Friday, July 17, 2015

Lyon is known for its traditional bouchon, but
a new wave of modern restaurants—notably newcomer Prairial—are changing
the dining landscape there. With more than a thousand
restaurants in its grasp, Lyon famously has one of the highest concentrations
of eateries in France. The bouchon, with its homely wood-paneled walls, its
paraffin candles melting onto the checkered cloth table, has long been the
primary dining option. Chalkboard menus abound with sauce-smothered meats,
terrines and farmhouse patés from the Monts du Lyonnais, alongside hearty coq
au vin recipes passed down from the Meres Lyonnaises, a contingent of women
who put Lyon on the food map in the 18th century. But recently, an
increasing number of young chefs are departing from the Lyonnaise culinary
cannon, opening their own modern restaurants that are local in their fare and
adventurous in their technique. Most recently is Gaetan Gentil's Prairial
Restaurant, which opened in May on the thin slice of land between the Rhône
& Saône Rivers. After leaving Paris's celebrated L'Agapé
Substance, chef Gentil was inspired by this new restaurant wave in Lyon and
decided to open on an unassuming street in the 1st Arrondissement. But he's
also quick to note that it was Lyon's strategic geography, "in arm's
reach of the bounty of Rhone, Valence, Provence, and the Alps," that he says
equally drew him here.   Dining in his intimate, 10-table restaurant
is an homage to nature, not sauce. Even the crockery arrives in lucid,
organic shapes, gently alluding to seashells and skipping stones, set on
placemats that mimic cushy forest moss. Dishes that appear simple on the
menu—tomato, grapefruit, marigold—arrive looking like a veritable garden
on a plate: slices of a 36-hour roasted heirloom tomato intertwines with
grapefruit, topped with edible flowers from Valence, and brioche bread crumbs
crushed to mimic dirt. Courtesy of
Prairial Restaurant Rather than simply focus on flavor, Gentil
likes to play with color and temperature in surprising ways. He'll employ
warm hues for cold dishes, as with the chilled red gazpacho that arrives with
an even colder iceberg of pink melon sorbet drifting through, marked with the
startling contrast of a green mint leaf. Tiered textures come through in
particular with the desserts: the sweet clover ice cream pulls together three
consistencies of chocolate (chewy, crispy, crumbly). This texture
translates to the decor, which features living walls, rough stone pillars, and
playful chandeliers that almost look like magnifying glasses, as if to cue
your curiosity before the first plate even arrives. Jenna Scatena is on
the San Francisco Bay Area beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter
and Instagram. More good reads from T+L:
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