“Eating, mostly, and some wine stuff too” would be an accurate sum-up of my trip to Burgundy with a friend back in May. No messy contact list in my Notes for wineries to visit this time, although we did stop by Aloxe-Corton for a tasting and tour of Louis Latour. This was not a work trip for either of us, afterall. Quite the opposite: for both of us this trip was meant to be a break from a particularly chaotic period at work. Plus, in Burgundy, running around to winery visits just isn’t the way to go. It’s in the restaurants dotting the villages of the Côte d’Or that the magic really happens. And the wines? Don’t worry, they’re all there too.
The wines were certainly there on that breezy Tuesday afternoon at Le Soufflot in the village of Meursault. A 1-page prix fixe lunch menu, a 25-page wine list, and big boy Burgundy bottles gracing each of the 10 or so tables. Not much by-the-glass happening at all, except maybe as an aperitif to whet the palate while poring over the wine list. Opened in 2018 and co-owned by Chef Jeremy Peze and Charles Bufane, this place has quickly risen to the status of a Burgundy institution, aided in part by a 2019 Financial Times article that named its book the best priced wine list of France. And indeed, this leather-bound beauty reveals some truly jaw-dropping options, ready-to-drink Premiers and Grands Crus with a shockingly low mark-up. The Burgundy core is rounded out with a generous offering from Alsace, Jura, Savoie and Champagne, along with some meticulously curated cult-status pépites from all around. (Of course their only Priorat is my absolute favorite, l’Arbossar by Terroir al Limit…) And at the very end of the Burgundy list is that page every oenophile dreams of, prefaced by the mention “Ces bouteilles sont rares, nous les limitons à une bouteille par table.” An Arnoux Lachaux Chambolle Musigny for €300. Utopie Créative by Nicolas Barbou for €60. At a restaurant! How? Not sure, but we didn’t ask questions. My friend ordered a François Raveneau Chablis 1er cru Vaillons 2015 and I watched her to do it.
Once you’ve got the wine figured out, the menu is refreshingly simple. Entrée, plat, dessert. Two options for each. As we were two, we took it all. Here’s what I remember.
The gougères at Le Soufflot are a thing, a perfectly executed signature with “if you know, you know” status around town. A palmful of perfectly airy, quite spongy dough caramelized to perfection, collapsing in on itself when bitten into and revealing a deeply satisfying, springy filling of nutty aged Comté. Extra points for actually being a local specialité bourguignonne.
Tender and very delicately flavored salt-cured trout came in a pool of clean cream with some kind of verdant herb oil swirled in, and topped with crunchy, spicy ribbons of black radish arranged in a kind of dome for maximum visual appeal. Thoughtfully placed nasturtium leaves added a caper-y, slightly spicy zing to the sober, earthy heat of the radish. Perfect for lunch on a sunny day in May; perfect with the rich, spicy, chewy and mineral Raveneau.
A pleasant break from the white asparagus fever that overtakes the restaurant menus of France in the spring, these tender stalks of bright green asperge came vertically arranged and topped with a garden of baby leaves, with some creamy Puy de Bon goat cheese incorporated. Don’t remember too many specifics, except the texture of the asparagus, which was fantastic. Also perfect with the wine.
Grilled langoustine was used as stuffing in these dumplings, which were a tad on the tough side, but perfectly seasoned. A simple salad of shredded carrot and other root veg over the top and a very flavorful yet frothy and light langoustine bisque with a slightly smoky flavor at the base of the bowl.
A star of a dish, their Charolais beef was cooked on the barbie to a perfect “French medium rare” (a.k.a. rare) and decorated with a slew of bright accesories. Pillow-soft ottomans of potato gnocchi melted in the mouth, leaving behind a taste of nutty aged cheddar. Thin shavings of deep purple beetroot were rolled into cones, adding a fantastic earthy twang and gorgeous color to the dish. Here and there, jet black dots of smooth beetroot and black garlic purée added the robust flavor of sweet, tangy, balsamic-y aged garlic. Flowers and leaves set a natural scene. The beef came with a delicately flavored consommé, topped with fresh herbs, meant to whet the appetite. A winning ensemble.
After that beef and beetroot situation, I was hesitant to choose a dessert. I don’t particularly have a sweet tooth and wanted to leave things on a savory note. I had asked our waiter to switch out dessert for an 18-month-old Comté. But then I saw this at the table next to ours and I folded. A gorgeous expression of kiwi, transformed into a piquant and lovely ice cream, a pretty quenelle of which was sat over an edible lattice atop frosty bumps of clean cream and lime-infused iced cream. The thing was dusted with a bright green matcha powder, which added a pleasantly vegetal, grassy element to the tart fruit. Delicious and beautiful to look at.
And then there was chocolate, presented in its various forms. A rammekin of fluffy dark chocolate mousse with a thin layer of thick ganache, dusted with bittersweet cacao and decorated with a chocolate lattice in the shape of a honeycomb. Part deux combined a sticky pecan toffee base with a brittle ring of milk chocolate and milk chocolate quenelle, dusted with cacao. Chocolate in all of its déclinaisons, not too sweet though, a great finish.
Le Soufflot and Ma Cuisine, two must-do Burgundy institutions, one in Meursault, the other in Beaune. We did one for lunch, the other for dinner. Which did we prefer? That’s tough. They’re both so special, with fantastic food and a wine list of dreams to match, yet so different from one another in format. Ma Cuisine is perhaps a bit more understated, informal and cozy, while Le Soufflot is bit more dressed up, proper and composed. Trying to choose between the two. Don’t. I’m glad we didn’t.