October 28, 2011

MNSC Rhone Trip Day 6: Bicycling in Lyon

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The roadtrip was over and we went our separate ways this morning. A few of us took the car back to Lyon, and after a quick drop-off at Saint Exupéry Airport, the car took me to the Hilton Lyon where I would be staying the night.

Checking in was a breeze at the hotel, and soon I was able to drop my luggage in my rather spacious room. Too bad my room didn’t come with a view of either the beautiful riverside or the adjoining Parc de la Tête d’Or, but that’s what happens when you book through one of those hotel booking websites…

It’s lunchtime and I’m hungry again. I venture out of the hotel and decide to rent a bicycle from a station just outside the hotel, one of hundreds citywide. Instead of getting frustrated like I did in Paris 2 years ago, this time I found the process incredibly easy. Soon I was on the bike going down the biking/jogging path right next to the Rhône River, heading into town looking for lunch.

I didn’t have a reservation for lunch as I wasn't sure exactly when I would get into the city, so I was hoping for some luck.  Took me a few minutes to find La Meunière as I overshot it on the bike and had to double back.  I entered the busy restaurant - a lone Asian carrying a rather large camera bag - and met with some stares from the customers.  I could see that they were full, and the sole table remaining was soon filled by some people who already had reservations.  Bummer.

Well, I was kinda stuck.  In my utter foolishness I hadn't counted on these old, famous bouchons being busy for lunch on a Friday, so I had no backup.  I looked around for other options, and after navigating the streets around Hôtel de Ville, I was turned away by two more places before finally finding a table at Le Garet.

Rillettes d'oie - there was never any doubt as to what I would start with...  I haven't had rillettes on this trip and it was good to do it the French way...   They just bring you the container, you get a big dinner spoon, and any amount of bread for you to spread it on.  For me, of course, it had always been a disproportionate amount of rillettes on top of each piece of bread...

With all the bread and fatty goodness, you gotta wash it down with something.  I asked for a pot of Côtes-du-Rhône, as the locals would, and this is what I got.  Oh and that bottle next to the wine isn't really Vodka... it's the "carafe" for my water.

This was placed on my table when I arrived.  In the fall one sometimes find restaurants serving nuts, but this didn't look like any kind of nut that I'd ever seen. I picked up a piece and nibble... deep-fried pork lard.  Oh baby...

Sabodet cuit aux gênes - I was all ready to order my favorite andouillette when I was distracted by the description of this daily special.  Somewhere along the line I heard the words "tête de porc", and I was done!  I was definitely gonna try out a new type of sausage for me... made out of head cheese!

Like other Lyonnais sausages this was kinda big and fat.  It was definitely made with different parts of the pig's head, as I can taste the collagen as well as the crunchy cartilage from the pig's ears.  Interestingly, this was cooked with both the moût (must) of the wine grapes after pressing as well as the free-run juice from the press.  Very delicious.

Saint-Marcellin de Mère Richard - having a demi of Saint-Marcellin is de rigueur in Lyon, and Mère Richard is the most famous affineur.

While the cheese was nutty, creamy and delicious, the plate that it was served on was far more interesting... Look what you see after you've consumed the cheese...

With my stomach full, I set out to look at some of Lyon's famous historical sites.  Two cathedrals are on my list, and both are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Cathédral Saint-Jean-Baptiste is in Vieux Lyon, with a fountain in front depicting the baptism of Christ.  The stained glass windows and the astronomical clock are some of the nice details inside.  Once upon a time this was the seat of the archbishop of Lyon.

From the station just off the Place Saint-Jean, I took the funicular up the Fourvière hill to visit Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière.  This is the great white basilica plainly visible from afar, sitting majestically atop the hill next to an eyesore - an Eiffel Tower mini-me.  It stands over Lyon like Basilique du Sacré-Cœur watches over Paris.

The beautiful white exterior of the upper sanctuary is nothing compared to what's inside.  The interior is incredibly ornate and gilded.  The phrase bling-bling comes to mind.  I was definite in awe at the amount of work and resources poured into this place.  I guess that's the power of faith... or money... or both.

It's starting to get late, and I still have errands to run.  I walk down the hill through the trees facing the river, and find my way to Antic Wine.  It's supposed to be one of the best wine shops in town, and I'm here to look for something specific...  I've been carrying around 10 empty wine bottles in my suitcase since the start of this trip, as I had forgotten to bring my own stash of stickers to remove to labels.  Having failed to find them in wine shops during the last few days, I was hoping to be able to find them in Lyon so I can get rid of the excess baggage.  No such luck.  They did look like they had a pretty good selection, but I simply didn't have the time to browse.

I head into the main shopping area on Presqu'île and hit a few shops that sell kitchenware.  They do sell some wine paraphernalia but not the stickers.  I grab another bike and cross the Rhône to Part-Dieu.  Out of desperation I call the concierge at the Hilton Lyon, and manage to get the names of a couple of shops from the guy.  It's past 6pm and I'd better hurry if I wanted to make it to any shop that was still open.

Vavro and Co. is in a great location, at least for me.  It is exactly two doors down from my remaining shopping destination in Lyon, so I was able to hit both in the space of a few minutes.  Perfect.  Here in this spacious wine shop I finally found what I was looking for.  Success!  Now I won't have to lug around all that glass anymore... It gets pretty heavy, you know...  I also manage to pick up a couple of bottles of whites from Alsace from a producer I don't see much in Asia.

Bernarchon is apparently THE chocolatier in Lyon, and happens to be next door.  I must admit that I didn't do much homework before coming, and in reality my luggage was running out of space faster than I had expected.  I selected a few different chocolate bars to bring back as gifts, as well as a little bag of caramels.  It's now past 7pm and I needed to get back to the hotel.  I get back on the bike and ride up north.

Dinner is at 2-macaron La Mère Brazier, an institution in Lyon.  One of the first "mère" restaurants where the first female 3-star chef was crowned, this is apparently where Paul Bocuse apprenticed.  It has now been 90 years since the first opening, and its place is the culinary history of Lyon is without question.  I didn't want to do Bocuse and asked for recommendations, and this came from Felix at QLI.

Nice little nibbles

Crème de châtaignes - interestingly with pine nuts and what seemed to be pickled shallots inside.

Fricassée de champignons des bois, œuf mollet, escargot et jambon iberico - the egg was done perfectly... egg white was firm but with bounce, and a runny yolk with a solid layer on the outside.  The mix of escargot, mushrooms and jamón ibérico all worked well together.

Galette de blé noir, purée de poireau, et andouille - not exactly what I expected, but oh-so-delicious!  The tiny buckwheat galette bore a thin slice of andouille on top.  This combination would have been OK, but I didn't expect to have an oyster in the mix...  This beautiful oyster came from Florent Tarbouriech around Montpellier, and is bred to be incredibly plump.  The taste was incredibly well-balanced, creamy yet delicately tasting of the briny ocean.  Mi cuit so that it was a little crunchy in texture.  Of course it worked well with the leek purée...

Grosse langoustine rôtie au radis noir acidulé, vinaigrette au miel et romarin - the one dish that failed tonight.  The giant langoustine looked beautiful, and did taste somewhat sweet.  Unfortunately the texture had turned to mush in the middle, which tells me it's not very fresh.

Interestingly with Japanese elements, as seen by the poached radish on the side as well as the two maki (巻き) on top.  Inside the seaweed were shreds of carrots, radish, cucumber and ginger.

Pigeon rôti et céleri braisé, chutney de coing, les cuisses confites et toast de foie - very nicely executed, with rosé breast.  The little toast with pigeon foie was especially delicious.

Promages affinés - of course I had to have some Saint-Marcellin... which was really salty tonight.  Livarot was salty and slightly acidic mid-palate.

The Époisses de Bourgogne was from Berthaut, so it's not made with lait cru - unpasteurized milk.  The ones I've had before haven't been this salty and ripe... With a sip of wine in the mouth, the combination brought out pine nuts and macadamia nuts.  The cheese was so salty that it brought out the acidity on the finish of the wine.

The pre-dessert was a madeleine with some fromage blanc - another local favorite.  The fromage blanc was cool, silky and sweet... almost like a yogurt sorbet.  The madeleine was beautifully done - crispy and lovely on the outside, while warm, soft and moist on the inside.   Bravo!

Mille-feuille craquant à la vanille Bourbon - a classic, beautiful example of how it should be done.  Delicious to the last bite.


I was originally looking at the demi-bouteille section of the wine list, since I didn't think I could finish an entire bottle myself...  However I spotted a very special bottle on the list and the price was very reasonable... so I ordered it in honor of Lord Rayas and the MNSC boys.  We couldn't believe that it would be so difficult to find a decent bottle of Rayas during the entire trip, so it never showed up at any of our meals.  I guess I just had to have this bottle...

1998 Rayas - a little muted at first with some red fruits.  Long finish.  Mint, forest and ripeness really came out after 45 minutes, and body developed further.  After an hour the nose was sweet and like strawberry jam.  Good tannins here, and this wine will last for a long time.  Black plum notes. Two hours later the wine was big, ripe and sweet.  Clearly not hitting its peak yet.  I saved the remaining half of the bottle for tomorrow...

As is customary at 2 and 3-macaron restaurants in Europe, Chef Mathieu Viannay came out to greet the diners at each table, and came to me before dessert.  I think he was a little surprised when I told him that everything was perfect, except that I thought his langoustine wasn't fresh.  He was a little taken aback, and told me that he gets them fresh daily.  I told him that I was giving him my honest opinion and I loved everything else.

When I asked for the bill, I was puzzled as to why it would take more than 15 minutes to do this.  When the maître d' finally arrived with it, they had decided not to charge me for the langoustines, so I would be paying for 3 plats instead of 4.  In spite of the fact that I thought the service was painfully slow for a solo diner (it took 3 hours), this earned them brownie points in my book.

When I was waiting for my taxi outside the door, Chef Mathieu came to ask me once again for my thoughts.  I told him again that I enjoyed just about everything... and especially the flawless desserts.  I hope he got the message that I really enjoyed my meal here...

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