitions than of regional tradition. (The phenomenon is even more pronounced at lunch, when chefs don kid gloves.)

In the same way that you can get a Burberry scarf or Gucci luggage in almost any duty-free from Madrid to Dubai, you can enjoy the white-tablecloth cuisine of Restaurant La Tour in almost any upscale rural French restaurant from Puligny to Chablis. Luxury has an anonymising effect. At Restaurant La Tour, this is counterbalanced by an impressive, if not exactly bargain-studded regional wine list that cites the local wines according to village.

A wine town as famous as Sancerre must necessarily have two faces. I'm sure there are other, more interesting restaurants where industry folks dine. (Le Chat in Cosne, or maybe Auberge La Pomme d'Or, which François Cotat recommended because his god-son runs it. The latter restaurant was booked up when we visited.) Lunch at Restaurant La Tour seems aimed at the geriatric wine vacationers who come for the name of the town.

My friends and I all took the set menu. What else, when the alternative is to pay vastly more?

The local goat cheese on the tomato carpaccio was in ice form. The day was almost hot enough to redeem the otherwise pointless flourish.

I seem to recall the fish being mullet. It was fish, properly cooked, but the accompanying peas and carrots betrayed the chief priority La Tour's kitchen (and most Michelin kitchens) at lunch: low ingredient cost.

It's a sign of my boredom during this meal that I forgot take a picture of the wine we drank. Retaining glowy memories of the Vincent Pinard Sancerre rouge we'd had with dinner at Le Chat the previous evening, we ordered the winemaker's steel-aged white, "Cuvée Florès."

Pinard's are fairly critic-proof wines, ones which make the familiar natural / conventional dichotomy a bit moot. They are gleamingly well-made. The only gripe I'd voice about the wines on the whole is that alcohol levels can creep past 14% in some cuvées in some vintages. Not so with the 2011 "Florès," which showed nice lean menthol / lavender tones within its mineral frame. 

It didn't seem appreciably cheaper than it would have been in Paris, however, which nullified some of the enjoyment of consuming it in the town of Sancerre. 

The ideal client of Restaurant La Tour, of course, would never mention that. It wouldn't even occur to him! He would have chosen La Tour because when he comes to Sancerre he still demands crisp professional service, prompt attention to the ice buckets, and big chairs. He is happy to shell out for these things, and that is where he and I differ. 

Restaurant La Tour
31 Place Nouvelle Place
A puzzling, undated piece on Restaurant La Tour at Food Tourist, in which the authors harp on and on about how the chef may one day deserve a Michelin star. (He already has one.) The authors say they were especially curious to taste François Cotat's "Cuvée Paul," but they subsequently deem it "quite sweet." (It is the winemaker's non-commercialised off-dry cuvée, largely unavailable on the wine market. To know of its existence is to know that it is an off-dry cuvée.)

Richard Kelley cites La Tour as the most formal dining option in Sancerre.

1 comment:

  1. Vincent is also a really nice guy if you've ever met him, which, you know, is always pleasant.