Chaintré, Maconnais (on the border of Beaujolais)
This is about an outstanding restaurant sitting at the northern tip of the Beaujolais, in the village of Chaintré. There aren't many businesses in Chaintré, but gourmets and vignerons drive there because the food and the wine list are just excellent and every detail is perfect. The venue was long time ago a grocery store and it was turned into a restaurant by the previous manager of the place, Gérard Alonso. Sébastien Grospellier has worked previously in several high-end restaurants, with chefs like Joël Rebuchon, Jean-Paul Jeunet and Bernard Loiseau (he was working in the kitchen when he learnt about his tragic death). He quit his job as chef at Lisbon's Four Seasons in Portugal when he was told by Alonso that the restaurant in Chaintré was available. He moved in in 2007 with the goal to serve fresh products in a single menu that he would source himself, including the bread, which he makes at the restaurant. La Table de Chaintré is closed on monday and tuesday so that Sébastien can go to the market in Lyons and buy there the best products for the week. He works in the kitchen with an assistant (here Nobu from Japan) and his wife Floriane takes care of the service. In much less time than usually needed, he got a star on the Michelin guide.
I think that the first one who tipped me about this restaurant was Philippe Jambon whose wife was working there at the time and who knew Grospellier with whom he shared the love for artisanal wines. I met him shortly while visiting Thierry Allemand a couple years ago as he and his wife were visiting vignerons with the Jambons.
On the kitchen side they have trainees from time to time, like Nobu (pictured on top) who comes from japan. There's a Japanese cuisine school in the region wich is always eager to provide students because this restaurant is such a good training ground. This particular school near Lyons has also a training cursus on wine, capitalizing on the proximity of four great wine regions, the rhone, Beaujolais, Burgundy and Jura. The Ecole Hôtelière Tsuji is a branch of the mother school based in Osaka, which was created by Shizuo Tsuji in 1960. This cuisine school (website in Japanese) has two training centers in France and it teaches the French-cuisine Art including pastry and wine to hundreds of Japanese students every year (going from a couple of weeks to several months), it has also a publishing arm with some 300 books already published.
Before looking at the food and the wines, you must know that the excellent bread served here is made by Sébastien Grospellier himself right here at the restaurant, from organic wheat. I can tell you that he could make a living just by opening a boulangerie in Paris or any other major city...
At la Table de Chaintré there's a single menu named le Menu Découverte, for both lunch and dinner. There's no menu à la carte but this menu Découverte changes every week, along with the seasonal products found on the market and among his suppliers. They do have a formula for weekdays' lunch with entree plus dish but most people choose the menu Découverte because that's the whole concept of this restaurant and that's why they came here. the menu Découverte is a collection of successives dishes, about ten in all, starting with appetizers and entrees, then two dishes, one with fish and the other with meat, and cheese and desserts. You feel like you're having all these gustative experiences one after the other each one so refined and tasty. For example these days it's the truffle season and you find truffles in several of the dishes.
Among the first dishes, we had a delicious foie-gras aux truffes, drinking with it the Viré Clessé 2007 from Domaine Valette which was our choice for the apéritif. My "lièvre à la Royale" (hare) was so tasty with a strong gamey taste__ we had shifted gear meanwhile with a Noir de Rouge 2009, a vin de pays by Pierre Boyat in the Maconnais. Nice fruity Gamay wine with chewy mouth, I'll look out for his wines. I didn't know this guy but seems his other wines also have extatic fans out there...-)
Excellent delicate sea bass, before this one, and a succession of desserts which almost turned me into a dessert taker.
See current menu.
The wine list is in line with the freshness and quality of the food, I'll not list all the wines there but be ready for finding the best of artisan winemakers in the wine book, and this not only from Beaujolais but from all the French regions, randomly-picked names being Schueller, Prieuré Roch, Romanée Conti, Cossard, Valette, Anne Gros, Raveneau, Dard & Ribo, Jambon, Anglore, de Montille, Mugnier, Yquem, Chateau Margaux, Le Puy (yes, there are a few Bordeaux...) and many others... The wine list (extract) is not divided in white and reds but listed by producer, a letter ("b" or "r") indicating if it's a white (b) or a red (r). Makes more sense to me, the winemaker being more important than the color, and when you look for a particular vigneron, you may switch color when you fall upon another wine you didn't expect to see.
Speaking of wines, Sébastien Grospellier learnt a lot about them when he worked for Jean-Pierre Jeunet in Arbois, through his friend Stéphane Planche who is caviste there and who runs Les Jardins de Saint-Vincent, an online organic wine portal. From this time starting in 1999, he visited many vignerons in the region and further, and he knows personally 95 % of the people you find in his wine list. His own philosophy on the kitchen side, with no technological tricks, no substitutes or ready-made frozen products, makes him feel very close to all these people who don't correct their wines with additives. Like himself, they also like good food and partying, and he regularly shares good moments with them, either here in Beaujolais or in their own region. During the time he spent in famous Michelin-starred restaurants, he didn't see this same passion for wine, the sommeliers there being formatted by the mainstream wine-tasting schools where the attention is centered on prestigious labels and appellations, more than on the grower/winemaker's craft.
Read this story by Olif (in French) about a tasting at Stéphane Planche (caviste in Arbois) as well as a pairing exercise he organized with nice foods and wines.