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France: One great meal in Lyon?

My wife and I will be traveling by car through quite a bit of France next month (July 2014) and although we plan to do a lot of picnicking and snacking on things we buy from shops and markets, we want to have at least one or two truly amazing restaurant meals that we will remember for a lifetime. Paris is not on our itinerary this time--I have visited Paris three times--but Lyon is. I know almost nothing about Lyon, but I have read it is considered the culinary heart of France. I have read a number of threads here with Lyon restaurant recommendations. From what I have read here and in travel guidebooks, I now am aware there is a distinct Lyonnaise cuisine, and the quintessential place to eat in Lyon is a bouchon. You must be amazed at my ignorance, but we all have to start somewhere. So this is as far as I have gotten in our planning. Sadly, we have only ONE full day in Lyon. We arrive in the morning and leave the next morning. We want to eat.

1. What restaurant(s) should we consider if we want to have the kind of meal we will remember for a lifetime? (This assumes I can even get a reservation.) Is my instinct correct that Lyon, as the supposed culinary heart of France, might actually be a better place to have such an experience than Paris? I have never eaten at any of Paris' temples of gastronomy, mostly due to lack of time. This particular trip, however, is as much about eating as anything else.

2. Would it be a better value to have this meal as a lunch rather than a dinner? Does anyone offer an amazing prix-fixe lunch that is just too good to miss?

3. We most certainly do also want to experience a bouchon. Any recent experiences that might add something to what others have recommended before here? If the old reliable recommendations are just as reliable as always, no need to list them--I can use the search function here just fine. So my initial inclination is to try to have lunch at a restaurant that will leave us with lasting memories, and then in the evening enjoy a bouchon meal. Does this thinking make sense?

4. Not to offend Chow, but is there a site on which these questions might get more attention from more Lyon experts? I don't see a lot of recent Lyon posts on here. No problem if the site is in French only.

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  1. I'm also travelling to Lyon but with teenagers. We are looking to do either brasserie nord or sud for dinner as our hotel is in between them. They are both part of the Paul Boscue empire but not the supper high one located outside of town. Good luck and I hope you get some responses.

    1. Before this gorup answers I think you need to tell us what kind of food you like. There are great restaurants near Lyon whoich offer traditonal food often rich in butter and cream and those that cook in a more modern style.
      A three-star meal costs $300/pp and up.

      BTW Lyon is not my cup of tea. So when I'm in the area, I'm happy to head out near la Dombes and enjoy a dinner of frogs legs persillé.

      4 Replies
      1. re: collioure

        Locals in that area have seriously warned us off frogs' legs except at those few houses that conscientiously serve up the real and right thing. That in mind, do you want to share the name of the place you visit?

        Googling la dombes brings up Restaurant Malapel, aka Les Platanes. With a frog as their logo, one might hope...
        http://www.restaurant-les-platanes.com/

        1. re: mangeur

          Oh, my, that's a while back. First, while staying at Georges Blanc we drove south to a little restaurant in Marlieux. Then after my morning flight had been canceled in the late afternoon, I drove out to Pérouges and wandered down the banks of the Ain till I found a nice table. They sure tasted authentic to me. I wish I could make them myself.

          I'm neither a lyonnais, a bordelais nor a norman when it comes to cuisine. I love all the others.

          1. re: collioure

            Interesting. While we were brocanting in the Ain, we fell over a tiny hamlet restaurant where I always ordered frogs' legs. The portion was 300 gr raw product. Substantial! I looked forward to it annually, but sadly it sold and our last experience was not as local in feel.

            Auberge du Mail/Les marmottes
            Place du Mail
            01150 Chazey-sur-Ain

        2. re: collioure

          Fair enough, and in reply to others' requests for restaurant recommendations, my typical initial reply is "what kind of food do you like?" In this instance, however, I omitted that information because I figured that if we want to eat at, say, a 3-star restaurant, we are already limiting our choices. If I'm not mistaken, there are three 3-Michelin-star and two 2-Michelin-star restaurants in Lyon. Granted, that is a lot for one city--no wonder Lyon is apparently considered the "culinary heart of France." I have only had this kind of experience once before, and that was at Robuchon's outpost in Las Vegas. It left me wanting to try that kind of experience again, but in France. I have never been able to plan ahead enough to do it in Paris, and this trip we are skipping Paris altogether. So maybe Lyon is where I should finally do what I have been hoping to do for a long time. Yes, these restaurants are expensive, but it can only exceed my previous experience at Robuchon, and for that I am willing to pay. Am I correct that lunch rather than dinner might be a better value? This bit of advice is often repeated about Michelin-starred restaurants everywhere.

          So the first question is whether the big-name restaurants in Lyon are really as amazing as their reputations would suggest. And if so, which would you recommend?

          By the way, we will have plenty of opportunities on this trip to enjoy humble restaurants with modest, traditional cuisine. But my thinking is that Lyon would be a good place to indulge our dream and eat on the opposite end of the scale.

          Having said all the above, I would now be glad to discuss food preferences. I have nothing against butter and cream, but I have to believe that a starred chef can produce things that make more imaginative use of traditional ingredients. Traditional, local, seasonal ingredients are best, but perhaps employing (with restraint) a few modern techniques? For example, I see nothing wrong with one course of a meal including something that uses a modernist technique, but a whole meal of that would be over-doing it for me. I hope this helps.

        3. Bouchon food is hardly light. You may, but I could never consume a Lyonnaise gastronomic lunch and follow it with a Bouchon dinner.

          5 Replies
          1. re: mangeur

            That has occurred to us, but as I said, we have only one day in Lyon. Our thinking is that if we eat a multi-hour lunch, then in the evening we can eat as little as we wish in a bouchon. It's my understanding that bouchons are like bistros, and we wouldn't be tied to a multi-course meal. Some pate and wine, maybe a little tasting of some interesting offal item, might very well be enough. Who knows. In any event, this is why my initial thinking is to do the big meal of the day at lunch.

            1. re: LorenzoGA

              Case in point: DH ordered mussels as his starter at bouchon Daniel et Denise. Mid-portion, our waiter appeared with a fresh shell bowl and removed the filled one. DH counted the remaining half portion; he still had 40 to go.

              1. re: mangeur

                Oh, we're smart enough not to order mussels unless we're hungry. A standard portion seems to be a kilo.

                I appreciate you trying to knock some sense into me, but aside from that input, are you able to offer any recommendations or other information?

                Daniel et Denise gets a lot of recommendations. From what I have read, I get the impression it is a bit more ambitious than what has traditionally been considered a bouchon--more of a real restaurant that serves everything you could expect from a bouchon and more. For a more modest bouchon, where we might not feel obliged to order a full meal, how about Café des Fédérations?

                1. re: LorenzoGA

                  Café des Fédératioins is obviously a well recognized bouchon. The point is that, yes, you can go into a bouchon and order a bite, but you will not experience the intent of the bouchon, regardless of which one you choose much less the concept of a bouchon. They are a place where a working person can fill his belly at a reasonable cost, more recently a tourist's glimpse into the past.

              2. re: LorenzoGA

                Buchons are a kind of bistro that serve traditional lyonnaise cuisine = heavy. There are many fewer than before as more modern brasseries have replaced them.

                I seconded mangeur's sage advice above because you shouldn't do a 3-star restaurant and a buchon in one day. Indeed you need to space out fine and/or rich meals. Your palate needs a rest between them.

                3-star restaurants do not necessarily serve rich foods (though some seem to focus on lobster, foie gras and truffles to my dismay), but the flavors are generally intense.

                The 3-star restaurant I have never been able to get to but am dying to go is Troisgros over in Roanne. I make a couple of their wondeful recipes.

                Paul Bocuse is traditional; I have driven by a number of times.

                I have been to Georges Blanc in Vonnas a number of years ago. Excellent but not memorable in my opinion.

                Reportedly the best of all is Marc Veyrat near Annecy two hours east. I have never been tempted because the prices are so high.

                Hopefully others here can fill in the blanks I have left.

            2. Well, I can't weigh in on the "meal of a lifetime" request, but can say (we're in Lyon right now by the way...for the second stay in a month) that Boucuse's Institut in the Royal Lyon is a very nice dinner & he has opened a small empire of places ( Oest, Sud, Nord & Est + a couple of others) that look very good as well. We've concentrated on the Bouchons while here & can re-confirm that even ordering one dish can be very filling, as these are rich hearty foods. My quenelle tonite at Le Saint Cochon (11 rue Laurencin) was in a very rich sauce &, although it was light itself, the overall dish wound up being very filling. A very nice bouchon, by the way. Last month we ate at Poelon D'Or (Ramparts d'Ainay), another very nice Bouchon but, again, I couldn't see eating this food and another meal in the same day. Sort of defeats the purpose of getting this type of hearty fare If you're trying to not get full. But, your call...just remember to check for opening times. A lot of Bouchons close Sat. & Sun.

              1. "I know almost nothing about Lyon, but I have read it is considered the culinary heart of France."

                Yes, by the Lyonnais.

                "Is my instinct correct that Lyon, as the supposed culinary heart of France, might actually be a better place to have such an experience than Paris?"

                This is really what the Lyonnais want everyone to believe, but the truth is that you do eat wonderfully mostly everywhere in France.
                There is no "culinary heart of France" and if there were one, I'm not sure it would be Lyon.

                Besides, the age-old tradition of cuisine bourgeoise and especially of sauces is from Auvergne, not Lyon. But Auvergne was always poorer, and Lyon always richer (from the silk industry), so Lyon appropriated the savoir-faire through the many house cooks and hired cuisinières who came from Auvergne to Lyon in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus the great Lyonnaise culinary tradition has two sources: the many anonymous house cooks from Auvergne, and the "canut" (working class) tradition, mostly known through simple, sturdy, highly seasoned dishes like tripes, andouillette, cervelle de canut…

                But let not my remarks mislead you, of course there is fantastic food in Lyon. Just not very light. I've heard a lot of good about Le Palégrié and L'Ourson qui boit.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Ptipois

                  "The truth is that you do eat wonderfully mostly everywhere in France."
                  I'll second that motion
                  So maybe that puts the Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace and the Jardin des Sens in Montpellier in play as well.
                  Or just pick a good 2-star. I prefer them. Theyre more inventive.

                  1. re: collioure

                    Since originally posting these questions, my wife and I have spent some time discussing it and considering the replies here.

                    I think if we force ourselves to say what we are really feeling, we will admit we want to take this opportunity to experience a 3-star or at least a 2-star. It would make our decision easy if someone said "Paul Bocuse is not worth it anymore, and you could have the same experience for less money at this other restaurant ______" but few people are going to go so far as to say that. Reading other threads here as well as many reviews and blogs, it is clear that a restaurant like Bocuse continues to draw customers who want the experience. I suspect we would enjoy the food more at one of the 2-stars, as we do enjoy "inventive" food and seasonal ingredients. It is difficult to bring ourselves to eat food out of season, and there are no seasons in the traditional dishes at Bocuse. But for this particular trip, we will be in Lyon, and Bocuse is in Lyon, and I think we simply want to add the experience to our collection of culinary experiences. It is truly a shame we will only be in Lyon for one day. But with just one day in Lyon, I believe we should check the venerable Bocuse off our list. Next time we will eat at bouchons.

                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                      You have to do what you have to do! Better to have a less than astonishing experience than to get home and have regrets about a missed opportunity.

                      1. re: LorenzoGA

                        If you are intent on a 3-star meal, I highly recommend taking the train out to Roanne and dining at Troisgros (lunch). In its present incarnation, it is both traditional and modern. And everything about the place is sublime.

                        Roanne is only a short train ride from Lyon.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          As I have known for many years, Troisgros is opposite the train station. Just I have never quite gotten there.

                          As for Bocuse I don't read anything that indicates it has lost a step. 3 stars, 4 toques in the Gault-Millau.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            I will look into Troisgros. Thanks. We will have a car, though.

                            1. re: LorenzoGA

                              With or without a car, I would go to Troisgros.