Dining in Alsace-Lorraine
"Bountiful" is the watchword in this region where lush vineyards flourish, vintage winstubs serve heaping platters of choucroute garnie (sauerkraut, meat, and potatoes), and Michelin-starred restaurants abound.
A visit to the proud region of Alsace promises sensory overload: gorgeous vistas, antique walled towns, satisfying meals—from farm-style to richly gastronomic—and, of course, superb wines. Predominantly white varietals, such as Riesling and Pinot Gris, complement the rich and varied old-school cooking. It's not for nouvelle-style or fusion dishes that you come to Alsace: tradition is king here, and copious is an understatement. Rustic regional fare includes hearty stews, custardy quiches, sauerkraut platters, and the thin-crusted onion tarts known as flammekueche. Also to be savored are some of the best restaurants in France—among them the noble, romantic L'Auberge de L'Ill in Illhausern, where a salmon soufflé with a Riesling reduction might catch your fancy.
Follow the Wines
Alsace is one of France's most important but lesser-known wine-producing regions, where vintners designate wines by grape varieties, not by town or château. Look for distinctive whites, like full-bodied Pinot Gris, citrusy Riesling, and spicy Gewürztraminer. In reds, Pinot Noir stands alone. Top producers include Hugel et Fils, De Ribeauvillé, and Zind-Humbrecht.
This tall, fluted, crown-shape cake, dusted with sugar and studded with raisins and almonds, beckons invitingly from every pastry-shop window in the region. You won't resist. The delicately sweet, yeast-based dough is kneaded and proofed, baked in a Bundt-style mold, and traditionally served, sometimes sprinkled with kirsch, at Sunday breakfast. Locals say it's even better on the second day, when it achieves a perfect, slightly dry texture.
Daunting in size, a heaping platter of choucroute garnie, laden with fermented sauerkraut, smoked bacon, ham, pork shoulder, sausages, and potatoes, is the signature dish of the region. The best places serving it, usually winstubs such as the atmospheric Zum Pfifferhüs in Ribeauvillé, are worth a detour. You've never had sauerkraut like this, tender and delicate, dotted with juniper berries and often cooked with a splash of Riesling or Sylvaner white wine. Complement your choucroute with the region's own sweet white mustard.
This round, semisoft cow's-milk cheese with the orange rind, distinctive nutty aroma, and pungent flavor is Alsace's only claim to cheese fame, but it's a standout. The cheese, which is aged from five weeks to three months, originated in the Vosges valley town of Munster, just west of Colmar, and the best—farm produced—come from this area. Sample it with fresh cherries or pears, thin-sliced rye bread, and a glass of Gewürztraminer.
The production sure ain't pretty, but the product is sublime—satiny, opulent goose foie gras. Many gastronomes believe that Alsace produces the best in the world. The meltingly tender, fattened livers of plump Alsatian geese are prepared in a number of luscious ways: wrapped in a towel and gently poached—the classic à la torchon method; panfried and served on a slice of toasted gingerbread; wrapped in puff pastry and baked; or pressed into terrines and pâtés.
You can't get much heartier or homier than this baked casserole of pork, lamb, and beef marinated in white wine and slow cooked in a terra-cotta pot with potatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. The name (pronounced "bake-eh oaf-eh") means "baker's oven" in the Germanic Alsatian dialect. It was so named because this was a dish traditionally assembled at home, then carried to the local baker to cook in his hot ovens. It's soul-warming fare for a chilly evening.