Quenelles with crayfish sauce.
32, rue St.-Marc, in the 2nd Arrondissement.
01 42 96 65 04. Lunch, Tues–Fri; dinner, Tues–Sat.
Lyon is an easy trip from Paris: the TGV will get you there in about two hours. But for a taste of Lyon without leaving town, there’s Aux Lyonnais.
Open since 1890, the restaurant is now part of Alain Ducasse’s Esprit Bistrot group. The room is gorgeous, a warm belle epoque space, with ornate molding and mirrors, filled with the kind of bright, buttery light that seems to exist only in Paris. The pink-and-white-checked tablecloths, though, remind you that the inspiration here comes from the famous bouchons of Lyon.
Not that it isn’t obvious. The 34-euro prix fixe dinner menu currently offers a choice of two main courses, arguably the most famous dishes of Lyon: quenelles and tablier de sapeur. Quenelles are a sort of large dumpling made of flour, butter, eggs and brochet (pike fish), carefully poached then served with an intense crayfish sauce. Tablier is tripe that’s marinated, breaded and panfried. A good one has the power to change the minds of avowed tripe haters. Both were delicious, their simple presentations belying the technique behind each dish.
The prices are a bit higher à la carte, but I was tempted by two starters (both 18 euros) that weren’t part of the formule: one was an omelet with morels, the other was asparagus with olives; both reflected the restaurant’s commitment to seasonal cooking. I chose the asparagus, and the robust spears that arrived were deep green and properly cooked, with black olives and a morsel of pork belly adding earthy saltiness. Our other starter was a dish of ravioles de Romans, tiny squares of cheese-filled pasta not from Rome but the town of Romans, in the Drôme, freshened with plenty of parsley.
Tablier de sapeur.
In addition to being the culinary capital of France, Lyon is positioned at the convergence of two great wine regions, Burgundy and the Rhône Valley. The wine list at Aux Lyonnais reflects this. Sadly a Cornas was not in the budget this night, but a fruity Morgon for 35 euros certainly was.
To end we shared a classic île flottante, snow-white meringue studded with the famous rose-colored praline of Lyon, and an oversize macaroon filled with almond ice cream and poached rhubarb. The latter was one of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.
At lunch the suits from the nearby stock exchange fill Aux Lyonnais, but at dinner the other night we heard plenty of American voices. It’s no wonder: there is something archetypal about the way the space looks and feels, and that fulfills many dreams of the Perfect Paris Restaurant. For that reason I would highly recommend it for first-time visitors. And for that reason, as well as great cooking, I’ll be going back.
In a nutshell: Aux Lyonnais brings the classics of Lyon to Paris, in classic style.
Price check: The three-course prix fixe menu is 34 euros at dinner and 30 euros at lunch. À la carte, starters are 11–18 euros, main courses 20–25 euros and desserts 9.50–12 euros.
If you like the sound of Aux Lyonnais but want to try another great room in the 2nd:
Le Grand Colbert
2, rue Vivienne, in the 2nd.
01 42 86 87 88. Daily, 12 p.m.–1 a.m.