Venus & Ulysses 2004

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06/27/2004: "Two More Excellent Dinners"

The last two nights we've had wonderful dinners in Lyon.

Last night we ate at Nicolas LeBec, and each had one of their two different six-course menus, each of which had two starters (tomato soup with mustard ice cream, grilled foie gras and roasted rhubarb, langoustine), a fish course, a meat course (lamb with zucchini, a perfect beef filet with mushrooms), cheese (we each picked five), and dessert. And chocolates. We'd scoped out two half-bottles of wine that were likely to be good, the sommelier without knowing that picked out the same two, so we had them. Both were perfect with the meal. The cheese guy arranged the cheeses on the plate in a logical order to eat them. We were absolutely stuffed at the end.

It was an excellent dinner but not a perfect one -- one of the langoustines was just a little ammonia-y, and I was annoyed that the chef disputed my contention that it wasn't fresh. But otherwise it was a very nice place, with very creative menus and attractive presentations.

Tonight we ate at Paul Bocuse, which has a rare three Michelin stars. We had a five-course menu, with a starter (grilled foie gras with passion fruit, lobster salad), a fish course, a meat course (veal sweetbreads with morels, pigeon with more morels and chanterelles also), cheese (we each picked four) and dessert. And petit-fours and chocolates. The sommelier recommended some Rhone-area wine; the white was OK but the red, a Cotes-Roti, was really good. We were absolutely stuffed at the end.

Everything about the meal was perfect. Paul Bocuse came around and said hi to all the diners, and pretty much insisted on having his picture taken with each diner who had a camera. We wore our Irish-thrift-store jackets and ties, but they let some French people in with nice short-sleeved shirts, so we probably needn't have bothered. Especially because it's been about 80 degrees in Lyon, now at midnight it's probably 70.

Lyon has many buildings with absolutely featureless walls which are painted with elaborate trompe-l'oeil murals, making them look like they have lots of windows and lots of stuff happening. We've been walking and driving around looking for them -- they're pretty easy to find because there are postcards of them and the addresses are on the back. We went to a couple museums today, the History of Printing museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. All the information in the printing museum was in French, so I didn't get as much out of it as I would have liked. The contemporary art museum consisted entirely of an exhibition of Chinese art, mostly installations; several video installations and large sculptures taking an entire room. The top floor was all memorabilia from a 2002 event retracing the route of the Long March, spreading art all along the path -- it reminded me of Burning Man in some ways.

France is definitely closed on Sundays -- we had to walk blocks to find a place to buy some bottles of cold water. Even some of the parking meters are civilized -- during the week they don't charge during the two hours for lunch between 12 and 2. The big parking garage near the art museum was completely full because there was an enormous cinema right next to it and an enormous city park on a hot Sunday, and it took awhile to find another place to park.

Tomorrow we'll probably check out one or two more things in Lyon, and then head for the nearby Swiss city of Lausanne.