Friday, December 4, 2009

Dining in Lyon

Lyon is France’s second city. Like Chicagoans, I get the feeling that the Lyonais don’t much appreciate being overshadowed by their more famous countrymen. However, the mini-Eiffel tower barely visible next to the large cathedral overlooking the city seems to reinforce the point.

Where Lyon has staked out it’s own reputation is in the area of fine cuisine. Frenchmen from any region are likely to admit that Lyon has the best restaurants. That’s a pretty high honor to hold in a country obsessed with the culinary arts.

We returned to Lyon for the first time since June, so I could catch a flight to Rome. With only one free evening, we didn’t have much time to explore the substantial city. However, we were treated to some festivities associated with the Christmas shopping season. There was a large Christmas market set up in the square outside the train station and a skiing exhibition outside one of the main shopping drags. Being amid the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city felt nice after our solitude in rural Chusclan.

Brasserie Georges

After strolling through the city and purchasing chai tea lattes from one of the only Starbuck’s in France, we decided to pursue more local flavors for dinner. Our hotel was conveniently close to Brasserie Georges. Unbeknownst to us at the time, this establishment is one of the culinary destinations of Lyon. The space is a throwback to the art deco décor of the roaring twenties. Neoclassical faux columns separate large glass windows and mirrored glass. The ceiling is high, allowing substantial chandeliers to hang into the massive space. The dinning room is huge, surely the largest that I’ve seen in France.

All around the place is a buzz with activity. Row after row of tables are filled with people celebrating special events. We were surprised to get a seat without reservation, despite the obvious seating capacity. The formally dressed wait staff moves urgently from table to table taking orders and delivering food. Watching them work the room, I was tempted to describe French efficiency. The typical French waiter has the uncanny ability to survey a room without ever making eye contact with a patron - not this wait staff. They seem to understand that faster services means more visitors and more profit.


In the corner of the restaurant a four piece jazz band played international standards. Perhaps permitted by the size of the space, we were treated to a trumpet player. He was quite good and on the flugelhorn had a tone to melt butter. In addition to playing their set, the band needed to keep an eye open for any waiter to appear in the main aisle with sparkler topped cake. Immediately, they would jump into a rendition of happy birthday. It didn’t matter the key, time signature or style, they flawlessly jumped into a fitting version of the famous song. This happened repeatedly all night long. Apparently everyone goes to Brasserie Georges for their birthday.

The menu was as expansive as the room, but we decided to stick with the prix fixe meal. As is typical, Mary Ann and I ordered the exact same thing. We started with the poultry terrine, one of those mystery meat products that you’re better not knowing about. The prize of the meal was the main course. It sounded pedestrian, sausage and mashed potatoes, but the way the homemade sausage and an delectable cream sauce made it a dish not to forget. I followed up with cheese and dessert. It was one of the best meals of my entire stay in France. Lyon deserves its reputation as the culinary capital of France.
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