LYON (Jan 12-17)
After a relaxing 8 days in Nice, I hopped a train to Lyon to explore the Foodie-central home of culinary legend Paul Bocuse (who just turned 91 years old on February 11th!). I considered stopping in Marseilles or Aix for lunch, but felt I need more time to spend in those places and look forward to returning to Provence in a warmer season. Day dreams were filled with images of lavender fields and bouillabaisse.
Lyon is a gorgeous city settled around two rivers: the Rhone and the Saone. You may recognize the word Rhone from wine lists, as the Rhone Valley is one of the predominant growing regions in France. The “old city” of Lyon is located west of the Saone, while the more recently developed downtown restaurant and shopping area lies in the part of the city that sits between the two rivers.
Upon settling into the hostel, which was on the east side of the Rhone, my friendly Australian roommate and I embarked on a dinner adventure. We enjoyed a lovely walk to Le Blind Pig, a tapas and gin establishment opened by a wonderful Portugese woman a couple years ago. We each ordered a gin-based cocktail similar to the one I enjoyed in Copenhagen, right down to the toasted marshmallow! Having different tastes for dinner, we opted not to share our tapas but instead have two each to ourselves. My foie gras was and an octopus with spicy chorizo. Upon learning that our waitress was also the owner, we had a wonderful conversation about how she opened the restaurant with little promotion and now it’s running by word of mouth.
She nominated her favorite cocktail bar for our next location, so we walked over to L’Antiquaire and had the best cocktail experience of my entire three month trip in Europe! These bartenders really know their stuff and every cocktail on the list looked amazing. We each had an old fashioned, which was served with a slice of truffle mushroom and the ice cube was made using a Macallan Japanese ice ball maker, which I had never seen before and was super fun to watch.
After that, we journeyed to get a night cap at Le Passage at the recommendation of our L’Antiquaire bartenders. This place is a cute little speak easy and the bartender here fed us left-over macaroons and tiny tarts from the private party upstairs 🙂
The next day we went to check out the Bocuse market and had lunch at a soup stand towards the front. We both enjoyed the sausage and vegetable soup, then I had a Quinelle (see below), which I ordered not knowing what it was, and is always a fun thing to do. It was basically a little loaf of bread baked in a tomato sauce.
From there, we took an espresso and walked to Vieux Lyon for a DIY walking tour. The weather turned on us and we were stuck in a wintry mix of rain that wanted badly to be snow, so we opted to duck into a couple cafes for more caffeine as we winded our way through the old town. Back across the bridge in the downtown area, we stopped again but this time for some snuggles from the kitties at the cat cafe, Le Gentlecat.
I’m a cat lady… That evening after some rest, we joined a few others from our hostel for dinner at Frite Alors, which one of our roommates referred to as a “mixed concept” restaurant, and I couldn’t help but think that was cute. The idea here is poutine, but made with Belgian fries (aka thicker cut fries). I shared a small poutine with the Aussie and opted for a salad instead, feeling like I didn’t need bacon lardons, gravy and cheese sitting heavy in my stomach on top of fries all night. After that, we couldn’t resist going back to L’Antiquaire for a nightcap, where I had this beautiful vodka tonic topped with a cube of crushed ice and a bed of herbs (it was hard to get a really good picture of it!).
Saturday I went to Crossfit in the morning, then walked around the city by myself. Having “found” my way back to the Bocuse market, there was much seafood to be enjoyed with a glass of Ruinart Champagne for a pretty heavy lunch that was also fairly heavy on my pocketbook. Aside from having friends to share company with, France is also a great place to have friends to share food, and the tab, with as well.
I walked around and went back to Vieux Lyon to capture some pictures since the rain kept my camera in my bag the day before. After some light meditation and journaling in the comfort of my hostel bed (this was the first and only time I got the top bunk in my entire 3-month trip), I joined my new roommates for dinner in Vieux Lyon at Le Laurencin, which is popular because the serve a three-course meal for $15. By “$” I mean Euro, by the way 🙂 Although the service was good here and the wait wasn’t terrible for Saturday night, the quality of the food was not great and I probably wouldn’t go back on a return trip to Lyon. But if you’re trying to save money, which I was after my lunch at the Bocuse market, it’s not terrible. I had the French onion soup (which was topped with shredded cheese), followed by the steak (which was over cooked and smothered in bland demi glaze), and the creme brulee (mediocre at best) for dessert. I tried to push half my food on my table mates, but they weren’t having it, so sadly food waste it was.
Sunday was gorgeous, and the Crossfit gym being closed, I went for a short run then stopped for brunch at Konditori. The service here was a little rude at the beginning because I didn’t have a reservation. They told me I would be squished between two parties of two at a table that eight and had six seats open. I was never squished, but I did enjoy this egg dish with toast and tomatoes. It was delicious, and a dirty chai latte was the perfect accompaniment. Upon finishing my brunch and making my way through the Parc de la Tete d’Or to the Zoo, I spent half an hour watching the red pandas play, chasing each other around, climbing trees, play fighting, and being just as cute as red pandas can be. I walked home and decided to “fast” for the evening, going to bed early after reading about a quarter of “Kitchen Confidential”.
My last day in Lyon, I went to the art museum in the morning after stopping at the Puzzle Cafe for a dirty chai latte. Not sure why the chai latte bug bit me in Lyon, but I gave in to my cravings without haste. After the museum I had lunch at Le’Entrocote, a steak/frites place, where the service was the best I’d had yet in France, and the food up to par with that. The steak was perfectly cooked, there wasn’t too much sauce downing it, the fries were nice and crispy, the pre-meal salad was lightly dressed and crunchy, and the server didn’t push more fries onto my when I said no.
From there, I went on a mini-tram tour through the Croix Rousse which was really interesting. If you find yourself in Lyon, I recommend you do that tour early on in your stay. You have the option to get off at the top of the hill and pick up another tram after you’ve explored that neighborhood, or you can do like me and just walk back up it afterwards. After a full day of climbing hills and stairs and exploring the city, I ventured back down and stopped at Le Nord, a Bocuse establishment, for a Lyonnaise salad and a bowl of French onion soup for dinner on my way home. Both were delicious, if a little over priced. I finally felt satisfied with a French onion soup in France, which put my search for a good one to rest. (back to top)
DIJON (Jan 17-20)
Entering Dijon on Tuesday afternoon, I had to wait a couple hours to meet my Air BnB host since he and his wife were still at work. Thus I went to Starbucks to kill some time, stay warm, read and decide how to spend two days in this small city in Burgundy (another name you might recognize from wine lists… this is where the “best” Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, which are referred to as Burgogne and Blanc de Burgogne respectively, in French, are created).
I was very excited to learn that there was a gym a couple blocks away from where I was staying, and learned about the Owl Trail, which is basically a DIY-walking tour for visitors. I also learned that the market hall in Dijon was designed by Eiffel and read up on a “mustard-visit” mustard shop.
Upon checking in and meeting my adorable, fluffy, kitty love for the next three days, I wandered out to try a beer at Les BerThom before dinner at Pourqoi Pas (which translates to “Why Not?”). Apparently it’s rare to get in here without a reservation, and I can see why. This place was amazing. Another 3-course meal establishment but everything was SO GOOD. Including the service. This meal vies for the best meal I had in France. 1) Cream of mushroom soup served in a mug; 2) pork medallions served with Brussels’ sprouts, peas, carrots, and parsnip puree; 3) a 2014 Burgandy (ie: Pinot Noir); 4) yogurt topped with honey as a palate cleanser; 5) cherry cake with colorful, avant-garde sugar decorations.
The next day, I went to the gym just to be told that they only sell 6 and 12 month memberships and wouldn’t allow me to come in on a three-day pass. It was way too cold for me to run outside (Dijon is apparently the coldest city in France!). So I decided walking and some yoga + pilates in my private room would have to suffice. I followed the owls on the gold triangles, stopping into gift shops and clothing stores along the way to warm up. That took all of 2.5 hours… So I spent some time shopping for mustard at Moutarde Maille Dijon, the counter clerk was super helpful and let me taste a lot of things. They have four mustards on tap and will fill hand-made-in-Burgundy clay pots with the yellow treasure. There is a store in NYC to visit for refills when needed. With my new mustard, I set off to find some baguette and meat and successfully did so along with a 250mL bottle of Burgundy, which made the perfect late lunch at home. I decided to relax that evening and stayed in with the kitty, reading and snuggling and loving having a private room with a full sized bed and comfortable pillows.
Day two in Dijon… much the same as day one, except I went to Halles de Dijon, which was closed the day before. Although the market hall was open, most of the booths were still closed because it was off-season. It was still cool to see the inside of the market. I stopped at a tea store and read for a while, then went home and watched a movie while eating lunch (more baguette with meat and mustard). That evening I had dinner at Le Petit Gascon, which was not as exciting as I had hoped it might be. The Cassoulet was delicious, but I was the only table there and that was kind of lonely. Oh well, I was leaving for Paris the next day! (back to top)
Foodie Things About These Regions
Rhone/Lyon is famous for Bouchons, which are a type of restaurant that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine such as sausages, duck pate or roast pork. The dishes tend to be fatty and heavily oriented around meat. Some Bouchons are officially certified while other restaurants will use the term in their name. Typically, a Bouchon will emphasize a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.
Pates featuring ham, goose and game begin the treasures of the Rhone valley. Exceptional among these are the:
- Saucisson de Lyon (air-dried sausage) used in Lyon’s trademark dishes, saucissons aux pommes (sausages with potatoes) and Saucisson chaud au Macon (pork sausage cooked in red wine)
- Andouillettes – smoked sausages often made from veal and served with a mustard sauce; or
- Rosette or Boudin blanc sausages – veal or chicken sausages
Patisseries (bakeries) specialize in rich chocolate gateaux (cakes with layers of cream). Other popular desserts of the region include:
- Galette Perougienne – A buttery, sugary, flat tart eaten with le tupin de crème, (a huge jug of thick cream)
- Granite aux Pommes et Calvados (Apple and Calvados Ice)
- Bernachon chocolates
- Nougat blanc de Montelimar – white nougat of almonds, egg white and honey
Cheeses unique to Rhone include:
- Saint Marcellin, a soft white goat’s cheese
- Tomme de Savoie
Other dishes regional to Lyon:
- Soupe a l’OIGNON (Onion Soup) – Caramelized onions in a meat stock, topped with grilled bread and Gruyere cheese
- Salad Lyonnaisse – poached eggs and bacon tossed with frisee
- Quenelles de brochet – bread dumplings made either vegetarian or stuffed with a protein like chicken or fish, are usually served with a creamy tomato-crayfish sauce
Burgundy – Heavy on meat, stocks, cream sauces and cheese, meals from this region tend to be hearty, rich and come in large portions.
- Gougeres – Gruyere cheese balls stuffed in pastry dough, very light and generally served before dinner
- Beouf de Bourgogne – An earthy stew using beef from Charolais cattle with bacon pieces, mushrooms, other vegetables and red wine, often served over pasta
- Coq a Vin – Chicken braised with wine, bacon lardons, mushrooms and garlic