Where to Bar Lyon, a chic South End cafe in the style of France’s gastronomic capital.
What for Duck into this no-reservations spot at the corner of Mass Ave. and Washington Street for a drink and a bite at its friendly bar, or settle into a comfy banquette for a leisurely evening of food tourism. The latest production of Columbus Hospitality Group (Mistral, Teatro, Sorellina, Moo . . .).
The scene Plenty Frenchy, minus the kitsch. There’s basket-weave tile flooring in the style of old Lyon’s traditional bouchons (bistros). A zinc bar edges one side of the slender space, tables line the café-curtained windows overlooking Mass. Ave. The open kitchen at the end of the restaurant displays an array of shiny copper pots (and what looks like an enormous staff). The crowd is a mash-up of parents with young kids, mature couples, lots of men in blazers and women toting Louis Vuitton bags, sporting Burberry jackets. Denizens of the neighborhood pile up at the bar. There’s a distinct bourgeois-bohemian vibe. In the mirror, above the bar, you’ll read the cheery admonition, “Manger bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup.” (Eat well, laugh often, love a lot.) It’s written backward on the wall opposite so we can read its reflected image left-to-right. Pop into the stylish loo, where you’ll find an old-timey, pull-chain WC, and a marble-topped sink on an antique cabinet. It’s a trip.
What you’re eating An updated take on traditional Lyonnaise cuisine (no blood sausage or veal kidney), including terrine en croute with an intense jellied aspic tucked between the tender crust and coarse country paté; a proper salade Lyonnaise, with frisee, chunky cubes of bacon, nuggets of roast potato, and a perfect poached egg set in a piquant, vinegary dressing; a silky omelette, billed as “baveuse” (literally “slobbery”) enriched with triple-crème cheese. Also, traditional oeufs en meurette (eggs in red wine), feathery quenelles (fish dumplings), escargots (New York-farmed snails), and a classic duck confit.
Care for a drink? The wine list is compact, satisfying, and — it goes without saying — exclusively Gallic, plump with brasserie standards like petit-chateau Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, and bracing Loire whites. All are serviceable and affordable. The Little Prince cocktail combines cognac, champagne, and absinthe bitters. Gin and calvados go into La Belle France. Rye whiskey and a splash of sherry make up the aptly-named Bon Temps.
Overheard “What are you having?” asks a woman, leaning over a neighbor’s plate. “Do you have a dry white wine? I can’t drink red. But I can order the french fries. It’s my birthday!” One stylish guy to another: “I told my girlfriend that we couldn’t go to Vermont because of the playoffs. I think we’re headed to couples counseling.” Another, “Do you think that if couples want to go their separate ways on the weekend that the relationship is doomed?” A man at the bar orders a glass of wine and the bartender, delighted, tells him, “That’s the chef’s favorite white.” When he orders red, she says, “And that’s the chef’s favorite red.” He seems awfully pleased.
1750 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-904-4020, www.barlyon.com.