L’Auberge Paysanne, Lutter

auberge paysanne sign2I love the French expression “une valeur sûre”, meaning “a sure thing”, “a safe bet”, or even “a slam dunk”. It’s how folks around here describe the Auberge Paysanne in Lutter, buried in the bucolic southernmost corner of Alsace known as the Sundgau. This classic hotel-restaurant, dripping with geraniums from May to October (the window boxes have just been planted up), is owned and run by Christiane Litzler and her daughter Carmen. I’ve long since lost count of how many times we’ve eaten there (it’s one of our locals) and it never fails.

 

1-chateaubriandWhat’s smart about this small, family-run French country inn is that it manages to offer something for everyone and for almost every occasion. Sunday lunch? The perfect place for that most French of institutions (go for the châteaubriand, done to pink perfection, carved at the table and served with foaming hollandaise and gratin dauphinois/frites and crunchy-tender vegetables). A birthday or an anniversary? They’ll rise to the occasion with a special table, a private room or even the whole place (and they’ll do a celebration dessert or cake too).

But the Auberge is not just for Sundays and special occasions; it’s also good for an impromptu supper out under the pergola on a warm summer’s evening (the chef’s home-smoked salmon, maybe or a plate of asparagus with all the trimmings?) – though be sure to book, as demand for the few tables far outstrips supply. Or you might fetch up here hungry and thirsty after a long hike in the foothills of the Jura or a punishing bike ride, when only a pression (draught beer) on the terrace with a plate of charcuterie or a slab of the house terrine will do. Leave room for the tart of the day – rhubarb right now, bilberries later, apples in autumn – with ice cream, of course.

1-2-IMG_0983A final – not insignificant – point in their favour is their policy on wines by the glass. (If you visit these pages regularly, you’ll know this is a familiar beef of mine.)  Restaurants around here generally offer most of the Alsace varieties as ‘open wines’, plus a few generic/anonymous/generally undistinguished offerings labelled variously Côtes du Rhône, Bordeaux or Beaujolais. Carmen does things differently. At a recent lunch, she came up with the idea of a crisp Chenin Blanc from the Loire for starters (“makes a change from Muscat or Pinot Blanc”) followed by two red, by-the-glass candidates, a Cab Franc/Syrah/Merlot/Grenache blend from Alain Maurel’s Château Ventenac in the small Languedoc appellation of Cabardès and a St Emilion, Clos Trimoulet.

We had fun tasting both, exchanging glasses and comparing which went best with our châteaubriand (the Ventenac was meaty, robust and full of southern sun; the St Emilion more restrained and elegant – and each managed the beef with apolomb). Can’t understand why so few restaurants in France do this. All that’s needed is the imagination to put themselves in the diner’s shoes, particularly those dining à deux (who wants to get stuck with one bottle between two, for all courses, least of all at lunch?); a willingness to open an interesting bottle or two (which if from a lesser-known appellation will probably cost them all of €7); and the confidence and knowledge to sell it (“today’s special/a new discovery/something we’re trying out on our list”) to interested customers.

Last thought: if you need a bed for the night (after altogether too good a dinner?) or if you’re looking for a sympathetic billet for visiting friends and don’t have room for them at home, there’s a handful of hotel rooms too. Housed at the edge of the village in a typical Sundgau farmhouse building dating from the 17th-century, which was moved here and patiently reassembled (think Ecomusée) timber by timber, it’s done up with gorgeous kelsch fabrics (locally spun linen in bright, primary coloured checks) and furnished with antiques scoured from around Alsace.

Note that the Auberge will be closed from 29 June to 13 July

Auberge et Hostellerie Paysanne
1, rue de Wolschwiller

F-68480 Lutter
Tél.: 0033(3) 89 40 71 67
aubergepaysanne2@wanadoo.fr

Kugelhopf glacé with fresh fruit and whipped cream

Kugelhopf glacé with fresh fruit and whipped cream

A Fishy Fix

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Fish market, Catania, Sicily

Of all the workshops I do, the fishy ones are probably my faves. We kick off with a visit to the fish counter of a nearby supermarket to check out what’s on offer and get familiar with the names – in English (for most of us the working language), French (France has the freshest and best fish offer in our three-country corner) and German (for those shopping in Switzerland or Germany). Next day we cook up our fishy feast. Continue reading

Empanada Explorations

07-097-IMG_0876On our travels around Argentina last month, we carried out an intensive benchmarking exercise on empanadas, those cheeky little pastry turnovers with artfullly pinched and pleated edges that you find pretty much all over South America. They probably found their way to the continent via Spain, though they’re quite different from the large tray-baked empanadas found in Galicia, which are usually filled with tuna and sold by the slice. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part IV: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 15 – From Salta City to Los Molinos

We drive south to Los Cerillos, then west into some of the most beautiful mountain scenery imaginable from Los Cerillos to Cachi and Molinos.

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We scale the Cuesta del Obispo (Pass of the Bishop), a dramatic feat of engineering but not a worrying, vertigo-inducing road. It climbs gradually up through green farmland somewhat reminiscent of Perthshire until near the peak your mind shifts to the red and gray of the Torridon Hills in Wester Ross. Except of course for the height and overall scale. Highest point on road 3380 m. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part III: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 11 – Lares de Chacras to Salta City

1-27-20150321_123551Scrabble by the pool, simple, good lunch in the garden of Bodega Pulmary a few blocks from the lovely Lares de Chacras, then off to the airport heading for Salta City.
Landed in light rain surrounded by green hills and fields. An exemplary car rental chap called Daniel handed over our Renault Duster which is spacious and serves us well.

Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part II: Argentina March 2015

By Monty Style

Day 6 – Martindale to the Uco Valley, Mendoza

Flew 90 minutes from BA’s Jorge Newbery airport to Mendoza in a comfortable Embraer of Aerolineas Argentinas, the state-owned carrier. Their route map shows “Las Malvinas (Arg.)”. On arrival we took possession of a brand new rented Ford Eco Sport. Obliged to sign a statement that we would make a special contribution to repair costs “if we rolled it over”. Supposedly happens quite often.

1-01-20150313_080724-1Drove south on route 40 past Luján de Cuyo and Chacras de Coria through scrubland, then turned west to Tupungato, climbing gently up to 1200m., 90 minutes from Mendoza. We are staying 2 nights at Posada Salentein [guesthouse of eponymous winery], which sits on a wooded crest amid their vineyards looking east down the Uco Valley. A good dinner accompanied of course by Salentein wines: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec 2013 and a sparkling wine of late harvested grapes. Continue reading

Torrontés and Tango, Malbec and Empanadas Part I: Argentina March 2015

ARGENTINA DIARY, 7th-26th March 2015, by Monty Style

Day 1 – Buenos Aires arrival

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Street view outside MALBA, Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

Endless flat grasslands below the 777 which floats motionless down to Ezeiza airport. After 13-and-a-bit hours’ flight we’re perfectly on time. Punctual and comfortable seats, but service- and meal-wise British Airways is not competitive at all. Dishwater coffee reminiscent of the UK 20 years ago.
Elegant all glass airport buildings. Simple immigration then formal-looking scanners gobble up and spew out all items of luggage. Nobody collects the customs declaration I carefully filled in.
Buenos Aires is at first sight an ecologist’s dream: fresh green plane trees line the streets, cedars adorn the many parks which, viewed from our taxi, are clean, cars are compact and traffic is unhectic, the sky is blue and unpolluted. Continue reading

Tapas in Seville

1-bitter oranges  Alcazar gardens CordobaWhether you’re shivering out there in New York, Maine or Ontario, or huddled under a European canopy of endless grey, now’s the time to consider a short break in Seville. You can tank up on tapas and winter sunshine, stroll the street beneath impossibly blue skies and catch a glimpse of those famous oranges, still dripping from the trees in the gardens of the Alcázar. And if you can’t get down there, you can always dream…of tapas, mainly. Continue reading

Les Burgers à la française

1-4-20150222_142705“Shock is the reaction of some people…who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers” wrote Julia Child in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first published in 1961. Not any more. Burgers are big hereabouts – according to a recent article in Business Insider, France is McDonald’s “most profitable country outside the US. Sales were up 4.8% through the first seven months of the year, and CEO Jean-Pierre Petit, who is rounding his 10th year as McDonald’s France’s CEO, has said 2014 will be its greatest absolute sales year ever. In 2013 sales reached 4.46 billion euros.” Continue reading

A Table Chez Marie, Hagenthal-le-Bas

Tartare of home-smoked salmon, salad and frites - A Table chez Marie's yummy take on fish 'n chips

Tartare of home-smoked salmon, salad and frites – A Table chez Marie’s yummy take on fish ‘n chips

As mentioned elsewhere on this site, there are loads of modest eateries in our frontier country of the Sundgau/Alsace and a handful of more ambitious ones farther afield, but all too few that occupy the middle ground – the kind that serve mildly aspirational food at approachable prices.

A Table chez Marie in Hagenthal-le-Bas is out there in that underpopulated middle ground. Though the restaurant’s address is Hagenthal-le-Bas, it’s actually about halfway between the village and Hegenheim. Remember the Hotel Jenny? The hotel no longer runs its own restaurant and has rented out the kitchen and dining rooms to the eponymous Marie, who in another life worked at the Au Violon brasserie in Basel. Continue reading