An Early Autumn Dinner at MILES in Bordeaux

MILES is a culinary gem in Bordeaux, highly recommended by pretty much everyone who has been there. And despite the quality of the experience, it’s surprisingly accessible. We made our Friday night reservation just two weeks in advance for the restaurant’s signature 5-course tasting menu, very reasonably priced at 43 euros per person. Upon arrival, we were kindly welcomed and quickly seated at one of the private two-tops in the jewellery-box-sized dining room, whose total capacity is just twenty-eight. Just a few meters away, the completely open kitchen sizzles with activity, providing an interactive show for diners seated at the bar just across the counter. The story is a good one: four young chef friends (two couples) from different corners of the world (Israel, Vietnam, Japan, New Caledonia, and France) first met at the Gregoire Ferrandi culinary school in Paris and after a few years apart, working stints at Parisian all-stars like L’Astrance and L’Atelier de JR, they came together again to create MILES in Bordeaux. The food is a seamless fusion of their cultures and culinary backgrounds, combined in a way that makes sense, with carefully-chosen and perfectly-understood Asian ingredients joyfully resonating with classic French preparations. Nothing is forced. The menu is highly seasonal and rotates every 2 weeks.

And the wine selection! I believe I spotted only 1 or 2 big-bold-Bordeaux among their 40 or so references, something unheard of in a city whose restaurant wine lists are normally broken down by the local AOC’s only. Poised to choose a bottle of the least tannic and heavy St. Estephe, I was pleasantly surprised by South African Chenin, red Sancerre and Aligote from Burgundy. I’ve also never (well maybe at Belle Campagne, but otherwise never) seen so many VdP (IGP) wines offered at a Bordeaux restaurant. A majority of the selection was organic, biodynamic or natural, and the curation behind it showed passion, dedication and a kind of nerdiness that I greatly appreciated. It was therefore not a difficult decision to place our complete trust in the wine program and choose the wine pairing option, which – at 22 euros for 3 whites and 1 red – proved to be the right choice.

Our waitress first brought out an amuse-bouche. There was a long, crunchy cracker with a creamy cheese and a kind of carbon sprinkled on. There was also a poppyseed blini with yuzu yogurt and a piece of smoked mackerel placed gingerly on top. The explanations were faced-paced, sure, but she slowed down as soon as she realized that I was foreign and that I actually cared about the details. She also indulged my request to keep each bottle on our table long enough to snap a picture, record it for my IG story and read the back-label. She clearly knew each dish very well.

It started with a dish that perfectly captured my sentiments towards the changing of the season: ready for the comfort of fall, while reluctant to let go of the lightness of summer. In the center was a bright orange confit egg yolk, seemingly quite delicate but actually thick and unctuous, coating the fork in a gooey syrup of protein when broken into. Around it were a few thinly sliced rounds of piquant pickled butternut squash, pillow-soft butternut squash gnocchi and slices of fresh mushroom. Adding to the orchestra of flavors was a coffee foam, which kicked the pumpkin and yolk into an even cozier autumnal realm. If it weren’t for the granola of seeds (among them, of course, pumpkin) providing a necessary crunch, I would have probably drifted off, mid-chew, lulled into a kind of dreamy trance by the smooth, creamy textures of this dish. The crunch kept me engaged so that I could enjoy it even more. A flawless first course, paired with Les Greilles 2015 from Domaine Causse Marines, an extremely nuanced, biodynamic blend of Mauzac, Loin de L’œil, Ondenc and Muscadelle from the Gaillac region. The ripe yellow fruit and faded white flower petals in this wine matched beautifully with the vegetal sweetness of the pumpkin, while its acidity cut the creaminess of the yolk.

Next came two juicy scallops, seared to the perfect elastic, creamy texture and topped with fried chips of red and yellow beet, along with some black sesame seeds sprinkled on. Underneath one scallop was a brilliantly colored puree of red beet and umeboshi, a kind of Japanese salty plum that added a salty, slightly sour taste to the iron-rich earthiness of the beet. On the side were also some dots of a thick and sticky nori and soy sauce “jam,” a slightly sweet, salty, umami and positively marine dip to round out the terrestrial root veg. Some lacy, bright green fronds of fennel added a fresh kick of anise to the composition as well. Served with this colorful, exotic dish was a the Pounamu Sauvignon Blanc 2017, a gorgeous single-vineyard gem with fresh herb aromas but also ripe tropical fruits like guava and pineapple. A surprising, exciting pairing.

The next dish was easily my favorite, like a mustard-yellow cashmere sweater on a cool fall afternoon. A thick and meaty filet of John Dory (a.k.a. St. Pierre) came mounted onto a frothy, thick, velveteen puree of cauliflower and salted butter. Around this pile was a weightless curry foam that melted wonderfully on the palate, leaving behind a fragrant mix of coconut and spices, which harmonized magically with the natural sweetness of cauliflower in the puree. Over the top of the fish were some baby bits of cauliflower mixed with caramelized almonds for a crunch. Just as in the dish before, there was a touch of licorice (this time in the form of delicate anise leaves), as well as three dots of a kind of cardamom jam to add an autumnal touch on this already very cozy dish. A thrilling symphony of flavors and textures around a perfectly juicy, moist and generous steak of white-fleshed fish. Paired with this masterpiece was our favorite wine of the night, the Clos de Juchepie 2014, a stunning Chenin Blanc from a biodynamic-oriented producer in Anjou. This wine revealed honey, dried apricots, baked applies and faded flower petals on a dense structure, whose weight left a wonderful dent on the palate. A luscious and complex wine, adding a great touch of cozy, oven-baked fruit to the curry-caulifower combo.

Canette (read: duckling) was served two ways: a juicy, incredibly tender, skin-on breast and a small lump of crunchy leg confit. Next to these was another mesmerizing puree, this time a deep green-gray and of the artichoke persuasion. Artichoke appeared two more times in this dish: one half-heart dipped in an airy batter and fried to golden-brown perfection, while another half-heart was topped with a smoky and sweet dried date jam, which tasted a bit like very good barbecue sauce. While the latter was the perfect bite on its own, the very lightly seasoned batter of the fried heart called out for an extra touch of flavor, which it got from the golden pool of duckling cooking jus ladled over the artichoke puree. That iron-rich, bloody, delicately gamey duckling taste, paired with subtly sweet artichoke is not a sensation I will soon forget. It was also quite a pretty dish to behold, decorated with a kind of bean shoot with bright yellow flowers. The wine was V Sense 2016 by Jerôme Bretaudeau 2016, a very rare (due to impossibly tiny production) blend of 70% Gamay and 30% Pinot Noir from Grétigné in the Loire. Super light in texture and marked with fresh red fruit flavors, this red was a good side-kick. Its almost untraceable tannins did not overwhelm the delicate flesh of the baby duck, as those of pretty much any Bordeaux surely would have,

Normally, after a meal like this I try to avoid dessert, because I prefer the savory flavors and wine to linger without being wiped out by sticky sweet chocolate or syrupy fruit. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. But this dessert was different, wonderfully vegetal, with the subtlest sweetness. A quenelle of parsnip ice cream was drizzled with a gorgeous salted caramel and topped with a crunchy parsnip chip, whose natural root-sweetness was brought out by the salt in the caramel and whose root-minerality vibed nicely with the creamy, clean flavor of the ice cream. On the side was a very moist, dense peanut cake, another savory ingredient. And at the base of the ice cream was a kind of goopy jelly of finely diced pear, whose sticky consistency reminded me of a ready-made pie filling, but whose bright fruit flavors offered a great tang of acidity to this otherwise very cozy dessert.

MILES offered a flawless dining experience on date-night in Bordeaux. My biggest takeaway of the evening was the way in which these meticulously arranged dishes perfectly complemented the season, the transition from late-summer to fall. Charming yellows, oranges, browns and violets leapt forth from each plate, recalling the colors of autumn foliage. The meal was also the perfect “weight” – not the fresh and feather-light fare we crave in the summertime or the juicy, creamy, warm comfort food of winter, but something – brilliantly – in between.

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