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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.

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2011 Hunger Challenge Day 7: Why I Do the Hunger Challenge

I’m taking the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge for the fourth year – trying to feed my husband (the Bottomless Pit) and myself for just $4.72 each per day. The 2011 Hunger Challenge is over, and I’m back to my regular (at least my version of it) life. I went to a potluck dinner with 10 people Sunday night, and everyone was asking how the Hunger Challenge had gone. Then there was a surprise. Two people revealed that they had been on food stamps at some point in their younger days, and talked about their experiences. One of the two is a good friend, and he’d never before mentioned that he’d once relied on food stamps. Fortunately, their lives are in better places now – but it’s a reminder that hunger is truly pervasive, and that far more people than you’d expect need help temporarily. Some critics of hunger challenges have commented that participants can’t begin to approximate the real conditions of someone dealing with hunger on a daily basis. Absolutely true. But I’ve seen how the Hunger Challenge does get people talking. It does raise awareness about hunger. And, for those who take it seriously, it really does make you reflect on what a life struggling against hunger must be like. On Saturday, I bought some strawberries at the farmers market, to eat after the Hunger Challenge was over. I was cutting them up to macerate them and no, I didn’t pop a single one into my mouth. Of course, I knew – lucky me – I’d be able to dig in the following day, but as I worked, I considered all the ill-paid people in the food service industry. Busboys, dishwashers, prep cooks – they’re around food they can’t eat everyday. Quite often, these are the sorts of people who show up at San Francisco Food Bank grocery pantries – those who have jobs and work hard, but don’t earn enough in this costly city to make ends meet. The unexpected benefit from doing the Hunger Challenge every year is a great sense of gratitude for my good life. I don’t eat lavishly, and we mostly cook at home. But I have never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. And believe me, I want to keep it that way. GET INVOLVED! ♥ Take the Hunger Challenge yourself. Sign up here. ♥ Read blogs by people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here. ♥ Follow the Hunger Challengers on Twitter. There’s a listing here, or search for the hashtag #HungerChallenge. ♥ Learn more about the San Francisco Food Bank – and make a donation. For every $1 donated the food bank can supply hungry people with $6 worth of food! ♥ Follow the San Francisco Food Bank on Twitter or visit their Facebook page to see how they’re fighting hunger every day.

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