Lyon Trip Report - Part 1 - La Tassée, Brasserie L'Espace, Pizza Pino
Lyon actually comprised the second half of our just-completed Rhone Valley vacation, but I am reporting on it first, in a series of reports, and will separately post comments on our first week, spent in Provence.
Day 1 – We arrived in Lyon on Saturday afternoon and it was after 4 pm by the time that we were settled in our hotel, located near Bellecour. We’d missed lunch and not made any reservations yet for dinner. So, we headed out with the twin goals of grabbing a quick snack to tide us over, as well as to scope out restaurants close to our hotel, as we were pretty exhausted and wanted to stay within a short walk of the hotel for dinner.
First stop was the Brasserie L’Espace located on the south side of Bellecour. The terrace was packed, as it was a sunny warm day. My impression was that most of the patrons were French, many being day-visitors to the city. We ordered drinks and shared a croque Monsieur, as the snack choices were pretty minimal. The sandwich was average but it was accompanied by a small salad of dressed greens that was excellent. Indeed, one of my observations throughout our trip was that, no matter how modest or unambitious the food might otherwise be, the salads always consisted of beautifully fresh greens, dressed by a well-balanced vinaigrette.
Among the restaurants noted in our stroll was La Tassée, which unbeknownst to us is part of the same Jean-Paul Borgeot restaurant group as L’Espace. Although we could not locate any CH reviews on returning to our room, we did locate sufficient positive reviews on another site that we decided to reserve there. And, because the reviews indicated that business attire was common for the restaurant, DH wore a dark suit (he wasn’t traveling with a sports coat) and I wore a black jersey-knit dress, with heels. In fact, we were overdressed; many of the men were wearing sports coats, but more of the linen/cotton variety. My suspicion is that the reviewer might have visited on a weeknight, when patrons come directly from work, unlike the Saturday night when we visited.
The room at La Tassée is coolly elegant in a minimalist fashion, with tables spaced fairly far apart. One oddity was that we were the only patrons seated in the front room. There were 2 parties already in the back room when we arrived and 2 more that arrived after us – one of which had a reservation and one not, and all seated in the back, although neither room was full. This might be a variant of the “English Room” syndrome addressed elsewhere on this board because all of the patrons in the back were clearly native French, and we clearly are not. If there was a conscious desire to segregate the English speaking it was not because of the language skills of the wait-staff, all 3 of were working in both rooms. I prefer to think that, since the restaurant was not full, the maître d’ had decided to leave most of the front room empty to encourage drop-ins, but seated us there because a completely empty room actually discourages drop-ins. And, perhaps our upscale attire was part of his efforts to create window-dressing for the room to pull-in diners? Regardless, we were treated with absolute courtesy throughout the meal with the staff alternating between French and English, as were we.
On to the food, which was consistently good throughout the meal: I believe that the amuse consisted of a tapenade spread with crostini, but not sure. I ordered from the Menu Ainy at 41€ and my husband from the Menu Auguste Compte, at 55€; both consist of entrée, plat, cheese, and dessert, but the selections of entrees & plats differed, and we chose based on our preferences. I started with the smoked salmon served over grilled vegetables; this was a very generous portion of perfectly firm, sweet fish, with a lovely assortment of grilled carrots and zucchini. My husband had the shrimp served with asparagus, shaved parmesan, and Iberican ham; also a very generous and nicely flavored entrée. For a main course, I chose the duck breast with “red fruit sauce”; although there were hints of fruitiness in the sauce, it was actually more savory than sweet. Very delicious. My husband had the bluefish tuna with sesame seeds; don’t recall that I tasted it but recall that he liked it quite a bit. For the cheese course, we were given a choice of any of the cheese offerings on the carte – fromage blanc à la crème, demi St-Marcellin, or selections from the cheese plate. We both opted for selections from the latter. Then it was on to dessert – berry tart with ice cream (banana?) for my husband and a blueberry macaron with white chocolate mouse and nougat ice cream for me. Overall, a very satisfying meal. Not the best food that we ate but the ingredients were consistently lovely and execution professional. For the mood that we were in – needing a restorative after a hectic day – selecting a room that was quiet and well-appointed was probably almost as important as the food.
Day 2 – Sunday. A day when relatively few restaurants are open. DH was tired of French food and wanted pizza (this was actually Day 9 in France). We stopped at Pizza Pino, on the north side of Bellecour, knowing that it was a chain and not expecting anything exceptional. I ordered the Marguerite and Husband the “Napolitaine” topped with capers and olives. Oddly, his was priced 1€ less than mine, especially given that mine had virtually no basil on it – it was really a “plain,” not Marguerite. Pizzas were acceptable and met (but did not exceed) our expectations. The pizzas were generously portioned, falling over the edge of the plate. We agreed that, in retrospect, we should have ordered a starter salad to share, followed by one pizza.
For dinner, we found ourselves back at Brasserie L’Espace. A very different mix of patrons from the afternoon before – virtually all foreigners, although not surprising that Sunday dinner would attract different diners than Saturday afternoon. We both ordered off of the Le Menu Presqu’ile, both starting with the salade niçoise. As with my salad the day before, the greens were perfectly fresh, as were the other salad ingredients, with a well-seasoned dressing. For mains, I went with the grilled entrecote with béarnaise sauce and husband with the lamb. Both were fine, though nothing special. I believe that I had the fruit tart for dessert and that husband had cheese, but do not recall the details. What I do recall of the meal was that it was marred by the presence 2 tables away of a very loud, rude American couple who were the absolute caricature of American tourists; undoubtedly to display her cosmopolitan style, the wife interspersed a few Spanish phrases along with the few French words that she knew when speaking with the staff. We could not get away fast enough!
I just wanted to reply to your comment about not many restaurants being open on Sunday - this isn't strictly true although it's fair to say that a number of them are closed - you just need to know where to go! Sundays are the days when many French families dine together for lunch and very often this is in a restaurant - leading to often packed and hard to get into restaurants!
For other travellers who may be heading here this summer - a quick guide:
On the confluence, Rue Le Bec ( with extended menu info here http://eatdrinklyon.posterous.com/rue-lebec) has an excellent self-serve brunch and if you go on the 2nd seating you can dine leisurely for several hours and then walk it off back along the Saone; also on the confluence and open on Sundays, Do Mo and Purple.
In Vieux Lyon, only a 10 minute stroll from Place Bellecour, the brasserie at the Hotel Cour des Loges and also Sol Café, both on Rue du Boeuf and where you can sit outside. (Café Sol serves more mediterranean fare - moules et frites, large salads, etc, and is very reasonably priced. I recently had a salad of fried zucchini stuffed with feta which was delicious).
Around Place Bellecour, the ground floor brasserie of the Sofitel Hotel is an option - club sandwiches, burgers, steak etc; or if you prefer salads then there is a huge selection available at Le Jardin de Berthe. For an inexpensive but still decent steak and chips, the small chain restaurant L'entrecote is perfectly acceptable - there is a formule for €16 and for that you get a small simple salad, followed by thinly sliced steak, and delicious skinny fries - which keep coming and coming until you say no! This might be an option for people travelling with teenagers or people a little tired of all the heavy French food - it is not gourmet or fancy by any stretch but it is good quality, inexpensive, and again, frequented by locals.
Finally, the 5 brasseries of Bocuse are all open on Sundays and offer an excellent 4-course menu for under €30 (limited choices per course but always good) as well as the a la carte menu. My personal preference of these is Ouest and Argenson, which are more challenging to get to by public transport or without a car, but worth it. We arrived several Sundays ago at noon at Ouest with no reservation and were turned away as it was full (and it seats more than 150). The other thing about these two is that you will definitely be in the minority as a tourist, so if you're looking to be among the French, this is the place to go! I know some people shy away from these brasseries, but really they do Sundays well and you're guaranteed a good meal. Argenson has the most friendly service in my opinion and because there are hardly any tourists here, you don't tend to get the 'English-speakers' treatment.
Hope this helps anyone who's looking for good Sunday food!