Waged since the first escargot inched its way toward a pot of simmering bouillon, the Paris-Lyons battle for gastronomic supremacy is not likely to be settled any time soon. Those who give Lyons the edge always cite the bouchon, a strictly codified subspecies of bistro unique to the city. La Meunière is a model example, founded in 1921, and run with full knowledge of the genre by Maurice Debrosses, a sexagenarian who for years directed the dining room at Paul Bocuse, just up the Saône. Like the most authentic bouchons (the term originally described the brooms auberges gave patrons to brush down their horses), La Meunière cultivates a proto-cruddy look and serves Beaujolais drawn on-site from casks into thick-walled bottles. The buffet de saladiers lyonnais is a 12-foot table covered in widemouthed stoneware bowls and terrines filled with ritual hors d'oeuvres: lentils, beets, herring and potatoes in oil, shredded beef shank, tripes en gelée. And did we mention the calves' and sheep's feet?Main courses run to such hometown favorites as chicken in a perky vinegar sauce and juicy whole kidneys roasted with shallots. Dessert may seem like a death certificate after all this, but it would be reckless to bypass the apple tart. Uncorrupted by glaze or puréed fruit, it's thin, flaky, and absurdly buttery.
LA MEUNIèRE, 11 Rue Neuve, Lyons; 33-4/78-28-62-91; dinner for two $34.
As in Lyons, Alsace has a vernacular eating-and-drinking culture that developed its own format, the winstub. No translation of the term is entirely satisfactory (win means "wine"; stub is "room"), but "tavern" comes close: a macho, dark-paneled institution where Riesling flows from pitchers and visceral fare celebrates the pig and duck. Enter Odette Jung, who is regarded by the Alsatian food community as a mythic muse and by the decorating community as a styliste manquée. Last year she hit on the idea of reinventing the winstub, casting it in a romantic light that reflects her own quite amazing doll-like image and devotion to the local folk arts. Indeed, La Ferme de Suzel is more boudoir than tavern, an 18th-century farmhouse Jung purchased in pieces as architectural salvage. She reassembled the building in a blink-and-you-miss-it village north of Strasbourg. You want charm?Suzel's got charm. You want style?Suzel's got style. Light is filtered through canning jars of cherries soldiered on the windowsills. Parquet de Versailles glows below crystal chandeliers. Reverse paintings on glass hang above porcelain teapots (okay, here it gets a little weird) imprisoned under bell jars. In this swooning atmosphere Jung delivers on her promise of "une cuisine de terroir de grand-mère." Sautéed foie gras escallopes are more like plump steaks. Meaty duck confit comes with the surprise of cranberry confiture. Baeckeoffe, the native stew of champions—a mixture of lamb, pork, beef, and potatoes is finished in the dining room's 1712 Kachelofen, a woodstove faced in sunny spattered tiles. That leaves Jung's signature vacherin, a tower of meringue, rhubarb ice cream, whipped cream, crème anglaise, and red-currant coulis. Think of it as an Alsatian sundae.
LA FERME DE SUZEL, 15 Rue des Vergers, Ringendorf; 33-3/88-03-30-80; dinner for two $72.
Ever tried to make a 10 o'clock dinner reservation in France?You're treated like you've got two heads. Which is why brasseries are so precious. They refuse to toe the line. Bigger than bistros, less formal than restaurants, they're open late, overlit, and noisy. Like any fully inscribed brasserie, Les Vapeurs, near Deauville, has a menu weighted with shellfish platters, grilled fish, omelettes, onion soup, escargots, choucroute, and fries, fries, fries. But it's the crevettes grises, boiled shrimp netted just off the coast, that people drive all the way from Paris for.
LES VAPEURS, 160 Quai Fernand-Moureaux, Trouville; 33-2/31-88-15-24; dinner for two $60.
Coastal Provence is dotted with cabanons de mer, privately owned jerry-rigged beach shacks for pan bagnat picnics. More evolved but in the same knocked-together spirit are places like Restaurant Bernard in Toulon. Getting there is a scream. You park in front of the café on Avenue de la Résistance, then walk down a steep path flanked by villas, cypresses, and parasol pines. At water's edge, the tide tickling its façade, Bernard serves a lusty, obscenely copious, law-abiding bouillabaisse. Scorpion fish (there's no bouillabaisse without it), fiery rouille mayonnaise, garlic-scraped croutons, and heart-quickening Mediterranean views make this the real deal.
RESTAURANT BERNARD, Calanque de Magaud, Toulon; 33-4/94-27-20-62; bouillabaisse for two $63.