Admittedly, it’s not too difficult to simply stumble upon a great meal in either Paris or Lyon. With even a half an ounce of planning, you’ll have hundreds and hundreds of options at your fingertips. Our challenge was a little steeper as our plans need to be gluten free for one of us (thankfully, not me… I’ll take the entire bread plate, thanks). Over a two week period, we made three reservations and each gave us an outstanding dining experience.
Chez Marcel, Paris
You would walk right past this place if you weren’t paying attention. It is a quaint 30 seat bistro tucked just off the busy Boulevard Raspail. We arrived a few minutes before our 7:30 reservation and waited for the owner to arrive and let us in to the restaurant. As soon as we stepped foot inside, we knew we would be in for a great meal.
Like all great neighbourhood restaurants in Paris, space is at a premium, and you are virtually shoulder to shoulder with the other diners. Although we were the first to arrive, the locals started showing up a fashionable ten minutes late and soon conversation was filling the small room.
A lovely house white wine got the night off to a great start, but I was dumbfounded for what would end up being the best thing I ate on the entire trip. A hunk of butter to smear on the rustic baguette was divine – creamy with flecks of salt, I’m ashamed (not really) to admit I polished off this entire stick almost by myself.
The meal featured some rustic food, prepared simply and deliciously. Escargots in garlic butter, a veal chop, duck in an orange sauce and Lyonnaise potatoes filled me and Jodi up…. at least until I spied one of the deserts as I was taking my last bite of duck.
By stomach capacity, I had no need for this bourbon cream mille-feuille. But “need” isn’t a French concept that’s well applied to dining in Paris. This desert fell into the category of simple pleasure for me and was a perfect end to a spectacular meal.
Brasserie Le Nord, Lyon
If there’s one thing my wife and I have learned when traveling, it is to always plan out your first night’s meal in a new city. That life lesson led us to secure a spot at Brasserie Le Nord in Lyon on our first night there. Another life lesson we’ve picked up over our travels, especially in France, is you can’t really go wrong with the house wine. On this night, a Beaujolais put a smile on our faces.
This restaurant, one of Paul Bocuse’s in the city, featured traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. What was really great about the restaurant was how much effort they went through to ensure Jodi had a full understanding of their menu and what she could select that would be gluten free. Her choices were a Lyonnaise salad and a dish of scallops and risotto in lobster sauce. My decision was made before I even got on the plane to France – the warm sausage with pistachios in brioche to start and quenelles in lobster sauce as my main dish. Of our meals in France, this was Jodi’s favourite. The lobster sauce with her scallops, a bit different than the sauce for my dish, was the highlight of the night for both of us.
Le Timbre, Paris
The last time we were in Paris, I was saddened when Le Timbre was closed for summer holidays. This was the restaurant I was most looking forward to on our trip and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a tiny place, probably no larger than the size of my living room in Saskatoon and is run by a husband (chef) and wife (sommelier and server). In this setting, we couldn’t resist a glass of champagne to start our evening. Aside from another astute couple (interestingly, from Maine, so they knew all about New Brunswick), we were the only English-speaking people here for dinner. That’s always a good sign in Paris.
Everything is made from scratch so gluten free for Jodi was no problem at all. They have two selections for each course, so we opted for different dishes. For the appetizer, Jodi had white asparagus with egg and pine nuts (left) and I had bonito with basil, fennel and pine nuts. Both outstanding.
For our main courses, while we loved both dishes, Jodi’s pick won hands down. She went with the roast pigeon (right) with onions, potato, celeriac puree, black olive powder and ramps and was kind enough to let me pick the bones of the pigeon clean. My veal was tender and delicious as well. I’m fairly certain I heard angels singing.
Onto dessert. While my chocolate hazelnut cake with confit kumquats and orange sorbet would have been Jodi’s choice if it were gluten free, it was her cheese plate, and in particular, the chèvre, that was my highlight. For me, this was my favourite meal of our two weeks in France and will be on our list for a return visit when we get back to Paris some day.