In my time in France, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the hexagone, from the North, where I spent the first three months of my ten-plus years here, to the Côte d’Azur, where I thought I fell in love with France, to the Languedoc, where I really fell in love with France.
I’ve been to the Swiss border, the Italian border, the Spanish border, and the Belgian border; to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean coasts; to the Alps and the Pyrenees.
But until this past weekend, I had never been to what is now called “le Grand-Est.”
The “Grand-Est” is the eastern part of France, encompassing Alsace and Lorraine. These are parts of France that have historically been passed back and forth between France and Germany, and as a result, the region is heavily influenced by both cultures, languages, and cuisines.
With just two days in Strasbourg, I knew that I wanted to sink my teeth into some really good local cuisine. I asked a friend who grew up there for advice, and she pointed me in the direction of Le Coin des Pucelles.
I knew the moment we saw the restaurant that it would be exactly what we were looking for: down an unassuming side street and without all of the bells and whistles of some of the restaurants we saw in the touristy neighborhood near the cathedral, it seemed like exactly the sort of spot that would give us the perfect introduction into the local cuisine.
The emblematic dish of the region is choucroute, a dish of sauerkraut and assorted meats that a few of my friends sampled this summer when they were in Paris for my wedding to The Country Boy, coming to the ever-quotable verdict of “not for me.” I was interested in trying it anyway, but after perusing the menu (and the Instagram feed) of the restaurant, a few other dishes caught my eye.
The young tattooed man running the joint may have belied my expectations of an older Strasbourgeoise grandmother, but he seemed to be both manager and chef, and I was thrilled when, upon hearing that we had “a few questions,” he pulled up a chair at our table and helped us make our choices.
While he said that both the duck and pork terrines were delicious – “After all,” he said, “I made them. – we took him up on his recommendation of house-made rillettes to start, which Sister had never tried before. This was a particularly good version for a first try, with exceptional pickles and nicely toasted brioche. Our host told us in no uncertain terms that we would not be having a second appetizer; I’m really glad we listened to him.
For our mains, after hemming and hawing a bit, we decided to forgo the choucroute in favor of a roasted jarret or unsmoked ham hock with potatoes, which you can see up top. This was, without a doubt, one of the best choices I’ve ever made. The jarret was basted with wine so that it formed a delicious sauce that was perfect on the fried potatoes.
We also ordered knepfle with munster. This typical Alsatian pasta is a bit like a really fat spaetzle, made with flour, egg, and milk. Munster is a stronger cheese that we ate throughout the city (nothing like the munster you get back home), often paired, as it was here, with caraway seeds.
A little pitcher of Sylvaner (fun fact: Alsace is one of the only regions in France that systematically bottles wine by varietal, not terroir) was the icing on the cake.
Speaking of which, there was no cake. Defeated by our enormous ham hock and diminutive but terribly rich pasta, we waddled home to fall into a welcome food coma.
Au Coin des Pucelles – 12, rue des Pucelles, Strasbourg