Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eating in Lyon, Part I

One of the greatest pleasures of traveling is savoring the local cuisines, and in no place is that truer than France, a country globally recognized for the excellence of its food, an integral aspect of its culture. The French take their food very seriously. From a country that created McDonald's and TGI Friday's, Americans are apt to make some disasterous faux-pas in French restaurants--asking for a "doggie bag" (doesn't exist), telling the waiter you didn't like your food (oh know you di-n't!), sending it back (OMG-well, I have survived to tell this tale), or even worse, not finishing every last bite, a criminal offense in the land that created canard à l'orange, foie gras and creme brulée. These actions can warrant you anything from a confused side-long glance to a cold glare and the disappearing act. Don't be frightened--the vast majority (at least in my experience) of French waiters are perfectly nice, and many are even down-right friendly and chatty, but it is important to know the rules of the game before putting your napkin in your lap. If you don't come with a hearty appetite, be prepared to say "c'était bon, mais j'ai plus faim." (It was good, but I'm full.) I still marvel at the way tiny French women are able to pack away plateful after plateful--where does it all go??

A perhaps lesser known fact is that Lyon is known as the "gastronomic capital of France." This is quite high praise in a culinary center such as France. This is yet another quality that differentiates Lyon from Paris: it has its own local and regional specialties, some of which can be difficult to find or even unknown outside of the region. In fact, Lyon has its own specific type of restaurant called a "bouchon," which serves lyonnaise specialties. Its food is indissociable from the city itself. Two of my favorite specialties are saucisson chaud (especially with pistachios in it) and the many pastries made with pink pralines, as well as a holiday treat called papillottes, which are traditionally eaten around Christmas. They are wrapped in shiny foil and come with a paper inside with famous quotes or random trivia. Though today they are eaten all over France, they originated in Lyon. When I told my students that papillottes don't exist in the US, they looked at me, agast, and one of them exclaimed, "but it's not Christmas [without papillottes]!!" Well, we of course have our own Christmas treats, but I will indeed be missing these little chocolate praline delights next year.

Anyway, to the point of this post, which is part one of a mouthwatering mini-series. As I am spending 7+ months in the midst of so much delicious-ness, it would be a crime not to include it in my blog, as it is indeed an essential part of my experience. Below is a list (thus far) of various types of eateries that I have enjoyed during my first few months (as well as some places to avoid). So get ready to take some notes for your future trip to Lyon!
menus indicates a prix fixe, or fixed price menu offering 2 or 3 courses for one price, often with a few options for each course. Most French restaurants will offer this option as well as a la carte. Often they will offer daily lunch menus which are usually a great deal, so lunch is the perfect time to sample expensive restaurants!

Les Adrets
30 rue du Boeuf (Vieux Lyon)
15.50 euro lunch menus which include appetizer, meal, dessert, wine and coffee.
Lyonnais/French cuisine
Reservations recommended unless you're feeling lucky. I did happen to get lucky the first time I wandered past and decided to step in for lunch. The chef offers two choices for each course at lunch and everything I had was absolutely delicious.

9 rue Mercière
(this is both the name and the address)
2e arrondissement
8-9 euro plats du jour for lunch, different menus served all day starting at 15 euros.
Lyonnais/French cuisine
Also delicious, generous portions, NYC decor!

Brasserie Georges
30 cours de Verdun
2e arrondissement, Perrache
For a really classic Lyon establishment, some undeniably delicious cuisine, and great a art deco interior, come here for, as it says on the wall, bonne bière et bonne chère depuis 1836! (good beer and good fare since 1836!)
menus starting at 19 euros, also a la carte

A Chacun Sa Tasse
2 rue du Griffon
1er arrondissement, Opera
A quick walk up from the Opera house, this delightful tea/coffee house is tucked away, though is clearly a favorite for locals who packed the place around afternoon coffee time (15-16h). It is super cozy, especially the upstairs where there are couches and a relaxed decor. It's a great place to grab some coffee/tea/hot chocolate with friends or a book. They have a HUGE menu, especially great for tea people like myself.

Nulle Pierre Ailleurs
2 quai Roman Rolland, Vieux Lyon
Perfect place for fondue, raclette or tartiflette (which I have yet to try), the cheesy specialties of the Alps region. The fondue and raclette (about 15 euros/person, typical price for these dishes, includes a small salad and charcuterie) are delicious, and the wooden decor combines with the cuisine to create the perfect alpine ambiance smack in the middle of the city.

Le Banana's
Place du Gouvernement, Vieux Lyon
Back to basics--cheap and tasty, sweet and savory crèpes, wide selection, open for lunch, dinner and snacks in between.

And for the dessert...

Terre Adelice
rue Saint Jean, Vieux Lyon
A million flavors of ice cream (150 to be exact--take that Baskin Robbins!)--including pink praline, 44 different fruit flavors and so much more!

Spécialites Lyonnaises
rue Saint Jean
best pink praline tart in town (though the tea is way overpriced) and other Lyon specialties

Vieux Lyon
Place du Change
for all of your macaron dreams; they have sweet AND savory flavors! By the way, that's macarOn not macarOOn. These French delights are not the coconut balls you know in the US. They are brightly colored, little sandwich cake-cookies with a meringue shell and some sort of jam or creamy filling. Tres a la mode right now and so tasty!

So that's my list so far, watch out for part 2!
Other tips: Many of the restaurants on rue St Jean, the heart of Vieux Lyon, are tourist traps with crappy food, so watch out for that! Whatever you do, avoid the competing clones that fill Place Neuve Saint Jean. They all claim to be "veritable bouchon lyonnais," each with the exact same menu and exact same disappointing cuisine. This is not heavenly gastronomy you came to Lyon for. However, many of the boulangeries along this street are pretty good, so don't hesitate to try a brioche aux pralines or grab a baguette sandwich or quiche lorraine for lunch!

Bon Appétit!