This June the superfast TGV train began making 16 daily round-trips from Paris to Strasbourg, cutting travel time nearly in half, to two hours and 20 minutes. And suddenly a new weekend countryside destination was born. Those ignorant of Stras- bourg and its bloody past—it has gone back and forth between France and Ger- many four times since 1870—will now discover what locals already know: The jewel of Alsace is one of the great dining meccas of Europe, with some 30 Michelin- recommended restaurants in a 30-mile radius.
On a recent visit to the two-starred Au Crocodile (10 Rue de l'Outre; 33-3/88-32-13-02; au-crocodile.com), the grandfather of Strasbourg chefs, Emile Jung, served meringue plunged into liquid nitrogen with panfried red berries and lychee sorbet. Despite such nods to modernity, the kitchen's strength is in its classics, such as sautéed duck liver in white port reduction and red mullet with broad beans and artichokes. This feels appropriate in the main dining room which, with its muted salmon tones, glass ceiling, and large mural of Strasbourg in 1874, whispers tradition. The effect is augmented by a nine-foot stuffed crocodile brought back by an Alsatian officer who served in Napoléon's Egypt campaign.
Buerehiesel (4 Parc de l'Orangerie; 33-3/88-45-56-65; buerehiesel.fr) was a three-starred spot until February 2007, when 32-year-old Eric Westermann took over from his famous father, Antoine. Father and son agreed Eric would make a fresh start by giving up his dad's stars. Westermann, who trained at the Crillon in Paris, with Nadia Santini in Milan, and with Jacques Thorel in Brittany before apprenticing under his father, is committed to shorter meals—only one amuse-bouche!—and has lowered prices. Monsieur Zimmermann, Antoine's sommelier for 30 years, is still there, as are many fine vintages now available by the glass. The space itself—which includes a 1607 Alsatian farmhouse that moved to Strasbourg's Orangerie Park in 1895, a glassed-in conservatory, and a summer veranda—remains elegant as ever. Buerehiesel now serves lunch daily; don't miss the frog's legs served with ravioli.
It is an hour's drive from Strasbourg to the three-starred L'Arnsbourg (18 Untermuhlthal; 33-3/87-06-50-85; arnsbourg.com), where Jean-Georges Klein creates art out of food at the edge of a forest. Whether you select from his traditional menu, le menu saveur, or le menu découverte, expect genius. Our meal began with nine amuse-bouches, including pigeon mousse, sashimi paired with white chocolate, and a caramelized quail egg in Muscat and ginger oil. For main courses, the lobster topped with black truffles in a chestnut velouté and the white-and-black gnocchi soufflé in a green crustacean bouillon were as lovely to look at as they were to eat.