The Ethical Cellar Goes to Lyon, France
Mention Lyon and most people’s minds and stomachs turn to thoughts of gastronomy, not the modern kind with foams, sous vide and a vegan focus. Rather, it’s the home of bouchons—restaurants where classic French dishes like tripe (cow’s stomach), ris de veau (veal sweetbreads/thymus glands) and pieds de cochons (pig’s feet) have been proudly served for centuries.
Even Renaissance scholar François Rabelais, of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” fame, might agree that after a dinner or two of the above, it’s a pleasant surprise and needed relief to walk down a medieval street, and, across from a 15th century church, find five-year old Odessa Comptoir, an all-natural wine bar with vegetarian choices.
Owners Lyonnaise-native Mathieu Kochen and American David Shayne met 14 years ago in Buenos Aires. After a year there, they went their separate ways but stayed in close touch. Twelve years ago, Shayne visited Lyon and was smitten with the town. “This city spoke to me. We don’t have cities of this size in the U.S. It’s easy to get around, but with 400,000 people and several universities, it’s also a cultural center,” he told Worth.
So, in 2017 when Kochen had the vision to open Odessa, Lyon’s first all-natural wine bar, it didn’t take Shayne long to become a partner in the business. At the time, shops were selling natural wines by the bottle. What made Odessa unique was that customers could sample a glass curated by knowledgeable staff.
Odessa quickly gained popularity for its quirky, mostly unsulfited wines from small vignerons. “We deal directly with producers. We know them personally and have relationships with many of the makers of the 300+ wines we sell,” Shayne proudly explained. “This is a place people come to discover new wines. We get a lot of professionals.”
Initially, the menu at Odessa was simple, but when COVID travel restrictions stranded Shayne’s friend, professional chef Robert Flaherty, in Lyon, Flaherty—who’s worked at numerous top Los Angeles and New York City restaurants including April Bloomfield’s Ace Hotel hotspots, The Breslin and John Dory—took up the toque at Odessa.
His goals are to keep it simple, not compete with the wines and make the choices vegetable-centric, concentrating on ingredients he finds on his daily visits to one of Lyon’s several farmers markets. He bakes all of his own bread using organic flour from a small farm in Beaujolais.
A recent menu included: a sublime salad of turnips, apples, walnuts and pecorino; cauliflower tempura with aioli and lemon; a mezze of every vegetable Flaherty scored in the market, cooked in various methods and served with socca (a chickpea pancake from Provence); and a tartine of pork coppa, slow cooked in beer. Flaherty’s goal? “I try to channel my inner grandmother,” he said. “I love the culinary history here. It feeds me.”
Odessa Comptoir has been so successful that the team has opened Odessa L’école, a few hours away in Morvan, where Kochen and his wife have a second home. The weekend after our visit, L’école hosted a natural wine festival with over 20 producers, food and music.
Lyon is a magical city, truly worth a visit. It’s a blend of winding, medieval streets and elaborate fountains as a backdrop to buzzing Vespas, street art and vintage clothing stores. Odessa Comptoir is right at home in this new cultural cassoulet.
Here’s what Shayne has to say about the wines he selected for us to sample at Odessa. Except for the house wine and the Pur Jus, all are available in the U.S.
House Wine – Chasselas (grapes from the south of France, made in Burgundy)
This one is near and dear to our hearts at Odessa—our first hands-on collaborative cuvée. We were present from the press to the two bottlings, which show very differently, giving us a deeper perspective on how certain choices ultimately decide a wine’s character. Pair with lightly sauced chicken or pork. Since they’re off-dry, they go well with fruit desserts.
‘Pur Jus’ – Leo Dirringer, Alsace (Riesling, Sylvaner)
We love Alsace, plain and simple. Leo is a young winemaker we’ve invited to our wine festival at the L’école. Pur Jus is just that, pure juice. Alive and expressive, bursting with lemony minerals and peachy undertones from the Sylvaner. With its moderate alcohol and high acidity, this is an all-the-time wine for me, but it wants fresh food, salads, fish, seafood, even a cheese plate.
La Bidule – Pet Nat from Phillipe Brand (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir)
Delicious bubbles that love to be drunk with fried food! A complex mix of all colors of Pinot give a super-round complexity that I enjoy serving with our cauliflower tempura or even an umami rich tartare.
La Ferme de 7 Lunes – Jean Delobre, Rhone Valley (Syrah)
Perfect expression of Syrah. A balancing act of depth, tannins and acid, without being overly alcoholic. Deep red fruits, herbal notes and strong black pepper make this the ideal Syrah from one of the masters of the Rhône. We often have saucy, long stewed meats on the menu. This makes a perfect marriage.
GamayLeon, L’epicuriuex – Seb Congretel, Beaujolais (Gamay)
Easy to drink, but its wide range slides onto a tasting menu. Explosive fruit and deep red color give Seb’s wine a bit more density than a lot of gamays.
Chapeau Melon, La Vrille et Papillon, Ardèche (Merlot)
Super carbonic maceration brings out a ton of fruit while enhancing terroir. Fun for apéro, eating and anything in between. This is the perfect foil for pork and excites me for Thanksgiving dinner with white meat, gravy and fruity sides.
Finisterra, Jean Marc Dreyer, Alsace (Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois)
The Godfather of Alsatian orange wine. Complex dried citrus skins and heavy herbal notes make it fun to drink with almost anything.
Asked why he selected the above for us, Shayne replied, “At Odessa, there’s no grape or region that is off the table. Rather, we seek out new producers and wines across France and, occasionally, Europe. Natural wine is having a moment globally, and here in France, the strongest reverberations are definitely in a young generation of producers, who respect the rich, dynamic history and infuse it with evocative newness.”