A l’Aigle d’Or, Osthouse
Customers call the cat who freely roams this winstub by name: it’s that kind of place. L’Aigle is the only restaurant in Osthouse, A La Ferme the only hotel, so when you book a room at the one you automatically wind up eating at the other (both places are owned by the Hellmann family). It takes three minutes to reach the hotel from the winstub, a pleasant walk that could be a lot more if Osthouse woke up a little: while attractive in the gruff way of Alsatian farming bourgs, the village is sleepy, and the fear is that sleepiness will soon result in death. A La Ferme has seven rooms, three in an early-19th-century farmhouse, which you choose for their humble antiques. The others, in an outbuilding once used for drying tobacco, are bigger and more “up-to-date.” But a night here is about the breakfast, not the rooms. The younger Madame Hellmann’s kugelhopf—a yeast cake with almonds and raisins baked in a tube pan with swirling fluted sides—is a modèle du genre. All petticoat lampshades and morbid gold swagged curtains, l’Aigle looks like Waverley Root just got up from dessert (cinnamon ice cream, say, and an apple roasted with salted butter) and the hot plates have been toasting in their warming tower ever since. L’Aigle’s menu reads like the excellent Petit Recueil de la Gastronomie Alsacienne (Editions S.A.E.P.). Matelote brings together assorted freshwater fish in a sauce of fumet, cream, and mushrooms. Pot-au-feu always begins with a bowl of bouillon, except in Alsace, where it begins with marrow quenelles in a bowl of bouillon. When I remarked on the clearness of the broth, Madame Hellmann said, “Well, it had better be, monsieur. It had better be!” L’Aigle also observes regional pot-au-feu distinctions by serving it with individual carrot, cucumber, celeriac, and beet salads. These are in addition to the root vegetables from the pot, and yet somehow the salads seem so necessary (unlike the sautéed potatoes).
Le Clou, Strasbourg
According to Marie Sengel, the charismatic owner here and a born gatekeeper, winstube are an exclusive club with few members: Le Clou, Le Sarment d’Or in Riquewihr, Wistub Brenner in Colmar, Caveau Morakopf in Niedermorschwihr, A l’Aigle d’Or in Osthouse, Burestubel in Pfulgriesheim—and that’s it. (Strasbourg’s Zuem Strissel, she says, is a fake.) While the list is short, ignoring what most French food professionals consider to be the facts, you can’t dismiss it. Sengel is a practicing authority, and her view, like the Illwald, establishes a yardstick, use it or not. I’ve never seen Le Clou not crowded. On a soggy winter day the smell of Muenster melting over an entrecôte mingles with the steamy, doggy exhalations of boiled-wool jackets. Tables are shared, which most Americans are really not comfortable with, so you just hope for the best. The walls are hung with Hansi village scenes and the marquetry landscapes the Spindlers of Boersch have been chiseling since 1893. No matter how many times I have the winstub staple salade strasbourgeoise I still find the idea of combining Gruyère; cervelas, a sausage with the texture and color of mortadella; and oniony vinaigrette delicious but weird. When I’m in Strasbourg on a day when I know one of my meals is going to be choucroute, I make the other one this salad and a plate of marrow bones and don’t feel too deprived. Other dishes from the winstub canon include escargots à l’alsacienne (with bouillon spooned into the shells, in addition to the standard parsley-garlic-shallot butter); and high-and-fluffy cheesecake, taken with a glass of kirsch.