The train from Besançon to Dijon was about an hour long. I had chosen a hotel very near to the train station, so after dropping my luggage in my room, I headed into town to spend the afternoon getting to know the heart of the former duchy of Bourgogne. In the historic town center, the streets are lined with fluttering ensigns:
I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast except for a couple of peaches picked up in the market in Besançon, but it was still way too early for dinner, so when I passed a Mulot et Petitjean, I had to step inside to ogle the comely comestibles.
There are a few branches of the well-known and well-respected Mulot & Petitjean around Dijon, which was founded in 1796 and today offers all of the Burgundian pastry specialties - most notably, pains d'épices and nonnettes:
|Oozing ooey gooey cassis goodness|
After nibbling on a little sustenance, I walked down to the heart of Dijon, the Palais des Ducs et des Etats de Bourgogne (Palace of the Dukes and States of Burgandy). The Duchy of Burgandy was a major player in the medieval Europe, and the former seat of the Dukes' power is now the Hôtel de Ville (city hall, essentially) and the Musée des Beaux Arts. In front of the Palace there is a huge open Place, filled with café tables and water fountains just perfect for cooling off on a hot summer's day.
This little cutie was quite enamored of the tall fountains. He was thoroughly wet - and thoroughly displeased - when his father decided it was time for them to leave.
|Water that shoots up??? I've never seen that before.|
The Maison de Millière, below, was built in 1483. In more recent years, it has appeared in a number of films, including Gerard Depardieu's Cyrano de Bergerac in 1990. It almost looks more like a movie set than a real building!
|I almost wish it had been raining to see these guys in action|
Dijon was the one city in France where I opted to have an apératif, a before-dinner drink, with my meal. I ordered the quintessential French apéro, a kir. A kir is white wine with with Crème de Cassis, an eau-de-vie made from the ubiquitous Burgundian blackcurrant. (As a side note, a Kir Royale uses champagne in place of the white wine.) I had had a kir before in Paris, but it was no comparison to this delicious drink, which was super sweet and fruity - it didn't taste like alcohol, it tasted like candy. It had a nice tart cherry flavor and a gorgeous ruby red color. Um, yum. I'll have one now, please.
With my kir, I was served an amuse gueule:
An amuse gueule is, literally, something to amuse the throat; it's a cousin to the amuse bouche - basically an hors d'oeuvre. This one was little slices of bread topped with cucumber, lettuce, parsley, and bacon in a slightly acidic creamy sauce. The sweetness of the bread was a nice balance to the sour topping, but it could have used a little crunch to push it to the next level.
If I was going to order escargots during this trip, this would have been the place to do it. Burgundian snails are prized above all others in France, and they were listed in the entrée section of every menu I saw. However, given my experience with escargots in 2008, I opted to stay away from the much esteemed gastronomic gastropods. I started with another Burgundian favorite, Oeufs en meurette:
Egg heaven. These were two eggs poached perfectly in red wine, and served in a jus of red wine, mushrooms, onions, bacon, and mustard. The whites of the eggs were firm and chewy, but the yolks were runny, while the sauce was a thick, syrupy texture with a deep, lovingly developed flavor that had just soaked into the egg. Eaten on the crusty slices of toasted bread, the dish was a perfect mix of crunch and chew with an awesome rich, winey, earthy flavor. I don't know why anyone would want to order snails when this is on the menu!
I drank a glass of Bourgogne Pinot noir. It had a very similar flavor profile to the oeufs, but much drier and more acidic. It had some dark fruity notes, like sweet cherry and blackcurrant, with just a little sweetness and a hint of something metallic. Not bad, but a little too tannic for my taste.
For my plat, I selected the poulet façon Gaston Gérard:
Gaston Gérard was the mayor of Dijon from 1915-1929. As the story goes, his wife first prepared this dish in 1930, and the rest, as they say, is history. This is definitely the preferred preparation for chicken in Dijon - it shows up on menus all over the city. The chicken is cooked in oil or butter, and then a sauce is made from the pan drippings, cheese, cream, Burgundian white wine, and mustard. (As an aside - after seeing little pots of mustard on all the tables in restaurants in Lyon and Alsace, I was surprised to find no mustard on the table in Dijon, a city that most Americans know solely for its relationship to mustard. Don't get me wrong, there are mustard shops all over the city, and even a mustard museum, but no mustard pots on the table. But I digress.) This dish included the drumstick and thigh and came with three dollops of creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. The dish was wonderfully cheesy, but the cheese did not overpower the excellent chicken flavor - perhaps it was made with famed poulet de Bresse? Wherever the chicken came from, it was delicious - definitely something I would order again.
By the time I'd worked through the main course, all I could manage for dessert was the coupe Bourguignonne:
This coupe came with two sorbets: glace de Marne, and glace de cassis. The cassis is the deep burgandy colored ball, which had a strong fruity flavor - very pleasant. I wasn't as fond of the Marne, which tasted a little like prunes, a little like industrial cleaner, and a lot like a strong liqueur. There were also a few cherries tossed on top that had been spiked in some kind of liqueur and left a strong alcoholic aftertaste. It was not bad, but not my favorite dessert. Overall, however, it was an excellent meal - I would be glad to eat here again.
After dinner, I headed back in the direction of my hotel. The sun was starting to set, and the city was beautiful as it started to light up.
|Porte Guillaume, in the Place Darcy|
|Note the moon in the sky!|
|Ils sont tous les imbeciles?... Ils ont l'air gentil !|
Coming soon: Dijon part deux, day of markets and tombs and tripes - yes, that's right, all in the plural.