A Ballet of the Spoons at Brasserie Georges in Lyon

Entrance to the brasserie

Entrance to the brasserie

By Peter and Jean Richards

On  a recent drive to Italy, we stopped for the night in Lyon, France, because we had not visited Brasserie Georges for almost a decade. This time we were particularly struck by a marvelous ballet of the spoons performed by a waiter at a neighboring table.

We love the old fashioned brassieres in France such as the splendid Excelsior in Nancy with its magnificent Art Nouveau decoration. I fondly remember eating in the legendary Lipp on Boulevard Saint Germain on my first trip to Paris in 1955, and have returned there several times on later visits.

Dating from 1836, Brasserie Georges in Lyon is a vast hall, reputedly the oldest and largest in the city and one of the largest in Europe (seating 650-700 persons depending on which source you check). Not as magnificent as some, it is still a reliable dowager  — comfortable and predictable. The Art Deco decoration is delightful, if not so exuberant as at the decor at Excelsior.

We had two of our favorites:

Foie gras

Foie gras

Foie Gras Fraise de Canard Maison, Chutney de Fruit Sec et Pain des Figues which is a slice of foie gras served with dried fruit chutney and sliced fig bread.

Choucroute Royale, Poitrine, Kässler, Saucisse de Francfort et Fumée which consists of some smoked belly and loin of pork, a frankfurter and a smoked sausage served on a huge mound of sauerkraut.

Choucroute

Choucroute

Choucroutes, a specialty of this brasserie and most other, are served in myriad ways including one with seafood, which sounds ghastly to me, but then I am not very flexible when it comes to changes in classic dishes.

St. Marcellin — perfect!

St. Marcellin — perfect!

For dessert we shared a half round of perfectly ripe St. Marcellin cheese, one of the joys of eating in Lyon. It was listed on the menu, as it usually is in the area, as coming from Mère Richard, the legendary affineur (ripener or ager) of cheese. Words fail us on this score: it was perfect.

The bill for this meal was 45€85.

But the most memorable moments of the evening came as we were finishing, and our young waiter went to a nearby table to prepare a steak tartare, another specialty, which I came within a hair’s breadth of ordering myself.

It was a fabulous performance, starting with the presentation of a gleaming platter bearing the fresh red meat with a raw egg nested in a shallow indentation and a pile of leafy greens. He then prepared the chopped herbs and onions by blending them in a bowl, carefully lifting the entire raw egg from the meat and blending it into the mixture with rapid strokes.

Menu outside the brasserie

Menu outside brasserie

Then he bisected the meat, adding one half to the bowl, tossing and blending, then the other half followed by a couple of spurts of Worcestershire sauce, four or five drops of Tabasco and three shakes of salt and pepper. More mixing. Next came the pas de deux with spoon and fork, separating the meat with a chopping motion of both spoons and then skillfully molding the whole mass into a near-perfect sphere before setting it back down on the platter and flattening it, lifting it gracefully, placing it on the diner’s plate, and neatly arranging the greens alongside.

Truly a few moments of gastronomic artistry.

© 2013 by Peter & Jean Richards

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About oldmainetravelers

The Old Maine Travelers are Peter and Jean Richards, who met more than a half century ago covering President John F. Kennedy on what would become his last trip to Boston.  They worked for many years as wire service and newspaper reporters and editors.  Peter did a nightly television show on WGBH, Boston, before he went into government in the administration of John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City. After they moved to their brownstone in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Jean did a spell on Madison Avenue in the real “Mad Men” days and later became public relations officer at Chase Manhattan Bank.  Since 1973 they have worked together first as owners and publishers of a group of award-winning newspapers in Dutchess County, N.Y., and then as antiques dealers.  Now they are old and live on the coast of Maine and in the Southwest of France when not traveling further afield. In the red barn by their house in Damariscotta, Maine, they tend an antique shop specializing in 18th and 19th century furniture, metalwork and accessories, buying objects they know about and like and selling them from May to October to delightful people of obvious discernment and taste. In France, they live in an old stone house in the shadows of the remaining towers of an unfinished 17th century church and above Roman drains in a town along a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. They love it — for its authenticity and abundant boulangeries.  The rest of the time they travel the world together seeing the sights, seeking out museums, stumbling into interesting conversations, savoring local specialties and otherwise bumbling along in their own style. For years they have sent article-length postcards to family, friends, fellow travelers and some media. Many of these will now be posted here.
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