A weekend in Bordeaux will obviously involve trips out to various wine-making chateaux that the region is famous for. It’s also one of the largest wine growing areas in France, so you’ll need to narrow down your itinerary to vineyards clustered in specific areas featuring certain grapes.
I am not a wine expert by any means, but from what I can tell, Bordeaux is divided up into two main parts, the “Left Bank” and the “Right Bank“. The vineyards on the Left Bank, which consists of the Médoc and Graves regions, typically feature bold and tannic red wines made predominantly of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Right Bank of the Libournais region, on the other hand, features wine made predominantly with Merlot. If you like white wines, head south to Entre-Deux-Mers, and if you like your whites on the sweeter side, go slightly west to Sauternes. (Reference this link for a helpful primer on Bordeaux wines.) Once you know which chateau you’d like to see, go to their website and email them a request for a visit. Note that Bordeaux isn’t quite the commercial operation that Napa or Sonoma Valley is. Many of these chateaux may require insider connections to get you access.Read More
If you find yourself hungry on the grounds of Les Prés d’Eugénie, the French Relais and Chateux estate home to Michel Guerard’s famous restaurant, but you don’t want to sit through an epic and pricey meal at the flagship Michelin restaurant (read more about that here), you can opt for a casual meal at La Ferme aux Grives. La Ferme aux Grives specializes in rustic country cooking in the Gascon fashion, so the menu skews towards hearty, roasted meats cooked in fat. A spitfire grill roasting a small suckling pig in the center of the main dining room gives you a glimpse of what’s in store for later.Read More
Menton is a third-tier city in the French Riviera that gets passed over in favor of its glitzier neighbors. But its one claim to fame is the fact that it is home to Mirazur, a two Michelin star restaurant that is apparently the 4th best restaurant in the world, according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Cannes may have better looking people and beaches, but money can’t buy you a restaurant of this stature and class.Read More
With three Michelin stars and a #12 ranking on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List, L’Arpège is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Alain Passard’s beautiful, seasonally-driven vegetable creations have taken the world’s breath away, and any chef who has trained in his kitchen has leveraged that stamp of approval to run successful restaurants of his or her own. It’s rare to find these sorts of accolades bestowed upon a vegetarian restaurant in the fine dining world, so we were very much looking forward to our lunch reservation, as we figured the food here must be exceptional in order to warrant that attention and such high prices.
Truth be told, I felt like I was watching the Emperor wear his new clothes as our tasting lunch unfolded. Can serving a large white asparagus on a plate count as a novel preparation? Did that even require that much skill, other than picking it out of the ground? Or what about a cucumber maki roll? Isn’t that something that I could get as takeout at Beyond Sushi, at a quarter of the price and made with much better sushi rice? The king’s looking mighty naked right now.
To be fair, there were moments when L’Arpège really stepped it up, got properly dressed, and gave it its all, as demonstrated by the dreamy risotto and the zucchini and garlic soup. The vegetables in the risotto were so expressive, conveying a rich variety of texture and flavor that truly created a cohesive experience. And there was no arguing that the luscious, smoky and creamy puree of the zucchini and garlic was flawless.
There were other moments where I did observe a dexterous treatment of vegetables that teased out interesting and unexpected contrasts. The trio of vegetable tarts that arrived as an amuse bouche was such an example. These beautiful tarts yielded a wide range of unexpected flavors, sweet, earthy, bitter and floral, that belied their sweet facade. It embraced the natural flavors of the vegetable and pushed you to rethink what it meant to be a sweet tart.
And then there was the cucumber and onion broth, in which the kitchen managed to tease out a flavor that resembled steeped tea, which was unusual and impressive. But then that was offset by strange moments like the vegetable sausage with harissa and cumin, which felt more like a vegan experiment than a fully thought out gourmet effort.
Is it obvious that I was a tad disappointed by the end of my meal? I went to go see a performance only to sit down to a bizarre strip tease. And the small cup of coffee that cost 13 euros added insult to injury. On a positive note, I suppose, was that I no longer had to see the Emperor naked. Time to see a chef wearing his chef’s whites for real.