Thursday, November 15, 2007

Le Bouchon des Filles

The story: The girls are indeed old school, having each independently paid their dues at Café des Fédérations for years before finding each other through a common entourage and calling on their old patron, Yves Rivoiron for guidance. They finally acted on their shared entrepreneurial spirit and opened Le Bouchon des Filles.

Isabelle Comerro, creator of an organization for women in the food business in the style of the traditional fraternal meeting of the Machon in Lyon called Machon des Filles, sought guidance from her entourage. It was actually this channel that brought her together with Laura Vildi, a young woman of the same age who had also worked at Café des Fédérations, although not at the same time. Together, they forged their concept, contacts, and common experiences firmly based in the old style Lyonnais bouchon tradition. They sought out young ambitious talent to execute amusing and interesting refinements to the classics in the kitchen, and voila, Le Bouchon des Filles was born. Their project has success written all over it from the start. Bravo, les Filles, and we lift our glass to you, M. Faz, the man in the kitchen who earned his stripes at Leon de Lyon and Larivoire. We thank the restaurant gods for another winner in La Martinière.

Isabelle Comerro and Laura Vildi, owners

We took the communicating tunnel from the place de la Martinière next to the Halle, where the leaves are still tumbling from the old trees. Briefly sheltered from the wind that had begun to kick up, we talked about where we might eat off the place Sathonay. We turned down the back cobblestone street. Loic had pretty much made up his mind about another place, but there I saw that in the restaurant that used to be called the Gousse d’Ail, a well lit, newly painted sign is up.

Le Bouchon des Filles. The dishes chalked on the board outside seemed typical bouchon fare but what caught my eye were the variations on old standards: quenelle d’écrevisses, a crayfish quenelle in a variation from the traditional pikefish, Tablier de sapeur, blanquette de veau des deux filles, hangar steak with shallots, and blood sausage in a crisp filo pastry served with an herb salad. Interesting, slightly different from the expected, but centered solidly in Lyonnais tradition. Something in my bones said: yes. Loïc got a little mad at me when I immediately opened the door and asked if they had a table. “it’s not sure…” he protested, meaning he hadn’t had a chance to find out what others are saying about this new restaurant. “What better way to find out, my dear, than to try it out!”

He reluctantly followed me in, and of the roughly 30 spaciously placed covers in the front dining room, only about 10 seats were free. The people at the tables looked smug and satisfied, happily launched in various conversations over their tables. There looked to be a table in the back room, that would seat 8 or so, in the area where there was an open kitchen, and a bar in the back.

They already have certain critical elements down pat, like the service. Seasoned and well timed, carried out by the co-owners, Laura and Isabelle. Talkative, pleasant, and sure of themselves. Just as we were being seated, we were presented with a little amuse, a dish of house-prepared cubed jambon persillé with a subtle herbal twist. As we nearly licked the flavorful herb seasoned gelatin from the bottom of the dish, Isabelle came back with the wine we ordered. “Let’s get started”, she said, as she placed, in old school style, three bowls of bouchon entrees on our table.

They were part of the set menu, all familiar to the Lyonnais palate but each a subtle variation: a tarragon seasoned variation on Caviar de la Croix Rousse, a bowl of chilled mustard seasoned gras-double, a Lyonnais tripe specialty, chopped into bite sized pieces to sample, and an interesting twist on a classic in a chilled dish of carrots and kippers (miam miam) with a judicious dose of coriander. This, with a basket of ultra fresh chewy bread that Laura had just cut for our table, and we were on our way.

Before the main dish, another complimentary amuse came out, this one hot, a steaming glass bowl of cream and curry enriched cauliflower velouté, which we devoured in seconds. Loïc began to wax poetically about this humble vegetable, and then said “this is a gastronomic restaurant, not a bouchon”. I sensed the contrast in gastronomic and bouchon he was pointing to, but respectfully reminded him that good food and bouchon fare are definitely compatible. The person in the kitchen no doubt has a careful touch, and at the same time there still persists a wise base in the bones of traditional Lyon bouchon fare. This is someone who knows exactly what they are doing, quite simply put. There’s no reason to jettison them from the bouchon category because they do things well, and we shouldn’t ignore the finesse in what is coming out of the kitchen, either. In any case, the kinks, if there were any, are past tense here, they must have been worked out somewhere else.

The quenelle was stuffed with thick chunks of crayfish meat and was served in a stylish wide plat creuse, graced with a fresh light cream enriched fumet sauce, with a deeply colored steamed crayfish perched at the side, not just for decoration (it tasted great). It was as if a breath of fresh air had been injected into this old standard by dispensing with the stodgy sauce nantua and replacing it with the perfect silky light sauce such a quenelle deserved. Loïc’s blanquette came out in its own cocotte, both flavorful and fortifying, again it seemed, the sauce amazingly light and packed with all the right cuts. His sides included warm pilaf style rice and home-style diced courgettes.

Diners are given a choice of fromage blanc, cervelle de canut, which is a soft white cheese that is beaten and seasoned with garlic, shallots, and roughly chopped fresh herbs, or the cheese plate, which was humble, local, and at the same time magnificent: a St. Marcellin, Brillat Savarin, Rigotte, and a Tomette de Thones.

The desserts on offer were a rose flavored crème brûlé, a delicate frozen Chartreuse soufflé served with a little goblet of the holy nectar on the side (can you guess what my choice was?), soft centered chocolate cake with salted butter caramel sauce, Lyonnais praline tart, or a pear and mint salad.

Le Bouchon des Filles
20 rue Sergent Blandin
69001 LYON
Menu 24€
Open for dinner and Sunday lunch, closed Tuesdays

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Blogger clendena said...

lovely post, lucy. i had a wonderful time meeting you today. thank you again for the lunch and company.

6:45 PM, November 15, 2007  
Anonymous Laurent said...

Funny that you mention Cafe des Federations. It's one of my father's favorite bouchons. He even bought an apron for me there (black with the drawing of a pig head: not really the average Williams-Sonoma selection!).

I'm happy to hear that those two experienced (and cute I must say!) female entrepreneurs are renovating the sometimes dusty Bouchon tradition. I have to pay them a visit next time I'm in Lyon.

Reading about quenelles, blanquette, cervelle de canut and tarte aux pralines transports me back in time when I was a student in Lyon feasting in bouchons and drinking (a tad too much sometimes I must confess) in rue Sainte Catherine's bars.

I thought, at the time, that good-and-affordable food was a given. Living in cities such as Paris, Chicago or New York has taught me that delicious fare usually comes with scary price tags. Needless to say that I had to step up as a cook in order to keep up with my student's culinary habits.

I must have already told you but your blog is great and you're really gifted at conveying what everyday life is in that part of France.

9:54 PM, November 15, 2007  
Blogger Kate Hill said...

oh, doesn't this seem like heaven in a ...bouchon! Brava to the girls and brava to you for making me so hungry.
How about exploring that quenelles recipe for the holidays? I so love those Lyonnais savory "bon-bons". Camp Quenelle anyone???

9:27 AM, November 16, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for your comments!

Clendena, it was really nice to meet you too!

Laurent, what a great bunch of memories. Thanks for writing about them.

Kate, quenelles are a really nice idea. I just did a seminar with a Lyon chef and am brimming with ideas. I am going to develop that idea!

7:15 PM, November 16, 2007  
Blogger Lucy said...

Lucy, what a lovely find you are! I came here by chance looking for references to 'La petite chevre de Monsieur Seguin' for my blog, and found your delightful translation of it from last year.
I have visited Lyon, but some time ago, and incircumstances where I didn't perhaps fully appreciate it. I feel I am seeing more of it through your eyes than I have before. It is certainly very different from where I live in France. Your writing and photographs as delicious as their subject matter.
I have linked to your blog in the post I was writing, and will put you on my sidebar to be sure I come again. Many thanks ( the rose flavoured creme brulee sounds Particularly interesting, I love rose as a flavour...)

3:42 PM, November 18, 2007  
Blogger Jann said...

What a wonderful establishment you found and to report on~there are so many reasons why we should all visit this place on the next visit to Lyon~aren't the owners exquisite?

1:42 AM, November 20, 2007  
Anonymous myfrenchkitchen said...

It looks and sounds young and vibrant, delicious and satisfying...

2:03 PM, November 26, 2007  

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