Restaurants & Bars 1

Alsace #2 -- Wistub Zum Pfifferhus; Tavern des Mineurs; Jean-Luc Brendel/Table du Gourmet

Joan Kureczka | Jul 10, 200307:38 PM

Last year, one of our favorite meals was at Wistub Zum Pfifferhus, a very traditional little place in Ribeauville that seems to be well known by some other posters to this board. It’s well worth visiting; the service is friendly, the food excellent and reasonably priced, and the wine list quite good. It also does not permit smoking, a plus that seems to be spreading to more restaurants in Alsace. Ribeauville is also one of my favorites of the Wine Road villages that we have visited, as it’s more of a working town and less of a tourist mecca than Kaysersberg or Riquewihr – although still very picturesque and with its obligatory “petit train touristique.”

While the idea of eating the traditional pork and sausage garnished choucroute in hot weather just doesn’t appeal, Zum Pfifferhus offered a fish choucroute made with sandre. This was a house specialty and was quite tasty – a pile of mild, almost lemony sauerkraute topped by thin slices of the pike-perch in a small amount of Riesling-based cream sauce, garnished with potatoes and a delicious celery confit. For a starter, I had half a dozen snails in the shell, dosed with a very garlicky butter and basil sauce. Jesse began with an onion tart that was more quiche-like than some versions we have tried, followed by bouche a la Reine – a puff pastry nest filled with chicken and mushrooms in a flavorful mushroom cream sauce. This rather old fashioned dish – like Zum Pfifferhus’s coquelet au Riesling last year – was a perfectly delicious example of its type. We enjoyed another of Weinbach’s wines here, their 2001 Riesling Schlossberg Grand Cru, which was very spicy, rich and full bodied and a perfect match to the food.

Another “must” repeat visit for us was Taverne des Mineurs, a little winstub just outside the gates to the Ste.-Marie-aux-Mines show. Here the evening specialty is tarte flambé, made in their wood-burning ovens. After visiting the restaurant last year, we were inspired to create our own version at home, and I’m happy to say that using lavash squares as the base works very well for approximating the super thin crust of the Taverne’s tartes. We ended up at the restaurant twice during the show with business associates, enjoying several rounds of the gratinee version which adds gruyere cheese to the onion, bacon and fromage blanc basic. The Taverne owner and chef proudly posts his certificate of membership in the “Confrerie de la Veritable Tarte Flambe,” and it is worth seeking out other places that make this common Alsatian specialty in wood-fired ovens, because other versions we have tried do not measure up.

We decided to go for one splurge on the trip and booked a table before leaving home at the Michelin One-Star, La Table du Gourmet in Riquewihr. This definitely turned out to be a highlight of the week for me, especially given the summer heat. While chef Jean-Luc Brendel offers one set menu based on creative takes on regional Alsatian dishes, his main focus seems to be using unusual herbs and even wild plants in his cuisine. He also works more with herb infused olive and other oils, rather than a lot of butter and cream, and even offers several vegetarian dishes – unusual for this pork-loving area to say the least. While I would have liked to try the full summer menu, Jesse’s desire for a particular sole dish had us ordering from the carte.

Dinner started with a trio of amuse-bouches: a delicious gazpacho with bright, bright flavors smoothed out with a small amount of cream; a zucchini dish similar to a ratatouille, but without the eggplant; and a small serving of presskopf, a type of regional pork charcuterie. We continued the idea of a tasting menu with both the “Summer Mezze” and “Vegetarian Mezze”. The Summer selection included four dishes, the highlight of which was, for me, a tempura of frog’s legs, zucchini blossoms and several other vegetables and herb leaves, with a watermelon chutney. Other dishes included a very good cold foie gras with a flowery gelee; a dish with artichokes and chanterelles; and a very delicious dish with large shrimp, tender squid, olives, herb-infused olive oil and almonds. The three dishes in the vegetarian mezze included a small salad of field greens, flowers and herbs; another sautéed vegetable dish with chanterelles and basil-infused olive oil; and tomato compote a l’Oriental (made with rice wine vinegar and unidentified Asian spices), served with a puffy naan with Sel de Guerande.

We both had fish mains. Jesse’s was a sole topped with fresh bread crumbs, lemon thyme and parmesan, served on a bed of leeks. Mine was Rouget Barbet, seared and served on a baked mixture of zucchini, artichokes and olives, with a chervil flavored broth. While this was indeed good, although more reminiscent of Nice than Alsace, the sole was the more outstanding dish of the two.

For wines, we asked for recommendations and had two half bottles: the first a Tokay Reserve from Trimbach, followed by a 1999 Riesling Clos Hauserer Zind Humbrecht. Both were delicious, with the powerful Riesling reinforcing more growing belief in just how great and versatile this white grape is. Rather than dessert, we ended with a few selections from the cheese cart.

Oh, two more notes. The house aperitif was one of the most unusual and delicious wine-based cocktails I’ve ever had and perfectly in tune with the summer season: cremant flavored with a watermelon eau-de-vie. If anyone knows where I can find watermelon eau-de-vie in San Francisco, let me know… Table du Gourmet is also an exceptionally dramatic restaurant in appearance. Housed in one of Riquewihr’s ancient half-timbered dwellings, the black oak beams of the building were contrasted with Chinese red walls, and celadon green upholstery on the black lacquer chairs. The carpet also echoed the color scheme with large black and red squares containing another white square with a celadon green herb leaf motif.

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