On a gorgeous an uncharacteristically sunny spring day some new friends and I headed out to wine country by way of Libourne to explore the landscapes of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, and to taste some of this “Bordeaux wine” thing I’ve been hearing so much about lately. We stopped first in the town of Saint-Émilion a jewelry box of steep, cobble-stoned alleyways carved out of a limestone cliffside. The view from the top reveals a mess of tan stone buildings oriented toward a bustling plaza and a spectacular countryside patched in different shades of green rolled out endlessly into the distance. This is a good starting point for a day of oenotourism. As porous as Emmental, the town features several underground caves, limestone deposits that have been dug out and reused for the storage of wine barrels. Great for tastings and wine shopping for those with time to kill. The visitor’s center has a rather helpful map of all the nearby châteaux and an awesome collection of wooden postcards featuring the label of each. A great way to show off the famous wineries you visited to friends back home.
Nestled in a tiny square just off one of the most dramatically steep and cobble-stoned alleys is Logis de la Cadène, a precious little restaurant that camouflages right into its historic environment. The classic stone building housing the indoor dining area is complemented by a beautiful terrace with mossy stone steps, precious wrought-iron railing and an arbol-threaded pergola that blooms green in late spring. This is the type of place where you sit back, just dazed enough, enjoying the sun’s reflection of your white wine onto bright white linens for an hour and a half at least. It’s the type of place where silence is sometimes okay. The wine list was, as expected, biblical in volume. The restaurant is, after all, owned by the nearby Château Angélus, which we visited right after. And the service: pretty women dressed in a uniform of navy blue linen dresses, friendly and patient, graceful and timely.
The menu of the day is based on the creative inspiration of Chef Alexandre Baumard. This is a 1-Michelin meal with many of the typical Michelin-type frills: foie, foams and truffles, thick purees and lots of sauces. Imaginative combinations and stunning presentation. But the menu du marché is just the right amount of it, perfectly substantial but light as a feather.
In a wooden box, on a bed of sliced-up wooden grapevines came a trio of amuse-bouches. First, a fried little ball of foie with a nice, grainy texture and pleasantly perfect spherical shape. A one-bite delight with that wonderfully visceral funk of liver, but perhaps a bit too dense for someone expecting a croquette-type consistency on the interior. Next, a puffed up little pillow of crunchy bread filled with a slightly smoky potato puree and a small strip of dry-cured ham gracing the top. And my favorite, a petite fish tartlet, complete with a crunchy, flaky base, smooth and creamy fish soup filling and a delightful sardine-flavored foam over the top. This one is tricky – I could practically feel the warm gulp of homemade fish stew sliding down my throat and warming my soul.
The most beautiful dish came next in a bright white bowl – the 5 textures of egg in a pool of bright orange butternut squash soup, which our waitress poured gracefully from a matching white sauce boat. In the center, a cubic cloud of egg white dusted with fine herbs and a few bits of hardboiled egg yolk. And, in the center of the cloud a circular hole is filled by a floating egg yolk, easily scooped up by crunchy “egg chips.” Suspended in the soup are crunchy bits of toast and some leaves of watercress for color. Tearing the egg tower down and mixing up all the elements of the dish resulted in a wonderfully balanced and tremendously comforting spoonful, slightly sweet and beautifully enhanced by the luscious raw egg yolk and airy egg “cloud.” The dish reminded my Hungarian friend and me of our native madártej, a delicious dessert of floating egg clouds and golden raisins suspended in a sweet egg custard.
Any additional soup left in our bowl was sopped up with the beautiful bread provided. Crunchy on the outside, warm and yeasty inside, with artful folds and pores, and uneven blisters gracing the surface.
My spirits dropped a bit when I heard that the main course would be fish, because fish rarely excites me too much (unless its some spectacular raw tuna or black bass, of course). But on retrospect I wouldn’t have traded this piece of hake in for any cut of red meat. It was exquisite. The fish was exposed to the exact right amount of heat for the exact right amount of time. Glossy white layers of quivering marine tissue glided easily apart at the grain. Beautifully tender and rare, only slightly translucent but otherwise cooked through for a great bite on the exterior. The filet was served in a pool of potato puree, generously dusted with freshly shaved black truffle. And over the top, liquid gold – the fish jus and pan drippings transformed into a voluptuous gravy. This dish alone was worth the price of the entire menu.
And for dessert, a colorful piece of edible art called “Apple 4 Ways.” This was a layered creation, with a sheet of green gelatin on the bottom, topped with a thin sheet cake, crunchy sheet of hardened sugar and a smooth vanilla cream piped on in ribbons. In the middle, a gorgeous baby-green quenelle of tart green apple sorbet, which, along with the tiny leaves of anise added a fantastic fresh quality to this already very light dessert. Also on the plate, drops of bright green apple puree, some doughy bits of cake here and there for a chewy, soft texture and a brittle chocolate cookie lattice for a decorative finish.
A café at Logis de la Cadène is a café gourmand, served with a selection of mignardises, which are sweet little surprises that balance out the slight bitterness of the espresso. Served on the cross section of a thick wooden log was the trio of house sweets: a moist cherry financier (with classic dough made of pistachio), a mango tart on a crunchy biscuit topped with a gorgeous, white meringue and a cube of orange flour marshmallow. I regret only having tried one, because by the end of the meal I was bursting at the seams. The orange marshmallow had a wonderful light texture and a slightly soapy flavor, which served as a great palate cleanser after everything.
To digest, some relaxation as we learned back in our seats and enjoyed a bit of people-watching on our shady terrace. A perfect moment of peace before our trek to the restaurant’s sister winery, Château Angélus, for a full tour and tasting. Our meal at Logis de la Cadène was the cherry on top of a Michelin-starred day in Bordeaux’s beautiful Saint-Émilion wine country.