Les Halles – Lyon, France

Lyon

Lyon

The next stop after Burgundy on my recent Europe trip was Lyon, known as the French capital of gastronomy.  Our culinary partner-in-crime Gregory gave us a quick introductory tour of Lyon, through the cobblestone streets of old town vieux Lyon and across the bridges over the Rhône and Saône rivers.  With the beautiful Notre Dame de Fourvière standing magestically above the mountains, and cafes and bouchons lining the riverside, Lyon was quite a sight to take in.

IMG_6970All that walking got us hungry- when can we start eating some food?  After all, we were in Lyon.  With only 2 hours to go until our dinner reservations, we couldn’t help but indulge in some quick but good eats.  Gregory knew just the place to satiate our needs, and took us straight to the marketplace Les Halles.

Les Halles is an amazing place stocked full of the best foods in the world.  Row after row of food stalls, seafood bars and restaurants throw temptation in your face from all angles.  The vegetables stalls have the freshest vegetables bursting with flavor and juice, and the charcuterie stalls with infinite selections of hanging saucissons and hams.  The fromageries boasted an assortment of cheeses that I’ve never encountered before in my life, and a macaroon shop offered about 30 different flavors (even white truffle, olive oil and foie gras flavors! ).  There was a pastry shop dedicated solely to pralines, and about 4 different oyster bars. In fact, this Les Halles in Lyon is named after famed French chef Paul Bocuse.  I wish we had a marketplace like this in Los Angeles.  If such a place existed, I would probably be there every day.

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Macaroon stall

Macaroon stall

Praline store

Praline store

Patisserie

Patisserie

Vegetable stall

Vegetable stall

Fromagerie

Fromagerie

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

We decided to eat some oysters, and sat down at a table by the oyster bar at the Ecailler Cellerier.  Gregory had just been there earlier that day for oysters, so the patron recognized him right away.  The kind patron gave us a warm welcome, and joined us for some conversation and a white wine toast.

Sharing a toast with the patron of Ecailler

Sharing a toast with the patron of Ecailler Cellerier

We tried 4 types of oysters: Marennes Fine de Claire, Isigny de Normandie, Speciales Gillardeau Number 3 and Speciales Gillardeau Number 4.  My favorite was the Gillardeau Number 3, a 3rd grade oyster harboured in the Marennes region of France from the legendary family-run oyster farm Gillardeau.  They were plump, rich, luxurious and divine, and truly some of the best oysters that I’ve ever tasted in my life.  So this is the famous Gillardeau oyster…now I see what all the fuss is about!  Some claim that these oysters are the best in the world, and many 3 Michelin star restaurants in France serve them.

Speciales Gillardeau N3 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N3 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N4 oysters

Speciales Gillardeau N4 oysters

Master oyster shucker

Master oyster shucker

Plate of oysters....so yummy

The most delicious and precious plate of oysters

Within the first 2 hours of arriving in Lyon, we were already at Les Halles having some of the best oysters in the world.  Les Halles here in Lyon is not a place to be missed.

Ah, Lyon, I love you already.  More exciting gastronomic adventures to come!

Random trivia:  Did you know that a baby oyster (larvae) is called a ‘spat’?

Advertisements

Michael Mina XIV

Have you driven by the Sunset strip recently and wondered what that huge neatly trimmed XIV plant is for?  It’s Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina‘s newest restaurant, aptly named for his 14th restaurant.  And yes, it’s another Philippe Starck design collaboration, beautifully done like an old french chateau.  Once you step inside, you are transported to a different world with dramatic chandeliers, regal wooden bookcases, perfectly upholstered leather seats, candelabras and fireplaces.

IMG_4556

A romantic fireplace, dining by candlelight, and low light, so low in fact that it was impossible to take photos of the meal.

IMG_4552_2

Juxtaposed against this old world style interior is the modern open kitchen behind sharp stainless steel racks.  The kitchen was buzzing with excitement under the leadership of executive chef Steven Fretz.

IMG_4551

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

XIV’s menu is constructed around a small plates dining concept.  There are numerous choices under appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts, and one is free to order a la carte or from 3 types of tasting menus.  XIV offers the opportunity to sample many different flavors and aromas through the 8 plate ‘Light Meal’ menu, 11 plate ‘Something More’ menu, or the 14 plate ‘Fourteen from XIV’ menu which is ordered for the table.  In these tasting menus, you also have the choice to have the chef select the dishes, or to choose them yourself.  We of course ordered the 14 dish tasting menu and chose the following dishes which I unfortunately could not photograph:

1) Ice Cold Shellfish trio: kushi oysters with champagne foam and tarragon powder, horseradish panna cotta with sweet shrimp, king crab with dijon mustard sauce.  The fresh kushi oyster had a wonderful brine that was accentuated, not overpowered, by the tarragon and champagne flavors.

2) Spring Garlic Soup with preserved Meyer lemon, parsley and country bread.  The creamy spring garlic soup had a garlicky kick that was green, young and fresh.

3) Tataki of American Wagyu skirt steak with moroccan spiced vegetables.  The beef tataki was not a true seared rare tataki, but rather a slice of cold medium steak albeit very tender and flavorful.  The vegetables were seasoned with a very earthy strong moroccan spice that didn’t  go well with the tataki.  The meat and the vegetables were each doing their own thing, and it was not a successful pairing.

4) Heirloom beets with burrata, wild arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and new olive oil.  Golden yellow, orange and red beets perfectly cooked and simply executed with the simple good flavors of balsamic and olive oil.

5) Foie gras terrine with rhubarb mostarda, saba and flatbread.  My favorite dish of the evening, the most flavorful and rich foie gras with a delicious sweet rhubarb jelly on top.  Since these are all small plates, the foie gras terrine was very small, and it left me begging for more.  One of the best foie gras terrines I have ever had.

6) Jidori chicken with fava beans, La Ratte potatoes, pickled ramps and onion jus.  The chicken was very juicy and succulent, but the dish and the flavors seemed too plain and safe for me.  I expected more surprises and innovative creations from Michael Mina.

7) Liberty duck breast with seared foie gras, leg confit, pineapple, and star anise.  Duck and foie gras are always a fail-proof combination, and they usually go well with a sweet fruit pairing (fig, cherries).  But pineapple? I was excited to try it, but unfortunately they didn’t mesh well.

8 ) Berkshire pork loin with crispy pork belly, pea leaves and salted cashew.  Here’s the thing about using pork belly.  It has become increasingly popular among restaurants all over the world only recently, but the Japanese have been cooking and eating it for centuries.  I have been spoiled by perfectly cooked pork belly in Japanese cuisine, and have never been satisfied with its execution in other types of cuisine.  This dish also fell short, as it wasn’t cooked to melting fatty tenderness.

9) California lamb chop with merguez sausage skewer, chickpea and raita.  This was a delicious dish where all of the components of the dish blended well together.  The smokey spiced merguez sausage with the rich lamb skewers, the red pepper sauce and earthy chickpea puree, paired with the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt raita.  Beautiful.

lamb chop with merguez sausage
lamb chop with merguez sausage

10) Japanese A5 strip loin with potato shallot cake, pinot noir sauce and spinach.  The Japanese A5 is an extremely high grade beef cut, and this dish comes with an extra charge that is worth every dollar.  An incredibly tender, moist, juicy, flavorful and memorable cut of beef with beautiful marbling.  (see random trivia section below for explanation of A5)

IMG_4527

11)Abbaye de Belloc cheese with quince, candied mustard seed and sorrel.

12) Selles-sur-Cher cheese with jackfruit, pistachio and mimosa flower.  I ordered this dishing hoping for fresh jackfruit, one of my favorite tropical fruits, but unfortunately it was candied, sweetened, and artificial.

IMG_4532

 

 

 

13) Grapefruit sorbet with greek yogurt and kaffir lime meringue.  I was excited to try Pastry chef Jordan Kahn’s desserts, knowing that he has worked at the French Laundry and Per Se, but I was disappointed with both dessert plates.  The folded grapefruit sorbet was too sweet, and the lime meringue tasted artificially flavored.  The yogurt brought nothing better to the dish, and I was done after 2 bites.

IMG_4537

14) Vanilla custard with mandarin sorbet, cream soda and nutmeg beignet.  The vanilla custard had an overwhelming fleur d’orange flavor that tasted like household cleaning solution.  The nutmeg beignet, however was warm and delicious.

IMG_454015) We ordered an extra 15th dish: Michael’s caviar parfait on a potato cake with citrus creme fraiche and smoked salmon.  We added this order after our 14 course meal, and were thankful for the decision.  It would have been a shame to end our meal with the 2 disastrous desserts.  The caviar parfait was absolutely wonderful, with all of the flavors of the salty caviar, light and creamy creme fraiche, and rich smoked salmon dancing harmoniously together in my mouth.

IMG_4531

Another highlight of the evening was discovering my cousin’s wine in the extensive wine list.  Simon Bize et Fils, Les Fournaux, 1er cru, 2006 was fantastic.  It was a joyous moment to find this rare wine in the restaurant.

XIV had a few dishes that flopped, but the others dazzled and impressed.  Drinks at the beautiful swank marble bar, followed by dinner in the vine covered patio for a tasting menu that includes the A5 steak, foie gras terrine and caviar parfait paired with a bottle of Simon Bize will make for a special evening.

Michael Mina XIV

8117 Sunset Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Random trivia:

So what the hell is an A5 beef?  It’s based on a grading system that grades beef on marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, color luster, and quality of fat.  It is reviewed by slicing the animal in between the 6th and 7th rib bone.  

The Beef Marbling score (BMS) is determined by how much intramuscular fat there is. This score can range from 1-12, and a score of 8-12 would get a grade 5 rating ‘Excellent’.

The Beef Color score (BCS) is determined by the comparing the meat flesh to the ‘Color Standards’. There are seven different shades of red with No. 1 being the lightest shade, and No.7 being the darkest. The flesh would have to be comparable to No.3-No.5  to get the top grade 5 rating.

Firmness and Texture are two different measurements within the same category, and in order to get the grade 5 rating, the flesh must be very firm and also have a very fine texture.

Color Luster and Quality of Fat are also different measurements within the same category. The fat is compared to the ‘Color Standards’ fat chart. There are seven different shades of fat, No.1 being pure white, and No. 7 being somewhat pink. Luster and Quality are visually appraised by the reviewer.

So if the Fat resembles No.1-No.4 and has excellent Luster and Quality, it will receive the grade 5 rating. To determine the overall grade of the beef, all the ratings in the aforementioned categories are  plugged into a chart, and the beef can receive 1 of 15 different final scores: A5 being the absolute best and C1 being the worst. Who knew beef was so complicated?