Sandrine’s: the fourth time’s the charm

26 Feb

Specializing in the cuisine of Alsace, a historically contested hotbed between France and Germany, Sandrine’s outside Harvard Square has always been one of those places that ought to be on the radar of more foodies. There’s a dearth of German/German-style food in Boston, which is inexplicable, considering how its immigrants played a huge role in Boston’s history, specifically the development of Jamaica Plain and the breweries that used to line Stony Brook. (Without Heffenreffer, there wouldn’t have been Sam Adams. I’m not really exaggerating when I say that).

But I hadn’t been there since 2005: my two most lasting impressions from my three visits were food that was overly burned (I have no idea if that’s an Alsatian culinary practice) and incredibly rude behavior and a lack of accommodation when one of my party (a.k.a. me) visited with a broken leg.

Well, there was a lot to like when I was there last month. (Disclosure: I was invited for a bloggers’ night. My meal was paid for, not my opinions. Ok, good? Still friends?) First, the service: we were attended to by the debonair Alex, a native of Lorraine (historically linked with Alsace) who exhibited that kind of mind-readery solicitousness that only Frenchmen who have truly made a profession of waiting–instead of a stopgap until the acting/art/grad school boat comes in– seem to hold. I don’t know if the ESP or the pride to wait tables comes first; definitely a question to ask him next time.

Artichoke Flammekuche at Sandrine's

Artichoke Flammekuche at Sandrine's: a great way to kick off the meal. Or be a meal itself.

We started out with the hallmark Alsatian tart, flammekuche, served two ways: vegetarian with artichokes, and traditionally with bacon and caramelized onions. They looked so perfect, I almost thought I had wandered on to a photo shoot. Where I’d been served flammekuche that had been overly flambeed in the past, these came out with complexion perfection. I’ll admit I always grab the version Trader Joe’s hucks, but nope, not any more.

Mussels

Mussels not from Brussels.

Next, moules marienieres, steamed in Riesling, were also perfectly done to a textbook turn. I like my broth with a little more presence, but I readily admit I always choose German Rieslings’ weight and aromatics over the lean steeliness of their Alsatian cousins.

Decadent butter-to-meat ratio? Check!

While I prefer them Parisian-style, with a drop of Pernod in the garlic butter, escargots were on point: thick meaty morsel the proper non-rubbery consistency and garlic-to-butter ratio that sent me scrounging in the bread basket to get every last drop.

Spaeztle to me tastes best when it looks like a four-year-old made it.

Trying to stick with an authentic meal, I went with the braised rabbit leg with Alsatian spaetzle. I did not realize it was different than German spaetzle. Where the latter is toothy–nubby and chewy like a child squeezing a wad of Play-Doh–the former had the appearance and texture of small pieces of broken spaghetti, which made it difficult for the sauce to cling to the noodles. Rabbit is not usually my thing, but this was dark and aromatic like game almost.

Gratuitous wine porn shot, since this is a wine blog

Each course was accompanied by wine, of course: Trimbach pinot gris, which is anodyne enough to go with most dishes; I would have loved to have tried the Pierre Sparr blend or Alsatian gewurtztraminer, since we don’t see a lot of those around here. Alsatian reds are pretty near non-existent, but the Vacqueyras blend (most likely grenache, syrah, mourvedre or any of the other 13 grapes allowed in Chateauneuf de Pape) was smooth and efficient enough to usher us through several courses.

Chocolate Kugelhopf: a decent dessert

For dessert, I kept to the “authentically Alsatian” theme and went with the Kougelhopf, chocolate cake with caramel, gancahe and ice cream. It was delish, but not nearly as divine as the chocolate pot de creme with peanut butter mousse, which one of my companions kindly allowed me to sample. The fear of being a gauche Americaine required that I not abscond with the whole thing (hey, there’s a historical political statement in there somewhere!), but it was tempting. Still dreaming of that one.

Don't let this one get ordered by someone else. You'll regret it.

Mercis et dankes to Chris Lyons, and mes amis, Meghan Malloy and Brian Knowles, plus nouveaux copains William Macadoo, Martini Severin, Bianca Garcia, and Emily O’Donnell. Their blogs rock, so check them out!

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