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The Bouchons of Lyon

Discovering the Hidden Gems of France's Dining Mecca

By Rion Klawinski

Bouchon in Lyon
A bouchon in Lyon, which serves wondeful food at less expensive prices than the many other restaurants in the food center of France.

For a great meal at a reasonable price forego Lyon’s expensive 3-star restaurants in favor of its intimate bouchons, traditional Lyonnais restaurants that blend regional cuisine and local wines into a quintessential taste of Burgundy.

A number of bouchons cluster north of Place Bellecour, France’s largest public square, and on La Presqu’île, the narrow peninsula formed by the confluence of the Soâne and Rhône rivers in the heart of Lyon. In Vieux Lyon, the city’s historic district that climbs the hills on the opposite bank of the Soâne, bouchons hide in the quiet side streets and dot the length of rue St. Jean.

Most of the customers are Lyonnais locals, even in the tourist areas, so prices remain low. Daily specials, called Les Suggestions, are chalked on a board in front of most bouchons. Reasonably priced house wine, usually a Beaujolais or a Côtes-du-Rhône, is served in le pot, a slender bottle anchored by a thick bottom.

An up-to-date list of bouchons is available from the tourist office in Place Bellecour. Any place you choose from the suggested bouchon list sporting the "Bouchon Lyonnais Label" will most likely be fine. However, here are a few of my favorites:

Le Laurencin, at 24 rue Saint-Jean, stands out among the many choices in Vieux Lyon. This cozy bouchon lyonnais, with the comfortable feel of a friendly kitchen, is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. I recommend the salad with warmed goat cheese and cuisse de canard (duck breast in a rich wine sauce). Also try the traditional gratin dauphinois (usually potatoes baked in double creme, thyme, garlic, and covered with guyere cheese) here or at some point when visiting the many great bouchons in Lyon. But this dish is just one of the many traditional dishes you should try while in this wondrous culinary region of France.

On La Presqu’île, Cafe Comptoir Chez Sylvie at 30 rue Tupin, a quiet, pedestrian-only lane leading off the broad and busy rue de la Republique, serves typical bouchon fare and has walls decorated with traditional "Guignols" dolls.

Along the same street but closer to the Soâne is the slightly more expensive Café du Jura at 25 rue Tupin.

Most bouchons offer outdoor seating. Traditional in more than food, many bouchons observe the summer holidays in France: A number of them close for the latter part of July and either a part or all of August.

RION KLAWINSKI took his first trip to France in 1971.

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