If you knew in advance that Le Marronnier had 500 seats you’d never go. But forget everything you’ve suffered in French restaurants that accept groups and, when staying in Strasbourg (at Le Chut, l’hôtel du moment), book a cab and cover the 6 1/2 miles to Stutzheim. Built as a farmhouse in 1748, Le Marronnier was re-created as a winstub in 1990 by the Friederich family, who removed the plaster masking the beautiful half-timbered façade and transformed the courtyard into a shady spot for savoring pork-liver quenelles. Among the warren of dining rooms, La Salle Bleue is in a newer addition, but it’s at least as adorable as the older spaces, with a massive stepped kachelofen, an integrated bench following the oven’s zigzagging contours, and a quantity of embroidered samplers. The tourist groups come for the flammekueche, which is also known as tarte flambée, which tourists insist on calling Alsatian pizza, which irritates the Alsatians to death. What it is is a round of rolled-out bread dough topped with smoked lardons, thinly sliced onion (both uncooked), and crème fraîche. Three things to look for in a flammekueche are blackened edges; just a scraping of cream; and very little onion. By these measures Le Marronnier’s is perfect. Purists reject variations with cheese, and you can see why: when flammekueche loses its innocence, it loses its allure. Venison with chestnuts and grand veneur, the old-school large-game sauce, is more to the point, especially since it’s served with nubs of pasta: the winstub workhorse spaetzle.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.