Monday, November 14, 2011

Baby in a Closet

We just spent almost four days in Lyon, which is a two-hour TGV ride southeast of Paris.  We chose Lyon because a) we hadn't been there, b) it is relatively close, and c) it is considered the gastronomic capital of France. It's difficult to describe Lyon - it is at the same time an incredibly lovely city and just another city. 

We were thrilled that friends of ours who happened to be in France (as part of a multi-month travel bonanza - they'd already been to Morocco and Israel, and are heading next to South America - amazing) agreed to crash our anniversary trip and come to Lyon with us.  While we love traveling together, we also miss quality time with friends and the arrival of the Newyorkifornians came at a perfect time for us as we've been a bit friend-sick. [Giving them this name because they are traveling between moving from New York to California - and if you ask them where they live, it's hard to get a straight answer.]

On the Newyorkifornians' first night with us in Paris, we stumbled upon the opening of yet another pastry shop in the neighborhood that was celebrating with free champagne and free pastry.  A great way to welcome friends to the city, for sure!
The Newyorkifornians

The truth is, the trip got off to a brutal start for us. Baby Oil was up from 2am-6am the night before we left, which is unusual (perhaps should have been worrisome?) and just sucked.  We boarded the train on no sleep, and while Baby Oil napped on the train, the screaming child in the seats across the aisle prevented either of us from napping. 
We were so tired, we didn't care if our kid crawled around the hotel lobby with no pants on.

We arrived in Lyon on no sleep, couldn't get Baby Oil to nap in the hotel, so Mr. Oil crashed in the hotel and I took Baby Oil for a stroll in order for him to sleep.  But this walk was my first glimpse at the traditional European beauty of Lyon.

By the way, this day of exhausted suckiness was also our fourth wedding anniversary.  Awesome.  But the day picked up with a stroll through Croix Rousse, a funky gentrifying neighborhood with cool shops and great cafes.  We saw a sign advertising hot spiced wine at one cafe, and we knew we were finally getting somewhere with Lyon. Of course, we also made time to stop at a chocolate store where we sampled the "famous" coussin of Lyon.  I say "famous" because the woman told us it was a known specialty but I remain unconvinced.  Basically, it's a rectangular shape candy of almond paste with chocolate in the middle.  Eh. Unimpressed.  I preferred a different version with fruit jelly in the center - I tried blueberry which was sweet and juicy.

However, Les Halles Paul Bocuse was our first true a-ha moment.  We went early Saturday morning - and then returned with the Newyorkifornians for lunch the same day.  Home to several dozen stands or shops, ranging from the traditional fromageries and boucheries to a number of oyster bars to pastry shops and more, it is a food-lover's paradise. For lunch, I had quenelles-in-a-cup.  A quenelle is a traditional Lyonnais speciality (though served in other places) that is a "sausage" made from fish.  If you're thinking gefilte fish - yes, it's similar, but much lighter and a more neutral flavor.  Quenelles-in-a-cup is gnocci-sized quenelles served, in my case, in a delicious spicy tomato soup. 

Even more up my alley were the unique macaron flavors at Seve. I experienced my first savory macaron - gorgonzola sesame.  Strong flavors, but surprisingly good.  The three sweet macarons I tried were coing (quince), licorice, and cola.  If you want a perfectly formed macaron where the cream literally bursts with the brightness (and almost the fizziness!) of cola, then this is the cookie for you.  We also sampled a praline pastry at another shop, drawn in by the attention-grabbing red glaze.

You know you are traveling with real friends when they give up dining at a Paul Bocuse brasserie because your kid is sick, exhausted, and needs to go to sleep early - and instead, are happily willing to eat burgers (beef, chicken, and fish), drink wine, and play Settlers of Catan in your hotel room while said kid sleeps in the closet.  (The baby-in-a-closet sounds less bad if you know it was a large enough closet that the porta-crib fit with room to spare.)
After a bottle of wine, there's a lot of fun to be had with baby gear.

Fortunately, we were able to make to Le Sud, one of Paul Bocuse's four brasseries, the following night instead.  And were we ever glad to have made it!  The food looked, smelled, and tasted amazing.  Le Sud features flavors of southern France, so there was quite a bit of fish and seafood on the menu.  Mine came with a rich and creamy risotto that was simply fantastic.  Even the ceasar salad dressing was exceptional. 

I plan to post again on Lyon and share a few of Mr. Oil's photos.  I remain both impressed and unimpressed with Lyon, but overall a favorable flavor remains on my tongue (tastes a bit like a cola macaron...).