Monday, September 2, 2013

Le Benaton, Beaune: Michelin Dining in Burgundy

Le Benaton Restaurant, Beaune Bread at Le Benaton Amuse Bouche, Le Benaton Foie Gras at Le Benaton Beautiful Foie Gras Pigeon with Girolles Glorious Fish at Le Benaton Assiette of Cheeses
If I was given a choice to spend a week in any region on Earth, it would be very hard to choose just one, but in the end, it would have to be Burgundy, the Cote d'Or and more specifically, Beaune.

Beaune is home to some of the most majestic wines I've ever tasted: Bouchard Pere et Fils and Joseph Drouhin to name but a couple. It is a complicated region and I am not the only one who is lost when it comes to Burgundy. With more than 3,000 wine producers, each having their own plots of land, tiny in comparison to Bordeaux or Rioja and each producer making perhaps numerous wines in a myriad of locations all around the region it isn't easy.

Then there are the different categories of wine, or the Appellation d'origine Controlee (AOC), which gives three distinct values to the wines of this region: Village, Premier Cru and the top, Grand Cru. These are not randomly assigned but given out by the state after a rigorous test of the soil and other factors. A plot of land in say, Chambolle-Musigny can have a Village wine, designated by just the name of the area on the label (Chambolle-Musigny) and then a few feet away can be a vineyard given Premier Cru status, which would then state the vineyard name, i.e. Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes, with Premier Cru being displayed above that on the label. This type of labeling makes it easy to find the best wines when searching for Burgundy, but it can also be very confusing.

When in doubt, buy a Premier or Grand Cru Burgundy wine. You will almost always get a good bottle. Burgundy wine is made with really only two grapes: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A few other grapes may be found but speak to any hardcore winemaker and they'll tell you that's just for the critics and American palette. Pinot and Chardonnay are the grapes used to make wine. I find it incredible that Pinot or Chardonnay grapes grown just feet away from each other can have such varying flavors. It's truly mind blowing and you start to understand why the French felt the need to create the word Terrior and why Paul Giamatti's character in the movie Sideways was so fascinated by Pinot. I'm sure I have made a mistake somewhere in my understanding of Burgundy and no doubt I will be corrected. But that is the burden one faces when they become obsessed with Burgundy wines.

Anyway, I'm getting lost in the vines and this is about Le Benaton restaurant in Beaune. One of only a handful of Michelin starred restaurants in the area, Le Benaton is a true gastronomic experience. Head chef and owner Bruno Monnoir creates visually stunning dishes using regional and seasonal ingredients. There is a harmony in his cooking that is very rare. Although this is a Michelin starred restaurant it also feels like Bruno's back garden. It's relaxed, but with an air of sophistication that is lacking in most of the Michelin starred restaurants I've been to. So often they are full of ego and people with more money than taste or class.

The Foie Gras starter encased in Cassis, served with a tower of Brioche was one of the nicest dishes this foodie has ever put in his mouth. The Foie Gras was pure and elegant. The Cassis added just the right amount of sweetness and the tower of Brioche was, well, just awe inspiring.

My Pigeon with Pea Puree, topped with Girolles was a classic dish. It was intense, while still being graceful. Same could be said for my wife's Fish, served with Razor Clams and baby veg. The food speaks for itself and my images above will do it more justice than my lingering prose ever could.

Le Benaton is one of those restaurants I want to take everyone to. It is reasonably priced, with an incredible wine list. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable. And of course, the food is simply to die for.

Thanks to the whole team for making our anniversary a memorable one and a special thanks goes to Scotty! You know why.

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