This is the thirteenth post in the Around the World Birthday Extravaganza Series. Please scroll to the bottom to see all the other posts in this series.
Cheers! Happy Birthday!
This was the entire reason we were on this trip. After much theoretical talk with our good friends from Boston about "someday we should go to Bordeaux together . . . " it had finally happened. Bryan had booked a whirlwind "Around the World" birthday trip for me, and my Boston friends decided to join us for the Bordeaux portion of the trip.
We would be in Bordeaux together on my actual birthday.
My friends organized the entire Bordeaux part of the trip, including treating me to a fantastic birthday dinner at a Michelin-starred French restaurant in Bouliac, a small village high up on a hill with stunning views toward the port city of Bordeaux.
Restaurant Le St. James, named after one of the most famous streets in Bordeaux, started out as a high-end restaurant but expanded to become a hotel in 1989, when architect Jean Nouvel transformed a farm house into the current Relais & Châteaux hotel and restaurant.
Not only can you dine at the famous 1-Michelin starred restaurant, you can also take cooking classes during the day, perhaps even learning how to make certain dishes served at the restaurant.
The menu has a number of different types of options: a few different tasting menus as well as a la carte options.
Funny thing is, women don't see prices on their menus. Only the men's menus have prices. We noticed this was pretty common in high-end restaurants in France. Our husbands had to tell us about the prices. Ha ha, I guess if you're on a date then it's probably bad form to bring up such matters!
On average, appetizers ranged between 40€-60€. Main courses ranged between 60€ - 70€. Desserts were around 20€. Because of the relative high cost of the a la carte options, we decided it made more sense to order one of the tasting menus. We chose the 140€ seven-course "St. James Menu", not the 110€ "Chef's surprise" option or the more decadent and expensive "Chef's Menu" (I think it was upwards of175€, but I can't remember the exact amount).
If you want to order a tasting menu, the entire table has to order the tasting menu.
The dining room is surrounded by windows with panoramic views of Bordeaux down below (the village of Bouliac is higher up on a hill). We arrived around 7PM, early by French standards, and therefore we were one of the first diners in the dining room.
We started with three gorgeous little amuse bouche bites: a pastry shell topped with foie gras, a beet apple gelatin cube topped with comté cheese, and a pumpkin soufflé topped with cereal-like anise crunchy bits.
Nothing beats freshly baked bread in France, and these were delicious.
Next came a savory sabayon with shallots and ham, served with a delicate, crispy flat toast.
The first "official" course of the tasting menu consisted of several components. The main attraction was a single scallop topped with mushrooms and a black Périgord truffle cream sauce. There was also Saint Jacques carpaccio, preserved calf's tongue, glazed pickled onions, sparassis (cauliflower mushroom) and an "emulsion of bards' juice" (which I'm not really sure what that means!).
The flavors were beautiful in the dish. The scallops and the calve's tongue were both really, really tender. The sweetness of the glazed pickled onion nicely balanced out the umami from the mushrooms. All in all, it was an excellent dish, with lots of truffly goodness. They even gave us extra sauce to eat with the components.
The next course was blue lobster, a local lobster ("from our coast") which was roasted in a citrus foam fruit butter and "crunchy balls", served with endives, macadamia nut butter, and a gel made from"cubebe" peppers (similar to black pepper). The best part was the phenomenal sauce, a concentrated lobster jus made from roasted lobster shells, heads, and all the other unused parts.
They gave us the remaining sauce in a pitcher, and trust us, we definitely went back for more sauce.
The next dish was a roasted quail from purveyor "Mr. Duplantier", which they described as being reared "like an ortolan". What does that mean?
The ortalan, a small sparrow-like songbird native to Europe, has a long history of being a delicacy in France. These tiny songbirds are fattened up, doused in armagnac, and then roasted and eaten whole (yes, bones, organs, everything!), all except for the feet.
Hunters fatten up the birds by placing them in the dark for one month. Disoriented by the lack of light, the poor birds think it's nighttime and eat almost nonstop for a month before they are slaughtered.
The eating ritual may seem odd to the uninitiated. Diners covers their head with a towel for two reasons: to keep in the aromas of the armagnac and the roasted bird as well as to conceal one's greed from God. Ortalan hunting was outlawed in 2007, though the government continues to monitor and crack down on illegal poaching.
For this meal, the quail was likely fattened up in the dark, thus "reared like an ortalan." I am hoping that is as far as it went!
The tender meat was roasted to a perfect medium (still pink!), wrapped with Colonnata bacon and seasoned with sansho pepper berries (berries of prickly ash). On the side was an artichoke heart poivrade (a pepper sauce), "crousti-stuffed" centenniel grape, and a slightly spiced jus.
The cheese course is something you don't want to miss! An impressive cart was rolled directly to our table, filled with a wonderful variety of French cheeses. We could choose as much or as little as we wanted. I don't remember too much except that I fell in love with a cheese I had never tried before: coulloumier, a washed rind cow's milk soft cheese. Some call it the lesser-known, nuttier cousin of brie. I loved the one I had here, and vowed to seek it out when I returned to the US.
At 10PM every evening, the restaurant shuts off all the lights to allow guests to enjoy the breathtaking views out the window. It only lasted a couple minutes, but it was pretty cool to see the panoramic views from multiple sides of the window-paneled dining room.
For pre-dessert, we started with a palate cleanser of a pineapple, coconut, and banana trio of sorbets.
Dessert was yet another multi-component dish, with iced lemon sorbet, cream of Kalapaia (a special type of chocolate), spheres of compressed pears from a Mr. Meynard in Saint Loubes, "dirt" made from cocoa sea salt shortbread, and saffron yellow spheres.
For our final mignardises, we enjoyed mini baked cakes (served with tweezers!) with a choice of three different toppings: a dark chocolate sauce, an orange sauce, and crushed hazelnuts.
On the drive down the hill back towards Bordeaux, we got one last glimpse of that stunning panoramic view. It was a special and memorable dinner. Considering how long we had talked about traveling to Bordeaux together, it was still surreal that we finally made it happen.
How often are you able to spend a birthday with some of your closest friends in a tiny village outside of Bordeaux eating excellent food and drinking great wine?
Thanks friends for making my birthday so special.
All Posts In This Series
Around the World Birthday Extravaganza
Alba White Truffle Fair
Osteria Dei Sognatori - A Traditional Piedmontese Dinner
Italy Wine Tour - Barbaresco
Lunch at Donna Selvatica in Neive, Italy
Dinner at a Truffle Hunter's Inn - Tra Art e Querce
Trattoria Della Posta in Montfort D'Alba
Nighttime Truffle Hunting with a Dog in Alba
Osteria della Arco - last dinner in Alba
Stunning Images of La Morra and Barolo, Italy
First Day In Bordeaux, France - Une Cuisine en Ville
Chateau Haut-Brion Tour in Bordeaux France