Well, it really was an excellent week.
Technologically speaking less so, as the day after I arrived Internet Explorer stopped functioning on my friends' computer. I may have exhaled when I should have inhaled--whatever the reason I remained computerless for the rest of the week. (And yes, there are loads of Wi-Fi zones across Lyon, but to use them you need a laptop, which of course I didn't have. Apparently regular internet cafes are so fifteen minutes ago.) This is why I am writing this ensconced in my own study, with our now distinctly larger chicken tucked in between my neck and shoulder, murmuring in her melodious new, adolescent voice.
To smooth my ruffled blogger feathers, I had decided to indulge in the fundamentals, culinarily speaking. In Lyon, comfort food is easy to find. Just go to a decent, not too touristy bouchon. The city keeps a short list of the real thing. (Seriously; that sort of thing is no joke in France, and even less so in Lyon.) Specific to the city and originating in the sixteenth century, the bouchon is said to be named after the bits of straw that were gathered and hung from the restaurant sign to indicate that one's horse could be fed and watered as well. It is really about a particular cosiness in size and spirit, and a menu that limits itself, more or less, to the food classics of the area.
I inaugurated my research into comfort (ahem) at friendly, competent Le Mercière. The daily special terrine de canard maison (house-made duck terrine, see photo below) did not disappoint, studded with pistachios and slivers of foie gras. After this substantial starter came the ubiquitous salade Lyonnaise, dressed with croutons, very large chewy bits of bacon, an assertive, mustard-laced vinaigrette and a poached egg. To my surprise, un-asked for flambeed crepes suzette also came to my table, on the house as they were celebrating the fete de chandeleur all of February. After that, there was just room for a noisette (an expresso with a touch of hot milk) and a bit of one of the local chocolates, Valrhona. Smile.(Le Mercière: 56, rue Mercière; tel: 047.837.6735)Dinner was a slight affair after such a lunch, and this was to be the trend for most of the week; lunch as my main meal.
Next lunch break was at Le Nord. Not an officially recognized, authentic bouchon, but one of the Lyonnais Paul Bocuse's brasseries. Bocuse, you know, for whom the Bocuse d'Or, the Lyon-based world chef championship, is named. The three Michelin star guy whose work resulted in the term nouvelle cuisine. Granted, there is nothing nouvelle to be found in any of his four relaxed (read: bowing to the mass market) brasseries, which showcase regional specialties. But it is as close I will personally get to an imperial bouche-ful of Bocuse. Refinement is to be expected, given the relatively arch prices (also to be expected from a national institution?)
At first blush Le Nord is notable for having an authentic sense of well-cared for age; it is in fact over a century old, and was where Bocuse worked as a teenager. Perhaps this is why he bought it. First to my table came a saucisson chaud baked in brioche, with a nice play between salt and sweet.Then I tasted a really very fine quenelle, which is what happens when a Lyonnais decides to make a dumpling. It comes out as the lightest souffle-esque concoction, most traditionally perfumed with pike--though there are innumerable other flavors on offer in Lyon. Here they kept it classic, serving a Nantua sauce (crayfish, butter, tomato...) on the side. That quenelle made everything that accompanied it sing, even the Basmati rice.I was so affected by the quenelle that I nearly forgot to snap a photo of my apple tarte tatin dessert, with its salted caramel sauce, (a disappointing crust) and vanilla bean creme glace. Talk about apple pie and ice cream! Coffee felt bracing, even cleansing, after all this wintry decadence. (Brasserie le Nord: 18, rue Neuve; tel: 047.210.6969) I felt restored--and yes, comforted--able to continue in my mission of getting to know Lyon.