Food Quest: Bordeaux
With its Atlantic coastline, Bordeaux offers plentiful fish and shellfish – oysters and mussels are first rate. But one of the favorite regional dishes is Entrecôte a la Bordelaise – a steak simmered in wine, shallots and bone marrow – perfectly matched with a glass of Bordeaux wine, of course. Duck and chicken plates are quite common and delicious. Be sure to try Cannelés Bordelais, small, chewy caramel-flavored cakes that are the traditional pastry of the area.
4 rue Porte de la Monnaie
Sitting off one of the oldest streets in Bordeaux is La Tupina. Appropriately, the restaurant is filled with antiques – old clocks, photos, scales, pepper mills – and a blazing fireplace with an old fashioned grill, pots and pulleys.
The menu is in keeping with the decor – robust and simple. Beef, lamb and pork (typically Pata Negra) – all served in generous portions – are cooked on a spit or over the grill. The entire place is filled with knee-weakening aromas. Sides are equally basic: mashed potatoes, haricots verts, white asparagus or duck fat fried chips. Thick, hearty soups make for satisfying starters. Desserts include apricots stuffed with almonds and Chantilly chocolate cake.
The wine list matches the robust food with numerous full-bodied Bordeaux selections, all nicely priced. The house-made Liqueur de Noix (Nocello-like walnut liqueur) is well worth sampling and the perfect way to finish a meal at La Tupina.
LE CHAPON FIN
5 rue Montesquieu
With a history dating back to 1825 and one of the first 33 restaurants listed by Michelin, Le Chapon-Fin definitely has an impressive background and pedigree. Indeed Toulouse-Lautrec, Sarah Bernhardt, and European royalty have dined here. Both lunch and dinner are offered. Plates include foie gras cutlets, Aquitaine caviar, and scallops as appetizers. Main courses are partridge with potatoes & quince; sweetbreads; beef or pork filets; John Dory Fish with black sauce; Turbot and baby artichokes. Le Chapon Fin is justifiably proud of its well-stocked wine cellar. Vintages from the most renown châteaux are available – and priced accordingly.
2 avenue Carnot
Charming and iconically French are apt descriptions for Le Mably. The restaurant interior features upholstered banquettes, beautifully-detailed woodwork and vintage clocks. When weather allows, a sunny terrace is packed with diners studying the blackboard menus for Le Mably’s mouth-watering, well-priced specials.
Start with a velvety cream of squash soup that’s as rich and fragrant as it looks. Or, select the beautifully plated artichoke salad with slivered bits of foie gras. Fish is always on the menu. Choices might be a filet of Cabillaud dressed with a coulis of minced shellfish over a bed of rice; Maigre from nearby Arcachon served with mushrooms or salmon with olives and seasonal vegetables. Meat offerings include pork or roast chicken served on a potato casserole. Finish with the house specialty Baba au Rhum.
33 Quai de Queyries
If a romantic setting is required, try L’Estacade. Perched on the edge of the Garonne River, the restaurant has spectacular views of Place de la Bourse and other 18th century architectural treasures. By night, when the city lights are at their peak, the scene is even more beguiling.
The menu is modern with an emphasis on seafood. Regional oysters from Arcachon – with a distinctly hazelnut flavor – are menu highlights, along with Caviar d’Aquitaine. Fresh Cod, Sturgeon, Turbot and scallops are also featured. Meat plates include duck with a cumin sauce, beef fillets and Spanish ham. A wine list featuring vintages from all regions of France compliments the menu.
62 rue Abbé de l’Epée
One of the most popular restaurants in Bordeaux is also one of the tiniest. Garopapilles (meaning taste buds) seats only 20 people. If the weather is good, a charming interior courtyard can accommodate a few more. All to say that reservations are required. The property also features an extensive wine cellar. Chef Tanguy Laviale has degrees in viticulture and oenology, so his wine pairings are an essential part of the menu. Specialties include seared scallops on smoked herring eggs and whipped Jerusalem artichokes, squab with sautéed porcini mushrooms and Laviale’s version of chocolate mousse. Lunch includes a starter, main & dessert for €32, while dinner consists of five courses for €65.
PLATINUM: BISTROT CANAILLE
22 Cours Pasteur
Packed with locals at both lunch and dinner, you’ll have to squeeze into one of the tiny tables at Platinum. But it’s worth every maneuver and wiggle. A quintessential french bistro, Platinum offerings include a toothsome gazpacho – that will have you begging for a second bowl! Salade Croustillante (green salad with croutons, nuts & crunchy bacon), escargots, duck, Boudin or Andouillette Bordelaise (white pork sausage) – everything you’d expect to find on a traditional French menu. A starter, main course, dessert & coffee all go for €13.90 – an outstanding lunch for not a lot of silver or platinum.
2 Cours d’Albret
For a casual but tasty lunch for a mere €15, drop into L’Epicure, conveniently located near the Musée des Beaux-Arts. An amuse bouche is served and might consist of red beans with foie gras. Main courses include a large salad with duck and more foie gras or sausage and perfect pomme frites. For dessert, try the luscious Basque-style almond cream pie.
The modest prices will allow you to experiment with the wine list. For example, Le Crazy Tropez Rosé has nicely balanced acidity and an alluring (could possibly make you crazy!) nose. Perfect as an aperitif or to accompany one of the terrific salads at L’Epicure.
LEFT BANK RESTAURANTS OUTSIDE BORDEAUX
LE LION D’OR
11 Route de Pauillac
33460 Arcins en Médoc
A favorite lunch spot for Médoc winemakers, wine brokers and anyone associated with the business. Indeed, the walls of Le Lion d’Or are lined with wooden cabinets featuring all the famous Médoc Châteaux and bottles personally selected by the owners. The food is rustic and hearty, with a service that can – at times – be a bit unpolished. But for traditional French country food at it’s best, Le Lion d’Or is a superb choice.
To start, order one of the boudins, pâtés or terrines. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the Grenier et Grattons – a charcuterie plate that literally translated means “from the attic to all parts of the pig.” You could also try the tripe, Lamproie à la Bordelaise (eel), or Pigeon rôti et foie gras (roasted pigeon), which are all house specialties. For less daring diners, beef, chicken and simple, but flavorful soups are also on the menu.
The wine list is excellent, with a large selection of Bordeaux vintages and an emphasis on the local Margaux and Saint-Julien production. For something unique, try the Clairet, a dark Rosé that is a regional specialty. Le Lion d’Or is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are advisable given the restaurant’s popularity.
11 rue de Saint-Julien
Another option for an excellent lunch or dinner while exploring the Route du Médoc is Le Saint-Julien. Here, you’ll find an elegant interior with exceptionally refined food. The well-priced menus vary seasonally. An amuse bouche could be a creamy squash soup – so light and ethereal it seems to simply float out from the kitchen. Starters could include artichoke salad and fois gras terrine, shrimp stuffed raviolis, escargots with chestnuts or pan sautéed ceps (mushrooms) – simple, but memorable.
For the main course several fish choices are always available, for example Sea Bream served with mashed potatoes and crab. Filets of beef, lamb, duck or on occasion, even goose is available as well.
Cheese plates are outstanding. Apple tarts and crème brûlée are dessert specialties. The wine selection is thoughtfully chosen, with some beautifully drinking back vintages (2001, 2004, 2007). Chef Claude Patron makes a point of visiting the dining room frequently, much to the delight of his guests.
13 Cap Lanne
If you’re visiting Sauternes and have had the good fortune to sample a glass of 2013 from Château d’Yquem, then you’ve already experienced your daily quota of bliss. Simple pleasures will more than suffice for the rest of the day. And simply prepared, traditional French cooking is exactly what Château Trillon provides – in a bucolic setting in the midst of the Vallée du Ciron.
If you arrive early, the owners – Thierry and his wife – will treat you to views from their Tower Room. There you can watch the famous Sauternes mist fade into the Ciron River and also see the Landiras wine bottling plant, where 170 million bottles are packed annually!(See Decanter Wine News for more on Landiras)
After the tour, sit down in the casual, homey dining room. Croc, the family dog might even decide to keep you company. Meanwhile, Thierry will disappear into the kitchen to prepare your meal: Foie gras with red wine or duck neck stuffed with foie gras, hearty soups and ratatouille are frequently on the menu. On Thursdays, calves head is the special. Desserts are a particular highlight – Ile Flottante (meringue floating on crème anglaise) and Tarte aux Pommes. A delicious three-course meal for only €15.
The wine list is a hand-lettered notebook presenting a broad selection of good vintages, also at excellent prices. So, on second thought, given the enjoyable food and bargain prices, Château Trillon could very well be your second blissful experience of the day.
Click on the red links for more information about the restaurants mentioned in this article.