One could forgive the average Francophile for quailing at the sight of a traditional Alsatian menu, which might include items like Baeckeoffe (wood-fired meat stew casserole), Fleischschnacka (minced meat stuffing rolled in pasta dough) and Guglhupf (a yeasted bundt cake studded with raisins). For centuries, Alsace bounced back and forth between Germany, which regarded the border as the Vosges Mountains, and France, which was partial to the more easterly Rhine River. The Teutonic influence on the region is still evident, most obviously in Alsace’s half-timbered architecture, Germanic wines and hearty cuisine.
Michelin stars twinkle up and down the Route des Vins, the picturesque road linking a series of wine towns.
I love the soulful cooking of Alsace, which draws from French and German culinary styles. You’re just as likely to find silky local foie gras as sauerkraut-based choucroute garnie, and baguettes jostle for space with seedy rolls that bear a striking resemblance to the Vollkornbrötchen baked on the other side of the Rhine. Michelin stars twinkle all up and down the Route des Vins, the picturesque road linking a series of well-preserved wine towns, but the numerous cozy and tradition-rooted winstubs (wine taverns) also deserve attention.
In addition to the restaurants below, listed in north-to-south order, I had memorable meals at two of the hotels at which I stayed: Le Chambard in Kaysersberg and La Maison des Têtes in Colmar. Their gourmet restaurants have stylish atmospheres, attentive service and sumptuous cuisine meriting the Michelin recognition they’ve garnered.
This Michelin two-star restaurant occupies a half-timbered inn just outside the walls of Obernai. A row of staff formally greeted us as we walked into the courtyard, where we sat down to local Muscat and canapés as we contemplated the menu. We opted for the Essence de Terroir tasting of “creative Alsatian cuisine,” served in the airy wood-clad dining room. Every one of the six courses was a decadent delight. There was the silky cod mousse topped with parsley gelée and refreshing mixed-herb sorbet, a tender and sweet spiral of leek topped with tangy onion and rich local foie gras, and a pea-stuffed raviolo topped with melted Parmesan, black truffle and beurre noisette. Even richer was the savory Strasbourg black chicken stuffed with foie gras, accompanied by gnocchi, black truffle cream and a contrasting parsnip purée. After an elegant version of a Black Forest cherry torte, it was time for mignardises. My eyes widened in disbelief as the waiter arrived, not with the usual two or three sweet bites but an entire cart of gorgeous tarts, cakes, cookies and chocolates. The French have no business criticizing overlarge American portion sizes. Closed Monday.
La Fourchette des Ducs
6 Rue de la Gare, Place Anne-Sophie Pic, Obernai. Tel. (33) 3-88-48-33-38
Casually dressed locals and more formally attired tourists alike patronize this Barr bistro, a short walk from the 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa. Service can be slow — as is frequently the case in France, where the table-per-server ratio is often too high — but the food is worth the wait. It’s firmly grounded in Alsatian tradition, but many dishes have a little twist. For example, there was an appetizer of Fleischschnacka, a “meat snail” usually consisting of beef-and-pasta spirals, made in this case with escargot. Alas, the kitchen ran out by the time we tried to order it. I did manage to secure a plate of choucroute de poissons, in which the pork of choucroute garnie was replaced by fillets of fish and a sausage of salmon and dill. Served amid buttery potatoes, tangy sauerkraut and a light cream sauce, this seafood dish was very satisfying. A glass of old-vine Sylvaner, a humble grape that can rise to noble levels in Alsace, paired perfectly. Closed Sunday and Monday.
11 Rue du Général Vanderberg, Barr. Tel. (33) 3-88-08-88-84
True to its name, this half-timbered villa with a turquoise trim stands in a leafy park outside the center of Ribeauvillé. Here, a French and German husband-and-wife team serve elevated versions of Alsatian and French classics. I liked the bright gray-and-white interior, but I couldn’t resist the patio, shaded by linden trees and umbrellas. In need of something lighter, I started with an antipasti plate of fennel bulb, grilled zucchini, summer squash and eggplant, served with olive oil, local goat cheese and a bracing anchovy-spiked purée. My main course, ris de veau braisé aux truffes, was a delight: The sweetbreads were perfectly tender and light, with plenty of truffle flavor in the braising sauce, leavened with chunks of carrot and celery root. A sharply focused glass of local Riesling cut right through the richness.
Auberge du Parc Carola
48 Route de Bergheim, Ribeauvillé. Tel. (33) 3-89-86-05-75
Housed in a 14th-century half-timbered building in the beguiling walled town of Riquewihr, Brendelstub is the sister restaurant of chef Jen-Luc Brendel’s Michelin-starred La Table du Gourmet. At this casual “uncharacteristic winstub,” Brendel serves modern renditions of traditional Alsatian recipes. Again, service tended to be slow, but not because of overworked waitstaff, one or two of whom always seemed to be standing around, looking bored. I pounced on some pâté en croute maison de foie gras de canard, an appetizer of pastry-wrapped duck liver and pork not easy to find outside France. My main course tasted underseasoned, a problem easily resolved. Otherwise, I very much enjoyed my crispy-skinned pike perch in Riesling cream sauce with knepfle (free-form dumplings), chanterelles, wilted green cabbage and savory sun-dried tomatoes. If you find yourself in Riquewihr, this is a fun stop for lunch.
48 Rue du Général de Gaulle, Riquewihr. Tel. (33) 3-89-86-54-54
My trip to Alsace would have felt incomplete without a tarte flambée (also known as tarte flammée and flammekueche), a pizza-style dish of paper-thin crust topped with crème fraîche, fromage blanc, caramelized onions and julienned bacon. Flamme & Co, across the street from Le Chambard in Kaysersberg, serves about 16 versions of this dish, topped with everything from escargot to rhubarb. The contemporary restaurant, which has a nightclub-like space upstairs, even offered a tarte flambée tasting menu, and I found it irresistible. It included six small half-moon-shaped tartes. The traditional rendition was excellent, but I also enjoyed the tarte topped with ratatouille, fresh mozzarella and mixed greens, as well as a Scandinavian-style tarte with citrus-marinated salmon, dill and beurre blanc. The version with roast beef, Parmesan, béarnaise and frites felt overloaded, overwhelming the thin crust, but the menu ended on a high note: a dessert tarte flambée topped with sweetened crème fraîche, diced apple, caramel sauce and sticky Carambar candies.
Flamme & Co
4 Rue du Général de Gaulle, Kaysersberg. Tel. (33) 3-89-47-16-16
This Michelin-starred restaurant is next to my favorite wine bar in Colmar, Le Cercle des Arômes. Renovated earlier this year, it has a stylish contemporary décor of gray with copper accents, with some exposed half-timbering to add a sense of place. The cuisine is French, not specifically Alsatian, nor is the wine list confined to the region. When I asked the sommelier to select two glasses of local wines to pair with my meal, he hesitated before replying, “We don’t usually do that, but I will try.” In fact, he succeeded. A classy Jean-Louis et Fabienne Mann Riesling worked very well with a deliciously savory salad of earthy chanterelles, crispy Parmesan “paper,” sweet-onion ice cream and citrusy oxalis leaves, as well as a dish of delicate Arctic char topped with subtle escargot fricassee and celery foam. Some pretty Domaine Sohler Philippe Mateo Pinot Noir worked just as well with a plate of tender, rosy veal with rhubarb confit, beet purée and a black olive-Port wine jus. And I succumbed to a glass of 2005 late-harvest Riesling by Rolly Gassmann, a still-taut and fresh dessert wine redolent of honeysuckle and orange. It blossomed with a summery bowl of violet jam-filled strawberries with strawberry-hibiscus mousse and strawberry sorbet. Closed Sunday and Monday.
L’Atelier du Peintre
1 Rue Schongauer, Colmar. Tel. (33) 3-89-29-51-57
En route to this Michelin two-star restaurant in Colmar, I passed a charcutière displaying an array of beautiful tourtes (meat pies). I cursed that I had to sit through another fancy-schmancy meal rather than tuck into a tourte of local duck and foie gras. But after lunch at a canalside table on the little terrace at JY’s, I regretted nothing. I try to avoid bread when indulging in tasting menus, but I couldn’t resist a puffy popover spiked with Gruyère. A Kirrenbourg Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling stood up to a surprisingly refreshing dish of beef ravioli, in which meltingly tender roast beef formed the ravioli exteriors, filled with herbed fresh cheese in a “sauce” of vegetable gelée. Also superlative with the wine was some mild, moist pollack stuffed with anchovies, topped with a savory-citrusy yuzu cream and accompanied by black olives, chanterelles and fava beans. Dessert came in no fewer than four parts. First was the “illusion of an egg,” a shell containing a yolk of melon-pineapple purée floating in a white of coconut cream and rum. Then, a bright granité of elderflower, lime and mint, followed by a main dessert of a vacherin with strawberry, thyme and green Chartreuse sorbet. Of course, one can’t end a gastronomic French meal with just dessert. The proper finish is a plate of jewel-like mignardises and, in this case, a snake of peach marshmallow. I spotted the talented chef, Jean-Yves Schillinger, behind the bar as I departed, and his presence in the kitchen — as opposed to a chef de cuisine representative — surely contributed to the superlative quality of this meal. Closed Sunday and Monday.
17 Rue de la Poissonnerie, Colmar. Tel. (33) 3-89-21-53-60