Le splendide voyage

Reflections on exploration & travel


Leave a comment

The epicurean mirth: my favorite restaurants in Dijon

Dijon has a marvelous collection of restaurants within its domain.  If you ever long for a splendid table and fine tablecloths then, you must stroll to La place de la Libération, right in front of the Ducal Palace.  There you will find one of the finest restaurants in Dijon: “Le Prè aux Clercs,” Jean Pierre Billoux chef.  His creations are always classic, with flavorful ingredients and seasonings.  I recommend the full degustation menu as the staff offers an exemplary service as well as a full description of each item served.  Furthermore, Mr. Gillard, the poised sommelier has an extensive and refined wine list.  From experience, all of his recommendations are a perfect match to the visitor’s chosen fare. One of the courses before dessert are the cheeses. These represent a true French experience while the desserts are a marvel accompanied by other morsels and petit fours.  In the summer time, you can eat outside while enjoying the blissful setting of La place de la Libération (square). In the winter time, you can enjoy the elegant indoor ambiance of the restaurant. The restaurant also has beautiful entertainment rooms on the second floor for special gatherings.  I have never been disappointed with my experiences at the Prè aux Clercs since they have presented and delivered on every occasion an exquisite epicurean experience.

Dijon has other restaurants that make up its varied gastronomy.  “Les Oenophilis” is a restaurant who has a romantic and elegant atmosphere. It is located on 18 rue Sainte Anne by the hotel Philippe Le Bon.  This serene and inviting location, has a menu consisting of traditional and regional specialties such as “les escargots” and the Charolais steaks.  Every course is delivered with precision and grace. They also have a varied and extensive wine list.  Another favorite restaurant on my list is: Pourquoi pas?” located on 13 rue Monge and not very far from the Emile Zola square.  This place has an intimate and cozy atmosphere. The daily menu is always presented with creativity and taste which always highlight the experience.  However, reservations must be made at least 2 weeks in advance to assure an opportunity to experience its fine cuisine.

A truly unique and historical restaurant is the “Maison Millière” located 10, 12, 14, rue de la chouette, behind Notre Dame Cathedral.   The house was built around 1483 by merchant Guillaume Millière and has kept its medieval appearance and façade till this day.  Period films such as “Cyrano de Bergerac” starring Gerard Depardieu have used its historical decor.  Traditional foods like Filet de Boeuf sauce Morilles and Cassolette d’escargots forestière lutée are a few of its delicious specialties.  In the summer, you can sit in the garden and during the colder months you will enjoy its charming interior rooms.  At Maison Millière you will also observe on the rooftop the famous Owl & Cat effigies placed there in the beginning of the 20th century.

Similarly, the Emily Zola (previously the area was called Place du Morimont) square has a place in history since during the French Revolution heads were guillotined here.  Now, it has a much happier atmosphere as it offers an interesting gamut of flavorful restaurants.  Located in this square is the restaurant “Le Germinal” which offers the best frog legs in town.  The house specialty is the “Grenouille Germinal,” but I also love the “Grenouille Provençal.” A permanent fixture in this square is the restaurant L’Epicerie & Cie offering regional food such as baked Camembert, boeuf bourguignon, fine wine and desserts.  If you are craving Asian food then the Sushi King is a good choice and it is located just opposite from L’Epicerie.

Of course, there are other mainstream places in town that are excellent for a nice lunch in the middle of a busy work week. One such places is the “Petit Marché” an organic restaurant just above the bio/health food market La Vie Saine on 27-29 rue Musette. The restaurant is opened Monday through Friday 11:45 – 14:30, and Saturday 12:00 – 14:30.  When I eat there, I always feel that I have made a healthy choice.  From its many windows, there is a beautiful view of Grangier square, the historical and stately main post office and the bustling street below.  The food is simple, healthy and delicious.   Often, I like to order the “salade verte des Cévennes avec son filet doré, tomates, fromage de chèvre chaud, pan et noix, or the “saumon bio avec de crudités.”  In addition, the health food market below offers excellent bio and organic products.  On the adjacent street, 54 rue des Godrans, there is a little restaurant perfect for a lunch break: Bol & Tasse.  They serve an excellent variety of soups, salads, tartes, crepes, smoothies, teas and coffee.  The owners, Mimi and Vivie are super friendly and welcoming.

These are just few examples of the range of restaurants available in Dijon.  Certainly, there are many others to discover. For example, L’édito restaurant at place Darcy is rather convenient because it is open for business all the time.  Yet, there are numerous pleasant and smaller restaurants surrounding the market or on the petites rues around town such as the popular “Le petit roi de la lune” on 28 rue Amiral Roussin as well as a genuine pub and sports’ bar “Flannery’s Irish Pub” in front of St. Benigne’s Cathedral.

Advertisements


1 Comment

La gastronomie: Les Halles, Dijon

“The gentle art of gastronomy is a friendly one. It hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart.”
Samuel Chamberlain

France has elevated gastronomy into an art form.  Effortlessly, the relationships between the culinary canvas, traditions and culture are ever so present in Dijon and Burgundy.  Every autumn, Dijon organizes and presents its International Gastronomy Fair.  This year the fair started on October 31st and will proceed until the 11th of November.  Each year, they invite a country as a valued guest and this year the honor went to South Africa.  In particularly, the wines from the West Cape region displayed proudly in a section of the Vinidivio salon.  Educational talks and discussions on the 3 centuries of viniculture and oenology history of South African wines from the West Cape region were also in the agenda.

The outdoor and indoor markets in the center of the city of Dijon also represent well the gastronomic possibilities of the region.  The location is not far from Notre Dame Cathedral where its gargoyles stare ferociously at Dijon’s luscious market. Also close by is the Place François Rude (or du Barezai).  Historically, the town council decided to build in 1868 a “modern” covered market.  A contest ensued and the design that the dijonnais Gustave Eiffel’s (famous & innovative engineer/Eiffel Tower Paris & Statue of Liberty, US) firm had proposed was found to be the most interesting.  Nonetheless, Eiffel was called to the Franco-Prussian war (or the war of 1870). Therefore, the final blueprints and designs for the structure were drawn by architect Louis-Clément Weinberger in 1869. He used a classic architecture style and modelled the Dijon indoor market after the Parisian “Les Halles.” The market was completed around 1875.  A renovation to bring the market into current health, safety and comfort standards proceeded in 1994. Yet, Eiffel’s signature iron columns and the classic architecture of Weinberger continue to sustain this marvelous structure. The Dijon market is open: Tuesday (7h – 13h30); Thursday (7h30 – 13h/not all stalls are open on Th); Friday and Saturday (6h30 – 13h30).

Still, the Dijon market is so much more than a beautiful edifice! The composition of colors, smells, tastes and the vivaciousness of the proprietors create a scenic quotidian watercolor painting that is both alluring and blissful.  There are fresh meats, fish, mollusc, crustaceans, multiple types of olives, oils, dried sausages, cheeses, honey, fruits, vegetables, legumes, breads, and as of this date, I am still discovering new products. On market days, the indoor market is encircled by a lively outdoor market, with independent stalls.  Little specialty shops flourish along bordering streets with all kinds of commodities from food to clothing, antiques, marvelous used books and ancient post cards.  Fittingly, I loose myself into fairyland at least for a couple of hours on market days.

What I have also discovered is that the proprietors in general welcome new customers with fine etiquette and “politesse.”  Still, the most reassuring feeling is when you start buying from the same vendor every week. Then they masterfully win your heart with: “…I thought of you Madame, and I think you would love to try our new…etc…”  Yes, they learn your tastes and really think of you!  Furthermore, it is so refreshing to me that they are experts when it comes to their products.  They will take time to explain to you the best way to eat or cook a particular item; they will also ask when do you intend to cook or eat the product, then they will pick for example the most appropriate product for your evening gathering. And it works well every time!

My love for the market in Dijon also fostered a love for learning the culinary artistry of the region.  There are different venues in Dijon to learn how to master the “art of French cooking.”  One such place is “La Cuisine de Madeleine,” 18 rue Chaudronnerie, behind Notre Dame Cathedral.  Under the careful tutelage of a chef, it is a fun place to learn because you can join a group or sign-up with a group of friends.  You choose the menu and learn to prepare it. Then at the end, you can taste your creations in a cozy and welcoming environment.  Wine tasting is also part of your education! Accordingly, this culinary experience can be a source of delicious memories.


Leave a comment

Ma belle Dijon

My new city was a delight from the beginning.  When choosing a place to live, I decided that the center of town was full of charm and history. Thus, it was only natural that my final choice for a Dijonnais domicile was a 1636 AD house on a quiet ”petite rue” in the heart of the city. The gated entrance hid a fastidious story to be written while passing through the courtyard and a 15th century solemn staircase leading to the third floor with a good view of the toits bourguignons (Burgundy’s traditional polychrome roofs) and their geometrical patterns.  Yes, very quickly Dijon had my heart. 

The city center is lively with a brand new TRAM system, excellent shopping and restaurants spread throughout its radius.  Yet in Dijon, there is always something new to be discover.  There are days dedicated to music and so you can hear great sounds in the streets or view an opera performance at the superb Auditorium of Dijon. You can take different “discovery” walks by following the owl triangles around the city and maps can be found in the tourist centers.  The owl is the bird symbolizing Dijon. 

The traditional story of the ‘little owl” in Dijon dates back to 14 century.   It was the time when the Notre Dame cathedral was being built.  One of the traditional tales conveys the story of the architect of the cathedral who found a sickly owl nearby.  He cared for the tiny creature and became quite attached to the little bird. Hence, since it brought him much joy, he carved the owl on the stone pillar in north side of the cathedral. Historically, it seems that the little owl appeared in the end of the XV or beginning of the XVI centuries.  Whatever the case may be, visitors continue throughout the ages to touch the little carved owl, “la petite chouette,” with the left hand while making a wish and it should come true!  At Notre Dame, you will also hear the “Jacquemart” ring and announce the hours with precision. The “Jacquemart & Clock” was a war prize that Phillip the Bold brought from Belgium.  Soon the inhabitants of Dijon became devoted to the protector of the hours.  Accordingly, from 1651 to 1884 the people in Dijon did not wanted him to feel lonely and they added a wife Jacqueline who helps him ring the hours, a son and Jacquelinet responsible for sounding the half hours and lastly a daughter Jacquelinette responsible for ringing every quarter hour.  Also, behind Notre Dame are some of the oldest streets in town known for their fine antique stores. The main cathedral in Dijon is Saint-Bénigne. It is perhaps the oldest in Dijon considering that it has a remarkable crypt which was completed in 535 AD.  The grand cathedral part however, was dedicated in 1393 AD.  This is one of the sites that should be visited since marvelous pipe organ concerts are frequently offered and the acoustics always make the experience sublime.

Following the little owls triangles, visitors can easily make their way to the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy.  The ducal palace houses the mayor and some of the city’s offices, a tourist information center, the soaring Philip le Bon tower in the middle and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. After climbing the 315 steps or so in the Philip Le Bon tower, your reward will be an amazing 360° view of the city.  Then, after this marvelous work-out the Musée des Beaux-Arts should be the next-door charm.  In the past 2 years, this museum underwent a detailed renovation and now it is even more appealing.  Worth viewing are the intricate tombs of Philip le Bon, John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria and the “pleurants” or mourners.  Not far from this museum is one of my favorite museums in Dijon, the Museum Magnin with collections from the North, French and Italian Schools. Proximate to Magnin, the extraordinary sculptures of F. Rude can be seen at Saint-Étienne’s Church.

An international recognition for the city of Dijon is its: MUSTARD.  This delicious creation dates back to 1856 AD when Jean Naigeon added acidic juice of grapes that were not ripped to the mustard recipe.  This flavorful mustard is used in salads, sandwiches and on any dish that calls for mustard.  Nowadays, they add white wine to the recipe with a sharp taste that revives any bland fare.  Dijon also offers delightful places and parks for strolling such as the Jardin Botanique de l’Arquebuse and the Parc de la Columbière. Above all, children love Columbière Park because it has a petting zoo.