Reims: Le Jardin

 
Reims: Le Jardin

DO NOT USE THIS. CHEF AND MENU HAVE CHANGED (DECEMBER 2010)

 

For anyone who’s been despairing over the future of the French brasserie (and who hasn’t?), I’d suggest a pleasant 45-minute jaunt to Reims on the new TGV Est, and then a Champagne tasting or two and lunch at Le Jardin, the new brasserie of Les Crayères, the silk-stocking two-star restaurant and hotel in a beautiful Belle Epoque mansion tucked into a park on the edge of town. Chef Didier Elena has come up with a shrewd and sophisticated menu of Gallic comfort food for the 21st century, with more than a couple of reminders of the years he spent as chef under Alain Ducasse in New York, including clam chowder and tempting side dishes like Parmesan rosemary fries and fried onion rings. The menu’s real strength, however, is that it hits a near-perfect bull’s eye in terms of what most of us want to eat right now, with starters like langoustine ravioli, a “dashi-maki” omelet with sea vegetables and an excellent assortment of regional charcuterie, notably from Corsica and Reims itself—the jambon de Reims is sublime.

Main courses are similarly appealing, including a delicious crab gratin, sole meunière, free-range chicken fricassee in Champagne sauce, and boudin blanc with an apple-onion compote. The setting, a renovated brick outbuilding with a loft-like interior by decorator Pierre-Yves Rochon, is wonderful, too-exposed brick, black-painted cast-iron, solid parquet floors, an open kitchen and a zinc-topped bar for eating as well as drinking. And should we get lucky with an Indian summer this year, there’s a spacious flagstone terrace shaded by solid black canvas umbrellas, with heaters mounted in their struts to ward off any chill. Now if only the spirit of all these good ideas, including relatively reasonable prices for very good food and great wines by the glass, would catch on as the blueprint for a national renewal of the French brasserie idiom.

7 ave du Général Giraud, 03.26.24.90.90. €45 per person without wine

Originally published in the September 2009 issue of France Today.

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