Ma Cuisine - Beaune
Every Burgundy lover visiting the region makes a pilgrimage sooner or later to Pierre Escoffier’s Ma Cusine, a cozy restaurant off the Place Carnot that’s known for its regional cuisine and terrific wine list. This place is an old favorite, but as anyone who attempts to order a bottle that isn’t on the list can tell you, Pierre’s poker face is still world class, and the cooking today is the best it has been in the decade that I’ve been visiting, so, Ma Cuisine is still well worth a visit.
I dined there four times on my recent visit to Burgundy, which gave me the chance to sample numerous dishes. A seasonal dish that I ordered several times consisted of steamed green asparagus, peeled at the base and cooked to perfection, served with a thick hollandaise. The rivalry between green and white asparagus is a longstanding point of contention among the English (who favor green) and the French (who prefer white), and I usually side with the French, but these green asparagus were simply irresistible.
Oeufs en meurette—a Burgundian classic consisting of eggs poached in wine and served in a rich red wine sauce, with a garnishing of onion, bacon lardons and mushrooms—is a staple here, distinguished by the richness of the sauce and the lavishness of the lardons. (Only the unseasonably warm weather prevented me ordering it more than once.) Another highlight was a dish of puffed pastry parcels filled with chanterelles and served with a cream sauce—far from light, but a delicious indulgence. A similar dish, executed with black truffles and foie gras, is one of my favorite plates at Guy Julien’s inimitable Beaugravière in the Rhône valley.
Among the main courses, I routinely order the squab pigeon, served pink, accompanied by ratatouille and potato gratin. The generously proportioned but utterly succulent, juicy pigeon, paired with a rich jus, shows almost any great red Burgundy or Rhône wine to advantage. I also love the hefty veal chop, also served pink, that’s even more sympathetic to delicate, mature wines. Of course, Ma Cuisine does a superb boeuf Bourgignon, but with the mercury hovering around 90˚F, even the most dedicated gourmet would flinch at ordering a steaming dish of stewed beef, and while I encouraged friends to do so, I didn’t partake this time.
The wine list here is a lot of fun, with prices that are very reasonable in the context of today’s overheated Burgundy market. On this trip, I took every opportunity to drink the wines of Domaine Louis Carillon in Puligny-Montrachet. As readers likely know, 2009 was the last vintage under this label, which has now been split between brothers Jacques and François Carillon: Jacques’ wines are more understated and classic, while François are a bit flashier and more dramatic, as well as a bit more concentrated. For me, Louis’ wines—made by the two brothers working together—struck the perfect balance.
A rich, textural 2009 Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru was mirrored by a somewhat smaller-scaled but similarly-proportioned 2009 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Canet, both redolent of orchard fruit and pastry cream. A few weeks later, a 2008 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Combettes showed even better, with the extra cut and incisiveness of the year, one of my favorite recent white Burgundy vintages. Combettes tends to play second fiddle to Carillon’s Perrières and Réferts, to say nothing of the Bienvenues, but sadly neither were on the list. Pierre vehemently denies possessing them, but we will see.
While Ma Cuisine’s list is abundantly stocked with great red Burgundy, the real values lie elsewhere. I didn’t complain, however, when one friend insisted on ordering a 2007 Domaine Georges Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru. To my palate, Roumier made what are probably the best examples of the 2007 vintage in all of Burgundy—an amazing achievement under the circumstances. The 2007 Bonnes-Mares actually appears to be shutting down: it was quite open a few years ago, but today, it’s even more tight-knit and concentrated than I remembered it. Its evident potential for the long haul makes me think that Roumier did more than simply realizing all the vintage’s potential: this Bonnes-Mares suggested he quite simply transcended it. Everything suggests it will be a 50-year wine.
I mostly got my own way, however, ordering Rhône wines—in particular, those produced by Emmanuel Reynaud. The 2005 Pignan Châteauneuf-du-Pape is drinking beautifully, soaring from the glass with aromas of rose petals, griotte cherries and exotic Rayas spice. On the palate, it’s ample, satiny and incredibly perfumed. It’s so good that I drank it on three consecutive visits. “It’s lucky I have a big allocation,” observed Pierre. The 2003 Château de Fonsalette Syrah is drinking well, with the meaty, wild character that invariably distinguishes this cuvée: it wasn’t as magical as the 2007 I enjoyed in Seattle earlier this year, but it’s a lovely wine.
The 2003 Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape is considerably more thrilling, and it has recently begun to shed its youthful exuberance in favor of the aromas and flavors of true maturity—which makes it a precocious vintage, by the standards of Rayas. Its aromas of sweet red berries, balsam wood, espresso, dried roses and pine needles made several friends regret that grand cru Burgundy is seldom so thrilling.
Even better, the 2008 Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape goes from strength to strength, gaining depth and dimension with bottle age. It’s a stunning wine, bursting with notes of peonies, sweet red cherries, exotic spices and forest floor. I only have one bottle left in my cellar, and I’m kicking myself for drinking its five siblings so early. Like the 2007 Roumier Bonnes-Mares, it’s a wine that simply transcends the vintage. To my mind, there’s nothing in the southern Rhône in 2008 that comes close.
I suspect few visitors at Ma Cuisine take the time to peruse to Bordeaux selection, but it is well worth a glance. We struck gold with a pristine bottle of the 1947 Château Haut-Brion, which Pierre told us he had secreted in his cellar for a full 30 years. The fill was magnificent and the label ruined by humidity—two very promising signs. The wine didn’t disappoint, unfurling with a boisterous bouquet of roasted but juicy red-black fruit, cigar ash, dark chocolate and smoke. On the palate, it was full-bodied, ample and complete, with the rich, brawny quality that remains the signature of the vintage. By some margin the finest ’47 Haut-Brion I’ve tasted, it doesn’t boast the incredible aromatic range of the 1953 or the combination of harmony and concentration of the ’59 and ’61, but it was a spectacular wine that ranks as one of the greatest expressions of this estate that I’ve encountered.
In the course of all four visits, we ordered a dessert wine only once, but made up for what we lacked in quantity with quality. The 1967 Château d’Yquem is a rich, gourmand iteration of this legendary Sauternes, evocative of crème brûlée, apricot compote, marmalade and vanilla pod. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, decadent and unctuous. Many rank it as one of the great post-war Yquems, though I tend to prefer somewhat more elegant vintages such as 1955 and 1962. The 1967, however, was an appropriately decadent, even hedonistic wine with which to conclude a magnificent dinner.
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