We arrived in Mâcon before sundown on Monday evening, and after stowing our bikes and showering in our murdery hotel we resolved to hit the town, where nothing was open. Notably closed was a very nice-looking natural wine bistro in the shadow of the church called Le Carafé, which restaurant came with the recommendation of Isabelle and Bruno Perraud. In desperation I led everyone on a hopeless trawl through the shut streets of Mâcon looking for a restaurant where more than pizza was served, until, ready to surrender to sham-Italian, we espied the town on the Sâone river's opposite bank, Saint-Laurent-Sur-Saône, bathed in late sunlight with with a number of busy terraced restaurants on the quay.
After eyeballing each one, we determined that the best were shut, and of the two that remained, the one that had a table for us looked trashy as all get-out. This left us with Le Saint Laurent, what turned out to be a Georges Blanc restaurant with a vaguely troisième-age air and a thirty-plus minute wait for a quaint and extremely conservative mass-hospitality meal that nevertheless contained several surprises.
Chief among them was the discovery that I really like organic Rhône vigneron Yves Cuilleron's basic Saint Joseph "Les Pierres Sèches."
I'd previously found his wines dully clean and over-oaked, but the 2009 they served us by the carafe at Le Saint Laurent was glimmery, juicy, and understated, the sort of thing I could knock back all night, if I were not in sleepy Monday-night Mâcon with absolutely no useful channels for drunkenness or celebration.* The wine showed positively no wear from its 18 months in barrique.
J had been smart to eschew the restaurant's deathly-dull menu in favor of the overpriced but faultless catch of the day, a mixed fry of tiny fish, freshly netted from the adjacent river.
Whereas as a main course I wound up with something like the opposite: a filet of salmon that had evidently been boiled in court bouillon, a mode of preparation so fascinatingly outdated that I had indeed never before encountered it.
The effect was to lend the fish precisely the same gelatinous texture as the overcooked zucchini that (barely) supported it. Texture aside, the flavor was actually quite fine.
The rest of the meal, from service misunderstandings to cracked glasses to a ropey steak and a pointless meringue, was vintage mediocrity. But, speaking of fish, it feels quite like shooting them in barrels, to dwell on the details of product and service at a venture like Le Saint Laurent. Chef-entrepreneur-cultural preservationist George Blanc has seven other restaurants and at least one hotel, from what I can tell, making him less a chef than an industry, with industrial standards. So place like Le Saint Laurent arguably exists totally outside the conversation, as regards culinary and oenological excellence or ingenuity. It's of interest only for representing a very straightforward bedrock notion of hospitality, which is to give people, in this case provincial families and Belgian tourists, exactly what they want.
Anyway, sat on the terrance in the weakly reflected glow from the slow-flowing Saône, it felt somewhat inapropos to demand anything more.
* A bridge on the way back noted the third strut as the place where five resistance fighters once plunged to their deaths - to escape the Nazis, they say.
Le Saint Laurent
1, quai Bouchacourt
Tel: 03 85 39 29 19
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Beaujolais Bike Trip: L'Atelier du Cuisinier, Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Le Relais des Caveaux, Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Le Coq à Juliénas, Juliénas
Beaujolais Bike Trip: Beaujolais Communiqué
The Jura Bike Trip: May 2011
A 2011 blurb on Le Saint Laurent @ L'ExpressStyles
A not especially critical write-up of Le Saint Laurent @ BrettTheWineMaestro
A small article on Georges Blanc that includes a funny quote @ WorldTravelGuide
A profile on Yves Cuilleron @ TheWineDoctor
A profile on Yves Cuilleron @ MadRose