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Alsace #1 -- Lapoutroie; du Faude (long)

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Alsace #1 -- Lapoutroie; du Faude (long)

Joan Kureczka | Jul 10, 2003 07:36 PM

We just returned from about 12 days in Alsace, with a stop in Heidelberg – a mixture of selling minerals at the big Ste-Marie-aux-Mines show and vacationing, with of course, a lot of chowhounding. As this will be a long report, I’ll post in several different segments.

This was our second trip to the region, and we again stayed at Hotel du Faude in Lapoutroie, a little village near Kaysersberg. Lapoutroie is not on the Wine Road, but down the road heading into the mountains that connects the Wine Road with the Routes de Cretes (the scenic Mountain Road – a very beautiful and highly recommended drive). This is a region known as the Pays Welche, an area that historically has had its own Romance dialect and perhaps today exhibits a bit less of the Germanic side of Alsace. Hotel du Faude is a pleasant, very affordable family-owned hotel, managed by Thierry and Chantal Baldinger. Thierry is also the chef (and has won several regional awards for his cooking) and Chantal the sommelier. This year they had split their restaurant menu into two different restaurants: the lower priced “Au Grenier Welche” and the fancier “Au Faude Gourmet.”

The weather this year was very toasty, although more pleasant in the evening, and for that reason we ate three of our four meals at the hotel in the lesser-priced restaurant, where we were seated on their outdoor covered terrace. This menu featured mostly regional dishes (Menu du terroir) and locally farmed trout, prepared in multiple ways. Unfortunately, we found that while there were definite winners on this menu, the staff’s heart and talents were more focused on the other, Gourmet, restaurant.

The evening we arrived, we began with an amuse bouche of a small slice of shredded chicken in an aspic. Finally, I get it about jellied things – it was extremely light and refreshing, a lovely start. For the entrée I had a plate of house-produced charcuterie while Jesse had slices of one of the best hams I’ve ever tasted. It was produced by one of the local farms, lightly smoked, thin sliced and extremely flavorful – sort of a moister, French version of the Spanish jamon. My main course was trout with almonds, which was prepared with a cream sauce, while Jesse had a simple grilled trout. We ended the evening with some selections from the cheese cart. Lapoutroie is a major center for artisanal Munster makers (three right in town, including the well-known Jacques Haxaire, and others in the area) and so I indulged in one from Gilbert Dodin, as well as two chevres, one aged and one with herbs. I like Munster when I’ve had it here, in situ, more than even the good Alsatian Munsters I’ve picked up at home. This is chiefly because it is served younger and firmer at every place I’ve eaten it in Alsace (although I had a much more aged one later in the trip, in Heidelberg). The other local fresh cheeses are very good too, and I was able to indulge in really great fromage blancs at breakfast each day at Faude.

For wine the first night, we began with glasses of cremant from the Kaysersberg-Kintzheim cooperative. This was one of the nicest cremants that I’ve tasted – more toasty and complex than most. We then had a good, refreshing Riesling from the same local co-op – not a complex wine, but quite delicious with the trout.

For those of you interested in Alsatian wines (and wine in general), Hotel du Faude is worth a stop on that account alone – Chantal Baldinger has put together an award-winning wine list that encompasses more than 800 selections from all over France, but provide a really in-depth survey of the best of Alsace. This includes many of the top producers and an in-depth profile each quarter of one of the major wine houses, this time Marcel Deiss and last summer, Maison Becker. Over the course of the week, we enjoyed a number of wines, notably a Domain Weinbach, a very rich and complex Reserve Particulierement Pinot Blanc.

We ate two other times on the Faude terrace. Highlights of those meals included one of their specialties, a salad of “truitelles.” These were small, crispy-fried hatchling trout on a bed of butter lettuce with a bacon-infused cream dressing. They could not have been fresher – one evening, we saw the kitchen staff scooping a few of these out of a holding cage in the little river that ran through the back of the hotel property. Also very good was the slice of venison (chevreuil), which was perfectly seasoned and topped with lots of sautéed chanterelles, accompanied by a quite delicious gratin of cauliflower. Unfortunately, we could not recommend the bland rendition of coq au Riesling or the overly salty and undistinguished game stew we had another night.

A number of other friends and business acquaintances were also at the Hotel, so we all reserved a table in the Faude Gourmet restaurant one evening. While the others mostly went for one of the set menus, which included both a fish course and a meat course, I decided to revisit two of my favorite dishes from the previous year. But first, we enjoyed one of the loveliest amuse bouches that I’ve ever eaten. Using liquor glasses for the set up, this was a sort of parfait in appearance, with a delicately seasoned, marinated fish topped by a basil flavored crème, and decorated with a violet and bit of tomato. Very delicious – and especially appreciated by our friends from Osaka, Kiyoshi and Eriko, who declared it very Japanese in taste.

My entrée was one of my absolute favorite things last year, a cromesqui de foie gras – a sort of croquette – crunchy on the outside, molten foie gras on the inside – garnished with sautéed apple slices, salad and a spiced honey. This year’s version arrived a bit too cold, so was not as good as I remembered but still tasty. My main course, however, was as good as previously – sandre (pike-perch, with a taste and texture somewhat like halibut) on a shallot confit with pinot noir sauce. Jesse shared a bite of his cheese course – a very tasty chevre cromesqui. While those who ordered the menu, had crème brulee for dessert, I went for another of the house specialties – Pyramide de Violette, which was a frozen pyramid of house made violette liquor flavored ice cream, dipped at the peak and bottom in dark chocolate on a plate garnished with more violette syrup and some fresh fruits. Lovely.

For wines with this dinner, we began with a rose cremant from Pierre Sparr – beautiful orange-rose color and quite nice. This was followed by another bottle of the Weinbach Pinot Blanc, and then a very dry Trimbach pinot noir.

If you are interested in the Hotel du Faude, the Baldingers have a website at www.faude.com. The rooms are very large and comfortable, running around 85E per night. Lapoutroie is about a 10 minute or less drive from Kaysersberg, and the hotel is on the main street.

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