Great chefs make great meals. There are plenty of criteria which critics and food writers would like to use, ingredients, technique, style... but in the end it just comes down to this simple truth.
This 11th century castle is located close to the French and Luxembourg borders. It is also very close to an ugly modern casino – so close it actually touches it.
The young Christian Bau was born in the Black Forest, where he finished his training in the n°1 German restaurant, the Schwarzwaldstube of Harald Wohlfahrt. Like in any great and early success, his story is a combination of talent and luck – the owner of the Casino was looking to build a high end hotel-restaurant in the castle, Bau was a souschef at Wohlfahrt but his best friend was in the neighbourhood and teh Baus were visiting for the holidays. Long story short, the restaurant is built for them, and they end up with the third Michelin star in 2007.
I’d like to tell you that the restaurant has life-changing ingredients. Or it using never heard before techniques. Or that its style is redefining what a restaurant is. Ingredients were very good, techniques well mastered of course. Not all third Michelin stars come without reason. Yet all I can tell you is my meal at Christian Bau was wonderful.
It was a long tasting menu, but superiorly balanced. I’m a big skeptic about big tasting menus in general. Most of the time it is way too much food, and it is a roller coaster. There are plenty of little bites, some are good and you’re frustrated you can’t have more. All the more so since some are unpleasant and you’re sorry you had to use stomach space for them. In the end, they’re often exactly what they say they are: tasting samples so that next time you know what you like and you can have a good meal. Hopefully.
Bau’s meal was a perfect party. Every course was very good, some excellent, and it always felt like you had exactly enough. I did not feel frustrated at not having more, neither did I feel to full to enjoy the end of the meal.
Two things in particular made the meal party-like. First, as you can judge from the pictures, there’s a kind of stylistic melting-pot involved – you can see it in courses as well as in china and plating. For the foie gras course for example, there was a soup served in Chinese-like china, a minimalistic foie gras sorbet, and a very 1990s cake of foie gras and mango. One course looked like l’Astrance, one like Gagnaire, one like Wohlfahrt. There was generosity and there was minimalistic precision, as well as wild inspiration here and there.
Then dishes just looked georgous and party-like. See that dessert table, with one all-vanilla dessert on the front and a chocolate-passion fruit one on the side. It’s like some sort of culinary confetti. Before I actually went to Rochat, alas, I was imagining that his food would taste like Bau’s, because it looked so good. Both look like infinite skill and precision are used to make the dish look good while clearly expressing the ingredient as what they are. No square sweetbread or Euclidian plating here, but also not ingredients prosaically laid in the plate.
The meal had several highlights, but let me mention some: I particularly loved the simplicity of the pre-amuses of gressini just wrapped in high quality lardo. The idea is rustic and simple simplicity. But the execution shows great precision, a perfect match of the grissini and the lardo, balance of saltiness and texture in particular. The lardo was sliced recently so it does not sweat, and the grissini is not wet from the lardo.
A starter of crab, scallop and citrus looked bland but was very artful taste wise. When you first bit it, the citrus and the seaweed are overwhelming and you thing that crab and scallops will only play texture, that their taste will be hidden. But after the first strike of citrus, the iodine and sweetness of the crab and scallop actually kicked in, like the sea would retire and reveal the seafood. The rice vinegar played an interesting transition between the first and second phase.
One very simple main, but very efficient, was the sweetbread and gambas. Both are rosemary roasted on rosemary sticks, both under a rosemary foam, both with a juice of veal breast (that’s right, not your common veal juice – this one has a richer texture and a sweeter taste). This is a puzzling dish, because it is so simple and it works. The seafood is the one with the intense taste, while the sweetbread brings meltiness. They don’t work so well if you mix them in one bite, but if you separate the bites, there is a “long distance relationship” going on with the two main ingredients – same preparation of different ingredients with different effects.
The preparation of the big sole was very exciting too, and I also don’t really know why. The sole was cooked at low-temperature, had a Parmesan crust, and was lying on artichokes and on parmesan raviolis. The sauce was very liquid, based on Bellota and olive oil – and was slightly reminded by a tiny roll of Bellota on top of the fish. As you can see, this was a big nice sole, which sure helps. On the whole there the fish and its sides were great matches for one another.
I should also mention that his a very tiny dining room, ten tables top, whose architecture reminds of the age of the castle. A young and pretty woman is in charge of wine pleasures, and as you would expect from the location, they are specialists of these wonderful Mosel valley Rieslings, which are also so easy to pair.
All in all, I just can’t tell you what’s so great with Bau. You’ll have to go. Looking at the pictures, you may share my point that it's hard to see why this would a restaurant worth a trip. Yet it is. The good occasion is a special, celebratory meal, because that is how this cooking is intended.