Note: This is one of a series of articles about Art in Voyage -- Beyond Travel's tour of Paris and Lyon, co-hosted by Scott Joseph with Kevin Fonzo. Previous articles include A Food Adventure in France Begins, Paris Day 2, Paris Day 3, Paris Day 4 and Lyon Day 1
Our second day in Lyon was to have begun with a tour of a high-end chocolate producer, but the shop had gotten the date wrong. So instead, our afternoon tour guide came early and took us on a mini food tour of Lyon, beginningwith Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a permanent indoor market with upscale vendors. (You can't miss it; it's right across the street from a building with a mural of Bocuse painted on its side, shown at top.)
We sampled Pike Quenelles, one of the must-have dishes of the region, and local sausages. (One made with both pork and beef was my favorite.)
Also, sausage baked in brioches, which, as chef Kevin Fonzo pointed out, is essentially the original pigs in a blanket.
Most of us only nibbled, because we were anticipating the main event of the evening, a trip to L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, more commonly known as Restaurant Paul Bocuse.
The restaurant sits outside of town, a jewel box of a building near the river. Our party of six was greeted by Francois Pippala, the longtime maitre d’. He invited us into the kitchen where I was surprised to see Francesco Santin, who had been with Monsieur Paul, the upstairs restaurant at Epcot’s France pavilion, before returning to the real France. Santin, who is assistant chef de cuisine, gave us a full tour of the kitchen. Everyone was impressed with how small the actual cooking area is. We posed for pictures with the staff then took our seats in the main dining room for the feast.
We started with Champagne, a treat from Monsieur Pippala, and considered the menu.
One of our group had to try the V.G.E soup, a truffle-laden broth under a pastry dome that Bocuse created for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. My dining companion adored it, as well she should at 90€ a bowl (no, it’s not available by the cup).
I started with the Pike Quenelles, a more representative rendition than the thimble I’d sampled earlier in the day. The quenelles were creamy textured and served in a wonderfully rich crawfish sauce.
Two of our guests conspired to order the sea bass, because it must be ordered by two people. It comes to the table whole and robed in baked pastry. The lead server slices off the crust and carefully debones the fish, plating the tender flesh and topping it with some of the pastry. I tasted it and decided I would make that my choice if I come here again.
I chose the Bresse Chicken, a specialty of the region and of the restaurant. It’s hard to describe to people who have only known American style chickens that a bird can be firm and flavorful. The cream sauce that covered it was a perfect complement. Those who order the full chicken from the degustation menu have it brought to the table in an inflated bladder, a presentation that rivals the sea bass.
The cheese presentation is pretty impressive, too. It was all that I needed, but I needed a lot. I had to have the Mere Richard Marcellin because it was here that I first tasted this creamy and full flavored cheese. It’s marvelous. (And earlier in the day at the market, I bought a round of Marcellin to take back to my room and was delighted to learn that the woman selling it to me was Mere Richard’s daughter. I was suddenly a fawning fanboy.
The dining rooms of Paul Bocuse are pure elegance, and the service is still first rate and precise. That’s why we were all disappointed to have a young couple at a nearby table wearing t-shirts (and not especially expensive or tidy looking ones, either). When Paul Bocuse no longer requires that gentlemen wear jackets, you know that the battle is over; when t-shirted guests are allowed, the war has been lost. (I was wearing my Paul Bocuse branded necktie that I was gifted when I dined here in 1995.)
Everyone agreed that this was indeed a three Michelin star experience, and couldn’t help compare it to the one-star experience at Jules Verne a couple of nights before. There, the view from the Eiffel Tower is the draw.
At Paul Bocuse, it’s all on the plate.