It was what we call bonus sunshine. Sun when everyone said it would rain.
The kind of day where you feel strange putting on a big coat. But after an hour’s tasting in a cool cellar, you’re really glad you kept the extra lining in your coat. It’s actually a tough season for tasting in Burgundy because the cellars are still so cold from the winter- especially this winter, which seemed interminable. But when you go back outside you are blinded by the light and have to peel off layers so that your blood won’t boil.
The kind of day that makes you want to sit out on a terrace for lunch. But if the wind picks up at all, you realize it’s still a little early. That’s early April in France for you.
I was running around Burgundy in an out of cellars with some Japanese. And in the Cote de Nuits, by far the best place for lunch is Le Castel de Tres Girard in Morey St Denis. Not to mention that the luncheon menu is an absolute steal. They actually have a terrace wherethey can serve lunch and dinner, but it was just a little too chilly.
Historically, they had a lot of ups and downs with their cuisine at the Castel. But now they have an incredible chef. He’s been there for less than a year but Franck Schmitt is perhaps the most creative and audacious chef in all of Burgundy today. His cooking times are perfect. His use of veggies and spice is wonderfully unique.
Nothing but nothing prepared me for this risotto. Certainly the most unique and audacious risotto I have ever had. And yet quite simple. Beetroot risotto with mange tout and cashew nuts. Serving a truly vegetarian dish as a main course in Burgundy is quite rare. Just having it on the menu is a mini revolution for Burgundy.
Besides the bubble gum hot pink color, the beetroot gave a sweetness and a delicate earthiness to the rice. The mange tout pea pods brought a hot green color, stark contrasts with the pink. But the pea pods were also bitter which balances out with the huge amount of Parmesan. In a traditional risotto, Parmesan can dominate the dish with its dry bitterness, but here it was not excessive. And the cashew nuts echoed the nuttiness of rice and Parmesan. Like full circle. Perfect harmony.
All of the bright colors and spring time veggies with sun beaming into the restaurant got me very excited about spring!
The rice was firm but not crunchy. What I consider perfect aldente (the way it feels under your teeth). Finding the right cooking time of the rice is essential, too, for a successful risotto. The more aldente the rice is cooked, the more bitterness in the rice. But for the balance with the other ingredients, a little bitterness from the rice is important. Too much bitterness, too undercooked, can ruin the dish. Too cooked and the rice is like mush, not enough for building a good risotto. Aldente is that perfect moment in between over cooked and not cooked enough.
The Japanese guy I was with ordered the risotto too. He was looking rather perplexed. When I asked what he thought of it, his interpreter told me ‘He doesn’t know if it is good or bad.” We laughed. Previous to our lunch, he had spent 7 days in Italy.
But I don’t think he left one grain of rice in his dish. Neither did I.
This risotto literally blew my mind. And made me think about risotto in a totally new way.
A number of years ago, I worked in the kitchen of the best restaurant in Rome, where for several months I was the risotto maker of the restaurant who happened to be known for having one of the best risottos in Italy.