Bordeaux is a beautiful city built imposingly on the banks of the Gironde River. I was just there a few days ago after a twenty year absence and I was astounded at the changes. Then, the city was grey and dour; it felt like someone whose clothes are horribly out of style, too large, and unpressed. It didn’t help that then the rain was pouring down, there was an electric black out of some kind which meant that heat was at a premium so that even an afternoon in a movie theater – a last-ditch effort to find warmth – was a chilly experience. I hold good memories because of the marvelous food and the spongy canneles, Bordeaux signature pastry, but not because of the city.
This recent visit was a world apart. The spring sun was warm enough for shirt sleeves, cafes all had chairs spilling out on the sidewalks and most of them were taken. The banks of the River which were once a wasteland have been transformed into a playground for all – there is a fountain/wading pool affair that was filled with toddlers and teenagers; roller bladers, cyclists, , walkers and runners co-exercised with ease, tykes were kicking footballs dangerously among the crowd (some parents are crazy…), and there were lots of loungers everywhere. Bordeaux has a bike rental program so that you can have one of your own for a euro per day. We rented bikes and languidly cycled over bridges and back, whiling away some time until our train left for Paris.
Restaurants in Bordeaux run to the bistro style, and we enjoyed a meal at Le Mably, 12 rue Mably (011.33.(0)5 56 44 30 10) just off the square des Grands Hommes, where a traditional dish of wood-fire grilled tripe called Tricandilles, was on the menu. I’m not a fan of the saucy tripe in Normandy; this crisp version was sublime, and the tiny roast duckling that followed was tender and flavorful.
Another great spot in Bordeaux is the gorgeous cheese shop Jean d’Alos, 4 r Montesquieu 33000 (fax :011. 33. (0)5 56 51 67 82). Its period architecture, clean and classy cheese displays, friendly, helpful, professional staff and intoxicating lactic aroma were enough to make me want to set up my office right in the center of the shop.
And it was at Jean d’Alos where nuts entered the scene. Not only does the shop offer a sumptuous variety of cheeses, but they sell the very best and most fresh walnuts (in the shell) to go along with them. I’ve never, ever seen a big basket of walnuts in the shell at a cheese store, yet walnuts and cheese is a marriage made in heaven.
Walnuts and blue cheese is arguably the most typical combination, but walnuts with Comté is as delicious or even better, particularly when the nuts are big and fresh and the cheese is made with summer milk and aged, like that at Jean d’Alos, for several years in a perfectly calibrated aging cellar.
I left Bordeaux carrying pounds of cheese from Jean d’Alos. Much of it disappeared on the train between Bordeaux and Paris as one starving journalist and one equally starving photographer set out an ethereal picnic that had everyone else in the car drooling (we offered to share). It consisted of a simple Sauvignon Blanc (Château des Crus 2007), a loaf of sourdough bread, several slabs of cheese from Jean d’Alos which were reduced to rinds in the course of the journey. I wanted to include walnuts in the picnic but it would have made too much noise and created way too many nutshells on the floor, so I waited until I got home.
The very next evening I served my gorgeous Comté with equally gorgeous walnuts, inspired by my visit to Jean d’Alos. I highly recommend the combination.