After my first visit here last year, I had mixed feelings about this place. The fact that it is in the middle of nowhere certainly adds to its charm, as does the very friendly welcome given by the chef’s sister, Cathy Klein. The cooking however, is rather modern, unlike what one might expect in the middle of the Vosges. Not that I dislike modern cuisine, but it was the cooking, or certain little technical mistakes that made me question the 3* attributed to Jean Georges Klein in the MIchelin. This being said, my family had some birthday to celebrate and we set of to Baerenthal, not knowing what feast would expect us there.
The room is delightfully bright, warm and you have lovely views on the Zinsel flowing by outside. A few words about the service: It was a very friendly brigade, that showed great enthusiasm but somehow there were quite a few mistakes being made here and there. For a very long time there was no bread at all, butter had to be asked for, further bread too, came only after having begged for it. Furthermore, there were mistakes in what was ordered and a few more sloppy mistakes, that just don’t belong into a 3*. Whilst these are small things, they are quite annoying at this level, especially the bread since it seems stingy not to reserve any without the customer asking for it. The sommeliers both were excellent and we chose an excellent Pinot Blanc from Josmeyer and a magnificient Riesling from Hugel.
A menu here always starts with the petits savoureux aperitifs, a succession of small bites that already display the great skill of the kitchen and also the relatively simple preparations Klein serves. First up was a Parmesan sandwich, very similar to Ferran Adria’s, a squid ink macaron and a macaron with cassis and foie gras. All of these were very pleasant displaying clear flavours whilst being texturally interesting.
The following one two bites were a deconstructed bloody Mary (vodka espuma and tomatoe sorbet) and a little sardine and tomatoe tart. The sardine deserves special attention as it was by far the best sardine I’ve had, and that in a fairy-tale like forest in Alsace! The cocktail too, did not disappoint, again making the flavours come out very clearly.
The third installment featured morels, egg, spinach and bread. A runny egg yolk, a few slivers of morels, a morel cream, croutons and some spinach created a lovely bite of spring. Another prefect little amuse.
There was yet one more to come: A series of asparagus tastings, the bottom one with a classic vinaigrette, the second one with a (classic) hollondaise and the third being a ham mousse and asparagus tatar. All of them continued in Klein’s credo of bringing clean flavour in various shapes and textures that might surprise the diner.
There was one last little firework waiting to be discovered. A Gillardeau oyster with passionfruit and Yuzu. This was simply brilliant, as the slight sweetness of the passionfruit and the acidity of the Yuzu gave a great counterpoint to the oyster and created a magical mouthfull.
Now, the « real » menu was finally beginning. It did so with a fairly simple dish: Carpaccio de Thon Rouge marine, Gel de Taboule, Granny Smith, Caviar de Finger Lemon, Perles de Feta. In the end it was good quality tuna with a few interesting toppings that created a coherent and pleasing mouthful. Very good, but not really that outstanding. It just couldn’t match the previous dishes’ greatness.
Next up was a dish that was truly memorable. Emulsion de Pommes de Terre et Truffes. An airy, buttery potatoe espuma was covered with a galette of black truffle and some Maldon sea salt. Simple, very simple, yet so rewarding. Two good friends, one noble, the other common united in the happiest of marriages. This was simply DIVINE with the truffles’ earthiness and the potatoes’ buttery note creating orgasmic pleasure.
Le Pissenlit. This dish, with a simple name was another masterpiece. A few marinated pissenlit shoots (don’t ask me what it’s called in English, in German it’s Loewenzahn), a cream of pigeon liver anda few crisps of strawberry and yoghurt. The interaction the different elements truly displayed what can be done with a « simple » salad. It was another outstanding dish.
As main, we had a Poitrine de Canette Rotie, Croquant de Mures au Sesame, Jus reduit a l’Eucalyptus. The other dish I remember positively from last year was a duck breast which was remarkably tender and powerful. This version here was even better, if not the best duck I’ve come across. The jus was great, even though the Eucalyptus didn’t really get noticed by me, nor anyone else. The duck itself: tender, tasty and perfect. I was quite surprised that it was German duck, the first time I find a French restaurant using anything but French poultry. The little blackberries with coated sesame seeds were rather forgettable, but well who cares if the rest is that good. Being in Alsace, there were some more potatoes in the form of a wonderful puree, which Klein serves with pretty much every meat dish here. Wonderful.
As we had ordered some foie gras, which they mistook for the truffle dish (the little mistakes again), we decided to still have it afterwards. The Grillade de Foie Gras de Canard, Rhubarbe a la Plancha, Jus aux Epices was worth the wait. Perfectly cooked foie, seasoned perfectly yet again served with some grilled rhubarb that gave it a very tamed sweetness and tartness. The whole was another simple (this time really) dish that didn’t have anything modern about it, but was simply very gourmand. Excellent.
Dessert doesn’t come in a simple way, but is another succession of tastings called Invitation a la Decouverte. Some were, I must add, more memorable than others. The first part, a few bites featured only one that struck me: A meringue italienne (for those who want to know what it is, let me know) hiding a piece of marinated pineapple. The rest of these was rather boring, especially the sugar tuiles , which I really don’t understand.
The second part was much better: A rhubarb compote covered with some meringue, toasted brioche ice cream, cactus gel. This was surprisingly very good and (less surprisingly) refreshing. Very good.
The third was all based on aloe vera. There was an aloe vera sorbet, an soup, some cream cheese mousse, tapioca and raspberry crisp. This was another refreshing, light dessert. Very well made again, even if I like tapioca to be cooked a little more « al dente ». Very good.
That was it. After 5 hours we were done, even though I could have had a few more courses. What can I say?
The whole atmosphere there is just very comforting, hospitable, relaxed, down to earth (at least for a restaurant of that level). The service has strenghts, but some mistakes showed up too. The food was what really struck me this time. It was far better than last time, more precise, better composed and truly memorable, except for a few little things here and there. To call it molecular cuisine would be unjust. The cooking here certainly does have some modern elements, but there are many dishes that are quite classical. Klein manages to integrate modern techniques, ingredients from all around the world into classical French cooking in a way that not many French chefs can. He somehow creates light, yet indulgent dishes that leave you wanting more. One might be able to compare it to Bras or, in some respect El Bulli, as the trip to the restaurant takes you to a place that really is different and lovely. Arnsbourg is definitely a place to go back to, considering that it’s the cheapest 3* in France that I know of certainly doesn’t hurt. The lunch menu is a mere 60euros, not even the price of a starter in Paris. Another reason for going are the great chefs in the region like Erfort or Bau.