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Travel Tip: Bordeaux Dining

James Molesworth's notes on where to eat once the wine tasting is done

James Molesworth
Posted: April 30, 2012

Note: This information originally appeared in James Molesworth's WineSpectator.com blog, "Stirring the Lees with James Molesworth."

Following my most recent two-week stay in Bordeaux, where I tend to work up an appetite while tasting, here are some notes on a few of my favorite places to grab a bite.

5, rue Chauffour
33000 Bordeaux
Telephone: 011-33-5-57-53-28-06
Website: www.solena-restaurant.com

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.

Restaurant Gravélier
114 cours de Verdun
33000 Bordeaux
Telephone: 011-33-56-48-17-15
Website: www.gravelier.fr

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.

La Tupina
6, rue Porte de la Monnaie
33000 Bordeaux
Telephone: 011-33-5-56-91-56-37
Website: www.latupina.com

Now an institution, La Tupina has been serving hearty, southwest cuisine for 30 years. Bordeaux has gentrified itself around this small, cozy restaurant, but nothing inside La Tupina has changed. The small wooden chairs, the large fireplace in the entryway where the food is cooked, the piles of aged beef and game bird beckoning to be ordered. The lamb shoulder falls off the bone, the cassoulet is a bottomless bowl, the steaks are over an inch thick and the frites are made in duck fat. The place is so friendly and casual, you'll be just as comfortable dining alone as you would be with a large group of friends. Owner Jean-Pierre Xiradakis has long been a champion of smaller châteaus from lesser appellations—the wine list sports many wines under 60 euros a bottle. If you don't know the names, ask and you'll get good advice. You can expect Xiradakis himself to be sitting at one of the tables.

Restaurant Le Saprien
14 rue Principale
33210 Sauternes
Telephone: 011-33-5-56-76-60-87
Website: saprien.free.fr

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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