Note: This is the final installment of a series of articles about Art in Voyage — Beyond Travel’s tour of Paris and Lyon, co-hosted by Scott Joseph with Kevin Fonzo. Previous articles include
For information about future trips, visit Art inVoyage — Beyond Travel
We had a full day planned for the end of the tour. It would begin with a visit to a market in Villefranche-sur-Saône, two wineries, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, situated in old castles. And we would finish with one last elegant dinner, another Michelin-starred meal, this one at Auberge de l’Ile Barbe, situated on a small island in the center of the Saône River, with chef-owner Jean-Christophe Ansanay-Alex overseeing our table.
But then lunch happened.
We were picked up early in the morning by our tour guide for the day for the drive to visit Le Marché de Villefranche-sur-Saône. It’s a large, indoor market with rows and rows of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. And along the walls are stalls selling meats and cheeses.
Although it’s a beautiful array of colorful goods, the market’s main goal is not to look pretty. It’s a serious place for shopping. As chef Kevin Fonzo, my co-host for the tour, said of the people milling about, “Everybody here knows what they’re looking for, and they know how to cook it.”
I couldn’t resist buying some spices to take home. I got a bag of herbes de Provence. No, we weren’t in Provence, but Burgundy is close enough.
Then we were back in the van for the short drive to Château de Montmelas, a wine producer in Beaujolais. We were given a private tour of the castle, which sits high on a hill. Well, we got to see some of the castle — other parts are still used as a private vacation home by members of the owning family.
We also had a private tasting of some of the wines, notably the Beaujolais-Villages.
In the afternoon, we visited another winery/castle, Château de Pierreclos, across the regional line in Burgundy.
This castle is set up more as a self-guided museum display, with such things as a wild boar splayed out and ready to be dressed for cooking in the kitchen, and an actual dungeon with all the accouterments of torture at your disposal.
Château de Pierreclos makes a fine pinot noir but is probably better known for its Pouilly-Fuisse.
In between the two châteaux we stopped off at a farm in the heart of Bresse, the region known for its chickens (which some of us had consumed the previous night at Paul Bocuse).
Ferme Auberge du Colombier is a working farm, raising not only the famous chickens with their blue claws but also pigs. (Colombier, by the way, is the French word for dovecote.)
It also operates a small restaurant. And when we took our seats at a table on a back porch overlooking a cornfield, none of us had an inkling that we were about to have one of the best meals of our trip.
We were served by owner Christian Debourg, assisted by a young lad who was either his son or grandson (we were never quite sure), about 10 years old and waiting for the end of the school year just a few days away.
We started with house-made pork terrine that was topped with pork sausage and served with cornichons. We’d had a lot of terrines on the trip but this one seemed more full flavored than the others and with a softer texture.
Next came a salad of fresh mixed greens with chicken livers mixed in and topped with quartered hard-boiled eggs, the yolks an impossibly deep golden yellow.
Bresse chicken was next, stewed in a cream sauce that thickly coated the legs and thighs.
A side dish of potatoes au gratin, thick and creamy slices of potatoes under a browned crust, accompanied.
A cheese course like none we’d had before followed. It was Fromage Blanc, a fresh cheese that resembles whipped cream and has a taste similar to yogurt. It’s a perfect digestif and is made a bit sweeter with a few pinches of sugar to sprinkle on top.
For dessert, it was Tarte Bressane, a local specialty of a flaky crust topped with a mixture of butter and cream. So simple but so complexly flavored. If you know me, you know that I’m able to have one or two nibbles of a dessert and push the rest away. There was not a crumb left on my plate.
The van rode a bit more heavily into Lyon. Somehow, there is only one way into the city by car and traffic bogs down as everyone tries to squeeze through the tunnel. By the time we reached our hotel, we had only a short time to splash some water on our faces and change into clothes suitable for a Michelin-starred restaurant and hop into another van for the drive to Auberge de l’Ile Barbe.
Ansanay-Alex greeted us outside the restaurant and suggested we might want to stroll around the island or have a cocktail outside while we waited for our table to be readied. But one of his staff announced that we could be seated right away, so we opted to go in. In retrospect, that stroll probably would have been a good idea.
Our table was on a raised platform overlooking the main dining room, just high enough that the meager amount of cool from the air conditioners couldn’t quite reach us. I had a view of a half-height hutch separating our table from the main room. I couldn’t stop focusing on the thick layer of dust on the items inside it.
The food, as much as I can remember, was good. But for once the precision of haute cuisine was lost on us. We were all at culinary overload.
I remember flash-fried vegetables to nibble on at the start, and an amuse bouche served on metal lollypop sticks.
I remember a fish course and the presentation of the lamb, stuffed and sitting in a bed of burnt hay.
And a dessert of fresh fruit inside a meringue cup. But I’m afraid I wasn’t able to fully appreciate any of it.
Ansanay-Alex chided us for not finishing each dish and seemed perplexed that we would have had such a full lunch on the same day we were scheduled to visit his restaurant. And he was right.
As it turns out you really can have too much of a good thing.
The driver met us outside and took us back to Lyon’s old city, to our wonderful Cour des Loges hotel. We all said our goodbyes in the lobby. Some were staying an extra day, some heading back to Paris or directly back to Central Florida.
Fonzo was traveling to Italy to cook for a special celebration. And I was catching a train in the morning for a long journey to Berlin. I still had two and a half weeks in Europe and seven more countries ahead of me.