16 June 2012

Lyon Tourism & Gastronomy: Introducing The Bouchon

John shows the pastries who's boss
Lyon, Lamb Knuckle, and Beef Snout, Oh My!

So, did I mention that Lyon is supposedly the gastronomical center of France? We were lucky to find that Theo and Quentin’s district, the Croix Rousse,  is central for shopping, food, and metro transportation, so although many shops in France are closed on Monday (as well as Sunday), we certainly managed. After waking, we quickly found a bakery and forced an almond & chocolate croissant, a Swiss pain au chocolate, a nutella-stuffed donut, and two espressos upon ourselves for under five dollars. (I try to ensure that the bulk of the pastry is consumed by John, and it’s not easy. Rather, it’s easy for him—not me.)

We spent the day sightseeing, and I must tell you that the place to find the best view of Lyon lies in front of the amazing Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (which you can reach by a funicular train). Even though it was pouring rain and I was awaiting death by lightning strike, the view of the city below was stunning enough to keep me rooted for at least a minute. Don’t miss it if you go to Lyon.
lyon plaza
Strolling in Place Bellcour
leon city hall
Guarding the City Hall


lyon notre dame
An ominous overlook of Leon at the Notre Dame
lyon notre dame
Facade of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière
city of leon
Watching the storm roll in from Lyon's Notre Dame 
The hills of Leon...
french streets
Hunting for an authentic French Bouchon...


OK, it's time to get serious. This is where it gets good. Really good.

Near-starvation at about 10 that night, we threw ourselves at the mercy of our couchsurfing hosts, and they lead us to an authentic Lyonesse restaurant, Le Laurencin. Now, Le Laurencin isn't just any anuthentic Lyonesse restaurant. It's a Bouchon. The food of bouchons is something comparable to southern soul foodthey use everything, and it is damn good. As I write, I can feel my stomach looking up at me with puppy dog eyes, asking me why we didn’t just build a small home in this restaurant, in which we could happily carry out the rest of our days.

But I'll warn you: Bouchon food is weird. Kind-of-scary-weird, but surprisingly satiating in a stick-to-your-ribs way. Unlike the Parisian noveau-art-bird-food you might imagine when you think "French cuisine," the Lyonnaise culture keeps things fatty, meat-focused, and doesn't waste an inch of the animal. It's rustic and rowdy, and you better come with a hungry tummy and an open mind. Allow me to give you some examples:

french bouchon food
Beef snout, veal "trotters" and fromage blanc with French herbs
As an appetizer, John had museau de boeuf (beef snout), pied de veau (veal trotter), and cervelle des canuts (a fromage blanc blend with French herbs). I had a salad with chevre-filled puff pastry balls which I'll only classify as acceptable, as the cheese was disappointingly scant.
bouchon food
My puff salad
Unsure about that stinky, soupy Reblochon cheese?
My main plat of lamb knuckle (which is actually lamb shank) with gratin dauphinois (creamy potatoes with Gruyere) was arguably the best lamb I’ve ever tasted. Fall-off-the-bone tender and positively dripping with a rich rosemary sauce, I literally couldn’t stop eating it, despite the dull ache beginning to manifest itself in my stomach. 
Lamb knuckle lamb shank
Lamb knuckle (lamb shank) with a rich brown rosemary sauce & potatoes au gratin


french quenelle
Pike quenelle with lobster sauce and rice
John took the strange route (again) and dined on pike quenelle with lobster sauce and rice. It was a bit too fishy for my liking, which only went to support my theory to seldom trust a dish that comes with rice as its side. I was happy to have tasted the beautifully textured quenelle, however. Made with egg, a mild-flavored ground fish, and flour, it puffs up in the oven to a textural combination of soufflé and crème brulee, and a taste of whatever you throw on it. Next time I'll avoid the lobster sauce.

Theo (our Couchsurfing host) also had a notable dish: andouillette, which is essentially a sausage of pork intestines that typically and enthusiastically includes the colon. I'm going to have to tell you that it's one of the few foods I find to be disgusting. John, on the other hand, can eat it by the spleenful without reserve.
french andouilette sausage
the infamous andouilette, or "colon sausage"
My gastronomic experience continued its upward slope, ending with the absolutely most amazing profiterole (and maybe dessert) I have ever devoured. Floating atop a thick chocolate sauce was a light and crisp cream puff, a couple heaping scoops of almond ice cream, and enough whipped cream to embarrass a cow. It hurt to eat something so good.
best profiterole ever
The one profiterole to rule them all
And so concluded our first meal at a restaurant in nearly two weeks of French dining, and one of the best meals I've ever had (!). And all, I might add, for $19 per person. Oh, my heart. 

We walked home, and I entered a state of nirvana. Soul food gets me every time.


The Savings: We bout a 10-pass subway ticket to get around for a 10% discount on per-trip ticket price. We bought a small baguette, cheese, and salami at a grocery store for lunch instead of paying restaurant prices. While it took us a lot of walking to find the right-priced restaurant for dinner, it paid off! We were lucky to have locals to steer us in the right direction.


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