Regional food specialties
- Eating and Exploring France's Culinary Capitol
If I had to choose one word to describe our three day trip to Lyon last May it would be frustrating. But before I explain that let me share my 2nd and 3rd words I'd use to describe France's third largest city. They would be Delicious and Beautiful. So why frustrating? Well when we decided to spend three days in Lyon we had no idea that the first of the three (May 1) would be a national holiday and thus practically the whole city would be shut down. It was. On top of that it would rain at the most inopportune times and getting around via Uber was expensive (minimum $13e per ride). All this said there's a good chance your experience is much different than mine. Though if you go and take in the views of a gorgeous city with a fantastic food scene you'd also be having a similar trip to me.
Sights from Lyon
We arrived on the aforementioned holiday and the town was indeed dead. There was an exception or two here or there but I'd say 90% of the city was shutdown including the public transportation system. We got an uber and had him take us to our AirBNB where a bunch of frustrating things would happen but I'm not going to waste your time with delays and wrong addresses etc. We eventually got settled in and decided to go for a stroll. We wandered around for a little bit before deciding we were hungry. Knowing the holiday was going to be happening I went on Trip Advisor and asked where, if anywhere, was worth eating on this day. A local who seemed to know his stuff had mentioned that all the touristy spots would be open but one was actually pretty good whereas the rest were exactly what you think of when you think of stupid tourists and their bad eating habits.
Brasserie Georges was his pick and I'm glad I followed through on his rec. Located in the city's 2nd arrondissement it's the oldest brasserie in Lyon. It's also one of the largest brasseries in all of Europe. I can't think of a bigger restaurant that I've ever dined inside and it was jam packed. Not an empty seat in the house. I'm assuming this was due to the holiday as there were many families with what looked to be three or more generations of people enjoying their day. The wait was only about 20 minutes and they have all sorts of places to sit and drink while you wait for your buzzer to beep.
Sights inside Brasserie Georges
Having been around since 1836 this place has all the feels of a classic establishment. From the huge art deco building it sits in to the guy who's sole job is to go from birthday table to birthday table and play this old musical instrument while the entire staff (and patrons) sing happy birthday. It's a very festive atmosphere. They even brew their own beer on sight. It's also an extremely well run ship. Service was swift and this was probably the one place on the entire trip that actually got us in and out in a reasonable time. The menu varies by season but there's pretty much something for everyone even vegetarians which is rare in a city that loves to eat every last piece of the pig. She got what would be the first of many Saucisson Lyonnais plates and I went for the charcuterie platter.
Saucisson Lyonnais at Brasserie Georges
Sausage Lyonnais is available on pretty much every menu in town. This version came stuffed with pistachios and served in a bed of cream with some very average (for France standards) mashed potatoes. It wasn't the best dish of the trip by any stretch but like most everything else we ate it was still pretty good. My charcuterie platter was much better. The pate was out of this world good which it pretty much all is in these parts. Unless you're in Lyon on May 1st I wouldn't make an entire meal out of this place but it's certainly worth experiencing the festive atmosphere over a drink and a snack.
House Charcuterie Plate at Brasserie Georges
After lunch we walked back to our place which was only about 25 minutes from where we were. During that stroll back home we took in the tourist part of town which sits in the old part of town. All of those stores and the restaurant surrounding them were open but for the most part they were selling garbage. A couple exceptions were a place with a fantastic variety of honey and also a limoncello store that had a lime version that I bought thinking it would taste great mixed into a margarita.
More Sights from Lyon
Rain would dampen the rest of the afternoon but luckily it stopped by the time dinner rolled around. Since it was still the holiday our pickings were slim but I did manage to find a spot that was away from the tourist zone and open for business. The goal was to eat at a bouchon each night in town and this would be our first dive into one. Bouchons being the old school restaurants that serve the old school dishes that helped make the city an international dining destination. More on them as we go.
Café Comptoir Abel
According to the website this place has been serving food since 1926 with the current chef/owner having been there since 1976. The inside featured two dining rooms that were separated by the kitchen. As we walked through to get to our seat I couldn't help but feel like we finally arrived in Lyon. The looks, the smell, everything about this place was classic France. The food? Well that was classic Lyon. The menu isn't big but it sports many of the city's favorites including the best Lyonnaise Salad of the trip. In case you're unaware of the worlds greatest salad recipe it consists of nothing but lettuce, lardons (bacon), poached egg, croutons, and some dressing. A flawless example below.
Moving onto the entree we decided to order the houses famous dish which consists of baked chicken in an extremely rich cream sauce with or without morel mushrooms. The answer to morel mushrooms is always yes and the answer to whether or not this dish was any good was YES. Served with side of white rice this was one decadent dish and the beginning of three straight days of French Soul Food.
Chicken with Morels in Cream Sauce
That was it for the holiday as there was noting else to see or do by the time the end of the evening rolled around. We would just head back to the AirBNB and wait for the city to come back to life the next day. Not only that but two of my good friends (one from Paris the other from Barcelona) would be joining us for two days of food and fun. The next day I woke up and decided to take a morning stroll to a couple of bakeries that I had heard very good things about. Boulangerie's are one of the many things that make France a world class dining destination and Lyon is home to some of the best.
Boulangerie Saint Vincent
I had a map with a couple handfuls worth of bakeries that I wanted to check out. No way time would allow me to do that as they were scattered throughout the city. Thus I chose to seek out two that really caught my eye and also only happened to be about a 20 minute walk from each other. First stop up was along the river at a place called Boulangerie Saint Vincent. According to some things I read online this was one of a few places left cooking exclusively with fire. But don't quote me on that as the language barrier would be tough to overcome. Thus I asked for her favorites best I knew how.
Brioche Praline on Display
First things first was the brioche praline seen up above on the left. Lyon has it's own pink praline and it's extremely popular with it being found on almost every dessert menu in town. This was the best thing I ate using the famous pink pralines. They get their pink color from being coated with cooked sugar and dye.
Croissants at Boulangerie Saint Vincent
The croissants were also delicious and like every other one I ate in France they were better than any croissant I've had here in the States. The lady working the counter chose what seemed to be some sort of chocolate concoction and while I couldn't tell you it's name I can tell you it was damn good.
Pastry at Boulangerie Saint Vincent
As I took off for my next stop I realized I was heading up. Lyon's close proximity to the Alps means it's a very hilly town and the walk up from the bottom of the city to the top was enduring though also beautiful. I was kind of amazed that there was another part of the city all the way up in the mountains. Lots of good views for those that head up that way. Just be ready to walk up.
Sights from Lyon
By the time I reached the top I was very happy to be there. Knowing the walk down would be a breeze this had meant the hard part was over. My reward was a stop at Partisan Boulanger which is a place I found searching for Kouign-amann. Supposedly this place makes one of the best versions anywhere but a frustrated me wouldn't find out as they didn't have them on my visit.
No time to cry as I had to figure out what I was going to get. It all looked good and that which you see below looked similar enough to a Kouign-amann that I decided to try it. Again the language gap was too much to overcome as far as figuring out exactly what it was but I did remember to snap a pic of the name and it's called a chausson aux pommes and it was similar to an apple turnover. Delicious.
Chausson aux Pommes at Partisan Boulanger
The two or three people in front of me in line each got a loaf of bread which the store was heavily stocked in. So I decided I too should give that a try. We ended up being very happy with my call as this might've been the best bread I ever ate. So good it didn't need anything as far as butter etc goes. It was labeled 'canuse au lin' which translates to canines linen. No idea but it was memorable.
Canuse au Linen at Partisan Boulanger
I almost made the ultimate DOH! that would've made this part of the trip that much more frustrating when I botched our time reservation for Takao Takano. The one star Michelin restaurant is manned by a Japanese Chef who's name is that of his restaurant. Thank god they only do one seating per meal as our table was waiting for us despite being 30 minutes late to the party. They weren't fazed one bit and the service was exemplary from the get go. This was probably my most anticipated meal.
Sometimes the experience lives up to the hype and that's what happened here. Me and she both agreed this was the best meal of a eight day stay in France that included five days in Paris. I remember reading that the dishes served here were about 90% French and 10% Japanese. It was just one of the many Japanese owned spots we visited and all of them were pretty great. No sense in trying to tell you how good the meal was when the pics do it justice. So instead I'll just share the pics and do so in order as we each got a different tasting menu. Hers was three courses (plus amuse bouche) for thirty five Euros and it went as seen below. I'll try to translate the dishes for the reader.
Menu for Lunch at Takao Takano on 5/2/2017
Perhaps the best thing I ate in all of France turned out to be the complimentary starter from the chef. I don't remember exactly what it was but it seemed to be some sort of custard cream with deep Japanese flavor and some smoked fish sitting atop of it. This was by far the most Japanese tasting dish of the day and I got to say it was one of the best things I ever ate, I just wish I knew exactly what it was. I wholeheartedly recommend securing a reservation at Takao Takano if traveling to Lyon.
Amuse Bouche (included with both lunches)
White Asparagus with Octopus and Herb Based Hollandaise
Lamb, Carrots, Potatoes, Gravy at Takao Takano
Strawberries with Vanilla Ice Cream, Honey, Crispy Dough, Elderflower
Everything you see up above was cooked perfectly and paired flawlessly. I'll still be thinking about this lunch years from now. My menu was five courses and included a visit from the cheese cart. Once again every plate that came out not only looked fantastic but it tasted every bit as good as looked. I'm loosely translating the descriptions from the menu with the help of google translator.
Extended Lunch Menu at Takao Takano from 5/2/2017
Poached Oyster over Smoked Polenta Foam
Haddock with Asparagus, Peas, Caviar, Herb Sauce at Takao Takano
Lamb with Smoked Garlic
Local Cheese Tray at Takao Takano
A little bit of everything
Rhubarb, Ice Cream, Flowers at Takao Takano
Complimentary cookies to end the meal
The butcher shops in France are out of this world and Reynon was a stunner. The type of place you can find something to eat for pretty much every day of the week. Even the prepared foods looked wonderful. It put pretty much every place in the US to shame. Here are a couple photos below.
Sights from Reynon
What brought me here was a head cheese I had read about. It's called Tete roulee pistachee which translates to rolled pigs face with pistachio. Said to be one of the country's great bites. I got the smallest cut I could which was about half of a circle cut piece about two inches deep. I brought it back to the AirBNB where we indulged in it with the wonderful bread I bought earlier. Take me back!
Rolled Pigs Face with Pistachios
As the evening approached we waited for my friends to make contact with us before we all met up for dinner. I chose a place that gets lots of online love for it's somewhat modern take on bouchon food. In the tradition of the city's original bouchons this place is run by three young woman cooking family recipes with a little bit of their own modern touches. But nothing too out of the norm.
Le Bouchon Des Filles
The menu here was pretty simple in that you choose an entree (all 29 euros) and that comes with an assortment of stuff on top of the main dish. The closest thing the USA has to Lyon style Bouchons is the Wisconsin Supper Club. This is evident in the beginning of the meal as your table gets three huge portions of whats basically a relish tray on steroids. These dishes are common in bouchons.
Lentils with Shallots at Le Bouchon des Filles
This up above was a simple dish that tasted so much better than it looks and or sounds. It's just cold lentils with shallots in a mayo based sauce but it had so much flavor and the texture of the lentil was perfecto. Moving on the next plate up was a pickled herring dish on top of thinly sliced carrots with sliced almonds and dill. I dont love pickled fish but this was the best version of the dish I've had.
Pickled Herring Plate
Then there was the chicken liver pate which was also out of this world. The fact this was just the beginning of the meal and not the main course was unbelievable. I would've happily paid $26 euro for what we had ate up to this point. On top of that they'll happily bring you more if you request it.
Chicken Liver Pate at Le Bouchon des Filles
Amuse Bouche (Creamy Asparagus Soup Shot)
By the time the entrees came around we had already gone through a massive amount of food and at least two or three bottles of wine. The latter of which was wonderful as we had my buddy from Paris who knows his shit making the selections bottle by bottle. The entree selection wasn't massive but it did include a whats what of Lyon favorites as well as a Paris favorite in Bo Bun. This is where the modern side of this bouchon can be seen as it's basically a Vietnamese dish you wont find at any other bouchon in town. Vermicelli rice noodles are topped with, in this case, fall apart tender pork.
Pork Bo Bun Bowl at Le Bouchon des Filles
I knew what I was getting weeks before we dined and that was going to be the Quenelle which is one of Lyon's most iconic dishes. As explained on Wiki "A quenelle is a small or moderate quantity of a mixture of creamed fish or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding, usually formed into an egg-like shape, and then cooked. The usual preparation is by poaching," The pike dumpling is then topped with a creamy sauce usually made from crayfish stock. I read that Le Bouchon Des Filles makes a lighter quenelle than norm but I wouldn't know as this was my first time trying the popular French dish. How was it? One of the best things I ate all year. No doubt about it.
Quenelle at Le Bouchon des Filles
As if this wasn't already an enormous amount of food we still had a couple courses to go. Reminder that this was under 30 euros per person not including drinks. Ridiculous. So after our entree plates were cleared we got a cheese plate with a taster of two types of cheese both of which tasted great.
Then it was time for dessert. I opted for the praline cake and ice cream and it was the only miss of the meal. Too damn sweet for me but the cheese was in fact all I needed to end a wonderful meal. I loved the food, I loved the service, and I loved the atmosphere of this place. Memorable meal for sure.
After dinner we bought a couple bottles of wine from the restaurant and took them over to a local park. Unfortunately the town is dead on Mondays and Tuesdays so we were told and that was obvious in the fact we were the only people out and about. When the wine ran out we had no choice but to go try and find a bar. After ending up in a whorehouse (by accident you heathens) and then a shit bar for young Lyon folk and Americans studying abroad, we sampled another one of the city's claims to food fame. But you wont read about this dish in any Michelin Guide. It's a story still waiting to be told.
Break Time Kabobs
I first learned of the Lyon style Taco from the ever adventurous David Hammond. Anyone that knows my love for not just tacos but also weird regional eats knew I would be all over this bastard of a dish. So what is it? Well it's called a taco but eats more like a burrito but taste nothing like Mexican food. So if not Mexican than what kind of food does it taste like? That's hard to say when there's ingredients from the likes of the Middle East, France, Africa, Mexico, USA and so on.
Lyon Style Taco
I'm not sure there's anyone out there that can give us an answer on it's exact origins but the idea is you put meat inside a tortilla and include fries as well as Middle Eastern sandwich toppings. Really the only thing Mexican about it is the fact it's rolled like a burrito. Despite the fact I had my fluent in French friend with me we were not able to get any type of answer regarding the history of this dish. All I know is it's found all over Lyon and they actually taste pretty great after a long night out.
The insides of a Lyon Style Taco
After taking a little extra time to get ready the next morning, beer, wine, whiskey, champagne will do that, we took off for the Paul Bocuse Food Hall. Portrayed in the art on the building in the picture below Paul Bocuse is a living legend in these parts. He's one of the country's greatest chef's and Lyon is very proud to call him their own as this is where he's from and still resides today. His list of accomplishments is to long to list but if you go over to his Wiki page you can learn all about him.
Les Halles de Paul Bocuse (across the street)
This market bearing the famed chefs name is one of the best food halls you'll ever come across. From a pure shopping perspective the place has close to 60 stalls and you can find pretty much anything you need. It's overwhelming but well worth a visit as you can also lunch at one of the many restaurants that holds court inside the building. My pics dont do the place justice but nonetheless.
Sights from Les Halles de Paul Bocuse
The menu here was a bunch of local favorites made with meats purchased from the stall located directly across the hall from it. For starters we got what else but a salad lyonnaise. I'm not sure there's such thing as a bad one of these but this was the least loved of all the ones I tried. Good not great.
Moving onto the good stuff I couldn't help but get another round of the local sausage paired with perfectly cooked potatoes. It's by no means an extravagant dish but damn is it delicious. The food in Lyon is all about comfort and this was probably the best plate of sausage I've ate in a long time.
Lyon Style Garlic Sausage
Feeling a wee bit hungover I also went with a big ass plate of Veal Milanese. It came with a big pile of fresh cut fries but unfortunately they weren't fresh fried. The Milanese did it's job but this wasn't one of the better things I ate and it's not something I'll ever long for again. Same goes for dessert.
All in all the best part about this meal aside from the sausage was the company we kept. It was great being with my wife and old friends in a place so food and wine driven. In hindsight we probably should've ate somewhere else but we just didn't have the time to go to the food hall and then go eat somewhere else when everywhere closes around 2 or 3p before reopening for the evening at 7 or 8.
Pink Praline Pie
While she rested I walked around the neighborhood and decided to stop into a butcher and buy some pate. Lyon has so many of these style of shops that you cold get lost all day and always be near something delicious from one of these. Which is why I recommend getting a AirBNB with fridge etc.
Le Domaine de
I got some foie gras pate encrusted in bread seen below and it was so damn decadent I wanted to make plans to move to France right then and there. Everything is so good I cant stress it enough.
Sights from Le Domaine de
Our last meal of the trip came later that evening. You could tell we were all feeling the effects of the previous night though La Mere Jean would be the perfect place to relax and laugh. It's as small as a newborn baby but as old as your grandpa. It's been here since 1923.
La Mere Jean
The menu here isn't big but it has something for everyone. This was part of the reasoning in my choosing in that one of my friends is a semi picky eater but he loves steak. So much so he had it at all three spots we ate out as a group. I had come for the crispy breaded tripe but Lyon had to frustrate me one last time as the guy who just ordered before me had gotten the last one. I still ate well.
Lentil Salad with Shallots at La Mere Jean
An opening round of the lentils we enjoyed so much the previous night was a hit this night as well. We also had an excellent Salad Lyonnaise made with big pieces of pork that tasted more like ham than bacon. Either way they were so tender and full of pork flavor we couldn't help but get another.
Salad Lyonnaise at La Mere Jean
The local garlic sausage boiled with potatoes was so good at each previous stop we ordered it again while here. You know the drill. It didn't disappoint. One of the best plates of food for $10 out there.
Lyon Style Sausage and Boiled Potatoes
The less adventurous eaters were thrilled with the chicken slathered in white cream sauce while the rest of us loved our Onglet de Bouef (skirt steak) with Saint Marcellin cheese sauce. The scalloped potatoes with my steak were out of this world while a mushroom pate also on the side was divine
Chicken with Cream
Skirt Steak at La Mere Jean
This was yet another meal where I couldn't believe the price. While the wine wasn't as good as the options at our previous stops the desserts were by far the best of the bunch. Our group had five people in it and that's about the max you can get unless you call and plan something with them as I swear this place only sat about 25-30 people. If you want classic France you'll experience it here.
Dessert at La Mere Jean
By this time I was ready to get out of Lyon but only because I wasn't sure my body could take anymore of it's heavy ass food. This isn't the type of place you travel to if you weigh yourself everyday. Nonetheless it's the type of place you travel to if you love to eat and drink like a king/queen. Which is why when looking back on my trip I realize that even though we basically forfeited one of our days we still did plenty. I definitely feel like we did damage but in a city with 20,000 restaurants there's always more. After that it was back to Paris to spend the back-end of our five day stay there (coming soon).
Sights from Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. See ya next time.
Note: Feel free to use my Lyon Google Map Guide which lists all of the restaurants featured in this post plus many more I didn't get to try. Click HERE to see it. As always thanks for reading.