Where is Alsace and what typifies its food?
The smallest region of 22 that comprise France, Alsace boasts one of the highest concentrations of gastronomic stars. It is a culinary powerhouse with deeply held traditions some of the rest of us are just discovering, such as biodynamic and organic wine production (see link below). Many of the vineyards are still laced with grass between the vines. That, and the historic formation of the Vosges Mountains, Rhine River deposits, glacial activity - all of these geologic factors create strong expressions of terroir in the food and wine.
Proximity to Germany gives Alsace a special connection to its food traditions. Traveling to Alsace means stepping back in time, strolling stone streets and half-timbered houses. Nearness to Switzerland, Austria, and Luxembourg and Pyrenees Basque population, the countryside with diverse geography, all combine to produce interesting Alsatian cuisine.
Master Chef Raymond Ost has been bringing his home Alsatian cuisine to area diners for ten years. What many people don’t know is his status as one of the few, hand-selected Maître de Cuisiniers in Boston and the fraternité numbers only a few hundred in the world.
Tonight’s dinner was all about introductions, to the world of Boston food blogs, to each other, to Lyons Communications and to the food and wine of Alsace.
Flammekeuche arrived shortly after we were seated, hot from the brick oven warming the restaurant. One was a classic onion and bacon, the other was made with mushrooms. All ingredients are classic Alsatian ingredients. Crisp, light, savory - this is a perfect starter.
Alsace is also known for foie gras - is it any wonder I love this food? Tonight’s appetizer of Pan seared foie was served with caramelized quince, a thin slice of smoked cured duck breast and a brandied cherry sauce. The foie was seared perfectly and the quince added the right touch of sweetness. The sauce was very light. The slice of cured duck breast gave a savory note that one doesn’t often see with the foie gras. Together the dish was very well-balanced.
Entree choices included a gorgeous rack of New Zealand lamb (cooked perfectly and a generous portion), Grilled Angus Filet Mignon, Maine Lobster Risotto, Diver Scallop Bouillabaisse, Giannone Roasted Half Chicken, Asparagus Vegetable Wellington and my choice: Alsatian Choucroute Garnie au Riesling. The sauerkraut is slow cooked in Riesling and juniper berry. The textures of the various wurst, the smoky ham hock and the grilled smoked pork loin give you something different in every bite. The dish holds your interest and keeps your palate happily expectant about what the next forkful will convey. My guess is that the mustard is special or house made. Again, just the right balance was struck in the rendering of the dish.
The wine was a blend of five Alsatian grapes: Pinot gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Riesling. Pierre Sparr "One", 2006. Nice fruit, crisp acidity. Stood up well to the food. With the entree we moved to Cotes du Rhone.
A platter of desserts was delivered by a petite pastry chef - don’t be alarmed as I was about the incongruity of size of pastry chef to task. These were all finely rendered from classic creme brulee (apologies to my fellow diners for my double-dipping!) and kugelhopf (warm chocolate bundt cake) to banana sorbet, pear meringue and a chocolate hazelnut creme Napolean.
What is a Master Chef?
Maître Cuisinier de France ("Master Chef of France”) is the most envied title that chefs aspire to have; but not everyone can become a Maître Cuisinier. The organization's motto is “to preserve and spread the French culinary arts, encourage training in cuisine, and assist professional development.”
We happen to have two here in Boston: Chef Ost at Sandrine’s and Jacky Robert at Maison Robert.
In addition to bestowing this honor (one cannot apply for it, rather one is selected by the existing members to join, based on the body of your work) the Cuisiniers give special recognition to others for their role in advancing French food culture and products.
Ihsan Gurdhal - Boston’s top cheese guru - was recently awarded the "Ordre National du Mérite Agricole” honor. The public authorities recognize the important work carried out by Maîtres Cuisiniers de France in the promotion of French cuisine and culture. This is why they have no hesitation in granting them honorary awards, especially those of the “Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur”, the “Ordre National du Mérite Agricole” and the “Ordre National du Mérite”.
It seems that Chef Ost is continuing to impress his fellow Cuisiniers as he is receiving a medal at the home of the consulate shortly. More on that news when I can uncover it.
Sandrine's - A Bistro
8 Holyoke Street
- To read more about who's doing what with charcuterie, read Cajun Sausage from the Swamp to the City.