Aux Lyonnais

Aux Lyonnais

Last Friday, on the eve of my darling Maxence’s 25th birthday, I took him out to dinner. Usually, I know exactly where I want to take him, and like to make the location a surprise. Last year was easy : I had heard great reviews about a restaurant called “Le Maxence”, where the chef was the talented David Van Laer. It fit the bill perfectly and we had a lovely evening with wonderful food.

But this year, for some reason, I was very irresolute about it. There were about twelve different restaurants I wanted to try, but couldn’t decide which one I liked the most or, more importantly, which one Maxence would like the most. I spent a week agonizing over this, researching reviews, changing my mind every few hours, and actually making four (yes, four!) different reservations, three of which I ended up canceling, with apologies and as much notice as my indecisiveness allowed. The good thing is that I now have a fully qualified list of the top-twelve Parisian restaurants I want to go to!

When the whirlwind of doubt ended and the dust settled, the winner turned out to be Aux Lyonnais. This is a restaurant in the 2nd arrondissement, close to the Bourse (the Paris stock exchange). It is over a century old : first opened in 1892, it has been operating non-stop ever since, serving dishes typical to the French city of Lyon. Even more interesting is that this place was bought out, renovated and revamped just two years ago by no other than national hero Alain Ducasse. His brilliant idea was to take this somewhat declining old-fashioned restaurant and turn it into a sophisticated version of itself, lightening and sprucing up the traditional menu.

I set my heart on it because I know Maxence is partial to authentic historical settings, and has a weekness for charcuterie and down-to-earth popular dishes : he is known to eat pied de porc, oreille de cochon or croustillant de tête de veau without batting an eyelash, so I thought Aux Lyonnais would cater to this penchant. I gamingly kept the exact address a secret until the very last moment, narrowing it down only when absolutely necessary, to the general area, then to the street, and even then I arranged to meet him at another street corner. You would think I was trying to cover my tracks from mafia thugs or something.

The décor really kept its promise : the façade is bright red and antique, with engraved plaques, statues and frescoes. Inside, behind the heavy velvet drapes, they have also kept the original decoration, with black and white tiling on the floor, majestic mirrors on the walls, intricate moldings on the high ceiling, and a quite dramatic dark mahogany staircase with brass railings, leading upstairs to the petit salon, where customers can wait for their table in large club armchairs, sipping on a drink.

Our table, set on a red and white dish towel in place of the table cloth, was close to the window, and I switched places with Maxence so he would be the one with the view on the beautiful room – I mean, who’s birthday was it? We ordered champagne, and our waiter brought us a plate of cervelle de canut. Literally “silkweaver’s brain” (the weaving of silk was the traditional industry of Lyon) this is a delicious specialty of herbed garlic fromage blanc, served with fingers of toasted rustic bread. A waitress also brought a little cloth tote filled with excellent bread, which she attached to the special hook at the side of our table. A very creative tabletop-space saver!

We toasted to the happy occasion, and studied the daily menu. Our waiter came to describe the dishes that needed clarification, and we placed our order. Then came a young and friendly sommelier. Of course we wanted to drink a Côte-du-Rhône, from the region of Lyon, and Maxence had spotted two Crozes-Hermitage that looked good. We asked the sommelier for advice, and he suggested the 2001 Yann Chave Tête de cuvée with so much sparkly-eyed enthusiasm that we were happy to go along with his choice. He brought it, uncorked it, had us taste it, and it was indeed delicious, complex and full-bodied. Interestingly enough, the smell reminded me immediately of kefir, the yogurt-like fermented milk I love so much. If the sommelier found this a little odd, he was too well-trained to show it!

As a first course, Maxence had ordered the Pot de la Cuisinière Lyonnaise (the Lyonnaise Cook’s Jar). Described on the menu as a “charpie de jarret de porcelet, mêlé de foie gras”, this was pig’s shin meat, defatted, shredded and mixed with foie gras. It was beautifully served in a verrine (one of those small ball jars with the rubber banded lid), along with toasted slices of bread and a small ramekin of creamed lentils. A true delight. I went for the Sabodet, Poireaux à la Vigneronne : two slices of a pig’s head sausage, served in a cast iron gratin dish with “ears”, and accompanied by four pieces of tender leeks, cooked in a red wine reduction (hence the naming : “vigneron” means winemaker), and sprinkled with herbs and miniature croutons. The sausage and the leeks, slightly sweet, were both delicious and responded well to each other.

Breaking the Golden Restaurant Rule, we had ordered the same main dish, the Quenelle de Brochet et Ecrevisses (Pike Quenelle Dumplings and Crayfish), following the original recipe elaborated in 1892 by Lucien Tendret, a famous French lawyer and gastronome. This was first brought to us somewhat too soon, we felt as if we had just barely swallowed the last bite of our first courses. We asked if they could keep it warm for us, and they were perfect about it, taking the dishes away with no comment and bringing them back in a seemingly identical condition a little while later, when we were ready to appreciate them fully. And we did. My adoration for quenelles is not unlike the one I have for boudin blanc, and I have them whenever I see them on a menu, but these were really something. Served in the same light brown gratin dishes as my sabodet, each of us got two plump and tender quenelles, surrounded with peeled crayfish and cooked in a luscious creamy crayfish sauce, which lent itself beautifully to shameless bread-dipping.

At this point, obviously, we were both pretty sated, and I almost lost Maxence to the cause of dessert. But I was not going to give up that easily, and I managed to convince the birthday boy to follow me right along. Breaking the Platinum Restaurant Rule, we also ordered the same dessert (but if you can’t break a couple of rules on your 25th birthday, I don’t know when’s a good time), the Ile Flottante aux Pralines Roses et Tarte aux Pralines. How can you resist a dessert where you actually get two? An île flottante is (literally) an island of egg whites, sweetened, beaten stiff and baked, floating in crème anglaise (custard). Pralines roses (pink pralines) are sugar coated almonds with a pink coloring, which can be eaten as candy on their own, or used to flavor other confections, like brioches (Brioche aux Pralines Roses). This was a memorable dessert : a puffy and aerial île flottante in a glass dessert cup, studded with delightful crunchy bits of crushed pralines and floating, swanlike, in the fresh vanilla custard. Next to it on the plate lay a small slice of tarte, reminiscent of American pecan pie, sweet and sticky with a pleasant hint of praline bitterness. We slowly worked our way through this perfectly matched duo, alternating spoonfuls of one and the other.

This was a great birthday dinner and I can’t recommend Aux Lyonnais enough : it draws a feeling of comfortable familiarity from the brasserie setting, the service is professional without being stuffy, and the food, based on hearty unpretentious dishes, is high-quality and elaborate.

Aux Lyonnais
32 rue St Marc
75002 Paris
01 42 96 65 04

(also recommended :
Le Maxence
9bis bd du Montparnasse
75006 Paris
01 45 67 24 88)

  • Sylvie

    Ce restaurant est situé tout près du siège social des AGF. C’était LE restaurant gastronomique où le gratin de la compagnie organisait ses repas d’affaire ! A en juger par ta description, les après-midi ne devaient pas être très productives !

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0129838/ Donna in Harrisburg

    I was not aware that the Golden and Platinum Restaurant rules had been penned. I will remind those I am dining with to be mindful, next time. :)

    It was a delicious review. My birthday is in May… do you think if I managed to be in Paris….?!?

  • http://gastroblog.com Jackie

    Nice to know that I’m not the only one who freaks out about picking a restaurant!

    This sounds lovely, all of it — is it possible to have a horrible meal in Paris?!

  • http://www.supereggplant.com Mariko

    Your descriptions make my mouth water! What a wonderful dinner. By the way, did you know that there was a post about you on the Chowhound’s general board? You may be gaining some more American readers!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Maman – Et bien ils en avaient de la chance le gratin (dauphinois?) des AGF!

    Donna – Absolutely, those are *very* important rules for the self-respecting diner! What’s good about ordering the same thing, though, is that there is none of that terrible ooh-I-should-have-ordered-that-instead feeling! :)

    Jackie – See? I told you I was as bad as you, and here you see it with your own eyes, in its full and sincere expression!

    Mariko – Thanks for letting me know about Chowhound! I had noticed it in my referrals, and I’m very flattered by the nice reviews!

  • Desdemona

    Clotilde: When we lived in France as kids, we used to love eating a Mammy Burgers across from Austerlitz station. Is it still there?

  • http://www.makunas.com/aliveone Jenny

    How funny, Clotilde! We ate at Aux Lyonnais this summer when we were in Paris because my husband wanted traditional Lyonnais food done well (done by “the master,” I guess you could say).

    We met some old family friends for dinner (they live outside Paris) and ate in the little room off the salon upstairs. Our reviews were more mixed: my husband and I truly enjoyed our meals (I’ll have to recall exactly what we had, but I remember some outstanding charcuterie) but our friends weren’t as enamored. (I think they felt a bit forgotten in the room upstairs, though we were a large party and it was perfect for conversation.)

    Nonetheless, I’m not surprised to hear your favorable assessment of the restaurant matched ours. Sounds like a wonderful dinner!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Desdemona – Unfortunately I haven’t found a yellow page entry for it, but will look next time I’m in the area!

    Jenny – I’m glad you got to experience Aux Lyonnais and enjoyed it too! I know what you mean about the isolation feeling of your friends, it happens sometimes. Where else did you dine last summer?

  • http://www.makunas.com/aliveone Jenny

    Where else did we eat? Heh.

    Ze Kitchen Galerie, which we loved. Willi’s for lunch, since my husband and I had missed it on our previous trips. Aux Lyonnais. Au Gourmet de L’Ile on the Ile St. Louis (I think it’s gone a bit downhill in the past few years). Our friend’s house outside Paris (which was by far my favorite meal!), Ta Dinh (amazing French Vietnamese…lovely service…really outstanding food), and Les Bouquinistes (Bookinistes? They were spelling it differently on the sign and on the menu.) We had a lovely meal there, as well. With an outstanding view.

    I know I’m missing a few. I’ll try to remember.

    I miss Paris. I love reading about it every day, though!

  • Sir Gawain

    A crude question, but necessary: How much (approximately) did you pay for this meal, or more generally, how much would one pay for a similar meal for two, with a bottle of wine? To keep in mind next time I’m in the neighborhood…

    Thanks!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Jenny – Thanks for telling me about the other restaurants! And uh… ahem… is it possible to have dinner at your friends’ place too? :)

    Sir Gawain – Are you asking me to unveil the price of Maxence’s birthday dinner? ;) For some reason I can’t locate my receipt, but I can give you an idea : Aux Lyonnais has a 32 euro menu with 3 courses but limited choice. We went for “à la carte”, and the food probably came up to approximately 40 euros each. The wine menu started at about 25 euros – and went way up. Our bottle was roughly 40 euros. We also had glasses of champagne and coffees, which must have added about 20 euros to the total. Nice birthday dinner, eh? :)

    A lot of the more reasonable restaurants we usually go to offer three courses for roughly 30 euros…

  • Jean-Paul

    Cela me rappelle de très bon souvenirs, j’y allais très souvent quand j’avais 20 ans. Le saucisson chaud pomme de terre “un régal” !!!!!
    Ton oncle Jean Paul

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Jean-Paul – Ca alors, c’est chouette ça! Tu es un vrai habitué du lieu, alors! Y es-tu retourné depuis?

  • brant

    Nice site. Your L’avant Gout review was on the mark. Thanks for the Aux Lyonnais review – hope to check it out soon.

    (Tex-Mex in France?)

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Brant – Hope you like Aux Lyonnais too! And yeah, we do have tex-mex restaurants in France! They serve quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, and buckets of tortilla chips, but nothing to write home about, really, when it isn’t altogether bland and yucky…

  • Em

    I hope someone is still reading this. I’m going to Paris in May and have been looking for nice restaurants and found here.

    I would love to try Aux Lyonnais but I hardly speak French. Do they have an English menu or speak English?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Em – Yup, there’s always someone reading! :) I get notified of new comments…

    Aux Lyonnais may not have an English version of their menu, but I’m certain that they welcome diners who don’t speak French, as they are mentioned in international restaurant guides. As always, it’s recommended to start by a simple “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas français” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak French) and a smile, and they’ll have someone explain things to you in English! I’m sure you’ll love it, be sure to report back!

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~michaelacavanaugh Michael CAVANAUGH

    Bonjour Clotilde,
    Thx for the Aux Lyonnais review. We went about 2 weeks ago, coincidentally had just about the same dishes you did (LOVE quenelles) but a different wine, ’02 Rully 1er cru “La Pucelle” Paul JACQUESON; I like Rully & it was a good bottle indeed. Predictably, Elizabeth went for the ile flottante, but I opted for a fermier St-Marcellin which came with a half-peeled raw shallot (!! but Ducasse & De La Brosse throw in these audacious twists; also the horseradish in the lentils which accompanied the charpie), and the sommelier suggested a glass of Byrhh with it — weird suggestion but it all worked well. Probably the best meal in a week which included also L’Epi Dupin, Yvan (sorbet of Kriek beer!) & Wadja. Also made it, at last, to Chez Denise/La Tour de Montlhery, a great old fashioned place just off Les Halles; pots of Brouilly drawn from the barrel!
    Have you gotten to Chez Lena & Mimille yet?
    Also, again since Maxence seems to enjoy old-fashioned places, do you know Les Pipos near the Pantheon (2 r de L’Ecole Polytechnique)? It’s the student joint from the days of the old Polytechnique, same decor, zinc bar, etc. The wines are good, the food is good enough (solid wine bar fare, plats du jour according to what’s on the market: Charolais & frites, colin, saucisson, Cantal, etc.) though not in itself worth the detour but go on a Friday night when Dany Bonny plays accordeon. (She’s there about every other Friday; call ahead, tel. 01 43 54 11 40.) It’s a lot of fun.
    Best,
    Michael Cavanaugh
    LA

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Michael – I’m glad you enjoyed Aux Lyonnais, it’s a rare combination of excellent food and a beautiful setting. I haven’t been to Lena & Mimille’s yet, but it’s on my to-try list. And I’m adding Les Pipos to that same list now, thanks for the recommendations!

  • Sandy

    Hi Clothilde

    Loved your in-depth review of Aux Lyonnais – Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack also gave it a rave review in last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald! I was wondering if you could recommend a couple of bistrots to which our two girls (ages 8 and 9) would be not unwelcome when we are in Paris next month (staying in 5th arrondisement). I hope my request is not too much trouble.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Sandy – I’m not sure which places in particular to recommend : my feeling is that if your daughters are sweet and if they can eat more or less the same thing as adults, they will be welcome anywhere. In any case, you can ask on the phone when you’re making a reservation, and sort of feel from the person’s reaction, if it’s going to be a problem or not. Hope that helps a little!

  • Sandy

    Thanks, Clothilde. You have highlighted the issue – my girls do not necessarily want to eat what we as adults do! For this reason, I think Paris will be an epicurial (?) education for them. We will definitely ring restaurants first. However, if you could just recommend one place, which would give us all a fine start to our vacation, I would greatly appreciate it…and we would be able to write back and tell you about it!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Sandy – I really don’t know what to recommend : I never have the occasion to dine out with children, and have never noticed a place in particular that would be good for children. However, I’ll keep your request in mind and let you know (by email) if I think of anything. In the meantime, maybe you can look on bonjourparis.com and on their forums, maybe someone (with kids) has suggestions?

  • http://NA Cynthia Elsener

    My partner & I will be in Paris Aug 9th, 10th and 11th and have had quite a challenge in finding top Paris restaurants which will be open during these dates. So far, we are confirmed at Le Cinq and will also try L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. Can anyone recommend an addditional choice for this time period? Kind regards.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Cynthia – August is indeed a very difficult period to dine out in Paris. I can’t think of a suggestion off the top of my head, but will keep your request in mind and let you know if I think of something. In the meantime, you could also search or post your question on the boards of BonjourParis.com or on eGullet, people may have run into the same problem…

  • Ralph Pena

    Aux Lyonnais is a delight. Every dish that came out of the kitchen was heavenly. There are many terrific meals to be had in Paris, but this place is special and should not be missed by anyone in search of very good food. A++

  • Longshot

    I’m goign to paris in May, and cannot wait to try Aux Lyonnais. I also will be trying Willi’s, Le Bistrot d’à Côté Flaubert and La Place at the Radisson SAS.

    How about lunch? Any good reccomendations for lunch or brunch?

  • Caryn

    Wow! I only recently heard of your blog (being of a slightly less internet generation 20 years your senior). I am finding lots of ideas for an upcoming trip. I would love to see your current list of favorites in the mid-priced range!

  • Ralph Pena

    I also highly recommend Le Dome, in Montparnasse. Don’t confuse it with a similarly named restaurant in the Marais. The seafood selection is top-notch, and you can’t beat the ambience. The sole meuniere is unbelievably good.

  • jess

    Sounds like a wonderful place to eat … Two quick questions:
    1. What is the dress code for dinner?
    2. Are there any vegetarian items on the menu?

    Thanks in advance!

  • http://www.paristriptips.com Lesley

    Aux Lyonnais is perhaps the most preferred restaurant I recommend to my own clients. They always come back raving about it. Your article certainly does it justice.

    Lesley

  • Andrea

    Clotilde,
    Vraiment, parfois tes articles m’envoient dans les abysses de la nostalgie.
    Ce n’est pas la première fois que j’écris un commentaire, ni même la première fois que je mentionne mon attachement envers Lyon et sa gastronomie spectaculaire (J’ai étudié à Lyon III). Alors, bien sur, après le merveilleux article sur les coussins lyonais, je découvre un article qui fait mention de deux plats que j’adore, soit la cervelle de canut et la quenelle de brochet (or, je préfère ma quenelle avec une sauce nantua), ainsi que le Crozes-Hermitage que j’ai offert en cadeau à mon papa lors de mon retour à Montréal.
    Merci Clotilde, la lecture de ton blog est toujours un plaisir.

  • Susan

    Aux Lyonnais must have deteriorated because I had a terrible meal there in Nov 2006. Crude casserole of chicken was very undercooked (pink meat throughout) and the maitre d’ was utterly unconcerned. Seems more like an expensive tourist scam now. Very expensive for the quality (24 euros main courses, 11-14 euros starters, few bottles of wine below 60 euros)

  • Céline75

    Un peu surprise par le dernier commentaire, à moins qu’ils n’aient redressé la barre depuis. J’y suis allée cette semaine : la “crème de potiron et sabodet” en entrée était un délice, la “quenelle aux écrevisses” à tomber !
    J’ai particulièrement apprécié le service, à la fois discret et empressé.
    Excellent restaurant à recommander !
    Seule (petite) déception : les plats étaient apportés très vite les uns à la suite des autres, et je n’ai pas osé faire comme toi, à savoir demander qu’on les rapporte plus tard…
    Merci pour cette critique de restaurant, précise, détaillée et fidèle !

  • emily

    Aux Lyonaise….first visit 18months ago in January was awesome. Huge dissappointment next time round in July when they had introduced double sittings. We were rushed through our meal. The waiter hovered, got impatient when we failed to order our meal one minuter after receiving menu etc….felt rushed and it spoilt the pleasure of dining in such a fine restaurant!

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