Eating and Drinking in Alsace, France
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.