Dinner in Lyon

When most North Americans think of French food, they automatically envision Paris. In truth, Lyon is recognized as the gastronomical centre of the country.

On Monday night, we dined at  En mets fais ce qu’il te plait, a neighborhood restaurant a few blocks from the Scalbert’s apartment. The chef, Ishido Katsumi, is from Japan. When we arrived, he was apparently upstairs, playing the piano. (Either he has a studio up there, or he lives there. That was never made clear. But by the time we left, he was hard at work in the kitchen.)

Katsumi Ishida at work, as seen through the window of the front room (i.e., dining room for regulars) at his restaurant, En Mets Fais ce qu il te Plait

Katsumi Ishida at work, as seen through the window of the front room (i.e., dining room for regulars) at his restaurant in Lyon

We arrived at around 8:30 and the place was empty – not because the dinner crowd had already come and gone, but because the dinner crowd had not yet showed up.

Mets is tiny – the dining room where we ate had five tables and 18 chairs. Within a half hour all but two chairs were filled. When we left, the hostess/waitress explained to us that regular customers can eat in the “front” room, but that first-timers are always seated in the room where we ate.

The front room has even fewer seats. You might think that bodes poorly for the restaurant – perhaps, you are thinking, there ARE no repeat customers. But my guess is they don’t come frequently because it would be criminal to eat that well all the time.

Pamela and I at our very plain table, about to eat very not-plain food.

Pamela and I at our very plain table, about to eat very not-plain food.

Far more attention went into the food than went into the very simple, even crude, décor; the tables were square wooden affairs with (at least in our case) a shoddy paint job (the edges were missing a coat). The chairs, which did not match the tables, were plastic and too wide – you couldn’t slide them under the table at the same time.

One wall was painted dark red and the others a pale, forgettable color. The window sills were decorated with empty wine bottles of all sizes. There were a few framed pictures and articles on the walls, but nothing memorable. What was memorable was the food.

The amuse bouche was pan fried mackerel with some greens – about five times the size of a standard amuse bouche but light enough not to fill you up. It set the standard for the rest of the meal.

For a starter, I ordered something called “artichoke region Lyonnaise facon barigoule,” which I knew contained an artichoke, which was good enough for me.

Pamela asked the server what “facon barigoule” meant. She then translated for me: the artichoke would be cut up and fanned out. I thought maybe it would be fried.

In fact, “facon barigoule” meant cut into various sizes, along with chopped tomatoes and some other vegetables, and served in a chicken soup-like broth. It was perfect – flavorful but light enough to leave room for the main course.

Not your every day artichoke

Not your everyday artichoke

Dave and Augustin ordered “asperges violete froide, lait calle de chevre d’Ardeche. Huile de truffe blanche d’Alba,” which was two massive white asparagus spears with a dollop of goat cheese, two slices of what appeared to be a blood orange, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and what looked like sprinkles of parmesan but was actually dried orange peel, some of it ground to a sugar-like consistency and some in small pieces. It was sublime. (I’ve always wanted to use that word to describe a taste, but until Monday had never found a taste deserving of the adjective.)

Yes, it looks phallic.

Yes, it looks phallic

Pamela wound up with the weakest starter, although hers was a real work of art: “carpaccio de Tete de veau, Asperge vert et tomate,” which was an array of veal sliced paper thin supporting greens, wild asparagus, and tomatoes, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

It looked like rose petals topped with greens, but (and I realize this sounds very ungrateful) it needed salt. (We reached a consensus on this – it was not just my North American taste buds that felt this way.)

Veal carpaccio -- pretty to look at, but not quite as flavorful as either of the

Veal carpaccio — pretty to look at, but not quite as flavorful as either of the “A” foods (i.e., asparagus, artichokes)

For a main course, Pamela, Augustin and I ordered the same thing: “carre d’agneau de Pyrene roti au jus pomme de terre,” which turned out to be a small rack of lamb with roasted baby potatoes, roasted green onion, roasted carrots, and roasted green asparagus.

The lamb was pink inside and tender, and seasoned perfectly; everything about it was heavenly.

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks (unless you are a vegetarian, in which case you probably stopped reading after the post with the veal brain picture)

Yes, it tasted as good as it looks (unless you are a vegetarian, in which case you probably stopped reading after the post with the veal brain picture and therefore aren’t reading this anyway)

Dave was the odd man out: he ordered “pintade elevee en Bresse roti au jus, Asperges verts.” “Pintade” is some sort of barnyard bird, but not a chicken or a rooster.

Mystery bird

Mystery bird

Pamela and I solved the mystery on Tuesday at the Paul Bocuse Food Hall, when we saw the uncooked bird with its black feathers on display in a butcher shop. “Pintade” is a guinea fowl. Dave’s was tasty, but it didn’t compare with the lamb.

I promise this is (probably) the last time I will post this picture.

I promise this is (probably) the last time I will post this picture.

For dessert, we depended on the waitress to tell us what was available. Dave and I, of course, did not understand much of what she said. I caught mousse blanc and mousse chocolat noir, and crème brulee, fromage blanc, and fruit, but that was it.

Unfortunately, neither Pamela nor Augustin understood much more; Pamela said the woman’s Japanese accent made it hard to comprehend her French (hence, the confusion earlier in the evening regarding my artichokes).

I wound up with white chocolate mousse served atop strawberries that were resting on a mixture of balsamic vinegar and something that looked a bit like caramel but I think was more closely related to sweetened condensed milk. Whatever it was, it was delicious. The thing sticking out of the top is a sprig of mint.

Hiding under the strawberries is some kind of magical sauce

Hiding under the strawberries is some kind of magical sauce

Dave ordered the “fromage blanc,” which turned out to be more of the same white cheese that had been served as a dollop with his starter. This made for symmetry and closure, but symmetry really is more appropriate to art and music, and closure belongs in literature.

For dessert, I do believe one should eat something chocolate or, at the very least, sweet. Sour cream is not my idea of dessert, and I’m afraid that’s what Dave ate.

I am sure Dave, who is all about color and presentation, found this blandess offensive, but he was too polite to complain

I am sure that Dave, who is all about color and presentation, found this blandess offensive, but he was too polite to complain

Augustin played the health food freak and ate fruit salad. Pamela won the dessert lottery; she ordered the French version of chocolate lava cake, a slice of a dark chocolate cake that managed to be heavy on the flavor and light in texture, despite the fact that it was so rich all four of us together couldn’t finish it.

The view from the top

The view from the top

This dessert was so good it deserves two pictures

This dessert was so good it deserves two pictures

(If you want to read something informative and funny about Lyon’s food culture, check out this missive by Bill Buford, author of “Heat”: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/feb/13/bill-buford-lyon-food-capital)

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One Response

  1. I love the restaurant name. The food looks so wonderful.

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