Following my recent two-week stay in Bordeaux last December to taste the region's 2009 releases in bottle, here are some notes on restaurants I visited. You can also refer to my notes on restaurants from previous visits to Bordeaux in Dec. 2010 and March 2011.
While my survey is far from complete, my favorite spot—by a mile—remains La Table de Montesquieu in La Brède, 30 minutes' drive south of Bordeaux proper (without traffic). The menu is prix-fixe only with no choices, so you have to go in open-minded. And while the restaurant is frankly inventive, it's not frivolously so. The delicious yet complex cuisine forces you to think, but still lets you enjoy yourself. The dining room is sleek and modern, but still comfortable. The menu and wine list are handed out on iPads. The service is perfectly bilingual, no easy feat considering some of the complicated food descriptions that servers have to deliver to diners. If you're in Bordeaux, make the effort to eat here. These other four are worth a stop as well.
5, rue Chauffour
This restaurant is "très sympa," as the French would say. This is a tiny, but brightly lit, restaurant located in central Bordeaux and run by the husband-and-wife team of Aurélian Crosato and Serena Lee (he's in the kitchen; she's the American ex-pat running the front of the house). The couple follows a farm-to-table ethic, with produce from local vendors featured prominently throughout the menu. The menu is short and changes frequently; if you choose the tasting menu, you can try all four selections offered on the à la carte menu. Dishes range from classics like foie gras terrine to more inventive items such as seared scallops with white beans in coconut milk, or veal rump cooked sous-vide with creamed red squash and hazelnut butter. Everything is lightly seasoned and brightly defined. There's a small wine list available in-house, along with a longer list available online for preordering; both feature an eclectic mix of petit châteaus from within Bordeaux, as well as choices from other French regions. Kudos for taking this approach, both in the kitchen and with the cellar.
114 cours de Verdun
Chef and owner Yves Gravelier can be seen through the kitchen's large glass window, which greets diners as they walk into this small, narrow, but busy, restaurant. There's an even smaller dining room located up a steep flight of stairs at the back of the restaurant. The crowd tends to be young and stylish. The cuisine is decidedly French in its main ingredients, but less overtly reliant on sauces than some, as the preparations are more casual. A pissaladière of two fishes shows off the inventive side of the kitchen, pairing red mullet and sea bass on a crunchy crostini. A large cep is sliced and paired with a similarly shaped slice of eggplant to make a clever sandwich lined with scallops. The wine list needs improvement, though—it's short and scattered with choices that range from a good Provençal rosé for 30 euros, to a tantalizing Michel Lafarge Volnay Clos des Chênes 1996 for 120 euros, to a Château Latour Pauillac Forts des Latour 2001 for 320 euros. As good as the food is here, the wine list should be given more thought.
59 rue Georges Bonnac
This was the most pleasant and surprising find on my recent trip. This small 20-seat wine bar is located just a block away from the Burdigala Hotel. Service is convivial. The vibe here is "mellow hipster." The entire place is reminiscent of Le Mangevins, one of my favorite casual dining spots in Tain l'Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley. The food choices are highlighted by paper-thin sliced Serrano ham or grilled octopus, to start. Duck leg confit or pork chops are excellent choices for the plat principal. All dishes are prepared simply and modestly, but with precision and fresh flavors. Prices are very modest for the food, and the portions are fair. Even better is the wine list, highlighted by offerings from J.L. Chave, R. Rostaing, Thierry Allemand, Clusel-Roch and more (I told you it was reminiscent of Le Mangevins). There's Bordeaux too, of course, along with representation from Burgundy, the Languedoc, the Jura, Alsace, Beaujolais, Champagne and more. Bravo for taking this approach, as wine lists in Bordeaux are more often lacking than not.
Restaurant Le Saprien
14 rue principale
Sauternes is a sleepy area compared to the businesslike buzz of the Médoc or even the more casual vibe of Pomerol and St.-Emilion. The towns are smaller and the feel is decidedly agricultural—there are no hotels to speak of, for example. But that shouldn't stop you from visiting the châteaus, which produce world-class wines. And on a sunny day, the gentle, rolling hills around the towns of Sauternes, Bommes and Fargues are thoroughly bucolic. You'll likely find a mix of locals at the tables here, where there's a large fireplace on one side of the 50-seat, high-ceilinged dining room. There's a patio for dining al fresco in mild weather. The duo of foie gras is an interesting starter—one is a classic terrine with a Sauternes gelée, the other, a version that's been smoked. The duck breast is roasted in the fireplace and offers a hearty plate. This is a decent, standard-level stop; prices are fair, with main courses in the low-20s euro range. The wine list is modest in scope, with a good range of young vintage Sauternes.
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