Archive | Restaurants

Lyon, France: Lyon Bouchons … continued

AFAR magazine recently ran a cover story where I eat my way through the bouchons of Lyon, France. Bouchons are quirky little restaurants serving traditional, home-style Lyonnais cooking. They typically offer portions equally as large as the personalities of their owners. One wonderful bouchon got cut from the story, so I’m including a bit about it here…

Joseph Viola of the bouchon Daniel et Denise (Photos by R. Paul Herman)

Joseph Viola has made what some might consider a strange career move. In addition to cooking in Michelin-rated kitchens, he is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (“Best Worker of France”). An elite few chefs attain this honor by undergoing rigorous testing and competition. Yet, seven years back, just after attaining MOF status, Viola chose to purchase a little bouchon named Daniel et Denise. And, though the namesakes are long-gone, Viola kept the name. “Lyon’s people like history that lasts. If I changed the name, I’d be cutting history in half,” he explains.

Bouchon Daniel et Denise is packed and bustling at lunch – reservations are a must

I talk with Viola after sampling his traditional three-course Lyonnais lunch of pâté en croute (paté in a pastry crust) made with foie gras and sweetbreads…

The award-winning paté en croute at Daniel et Denise

Quenelle de brochet (Lyon’s famous blimp-shaped pikefish dumpling) with sauce Nantua (a vibrant-orange crayfish sauce)…

Quenelle de brochet, a Lyon specialty, at Daniel et Denise

On the side, thoroughly decadent potatoes gratin, rich with cream, and – as if that wasn’t enough – perfect, crispy coins of fried potatoes, too…

Potato side-dishes at bouchon Daniel et Denise (fortunately I could compensate by climbing the seven flights of stairs at the apartment where I stayed!)

And for dessert, ile flottante, fluffy poached meringue floating on a pool of crème anglaise…

Ile Flottante, with Lyon’s famous pink pralines in the center

It’s easy to taste why the restaurant’s pâté en croute won a worldwide competition last year, and the quenelle is the best version I’ve ever eaten. “Taste is supreme,” Viola tells me. He wears a crisp, white chef’s jacket with the red, white and blue collar that marks him as a Meilleur Ouvrier. ”I use only the best products, and I shop every morning. There is no cold room here – ingredients are only in the restaurant at most 24 hours.” But accolades aside, like all bouchon fare, Viola’s plates are simple and presented without pretense. “I don’t use a lot of garnish,” he tells me. “If the main dish and sauce aren’t good, there’s nothing to hide behind.” The same goes for ambiance. “People come to me for what’s on the plate,” Viola says, “not the décor. They want a good meal, not good tableware.” Viola’s sense of balance in life gives me something to ponder. “We only have one service at lunch and one at dinner,” he explains. “I want to give the clients time to eat. It’s better to satisfy 65 people than to serve 150 and not do it well.” That philosophy extends to his personal life, too. Daniel et Denise is closed on weekends, he says, because, “I don’t want to succeed in my career and not in my family life.”

“Pots lyonnais,” thick-bottomed bottles of house wine on the bar at Daniel et Denise

Like all the best bouchon proprietors, Viola works the room. “I like to look at clients while they’re eating and after they’ve finished,” he admits. “People eat and then keep talking about food. It’s like a good religion! When you have a good meal, the world stops. “This is hard work,” he says as he sees me out the door, “but it gives me great satisfaction.” Daniel et Denise is located at 156 rue de Créqui in the 3rd arrondissement; telephone 04 78 60 66 53. It’s open for lunch and dinner Monday-Friday; be sure to reserve well in advance. Viola also recently took over a bouchon in Old Lyon, the UNESCO World Heritage area of the city. La Machonnerie is at 36 rue Tramassac, 5th arrondissement; telephone 04 78 42 24 62. It’s open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday; reservations also recommended.


10 Best Meals of 2008 – Meal #2

Coi 373 Broadway Street, San Francisco, CA, USA Phone 415.393.9000 Two Michelin Stars I was startled when I walked into Coi. Was there another dining room? No. Just nine tables in an understated, beige Zen-scape. The staff were reserved, but knew their stuff. For example, our server was able to identify the olive oil in an extraordinary little olive oil milkshake as coming from McEvoy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Your only choice here is a tasting menu (unless you eat in the bar, which is more like the resto’s vestibule). There were 11 courses; four with a choice between two dishes – and in that case, Paul and I opted for one of each. Grand total: 15 dishes, plus four extra treats from the kitchen. Coi is a bit notorious for the dish (above) they serve with a dot of their signature perfumed herbal oil that you’re supposed to apply to your wrist and sniff while eating. Yes, it’s a little gimmicky, but I really enjoyed the scent, whiffing it as I nibbled a blend of pink grapefruit, tarragon and black pepper. Chef Daniel Patterson is known as an obsessive workaholic, and it was clear that each dish was perfectly designed, orchestrated with just the right plate or bowl – many of them Japanese. There were Asian influences in a number of preparations, with ingredients like Buddha’s hand, long pepper (in both a champagne cocktail and savory course), yuzu, Matsutake mushrooms and vadouvan. And, yes, some molecular gastronomy alchemy, including the “milk and honey” amuse-bouche of encapsulated liquid. I particularly appreciated the focus on beautiful seasonal and local ingredients. It was November, so jewel-toned root vegetables were in abundance. The “Oysters Under Glass” made for a stunning presentation, with fresh Miyagis visible through a delicate “window” of citrus gelee. The Kabocha squash soup had a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds – something I’m going to try at home. Monterey Bay abalone was amazingly tender, and an unassuming-looking dish of steamed tofu mousseline, fresh seaweeds and mushroom dashi had an astonishing depth of flavors. One of my favorite dishes was the “Slow-Cooked Farm Egg” nestled in brown-butter/parmesan foam with green farro. The yolk burst and melded perfectly frothy sauce and al dente farro – a great blend of textures. We shared one of the wine parings, interesting choices all. But in this case, the pairings included some ale and sake. I just don’t find it pleasant to jump back and forth between wine and beer; sake is less jarring. On request, the sommelier graciously substituted a wine for one of the beer offerings. I was amused when, between the cheese course (a slice of Etude, crafted by Soyung Scanlan) and the first of two dessert courses, our waiter inquired if we felt we’d had enough to eat. (The result of complaints from manly men on expense accounts who should have eaten at Ruth’s Chris instead?) “Yes!” I instantly replied. Paul pondered a moment and asked what more they might have to offer. “Well,” the server responded, “you’ve tasted all the dishes on the menu. But, we can bring you another serving of something if you’re still hungry.” Paul finally decided he would be topped-off just fine after devouring the desserts. Good choice. Two of the most memorable items weren’t even on the menu, appearing as a finale. The tiny olive oil shake and the “inside out” chocolate chip cookies, which resembled a truffle, with a crisp cookie shell surrounding warm, melted chocolate on the interior. To see the entire parade of dishes in this 3½-hour meal, go here.

10 Best Meals of 2008 – Meal #1

Cyrus 29 North Street, Healdsburg, CA, USA Phone 707.433.3311 Two Michelin Stars Cyrus, the Michelin 2-star in California’s Russian River wine country, was filled with patrons celebrating special life events – and we were no exception. It was our 10th anniversary. The level of service and quality of the food made for a truly memorable night, from the tiered presentation of tiny starter bites from each taste dimension (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami/savory) to the elegantly boxed brownies presented as a take-home goodie. We opted for the tasting menu, with an added course to sample chef Douglas Keane’s seared foie gras with peaches I got the feeling that whatever we requested would materialize, but after noting a few ingredients we preferred to avoid, we put ourselves in the hands of Keane and pastry chef Annie Clemmons. They orchestrated nine spectacular courses that drifted from spot prawns to tagliarini …to tairagai (like the lovechild of abalone and scallops) to duck breast to Wagyu beef, plus a cheese cart and two (thankfully) airy desserts, all followed by a candy cart full of winsome treats. Somewhere toward the end of it all, the waiter brought out warm chocolate chip cookies under a dome, which was attached to an inflated balloon… With the flick of a valve, the balloon deflated, sending fluffy bits of chocolate swirling in the dome like a chocoholic’s snow globe fantasy. An evening of pure pleasure that was worthy of our ten-year celebration on every level. See all the nine courses (plus 4 bonus courses) here.