Lyon: Vieux Lyon, Le Bouchon Des Filles, L’Arc en Ciel

18 03 2013

Sugared slices of Galette de Pérouges at Evasion Loft this morning. Bonjour!

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We heard rain slake down on our skylight throughout our sleep, and today’s Lyon is blustery but mercifully dry. Most everything is closed Sundays, so we head to the Vieux Lyon district, where the tourist trade keeps a few spots still open for business.

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The patchy gray skies wash out the soft khaki tones of old Lyon, but the striking architectural forms cut strong across the contrasting clouds.

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The area is peppered by bouchons, specifically Lyonnaise restaurants specializing in local goodies and a convivial atmosphere. We decide that everything written in chalk on a blackboard automatically looks appealing. I score a small treasure at an antique print shop called Le Bois Debout, and we minimally peruse a craft fair along the bank of the tempestuous Saône.

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We’ve about an hour and a half until our lunch, and MP suggests a warm respite with tea. Excellent. We settle into a salon de thé offering massive creamy cakes and praline everything, but resist and chastely sip our teas and study our French (Je voudrais une cuve de vin rouge. Que recommandez-vous?).

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Vogueing is not exactly in the cards given the gale, but crossing yet another bridge pitching to and fro calls for another breakneck photo session. Seriously, we’re nearly carried off by the unpredictable gusts of freezing French wind – gnarly.

MP’s stored a map of how to arrive at our lunching destination on her phone, but it’s not to be found at the indicated location, and the cold’s making us rather eager to arrive. I end up piecing together a semi-coherent question to ask at a nearby boulangerie. And hey, I get a perfectly intelligible gestured answer in return! Score one for team Rick Steves.

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Le Bouchon Des Filles is run by just two women. It’s immediately warm and unassuming upon entrance. The animated groups of French folk munching their extended Sunday lunch remind me of nowhere so much as Asturias, where the typical regional eats are also served family-style.

The servers – who, we are guessing, double as the owners – speak zero English to us, but offer very accessible French explanations, and seem not to mind my constant “comment?Un pot de vin rouge is obtained – not quite a vat, but it’ll do. It arrives with three salads – one leafy and vinegared with lardons and superchewy croutons, one with creamy puy lentils and smoked fish, and one of crunchy cabbages and walnuts. We could sup on simply this and be more than satisfied.

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MP goes for a quenelle, which we saw all over Les Halles yesterday and is ultra-typical of Lyon. It’s delicious, unchallenging, hot and mild in a buttery sauce.

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There is no other choice for me but the boudin noir. Given how much I adore morcilla and nam tok, I simply must have the Lyonnaise take on blood sausage. Gourmet vampiric ecstasy.

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Crème glacée de fruits de la passion! Tarte de maison de caramel et noix! Fromage, fromage, fromage! It’s all parfait, but no way can we possibly ingest this much post-plat. A few nibbles of each, a shot of espresso, and it’s bedtime for bonzo (for one of the bonzos. the other doubles up on the caffeine and proceeds to toil with her ink and quill).

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Our satiety has not abated upon waking (isn’t it the opposite problem for most folk? we are the very definition of Lucky Duck), and we muse about what options are open for a chilly Sunday evening in Lyon. MP recalls write-ups of spectacular city views from the bar at the Radisson, and an inquiry with Thérèse confirms this to be a promising plan. She offers a small libation for us and another pair of guests before we head out – a choice of homemade liqueurs, either spiced orange or heady walnut. The walnut is sweetly splendid – Thérèse makes it herself by soaking still-green nuts in fruity red wine for months.

We talk B&Bs and TripAdvisor. Thérèse shares a video of a promotion that Nespresso recently held in Evasionimpressionnant!

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L’Arc en Ciel turns out to be just the thing. Lyon at night is resplendent from above, particularly in contrast to how frigid we know it to be down below. It’s overpriced, but you simply know you’re paying for the view, and a glass each of red plus charcuterie will just about do it. We also sample Saint-Marcellin, a Lyonnaise cow’s milk cheese so soft it is practically liquid inside. It reminds me faintly of Torta del Casar, but is better. That’s right, better.

Don’t mope, Spain. You’ll always have jamón.





Lyon: Traboules, Les Halles, Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon

17 03 2013
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Morning at Evasion Loft brings piquant homemade rhubarb jam, fresh pastries dotted with vermillion pralines, and top-notch new company. International small talk is a surprisingly pleasing accompaniment to plentiful black coffee.

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Lyon by daylight is sunny and brisk. The bare branches nicely reflect the simple elegance of the French urban architecture. We embark on a walking loop around a few of the northern arrondissements that Thérèse has plotted out on our map.

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A boggling assortment of olive oils on the way hooks us and reels us in. The shopkeep at A l’Olivier proffers an extensive tasting, and we’re shortly inundated in distilled essence of basil, truffle, and lemon zest. The selection of vinegars is formidable, in particular a 10-year-old balsamic both creamy and intoxicating. We make a note to pick up an item or two on our way back later.

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The walking loop takes us through several traboules, winding foot-traffic passageways used in the transportation of silk through the city as far back as the 4th century. They appear almost private – some of the entrances are through doorways – and at first we wonder if we might be trespassing. Good thing Rick Steves has taught us “Désolé, je suis touriste.

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The view of the city at the apex of the loop is outstanding. La basilique de Notre-Dame de Fourvière and la tour métallique emblematically mark the Lyonnaise skyline.

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Wandering this neighborhood is sweetness – here and there are traces of alt-culture, thoughtful graffiti, a dojo. Cassoulet, Whisky, Ping-Pong seems probably magnificent.

We stumble across an open market up here on the hill and do our absolute best not to slaver over the dripping poulets and fresh fromage.

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The loop ends in la place des Terreaux, marked by the elaborate horses of la Fontaine Bartholdi.

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The walking and the cold have us eager to reach our lunching destination, but not so much that we don’t take a pause to vogue on the footbridge. The wind causes it to lurch disturbingly; we make haste shortly after snagging the shots.

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Lunch at Les Halles is an obvious must. We love markets wherever we go (see: Barcelona’s La Boqueria, Huay Kwang in Bangkok, Sunday market in Tolosa – to name just a few), and Les Halles is where the top chefs in Lyon purportedly do their shopping. Pictured is a tiny slice of the overwhelming selection – were we to live here, we would most certainly pick up a pâté pyramid and a chicken complete with feathered head and blue feet. The candied peppers intrigue as well.

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Spying a seafood stall specializing in les coquillages eases the impossibility of choosing, particularly when we note a table enjoying a selection of urchins. I’ve gushed over the Asturian oricios such that MP wants a few oursins of her own, so we stumble our way through the French: une sélection de coquillages, s’il vous plaît? huîtres, non? et oursins, c’est possible?

The photos denote our success. Six enormous oysters (from Normandy?), clams of all variety, and a trio of urchins, one each from Brittany, Iceland, and Galicia. Add slightly sour brown bread, butter, and a cold carafe of house white – parfait.

The oysters are predictably spectacular, and the distinct character of each clam holds its own. The urchins have an order – first Brittany, then Iceland, and finishing with Galicia – and their gooey umami pleases to no end. The Galician is by far my favorite; it’s assertively briny while the other two are much more subtle. For the uninitiated, the texture is a bit like okra – slimy, yes, but it is the loveliest of slimes.

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Cheese is not, strictly speaking, necessary. And yet.

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David Lebovitz-beloved Bernachon just happens to be across the way from Evasion Loft. The ladies seem bemused that we only want one orangette and one brandied truffle, but that is simply how we roll.

And roll we do, right into the arms of a three-hour nap (some of us, anyway. others dedicate themselves to placating you, dear readers).

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How can it be evening already? Weren’t we just urchin-ing, wine-and-cheese-ing? Do we do anything besides eat? No, we do not. We gussy ourselves in preparation for our grand gastronomic venture of the trip.

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It is impossible to get a reservation at the much-lauded Au 14 Février Vieux Lyon. And yet.

We occupy one of four tables. The night’s only seating opens with salmon, ham, and caviar nested in poppy seed waffle compartments, shooters of lobster and parmesan foam, and a slice of sausage embedded in crispy wafer-thin brioche. The following surprise eight-course menu is currently entitled Q.E.D., and the only selection to be made is wine. The four-glass accompaniment sounds about right.

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1: Egg yolk and mustard foam. Salad greens, sprouts and radish slices in rice wafer shell.

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2: Crab, mango, avocado, green apple, vinegar gelatin, walnuts, green onion, dill.

3: Chorizo, basil, peas and their shoots, orange peel, beurre blanc.

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4: Foie gras, radishes, beet, beet compote.

5: Sea bass, celery, carrot, macha, beurre noisette.

6: Entrecôte, macha, shallot, asparagus, red pepper compote, artichoke, greens.

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Cheese course: an outstanding brie, a charming Comté, a stupefying Roquefort.

7: Champagne foam, acidic fruit cocktail.

8: Chocolate dome melted with hot raspberry sauce. Hidden underneath are cubes of chocolate mousse and cake, cherries, and mascarpone ice cream.

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Ending sweets: macaron, macha marshmallow, and a small sugary truffle filled with Calvados. MP attempts to bite it in half, causing it to dribble; she giggles all over the place and documents my reaction.





Luchana CouchSurfers – September

27 09 2011

For some, too much is never enough: my enormous flat bulges at the seams with its ten international residents, plus their various and frequent guests, yet at the beginning of the month we collectively elect to open our couches to travelers passing through the city using the CouchSurfing website. I’ve had an account since just before I moved to Thailand, where I used it not only in terms of surfing and hosting, but also as a means to establish an ever-dynamic social base. CouchSurfers are all over the map, coming from every country and camino, sharing a passion for meeting other travelers and swapping stories.

After introducing the idea and the website to the uninitiated of the Luchana house, we collectively decide to give it a go; I use my account to filter and organize incoming requests, posting the schedule of anticipated guests on a calendar print-out in the living room. September turns out to be particularly high-traffic, owing to the frequent presence of two further guests occupying the other sofas:

1) Gio, Columbian photographer/videographer and previous resident of my very own room in the house, has just returned from months of solo travel through Spain and Portugal. He’s a Luchana institution by this point, ever the wanderer but always returning to beloved Madrid, picking up new kitchen skills in the process.

2) Max, German-American bartender/egg-eater/entrepreneur, is suddenly one of my longest-standing friends: we met six years ago living on the Earlham Wellness Hall, of all places. Philosophies have since shifted, and Max has spent the past while bartending in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He’s got his sights set on ambition, however, and I like to think I was a large part of convincing him to apply for the Madrid auxiliar program, which he’ll be beginning along with me next week (although not in the same Instituto).

Apart from couch-crashers Gio and Max, Luchana has racked up five official CouchSurfers during the month of September:

1) Viktor, Mexican currently studying Latin and Greek in Romania, inaugurates the CouchSurfing experiment the very next day; he notices my profile proclaiming me “Online Now!” and inquires as to whether he might be able to stay that same night. I waver just a moment before responding positively, deciding that getting the ball rolling immediately is the best way to keep enthusiasm high.

Viktor arrives in the afternoon and we set out for a stroll, during which he teaches me much more about Spanish history as reflected in the city statues and structures than I think I ever managed to glean from SPAN 402: Histories of Spain. He is linguist, writer, and philosopher; together we successfully complete a mission to locate blank sheets of paper, his preferred tool of the trade. Over rooftop cañas, we discuss the Meaning of Meaning, singularity vs. author vs. reader, and the above pictured Vaso de la Libertad.

Upon departure, Viktor leaves the house a lengthy letter of thanks pegged to the living room wall, complete with verbal flourishes in antiquated Spanish. He’s an ideal introduction, and has extended an invitation to visit Romania that I may just accept.

2) David, Brit touring the country by thumb, arrives shortly after my return from Berlin. He’s on the quiet side, and unfortunately we don’t end up coinciding a great deal, to the extent that I even lack a proper photo of the guy. He crashes here for a couple nights, then heads out.

3) Alessandra, Napolitan living in London for the past year, is quickly revealed to be a kindred foodie heart; we sample sardine-stuffed olives at El Mercado de San Miguel and whiskey-topped tinto de verano at La Paca. Neighborhood touring takes us further south to calle Argumosa in Lavapiés, where we talk ex-punk phases and living with mainly males. We share a lively ensalada mixta and grilled squid dinner with Max and Gio at a traditional-style Spanish spot in Malasaña.

The following evening we reconvene over a bottle of La Rioja’s best Alessandra’s thoughtfully brought to the house, and I whip up an extra-large batch of palak paneer as a spicy accompaniment. New housemate Miguel joins in the feasting, which is followed by a miniature art exhibition on the sofa consisting of of work of the present creative types. Longtime Luchanero Eugenio reveals himself to be of multiple talents.

4) Sylvain, French computer engineer brought to the city by his company, elects to extend his stay in Spain over the weekend as well. We share morcilla, pimientos de Padrón, pan de jamón y tomate, bacalao, and fried eggplant with salmorejo, along with a glass or two of cool white wine at nearby Lateral. Around 1AM, post-stuffing ourselves well beyond the point of sheer gluttony, we venture back to the piso to check out the party that’s surely happening. We enter into darkness and silence – shit! Looks like the piso’s taking the night off. However, Max arrives soon after, followed by CouchSurfer Eddie and his hosts Kaeli and Fernando, who I’ve invited to the assumed party at my place. The plan quickly shifts to checking out the Malasaña scene, and we kick it in funky Tupperware. The night wraps up with absolutely all present breaking it down on the dance floor to early 90s hip hop jams.

5) Eddie, born in Ukraine with roots in Israel and high-school experience in Boston, is currently working for CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s a major player in the get-down-stay-down that goes-down Friday night in Tupperware, and the beat refuses to go out for the count; next up is a daytrip to Toledo, in which I rediscover the best asadillo Manchego in España. Nighttime brings the much-anticipated piso party, including guest appearances by Kaeli and Fernando, and all proceed to boogie their pants off into some wee corner of the nearly-morning.

The next day brings gastronomic experimentation even for me; Eddie’s heard tell that they enjoy pig ear ’round these parts, and of course I’m game. Supercutre Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés has the porky goods, and I sample glutinous, vaguely meaty oreja for the first and last time. The pimientos de Padrón go down much easier, so much so that I’m beginning to think they may be a new obsession. Evening wanderings include an attempt to take part in a swing event that leads us instead to talking public art at La Tabacalera, then meeting up with Max for red wine plus caviar-flecked ensalada de mariscos at La Buga del Lobo.





Sardinade à Hendaye, France

24 07 2011

” — hold on, let me check. Hey, do you want to go eat sardines in France tonight?”

Do I.

Summer means sardines in just-across-the-French-border Hendaye. It’s still Basque Country, but Frenchified; architecture sprouts Parisian flourishes, pastisseries seem infinitely more exotically attractive than their pasteleria counterparts, and syllables suddenly begin to slide languidly through nostrils.

Even I end up busting out French 101 remnants: “Bonjour, catre, merci!” Only one selection on the menu, and we want four of them.

Ten chargrilled sardines, freshly fished from the ocean just beyond the above-pictured Bay of Chingoudy. These are oversize puppies, designed to be nibbled by hand in the style of an ear of corn, delicately nursing each shred of fish flesh from out the spine. Everyone ends up eating a few dainty bones; follow them with a swig of Rioja and it doesn’t matter. The cheese is local, nutty and rich, and the Basque pastry at the end is pure butter.

And it’s sunset on the coast of France. Le sigh.