Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Le Tire-bouchon


For the collectors, more info here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some kind of magic

The story of my day in Gastronomical Heaven continues with the main meal. I'm sorry but this will be a long and picture heavy post.

The menu was presented to us while in the garden, maybe in order to get used to the idea that we'll have something special. The menu card was very simple, with a pastel by one of the owners on the cover. Naturally I kept it. The waiter explained every course to us and answered all our questions and asked if everything was alright for us or if we wanted to change. My French Boy would have liked to change the escargot and fish dish, go figure, but in the end I think he was happy he kept them, it was our favorite! He told us we'll have the menu waiting for us on the table when we decide to go.

When we were ready, we made our way from the garden to the main pavilion, the staff wished us a good meal. Everyone was very attentive, stopping whatever they were doing to say hello or ask if we needed something. Like we were the only and most important guests! The boy had told me I'd get used to the special treatment but as I was going to the second part of the lunch, I still felt like Cinderella.
The same lady who welcomed us earlier, showed us to our table, asking if the Champagne and the terrace were to our taste. She even adjusted my chair and my cardigan to the back of my chair, saying she will leave it here because I might get cold, but that it will get warmer during the meal. I was thinking: OMG, I might get used to this treatment!

The butter arrived on a stone plate: a mound for regular butter and a cone, the salty variety, both from St Malo, as the waiter specified but I did not retain the name of the producer. I noticed once again the attention to detail: the monogram of the family was on the butter. I looked around a bit, but found no bread. Well, I didn't have time to turn my head back to the butter that another waiter came, offering us 3 or 4 different types of bread on a basket. I chose the one with tomatoes and olives and it was a great choice, perfect with the butter.

I almost wanted to finish all the butter (in Bretagne they say that the sweet one is just grease, so imagine which I prefer after a whole year in Nantes?!) but luckily they brought in the next dish.

A 85 year old gentleman, Mr Jean-Paul Haeberlin, came by himself to say hello and wish us a good meal. He went to all the tables, but next to us was a group of pure blood Alsatians he seemed to know quite well, they said they were coming to the Auberge since the 70's and remembered the time Mr Haeberlin, a now retired painter, was mayor of the village. I looked at the menu, he had painted the watercolor on the cover and I would have liked to have it signed.

Back to our table, for a starter we had lobster salad with green mango on a bread of basmati rice with different types of dressing and Kombawa leaves. The harmony of taste was perfect but I hated destroying the nice arrangement they made with the ingredients. Was it good? I'll let you guess from the pics.

Next came the dreaded fish knife. I actually love fish but some have a hard time using the knife, ah well. It was grilled perch in leek reduction and escargot between two thin bread patties with herbs. We asked one of the (many) waiters about the name of the wine, a Marsagnant, it was a white delight that accompanied the fish perfectly. Delicious. The boy loved it despite not being a fish fan.

By this time I had to go powder my nose as they say in the movies. And that is when I saw the chef, standing in the reception area with the big hat and all and he too smiled as if I was some important figure. Cool. The powder room was coming from a movie as well, luxury details everywhere and a vanity desk I would like in my room. When I came back at my table I had a fresh new towel all folded in front of me, and to think I had barely used the old one...

The main dish was a beef cut called quasi, the best it seems, cooked in a low temperature for a long time, with tarragon reduction and a wild mushroom flan. The beef melted in your mouth, a delight that was perfectly matched by the red Languedoc wine.

I was already in heaven by now and I had not even noticed the time fly by, this 3 star lunches are so long, it was already half past one when a waiter brought us some sweets before the dessert.

A family was canoeing on the river in front of us, reminding me of ducks swimming. I was thinking Alsace is such a perfect region for all sorts of activities: good food, sports, culture and history in nearby Colmar, a great destination for holidays.

The dessert, a milk cream perfumed with lime, rhubarb and strawberry compote with a a soft ice cream came with a funny flake, apparently a Swiss tradition. I find rhubarb a bit sour sometimes, but here, they found a way to make it sweet. Rain had started in the garden outside and I was watching the drops of water on the plants outside.

Coffee came by and another waiter brought a huge plate with mini sweets of all sorts to chose from, telling me I could take as many as I wanted. Hard choice!

Perfect time to relax, put some sugar in the coffee. God, even the sugar looks different here: big lumps of brown or white sugar that seemed hand made or small, amber bonbons, even at the end of the meal you know that you are in a special place.

I looked around, at some tables they were bringing the cheese, a very wide selection on a refrigerated cart presented by two waiters. I was almost happy not to have had cheese, choosing must be difficult and besides, I couldn't eat one more bite, I just wanted to retain the taste of that day.

If you ever get the chance to have such a treat, don't hesitate! A culinary trip like this one is a must do and I think that I will never see a restaurant with the same eyes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Just Died and Went to Gastronomical Heaven

And now I'm back to tell you all about this unforgettable experience. Because first thing you must understand about a 3 star restaurant is that it's not only about the food, the service and the décor are just as important. From the moment you walk through the door of the restaurant, until you step out, you are transported into another world.

We benefited from a special offer that gives everyone the chance to sample excellent cuisine for a moderate price. And thus, we got transported into a temple of French cuisine, l'Auberge de l'Ill.

This magical place is right on the river Ill and you can even spend the night in the very quaint inn next door. This is actually the plan for next year.

From a beautiful Alsatian village, just an hour's drive from Strasbourg, you step into an out of this world space. You can leave all your cares at the door because the friendly staff will take care of everything. After a very gracius welcome, we were invited for a flute de champagne on the terrace overlooking the river. And how could we have said no?

The weather was fine, sunny but not very warm. Polen from the willows was flying through the garden, the air was sweet and magical. Some ducks were playing in the shallow waters, I even saw a swan swim by and of course, the Alsatian stork was king of the garden.

A swarm of waiters offered us Champagne, amuse-bouche, explained the menu and over all were very attentive to every detail. It takes some time getting used to all this attention but it's amazing.

More about the menu and how I met a famous chef, in the next episode.
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