Sunday, November 5, 2017

A night in Lyon and unforgetable dinner at Cafe Comptoir Abel

As we plan trips to the South of France, I look for good fares from San Francisco to Geneva, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, and Nice. Recently, it seems Geneva and Lyon have offered the best fares on our favorite airline. The first couple of times we flew into Lyon, we went straight from Saint-Exupéry Airport to Sablet and vice versa on the return trip.

This year we went to Lyon the day before we were scheduled to fly home so we could eat in one of the famous bouchons which Lyon is famous for. After all, Lyon is considered to be the gastronomic capital of France. As you know, I love food and that is the only thing that could make me leave Sablet one hour before we have to go.

Lyon is about 200 km north of Sablet at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its center reflects 2,000 years of history from the Roman Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux (Old) Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu'île peninsula.

Place Jacobins is the center of what is now called “old money Lyon” – where the bigger fortunes live. This statue represents the religious Jacobins inspired by the Dominican faith who first developed the area. The statue seen below, "The Fountain of the Jacobins" was inaugurated in 1885.

Fountain of the Jacobins'

Place des Célestins seen below is located in the Célestins quarter, in the 2nd arrondissement of Lyon. The square was named after the religious Order of Celestines who were installed there from 1407 to 1778. Before 1307, the square was located on lands owned by the Knights Templar, who had a command post there. After the Knights Templar were evicted, the Célestins installed a monastery which, despite some fires, remained for almost 400 years. Eventually demolished in 1778, it was replaced with the housing estate of the Célestins and a theater.

Place des Célestins

The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884. Perched on top of the Fourvière hill, the basilica looms impressively over the city of Lyon, from where it can be seen from many vantage points. Fourvière is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to whom is attributed the salvation of the city of Lyon from the bubonic plague, the Black Death, that swept Europe in 1643.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière on top of the hill

Every city in France has a monument of one kind or another commemorating King Louis XIV, and in Lyon he has been suitably and majestically immortalized in the form of a bronze statue in the middle of Place Bellecour, which is bigger than Red Square and is the largest downtown pedestrian zone in Europe. He is guarded by the Gods of War and Lions, as well as Marianne, who sits at the bottom of the base.

Statue of King Louis XIV, Place Bellecour

The Bell Tower seen standing alone below used to be the bell tower of the Charity Hospital. This was the second hospital of Lyon after Hotel Dieu. It was built in 1622 and destroyed in 1934 to make place for the Post Office. This is the enormous building on the south side of the square.

Belltower of Charity

As I said, Lyon is called France's gastronomic capital—probably a result of its geography. Alpine streams to the east supply pike, trout, and crayfish. The Dombes plateau, to the northeast, abounds in game, and the plain of Bresse, beyond that, produces France's finest chickens. Due north lie the vineyards of Beaujolais, which yield fruity, inexpensive red wines, while just a few miles farther, the Maconnais region makes chardonnay wines. Charolles, to the northwest, gives its name to the best French beef cattle—the white Charolais, raised in the pastures surrounding the town. Superb cheeses are close at hand, too: fourme d'ambert, cantal, and st-nectaire from the Auvergne, southwest of Lyon; st-marcellin, rumored to have been King Louis XI's favorite, from the Isere to the southeast.

We came to Lyon so we could dine at a bouchon. Bouchons are bistros of a sort, but with more limited menus. Their décor tends to be modest to the point of austerity. Some have paper tablecloths, and some don't change the cutlery between courses—and the food served in bouchons is almost always based on humble ingredients. The majority of these establishments are family-run, and most of the chefs are women—the spiritual descendants of Mere Brazier, Mere Fillioux, Tante Paulette, and other female master chefs who contributed so much to the glory of Lyonnais gastronomy earlier this century. Bouchon prices are always reasonable too.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is illuminated at night on top of the hill.

Most of the best bouchons are clustered near Lyon's City Hall, in the middle of the Presqu'Île, the three-mile-long peninsula, bordered on one side by the Rhone and on the other by the Saone, that extends through the middle of the city, which is where Café Comptoir Abel is located.

Café Comptoir Abel is one of the oldest, most authentic bouchons in Lyon. The bistro tables and chairs wear a patina of age, and the original wooden paneling and bric-a-brac make this bouchon a place that’s not to be missed. Hidden away near the quays of the river Saône, this bouchon has been an institution in the city since 1928. Chef Alain Vigneron has worked in the restaurant since 1976, and has been in charge of the kitchens for last 16 years.

Café Comptoir Abel

We were seated at a wood table without table cloth or placemats and to keep out experience authentic, we ordered a red wine from the Beaujolais village of Villié-Morgon.

Olivier Depardon Beaujolais

For starter, Shirley chose a green bean salad that included the bottom of an artichoke, some greens and peas.

Fond d'Artichaut en Haricots Verts

I chose the salade gourmande which consisted of green beans, diced artichoke bottom, sliced mushrooms, peas and foie gras.

Salade Gourmande

For my main course, I chose one of the signature dishes of chicken with a morel mushroom cream sauce. It was really good!

Le Fameux Poulet aux Morilles a la Creme

Shirley chose another signature dish of quenelles de brochet that was served with the same delicious morel mushroom cream sauce. Quenelles de Brochet is a large Pike dumpling that is finished under the broiler. It was very light and didn't taste fishy at all.

Quenelles de Brochet en Gratin Maison

Although my chicken came with rice, we couldn't resist ordering a side dish of gratin Dauphinois. Gratin Dauphinois is a traditional regional dish consisting of potatoes and crème fraîche, from the Dauphiné region

Gratin Dauphinois

The morel mushroom cream sauce was so good, we asked for a little more.

Supplement de Sauce aux Morilles

Chicken with Morel Mushroom Sauce with Rice Pilaf

The dessert menu was written on a slate black board.

Dessert Chalkboard

Café Comptoir Abel Bar

Café Comptoir Abel

I chose the Fondant au Chocolat with both ice cream and Crème Anglaise. It was literally a slab of melting chocolate with ice cream and Crème Anglaise. I could only eat a couple of bites after the other rich food.

Fondant au Chocolat with Ice Cream and Crème Anglaise

Shirley went with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Hot Chocolate Sauce

Entrance to Café Comptoir Abel

If your travels take you to Lyon, the Hôtel des Artistes is a very reasonably priced 3 Star hotel in the center of Lyon on the Presqu'Île, near the Saone River.

Our Hotel

We were treated to the view of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière seen below as we walked out of the hotel before we headed to the airport to begin our trip back to San Francisco.

Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Morning Light

Café Comptoir Abel
25 Rue Guynemer
69002 Lyon
Tel: +33 4 78 37 46 18