Monday, March 14, 2016


Before settling into Paris we took a quick weekend trip to Lyon, France’s second largest city. I didn’t know much about the city going in, except that I enjoyed the Anthony Bourdain Lyon episode when he ends up at legendary chef Paul Bocuse’s hunting lodge for an outrageous meal. (Lyonnaise food is every American offal-loving hipster’s dream; think veal feet and liver and pig’s ears etc.). And it’s true that Paul Bocuse is a major figure looming over the city.

We stayed ten feet from Lyon’s beautiful theater.

The old town above the Seine is a Saltzburg-esque, Rick Steves–approved playground, complete with a beautiful cathedral, the ruins of a Roman theater, and requisite adorable squares.

The view down the hill is great, too.

On the way to (Paul Bocuse’s) Les Halles (the big indoor market), we stopped at a memorial/chapel to look for the name of an ancestor of mine on a list honoring victims of the Reign of Terror of 1793–94 (when the French revolution went really, really awry. We have a fascinating memoir of a 19th-century relative detailing the horrors). 

I can only do so much (grim) history on vacation, so Les Halles was a needed corrective. I’ve been reading Julia Child’s wonderful memoir of her early years in France, in which she explains that  French chickens are better because, in part, Americans are much more squeamish about how they buy theirs.

 If Life in France mentions Brittany Sea Urchins, I haven’t gotten to that section yet.

A flavorless and watered down espresso at Les Halles — at what was supposedly a new-style coffee roaster — confirmed the stereotype that coffee isn’t very good in France. Julia Child wrote that one of the few things she missed about the U.S. in the late 1940s and early 1950s was the good strong coffee … and given the state of coffee in America in 1950, this tells you all you need to know about coffee in Paris. Another book I read for this trip (and which I highly recommend), The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Lebovitz, riffs hilariously about the bad coffee in Paris and how even when a cafe has an actual manual espresso maker, French café workers (I won't call them baristas) seem to treat the espresso tamper as ornamental. John insists that this 2009 book is a bit out of date, and that if you know where to find the bearded hipsters, you can secure a good espresso in Paris. I don’t doubt it — actually, I intend to verify this hypothesis in the next few days — but these new American-style cafes are the exception that proves the rule. European coffee overall remains trapped in a terrible no man’s land of automatic machines that often deliver something between an espresso and a cup of drip. Couldn't they at least pick one and do it well? This morning I tried one of those Nespresso pod machines that tennis star Roger Federer is always hawking — and I was amazed at just how flavorless something that looks like espresso can be. And really, Louvre, a Nespresso in your café? The fact remains that a café near any American college, even one in, say, a small city in central Kansas, likely delivers a better coffee than the thousands of generic cafés (outside of Italy) where Europeans linger over cigarettes pretending that it's warm, or at least that they are warm in their thin urban-wear jackets and scarves. 

And speaking of what else the French could learn from Americans … well not even this blogger was stupid enough to drink beer rather than wine at a nice restaurant in Lyon. But it still broke my heart to see this:

To think this is what Lyoners (? ... the Lyonnaise?) must think is a high-end, specialty-store American beer. I mean holy %^&9, $32.50 for a 6-bag of InBev’s Blue Moon? Then again, maybe the beer wasn’t so expensive compared to 11 Euros for corn syrup and 8 for flour.

Not sure what a doughnut costs here.

We stuck with what the French do best. Julia Child described learning how to make basic fish soup during her year in Marseilles (on the Mediterranean), and so at Paul Bocuse’s bistro in Lyon, Le Sud, where one can get a great meal without taking out a loan, like at his three-star, I had to try it.

Excellent, and as much a classic as a Dover sole. Much better than the veal’s feet.

Speaking of classics, check back in a few days after I’ve had a chance to search for Duck a l'Orange in Paris ...

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