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Le Bistrot du Gayot
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14 Place Marche Gayot, Strasbourg, France $zip
03 88 36 82 90
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A little place behind the Cathedral
Northampton, United Kingdom
May 1, 2012
Best of IgoUgo
During my recent trip to Strasbourg I’d had lunch in a restaurant ‘specialising’ in Uzbekistani food and had found it pretty horrible. All I could hope for was to get a proper French dinner to compensate for the icky-yucky lunch and I was confident ...
During my recent trip to Strasbourg I’d had lunch in a restaurant ‘specialising’ in Uzbekistani food and had found it pretty horrible. All I could hope for was to get a proper French dinner to compensate for the icky-yucky lunch and I was confident that in a city like Strasbourg, it shouldn’t be difficult to find something good. I invited one of my team – a Belgian lady with an unpronounceable name so I’ll just call her ‘G’ – to have dinner with me and she picked me up from my hotel at about 8 o’clock. She’s only been in the city for less than a month and is still exploring and to find a restaurant for the evening, we went exploring together.
Strasbourg cathedral is the highlight of this gorgeous city and it’s seriously big. We decided to walk around it before looking for somewhere to eat, and spotted a small square filled with restaurants and bars, located directly behind the monastery which is seemingly attached to the back of the cathedral, making a stroll round the outside longer than you’d expect. We continued our circuit of the cathedral (foolishly hunting for a way in which we didn’t find) and then headed round again to return to the square where we chose ‘Le Bistrot de Gayot’ on Place Marche Gayot.
All of the tables set outside were full but the waiter indicated he’d be happy to set a new table for us if we wanted to eat outside but the sky was looking a bit grey and I suggested we head indoors. The restaurants on this square are mostly housed in absurdly narrow fronted buildings, some of them seemingly no more than about 8 feet wide. We stepped into the restaurant which was entirely empty so we could choose whichever table we wanted. Since nobody else was fighting us for the tables, we chose one set for four, rather than attempt to squeeze round a little table for two. The chairs were carved in traditional Alsace style with the heads of men and women in local dress carved into the chair backs.
On the opposite side of the room was the bar and the guy serving was one of the happiest, smiley-est restaurant workers I’ve seen in a long time. Both the waiters at this bistro were friendly, energetically running around serving people and they never stopped smiling. It might sound like a daft thing to notice, but I like to see people happy in their work and it definitely rubs off on the customers.
The menu was available only in French which wasn’t a problem for either of us although I did double check a couple of words before ordering. Later in the evening a group of American and Dutch men took the table next to us and really struggled with the menu which surprised me (not the Americans who after all can barely speak English sometimes, but I tend to expect the Dutch to know everything). If they had asked, I’m sure the smiley waiter would have answered all their questions, but they sat timidly trying to work things out and didn’t request help. It got to the stage I was tempted to step in and offer assistance – tempted, but I didn’t as it was more fun listening to them struggle.
The menu was not too long but offered plenty of choice. As a fishitarian, anything that offers me two or three choices is an acceptable minimum but this did slightly better. Too long a menu and I start to worry that the food isn’t fresh. For starters I chose goat cheese marinated in herbs, served on toast with black olive tapenade and salad. G had to be persuaded to keep my company and chose a dish of snails. For main course I ordered a crayfish risotto and G went for a chicken Caesar salad. My favourite Alsatian wine is gewurtztraminer so we had a couple of glasses of that and a jug of water.
A small aside to muse on wine. Gewurtztraminer is a lovely wine full of spicy and fruity flavours. It’s one of the few whites that you can eat with spicy food without it getting completely flattened. Admittedly it’s a tad on the sweet side sometimes which puts people off but compared to a very ‘beige-tasting’ white like a Pinot Grigio, it’s just bursting with colour and fire and complexity. So why don’t more people drink it? Easy – most are just not sure how to pronounce it. Back in the days when German wines (bad ones) first made it to the UK, the winemakers and the marketing folk spotted that nobody would ever order what they couldn’t pronounce. Hence the advent of horrors like ‘Blue Nun’ and ‘Black Tower’ because nobody was going to twist their tongue around liebfraumilch for fear of sounding stupid. My advice – if you’re not sure how to say it just have a go. And if even that’s too much just point and say "This one please".
Back to the food. G stepped outside to take a call from her heavily pregnant sister and whilst she was gone, the starters appeared. I have mixed feelings about serving people when on of the party is missing but this was a busy restaurant and I guess the alternative of having it go cold on the kitchen counter wasn’t good either. G’s snails were swimming in very garlicky sauce which wafted temptingly in my direction. My goat cheese dish was beautifully presented with two little toasts, each spread with tapenade and with a circle of cheese perched on top. Dividing the two toasts was a mound of dressed salad. I don’t think you can go wrong with cheese on toast and the dish was very good but not so big as to overwhelm me.
My crayfish risotto was absolutely perfect. Served with a few shavings of parmesan and a little mound of rocket, it wasn’t very big but every forkful was bursting with flavour. It was small but gorgeous. G’s chicken Caesar was a monster, a veritable Matterhorn of lettuce and croutons with masses of sliced chicken bunged on top and slathered in sauce. It was the absolute opposite of my risotto and it took her a lifetime to eat it. It was one of those dishes that leaves you staring open-mouthed and asking "Do I eat it or climb it?"
With coffees afterwards and another glass of gewurtztraminer for me, the bill came to €71. With the exception of the Caesar salad, the quality and presentation of everything had been great. The pace of service – and the friendly smiley waiters – had been perfect and we had a great evening.