‘le Bourdonnais’, 113 avenue de la Bourdonnais, Paris
“la cantine des gourmets” - Micheline Coat is the hostess, helped by Chef Jean-François Rouquette. The self-effacing classification, “cantine” belies the superb experience within. Situated between the Eiffel Tower and the Military Academy in the 7th district of Paris, no school or army canteen experience can compare with the fare here.
My French host and I entered the establishment, for the first time, in early April 2003. It was an adventure of discovery as Antoine was checking out the validity of the good reputation about the place. I was honoured to be his 'guinea pig'.
"La découverte d'un mets nouveau fait plus pour le genre humain que la découverte d'une étoile" - Anthelme Brillat Savarin
“The discovery of new facts is better for humankind than the discovery of a new star.”
I had spent a sunny Spring afternoon strolling around Place Vendôme like a child in a candy store and had built up an unhealthy appetite
[See “Lazing with Luxury in Paris” in the Travel forum].
I love eating with Antoine in France as he takes charge of ordering. Usually, these days, people look expectantly to me when the menu list arrives; the pressure is sometimes too much to bear. The downside is that a Frenchman takes too long to choose the wines (plural)
The table decorations were quirky chunks of quartz and rock crystal tossed “artistically” about. The ‘red pomegranate’ was actually made up of thousands of melon seeds stuck together.
We had champagne and cheese puffs to aid the selection of our courses.
Amusement de bouche: Cream of asparagus slurp.
Wine: Pommard 1999, Prosper Maufoux, Burgundy.
The young wine took some time to ‘open up’ but was just about perfect, midway through my main course.....or maybe I was inebriated by then?
100% Pinot Noir grapes. Vinification 18 months in wood; 1/3 in one year old wood, 1/3 in two year old wood and 1/3 in 3 year old wood. Eh? This one’s for the wine-buffs......What’s all this about?
Clay and limestone soils give the wine its original qualities. It has lots of color, an intense nose, good tannins, full-bodied and a long finish.
Complementary foods: terrines, patés, game, venison; aromatic and full-bodied cheeses such as Epoisses, Livarot, Pont l'Eveque.
In the south of Cote d'Or, near the town of Beaune, is the village of Santenay [how’s that for French language construct style?]. In 1860, Prosper Maufoux (former lawyer and descendent of Jean Francois Maufoux, Mayor of Beaune in 1789) started the winemaking firm that still bears his name.
It is the Maufoux reputation and winemaking skill, not the vineyard, which the consumer relies on in every bottle. Pierre Maufoux, a 3rd generation descendent of the founder, explains the firm's philosophy: "Finding the best quality procurable, which exemplifies the true characteristics of the particular wine in question. It is then enhanced with judicious handling and barrel-aging in new French oak to maximize what nature has given us."
Pierre Maufoux is still very much involved in the winemaking, overseeing operations and European marketing, from the firm's headquarters - a large 1835 Chateau that forms one end of Santenay's town square.
In 1994, Robert F. Fairchild, President and owner of House of Burgundy, Inc bought Maison Prosper Maufoux. House of Burgundy had been Prosper Maufoux’s exclusive U.S. importer since 1947. Mr. Fairchild, once a foreign correspondent for Fairchild Publications (Woman's Wear Daily and eight other publications) fell in love with French wine and soon began pursuing his true vocation. He has done a good job too.
We shared the starters and remarkably, we independently chose the same main course despite Antoine’s mutterings about Baby Pigeon being his favourite plat.
Starter 1: Britanny sea urchin and crab cappucino with coral: The urchin had been removed and then the emulsion re-introduced into the shell. The toast was topped with sea urchin eggs; we could have been back in Japan. The foamy echinoderm and crustacean mixture was most delicious especially with the champagne.
Starter 2: Crumble of foie gras, flamed with cumin, drizzled with slightly acid carrot juice and argan oil. Now I know why Antoine ordered the red burgundy. I do not know what ‘huile d’argan’ is; any suggestions from French speakers? It was delicious in any language with the choice of wine. Bravo Antoine!
Main course: Young veal medallion, gnocchi and morels fricasee with sago. This was also delicious with the choice of wine, which tasted different – somehow fuller and drier. Brava Antoine!
Breton shortbread biscuit with demi-sel butter and chocolate ganache cream.
I was so busy devouring this that I forgot to photograph Antoine’s dessert! I am sure it was good as we did not speak much. In fact, we did not talk a lot during the meal – the mark of fine cooking.
Good old Adrien reserved this fine calvados for us. Well, actually Jean-Gabriel and Claude Camut did, since ‘Adrien’ founded the firm in 1800 and is not around anymore.
Apple cider is pre-aged ten to eleven months in oak barrels, until it is double distilled in the September of the year after harvest. Wood-fired boilers are used and the Camut family use one which has already been in service for 75 years. New barrels are not used, in order to exclude wood taste to a large extent. The barrels from Limousin oak are on average therefore 50 years old. At the end, one receives a Calvados, which retain the natural flavours of the apples and whose soulful taste and strong flavour are legendary. Probably the oldest reserves of Calvados stored from the last century come from Camut. For calvados, Age is the key to Taste.
The Pay d’Auge [Country of the Trough] is between the plains of Caen and Eure in Normandie, France. The majority of orchards are planted on clay-with-flints grounds. There are two types of orchards:
1. high-stem or meadows orchards on which animal and apple trees co-exist
2. low-stem orchards which allow a more intensive culture.
The very specific varieties of cider apples in Pay d’Auge are often late-harvested and in mostly bitter or soft-bitter, with names like Domaine, Cimetière de Blangy, Argile Rouge, Groin d'Ane and Noël des Champs. They are kept, for additional maturation, within shelter in attics for several weeks.
The cold temperatures of the winter allows slow fermentation and to ‘communicate’ subtle flavours to the ciders. Ahh – terroir indeed.
Distillation can only be done with cider, which is at least 6 weeks old. It is carried out twice in a still (double distillation). One starts by collecting the "brouillis" [approximately 28% alcohol]. It will rest out of barrel for several months before being again distilled. At the time of this "bonne chauffe", the fore-runnings and of tail [beginning and end of distillation] are isolated to leave only the “heart”. This distillation will reveal a brandy full of ‘fat and marrow’ with the bouquet of great complexity, suited to a long aging in oak.
For AOC Calvados, producers must obtain approval of their product. For that, they must submit products to the Interprofessional Inspection Boards, which process the analyses and tastings of conformity.
Some things to go with espresso. This is not the full amount of goodies as I forgot to take a photo until some way into the munching
Conclusion: A fine “canteen” indeed; ‘le Bourdonnais’ is also anglophilic because they provide les menus in both English and French.
I agree: "La découverte d'un mets nouveau fait plus pour le genre humain que la découverte d'une étoile" but the fact is that we found a star in le Bourdonnais.
Photos and text copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo