Journeys with Carole Kotkin
Lyon, France: Gourmand's Delight
Carole Kotkin is a syndicated Miami Herald food columnist and co-author of “MMMMiami – Tempting Tropical Tastes for Home Cooks Everywhere.” She is also the manager of The Cooking School at The Ocean Reef Club, food editor for “The Wine News” magazine, and co-host of “Food and Wine Talk” on southfloridagourmet.com.
Lyon may be France’s second city but it should be first on every visitor’s list. More or less midway between Paris and Marseilles, it’s known as the food capital of France and extraordinary food is one of the main reasons travelers from all over (including the French) come to Lyon, which is said to have the highest ratio of restaurants to people anywhere in France.
Lyon is blessed with culinary history as rich as its extraordinary produce. Not only does it have an abundance of Michelin starred restaurants but it also has styles of eating unique to it: from cafes and bistros to bouchons (literally “corks,” but the familiar name for wine bars) where 19th Century silk weavers used to go for their large plates of offal (organ meats). It is now considered the city’s unique version of the bistro that focuses on hearty food, like coq au vin, and offal dishes like tripe, all served up with plenty of wine.
The Beaujolais region lies between the city of Lyon and Macon, encompassing nearly 50,000 acres of vineyards. A carafe or bottle of Beaujolais sits on virtually every table in local restaurants and the locals wash down everything from seafood to salad to steak with it, providing ample evidence that it can be a very good meal partner. Except for a small amount of chardonnay, Beaujolais mostly produces red wine from only one variety—gamay. You’re likely to find a number of bistro staples — from Lyon’s celebrated charcuterie to tête de veau with leeks and gribiche (a cold sauce similar to mayonnaise), saucisson Beaujolais with potatoes and lentils, and pike quenelles (the delicate dumplings are a Lyonnais specialty) to Lyonnais salads composed of frisee lettuce tossed with bacon, croutons and poached egg.
In a city as food-oriented as Lyon, a visit to the main market is a must. And the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, in a modern building near the Part-Dieu station, is an enticing market where counters spill over with everything from fish to frogs legs, many different types of local sausage, including ones with pistachio nuts and truffles, and excellent cheese mongers — among them the celebrated Renee Richard — with selections of tommes, chevres and St.-Marcellins.
At the charcutier Bobosse you find the fat andouillettes served in many of Lyon’s bouchons. Claude Rolle’s stand offers luscious-looking sides of smoked salmon, caviar and aperitif cups of mousse of foie gras mixed with pistachios and currants served in Lyon’s haute cuisine restaurants. For chocolate lovers, a stop at Sève Maitre Chocolatier for macarons is not to be missed.
At the market along the Quai St Antoine on the banks of the Saone, you’ll find everything from thick-stemed chard and small wild strawberries with an exquisite flavor to mountain hams and honeys.
After all that food, it’s time to walk off all those calories. A good place to start is the Place Bellecour, a beautifully laid out square from Louis XVI’s time. Place des Terreaux serves to set off the Hotelel de ville (city hall) and the Museum of Fine Arts housed in an old Benedictine abbey. The city blankets all sides of the Rhone and Saone Rivers. Its central district sits on the peninsula formed by the rivers’ convergence and has an excellent public transport system. Get the Lyons City card, which gives unlimited access on the bus and underground plus entry to museums, guided tours and river cruises. If, after all this, you still want to include Paris in your itinerary, it’s only 2 hours away on the TGV (fast train).
Where to Eat
Le Bistrot De Lyon
64 ru Meciere
One of Jean-Paul Lacombe’s Des Bistrots de Cuisiniers around the city serving regional specialties.
Restaurant Mathieu Viannay
47 Avenue Foch
Mathieu Viannay, a bright young star in Lyon’s dining scene has earned a Michelin star and “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” with recipes combining originality, conceptual simplicity, and authenticity of ingredients. His dégustation menu features foie gras, lobster, monkfish and honey Madeleines.
Restaurant Pierre Orsi
3 Place Kléber
Pierre Orisi apprenticed with Paul Bocuse and worked in some of France’s finest kitchens, including Bise, Lucas-Carton and Maxim’s, before stints in England and at Maxim’s in Chicago. He was named “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” and is a recipient of a Michelin star. Fish dominates this finely-tuned menu, influenced both by Orsi’s Lyonnais roots and his tropical travels. Enjoy such stand-outs as foie gras and truffle ravioli; risotto of langoustines with peas; and grilled monkfish with olive oil.
Café de Federations
8,9,10 rue Major Martin
The most famous of Lyon’s bouchons, the Cafe des Federations has been called ‘the soul of Lyon.’ All the traditional Lyonnaise specialties are available here.
La Brasserie Le Sud
11 Place Antonin Poncet
Paul Bocuse’s venture south (including Provence and, to a lesser degree, French-speaking North Africa) with a menu that includes tagines and couscous.
Where to Stay
Sofitel Lyon ****
20 Quai Gailleton – 69002 Lyon
This very efficient hotel is located at the heart of Lyon, near the Place Bellecour, with stunning and unobstructed views over the banks of the Rhône. All ammenities are available here.
Le Jardin d’Hiver
10, rue des Marronniers – 69002 Lyon
Le Jardin d’Hiver is almost as difficult to find as the traboules of old Lyon, although it is right off Place Bellecour and rue des Marroniers, a pedestrian mall. Once inside this family run bed and breakfast, you will find an outstanding value. Two brand new spacious bedrooms are available with a lovely breakfast. The hosts are charming and helpful.
More information: Lyon Convention and Visitors Bureau, Place Bellecour