Ma Cuisine and the mysterious mistress of Beaune

Making the pilgrimage to Beaune at least once to visit producers and vineyard sites is a rite of passage that nearly every Burgundy enthusiast finds themselves doing at some point. I’d heard long ago about how one simply had to eat at Ma Cuisine in Beaune. Amazing wine list; great food. The last time I was in Burgundy, I couldn’t get a reservation; this time, I’d set it up early.

Once greeted by a paper taped to the door with a hastily handwritten “RESTAURANT COMPLET”, my colleague and I felt like diligent little hamsters who’d thoughtfully done their work. Inside, it dawned on both of us that this casual, welcoming bistro atmosphere was exactly what was missing in our life.  As casual as it may have been, however, we immediately caught a glimpse of a more serious side: an imposing pyramid of some 50 Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) bottles which attested to just how many high-rollers frequent the restaurant.

We had only recently discovered via chats with cavistes that quite a few Beaune restaurants had Coche-Dury for a reasonable price (vs. US prices and accessory allocation battles). We’d been dying to see what Jean-François Coche’s chèvre à deux bec manually-filled bottles1 had in store for us, so when you tell me I can try 2010 Coche Bourgogne rouge for 57 EU in a restaurant, I don’t care if I’m committing infanticide, we’re ordering the Coche.

One look at the chalkboard menu and it’s clear Ma Cuisine serves classic French fare, perfectly devoid of modern pretentiousness or molecular what-have-you. The wine list is helpfully arranged by price, and even if my only qualm was that I’d’ve liked more Chablis in the 30-50 EU range, the 2011 Vincent Dauvissat Petit Chablis around 32 EU is nothing to balk at.

But I don’t get along that well with 2011. If that pyrazine green monster rears its head, and I realize I’m stuck with 75cl of something that reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc, I devolve into an upset little baby. So I selected a 2010 Domaine Patrick Javillier Bourgogne Blanc Cuvée des Forgets to go with our starters, and will you look at this damned thing. Instead of oeufs brouillés à la truffe, they should’ve called it truffes aux oeufs brouillés:

Oeufs brouillés aux truffes chez Ma Cuisine
This was simply transplendent, and I want to eat it every morning. I’d been wanting to do the whole white Burgundy with eggs & truffles experience since learning of it years ago, but where the hell else is this happening? I initially feared I’d never finish the massive lump, but the eggs must have had milk whipped in as they were as light and fluffy as angel’s wings. The Javillier was a lovely, brightly-colored sidecar, and a great value to boot.

Just about everyone else in the restaurant had also leapt at the chance to try God’s scrambled eggs, and the black truffle aroma from everyone else’s dishes wafted up and accumulated in our extreme corner of the restaurant. Generally, I love dining in the corner with a view of all else. I feel like a wild animal or perhaps an army that doesn’t need to expend any energy worrying about its flanks.

Unfortunately, however, flanks were really on my colleague’s mind, as initially, she thought someone that smelled “assy” must’ve planted their filthy rear on her seat and stunk it up good.

Let’s admit it: perhaps even more often than in New York City, a certain number of people in Paris need to do laundry more often and master the art of selecting a proper aluminum-laden deodorant. As a nose-breather, I’m often suffering in Paris2. Such a struggle between extremes of, say, the heavenly odor of onions cooking in butter wafting from open windows into the streets, and then … sweaty crotch rot.

So forgive us if, somewhat recently arrived from Paris, it took a while to figure out that what we were smelling was actually a phenomenal over-accumulation of truffle. Paradoxically, “Too Much Truffle” gets a bit too feral, as my colleague learned.

But that didn’t change how absolutely unbelievably good this oeufs brouillés à la truffe dish was. My colleague lamented her somewhat conventional escargot by comparison.

After a third day of the Grands Jours de Bourgogne trade tasting, and after sampling my first Coche-Dury the day before (the 2010 Bourgogne blanc), and looking forward to experiencing my second 2010 Coche and first red of his, I was floating on cloud nine.

Then it happened. At the table kitty-cornered from us, a well-dressed, youngish woman wearing loose-fitting clothes sat very elegantly and deliberately in a vertical posture in the middle of her chair, her back never touching the rear of her seat, her Louis Vuitton bag carefully laid to her side.  Her every gesture was slow, silent, and seemed to exude a sense of restraint. Silverware gently posed to avoid clanging; each small bite carefully detached and slowly escorted to her mouth. Even amidst the noisy chaos of the bistro-like atmosphere, one sensed a bubble of silence and peace around her. She carried herself as though she were administering her own tea ceremony.

She was eating alone. And she was drinking a 2004 DRC Romanée St Vivant (RSV).

Her highness.
After each bite, she would pause and contemplate the wine, putting her left elbow on the table and setting her chin on her fist with her head tilted to the side in a high school yearbook pose, and seem to think long and hard about it. Weighing its worth. Trying to pull it apart, form a final opinion.

Paul Maclean’s tripartite brain.

I was speechless. Forgive me: I’ve never been next to an open bottle of DRC RSV. I was taken hostage by so many questions. Who dines alone and drinks DRC RSV? How much did she just spend?! And — whether I wish to admit it or not! — my greedy reptilian brain asks: Is there some outcome where this woman will offer me a taste? Should I offer her my dusty turd of a 2010 Bourgogne in hopes she’ll say, “Oh, thanks, would you like to try this?”

But of course I wouldn’t dare. After recovering from the shock some five minutes later, we were able to return to the joy of all we had lived in Burgundy, and to once again feel the excitement of what was still to come. Perhaps I’d found a schadenfreude solace in the fact that she was quite possibly tasting a green DRC from the ’04 vintage. I suppose it was somehow more manageable that she wasn’t, say, drinking a 1949 or 2010, living the apotheosis of red wine only a meter away from me.

Maybe I’m full of shit in believing I’m not a covetous person, but how to explain this experience? It’s a bit like someone at the table next to you is dabbing the corner of their mouth with the shroud of Turin. An angel is present, discreetly announcing things in golden script. Transcendence is happening. I became excessively paranoid that a waiter or some other oaf would bump her table and knock the bottle over.

Back to the mortal world: my riz de veau was as delicate as can be, and even if upon opening the Coche was taut with a cedary, acerbic bite, after a half hour it began spreading its wings a touch, and after 3 hours of aeration, hohoho, it was just singing. Savage forest aromas wafting off of a vivid acid and a fresh, dark cherry fruit jam that never feels onerous — hitting that aromatic profile that marks nearly all my favorite pinot noirs. With a couple years of cellaring, it should be a luminous marvel.  As with his Bourgogne blanc, drinking Coche-Dury is an exercise in expectations.  We can argue for days about whether the prices for his wines are justified in relation to other producers’ offerings. But even if this is by no means a complex wine, it is a ravishing and polished linear one that quickly finds itself devoured, and nevertheless has the power to make us stop and ponder its balance.

2010 Coche Dury Bourgogne rouge.

I can’t recommend Ma Cuisine highly enough: while you never know what type of  insanity you’re going to witness (hopefully take part in?), you can always count on the food. Make your reservations like diligent little hamsters at least a month in advance here: Ma Cuisine, Passage Saint-Hélène, 21200 Beaune, France. No website, you’ll have to use the old-school method: bust out your rotary telephone and call +33 3 80 22 30 22. Here is information regarding opening hours and annual closures.

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  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRSz-1Lq7qc []
  2. I dream of a public awareness ad campaign à la the old Dial ads: there’d be a poster of a scene from a crowded subway, an idiotic-looking guy front and center with clearly wet armpits, his arm raised to hold the high metal bar, and then a collection of scowling people holding their noses behind him. And it would read: “La déo: Ça fait pas mal. Pensez aux autres.” Maybe I can get Gillette to help me cover the RER B. []

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