Good dinner is necessity after a day full of being a tourist. So why not to continue behaving “like a tourist” a little longer and try some of the best Alsatian specialties?
But first…what to actually look for in the menu?
- Tarte à l’oignon
A tasty treat served as a starter or as a main dish, this typical pie packed with layers of shredded soft caramelized onions, is a staple in every winstub (as local inns are called, literally a wine room).
A small ham or pork shank, often served with sauerkraut.
This pie is one of those traditional meals that had its origins in the countryside, to provide sustenance to farmers while out in the fields. Over time it developed into a must-have delight. The meat is marinated, usually in Riesling, then cooked inside a light and flaky pastry pocket, to be eaten with your fingers or presented as a started with a side salad.
Alsatian chefs and home cooks have been particularly clever in their ability to use everyday ingredients like cabbage and elevate them to a masterpiece. Choucroute garnie is usually composed of grated cabbage pickled in wine, accompanied by sausages and slow-cooked pork. It’s also delicious served cold with ham and local charcuterie.
- Coq au Riesling
Although the red wine version of coq au vin hailing from Burgundy is far better known abroad, in regions such as Alsace, the dish was traditionally prepared with the more readily accessible local white wine, which gives a lighter and slightly tangy touch to the resulting sauce.
Preserved hare or rabbit marinated in wine sauce and served with homemade spätzle noodles or pflüte potato quenelles, a side dish similar to oversized dumplings.
Baeckoeffe is a sort of Alsatian casserole. This hearty dish is a mix of beef, lamb and pork, simmered for many hours in Alsatian white wine, all served with potatoes, leeks, carrots, onions and spices.
Traditionally this speciality is prepared the night before it is eaten and baked in the “baeckeoffe” (baker’s oven).
Don’t worry, no snails are involved. It’s made with meat on a noodle base, rolled and sliced (hence the snail image) and cooked in broth.
Flammekueche is to Alsace what pizza is to Italy. T his tarte flambée, garnished with a blend of cream, cream cheese, lardons and onions, is not unknown to the general public and is available everywhere in France in most supermarkets.
However, to enjoy a flammekueche baked in a bread oven and prepared using quality products, you’re better off sticking to the specialists.
From the bounty offered by the river and canals, a plate of various freshwater fish filets accompanied by a creamy Riesling sauce and served with noodles.
No, the pretzel (“bretzel”) is not one of those little, dry snacks sold in boxes of 100 at the supermarket! The true pretzel dates from the 17th century. In fact it’s a sort of savoury brioche, tender inside and slightly crisp on the surface, with the crust garnished with rock salt. A real symbol of Alsatian baking.
This cake similar, in shape to the American Bundt cake, is baked with almonds and raisins and topped with powdered sugar on top. This is eaten as a Sunday breakfast cake with cafe au lait or an afternoon treat or dessert (add on the sweet sauces and whipped cream).
This soft little bun, delicately spiced and consisting of fruit confit, dried fruit and toasted nuts, is one of Alsace’s specialities for year-end celebrations. It is enjoyed after dessert or goes great with some well-seasoned foie gras.
- Tarte aux poires
The Alsace region is especially known for its pastries. This pear tart has an eggy custard filling with baked pears.
And of course,
- Alsace wines!!
Wash it all down with some regional wine. Vins d’Alsace are mostly white dry reislings and display a strong Germanic influence. One of the most noted is Gewürztraminer. Travel the wine road and try not to get Alsauced!
And now when you at least roughly know, what you may expect in the menus,
where to go for the dinner?
- Le Festin de Lucullus
Outstandingly good, inventive cooking which is essentially modern French – with a nod to local traditions and produce (particularly local river fish) – in soigné surroundings.
- Maison Kammerzel
Part of the reason for a visit to Alsace is for the feeling that you have stepped into a Brother’s Grimm story, and nowhere in town feels more like a fairy tale than Maison Kammerzel. The multi-story building dates back to 1497 and overlooks the cathedral and its courtyard. While the building is at its most impressive from the outside, particularly when it is illuminated at night during the Christmas period, the Léo Schnug designed interior is also charming. There are a range of seating areas: choose between tables in the cellar, the alcoves, or the top floor, which provides spectacular views of the town center.
- Au Crocodile
No, exotic meats are not a specialty here as its name might suggest, notwithstanding, this is easily the most innovative restaurant in Strasbourg. Originally a 14th-century Benedictine monastery, it was converted into an auberge in 1801 by a captain of Napoleon’s army on his return from the Egyptian campaign (he brought the infamous crocodile, now stuffed and on display, with him). Its brilliant chefs have earned three Michelin stars and have served major French celebrities and heads of state (notably Barack Obama). Current chef Philippe Bohrer’s creations could include confit skate wings drizzled in veal juice and served with artichokes à la barigoule and hazelnut butter or roasted roebuck with beets, candied grapefruit and pepper sauce.
- L’Ancienne Douane
L’Ancienne Douane is the ideal place to experience the majesty of Strasbourg’s canal at night – a truly historic setting. The original building was constructed in 1358, but has been destroyed a total of 3 times: once in 1497 as a result of a fire, once in 1944 by an air raid and finally by another fire in 2000 – rebuilt every time. Fortunately, the building’s apparent bad luck hasn’t rubbed off on its atmosphere and cuisine. The restaurant offers a warm ambiance and an affordable menu, which belies its grand exterior.
- Winstub le Clou
Warmth and hearty Alsatian goodness exude from this great-value, authentic winstub. Wood-paneled walls, folkloric artwork, and communal tables add to its charm. They specialize in typical regional fare, like Alsatian snails, bibeleskas (thick cream sauce) with country-style potatoes, or a house favorite Pinot Noir–braised wädele (Alsatian sauerkraut with hearty knuckle of ham).
Also known as Le Restaurant Westermann, Buerehiesel is famous for its cuisine moderne and for its prime location in l’Orangerie, a park at the end of the allée de la Robertsau planned by the landscape artist Le Nôtre, who gave the park to Josephine during her marriage to Napoleon. The decor is swank with its richly grained wooden ceilings. The kitchen recycles heirloom recipes in innovative and exciting ways. Of special merit are the shredded crab with lime, quinoa, crisp vegetables, and shellfish jelly; royale-style Alsatian hare with butternut squash, wild mushrooms, and spaëtzle, and braised free-range goose with root vegetables draped in thick braising sauce. Reservations required.
- Au Petit Bois Vert
As you approach Au Petit Bois Vert you’ll notice an impressive plane tree that towers over the restaurant’s outside tables and dates back to Louis IV. Stop here for a drink in the afternoon and take in the view of the river running through Petit France. When the weather turns, the inside of the building is picturesque in its own right, with wood paneling which recalls a traditional farm house. The restaurant is the best place in town to sample Alsatian game, which it sources locally as part of its traditional menu.
- Le Panier au Marché
Modern French cooking with Alsatian and Asian influences. Its set menu is a bargain. Booking is essential.
- Maison des Tanneurs
This traditional Alsatian restaurant set in a 16th-century house – allegedly the most-photographed in Petite France – may suggest it is touristy, but the clientele and the quality of the cooking prove otherwise. The portions are generous, the menu is unpretentious and the food is good: memorable crudités, coq au Riesling and every which way with choucroute.
- Les Haras de Strasbourg
The French are masters of combining historic architecture with modern designs (see Strasbourg’s Gare Centrale, along with the Louvre and its pyramid), and Les Haras de Strasbourg is no exception. The building was constructed in the middle of the 18th century in the midst of the medieval ramparts of the town. The building’s exposed brick and high ceilings are complemented by a mesmerizing wooden spiral staircase, which provides a dramatic backdrop to the spacious, light-filled restaurant. The building’s impressive design has been recognized at The Restaurant & Bar Design Awards , where they took home the title of ‘Best Restaurant in Europe’ and ‘Best Restaurant in the World’.
- Chez Yvonne
Opened in 1873, this is one of the oldest and most charming winstub in town. Located near the cathedral, it is frequented by journalists and political dignitaries. With its neat lines of tables and red-checked curtains, it’s a mix of bourgeois home and sophisticated bistro. The menu features refined versions of some of the best regional cuisine such as maennerstolz (smoked beef and pork sausage), Strasbourgeoise sauerkraut with different cuts of pork, and the house specialty coq au Riesling with spaëtzle pasta.
And last but not least…
Vertuo’se is a modern, chic restaurant which caters to a wide variety of international customers at a reasonable price. It focuses on providing healthy food from sustainable agricultural sources. With its ethical standards and a menu which won’t break the bank, this is a truly guilt free dining option.
Before heading to the bar, pub or club later in the night, we need to burn some calories from the dinner…though walking around “La Petite France” quarter is one of the best options, here are a few more ideas you may also like 🙂
- Spa Hammam et Traditions
Because what’s better than settling down in spa after a day full of walking? They also offer different kinds of amazing massages!
- Strasbourg Astronomical Clock
The third of its kind to stand in the spot, the Strasbourg Astronomical Clock is a wonder of 1800’s engineering, but what is even more remarkable is that equally wondrous contraptions have existed at the site since the 14th century.
The first clock was built in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg between 1352–1354 by an unknown tinker. While records of the clock’s exact workings are scarce, its centerpiece was a mechanical rooster that would spread its feathers and even crow with the help of a bellows. The robot bird is still preserved and on display at the Museum of Decorative Arts in the Palais du Rohan across from the cathedral and is believed to be the oldest example of automata in the world. This first clock also featured the three Biblical kings who would appear and bow before Mary and the child Jesus.
In the late 1500’s the first clock was taken apart after a second, more ambitious clock was built on the opposite wall. This new clock featured a representation of the planets and marked the celestial movements right down to when each eclipse occurred. The clock was also decorated in all manner of elaborate finery from paintings to small sculptures, automata, and a system of musical bells. This elaborate clock has also been preserved after its removal when it stopped working in the 1700’s. The interiors of this clock and the faceplates are also on display at the Museum of Decorative Arts.
The current astronomical clock was built in 1843 and shares many of the features of its predecessors such as an orrery, a rotating display of the current positions of the sun and moon, a planetary calendar, and even a mechanical rooster. The calculations required to keep the accuracy of the earth and moon in rotation around the sun correctly on the clock is done by a complicated set of cogs on the right hand side of the planetary faceplate. A large celestial globe in front of the planetary clock is also connected to other mechanisms and the stars are in correct position for the day and time of year. Each day at around 12:30 (the solar noon of Strasbourg) the bird crows and a conga line of apostles issues forth from the clockworks, and passes before Christ. It is also ornately decorated making it all the more impressive.
There is a 30 minute movie on the history and mechanisms in the clock that is shown before the clock will go off, so be sure to get a spot where you can see both the screen and the clock. There are no seats, so you will be standing the whole time.
- Historic Wine Cellar
If it is true that wine only gets better with age, then some of the very best wine in the world is hiding beneath the Hôpital civil in Strasbourg. In a 600-year-old wine cellar under the hospital is a barrel marked 1472, believed to be the oldest wine barrel in the world.
The wine cellar was built in 1395, when the French hospital was moved outside of the city gate. Patients frequently paid for their treatment at the hospital by donating land to it, which was sometimes used for vineyards. Wine was often used for medical and religious purposes at that time, so having a wine cellar as part of a hospital was common, though not many remain today.
Being underground and made largely of brick, the wine cellar was left intact after a fire destroyed the hospital in 1716. By 1725, the hospital had been rebuilt, and throughout the 1700s, patients at the hospital were given two litres of wine per day.
The cellar walls are lined with giant, decoratively carved wooden barrels, mostly dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. One of them, though, is marked 1472. Kept behind a gate with a few other particularly old barrels of wine, it contains 450 litres of the oldest barrel-stored wine in the world, which has only been tasted three times in its history: 1576, in honor of a delegation from Switzerland; 1716, after the hospital burned down; and 1944, when Strasbourg was liberated by General Leclerc during World War II.
Select Alsatian wine-makers are given permission to mature their wines in the legendary cellars. About 150,000 bottles of wine are produced by the cellar each year, and are considered among the best in the world. Profits from the sale of this wine go toward the purchase of medical equipment.
Renovated in 1994, the cellar also now houses a wine museum, which includes the wine from 1472 and a wine press from the early 1600s. Wines produced in the cellar can be purchased in the cellar’s shop.
This place is a bit hard to find. It is located in the heart of the Hospital campus in Strasbourg. Walk down an unassuming flight of stairs tucked on the side of an administrative building to a double door and entry way. Inside is a cavernous room full of barrels of aging wine including a white from 1472. You can purchase wine at a very reasonable price. It’s a bit of a walk from the city center but to experience this hidden treasure is totally worth it!
Well now, when we’re already here, it’s time to finally sit down and relax in some kind of café/bar/pub…but thats’ what the NEXT article will be about!
Have a great day! 🙂