When natives from Lyon (or anywhere) in France sit in an American restaurant, Pot Lyonnaise in hand, Tripes Gratinées disappearing rapidly from their plates, and declare that they feel completely at home, you know you're doing something very right.
Lyon Bouchon Moderne warmly beckons diners from the corner of Greenwich Ave and 13th Street with its soft, antique lighting and oak-paneled walls bordered by Michelin Guide road maps that suggest the original train-car bouchon of old. The walls boast traditional Lyonnaise luggage racks and blackboards covered with tantalizing food and wine specials that once accommodated French traveler's belongings and penchants for a taste of home.
Lyon is the only place in the city that offers bouchon cuisine authentic to its namesake region of France. The table wine is served in imported bottles and marked with rubber bands of varying colors meant to help nighttime bartenders distinguish between the Côtes du Rhône and the Beaujolais, just as it was in France. Owner Francois Latapie took Chef Chris Leahy to Lyon shortly before opening to make sure they got it right. The resulting rich, hearty menus—both edible and drinkable—seamlessly and seasonably incorporate local New York ingredients and provide the perfect fix for locals who yearn to ward off the rapidly-approaching cold weather.
Joonbug met up with Francois, clad in his classically French, blue worker coverall, full of enthusiasm for his truly unique restaurant.
Joonbug: What exactly is a "bouchon"?
F: A bouchon is a modest neighborhood restaurant only found in the city of Lyon, France. The first bouchons were 19th century Lyonnaise equivalents of our truck stops, taverns where grooms and coachmen paused for a glass of local wine and a bite of cheap food. A bouchon today is a typical restaurant where you can eat local specialties from Lyon and the surrounding area.
JB: Describe the Pot Lyonnais.
F: The Pot Lyonnais is a thick glass bottle used as a decanter for Beaujolais, burgundy or Cotes du Rhone. All of these varieties are produced within an hour of Lyon. This is the Lyonnaise version of table wine and guests are encouraged to sip from the Pot Lyonnais and take part in the tradition.
JB: What sets Lyonnaise cuisine apart and why did you choose it?
F: Well, I had spent time in Lyon growing up in France and I fell in love with the custom and tradition behind the cuisine. Traditional items include quenelles (pike dumplings), cervelle de Canuts (seasoned cheese), or poulet de Bresse (corn fed chicken). Additional staples include tripe, blood sausage, and, of course, Salad Lyonnaise which features mixed greens, smoked bacon, and a poached egg.
JB: How did you find Chris Leahy?
F: I had tasted Chef Leahy’s food at BLT Prime. He had a good reputation in New York and was excited to collaborate with me to bring the bouchon concept to New York. We traveled together to Lyon specifically to craft the menu and ensure we were serving authentic Lyonnaise cuisine, but also bringing our modern point of view.
JB: How would you describe his personal interpretation on Lyonnaise cuisine?
F: The interpretation is classic bouchon fare treated with modern refinement. He uses staple ingredients found in bouchon cooking blended with local New York ingredients. The menu is treated with seasonality and features what is market-fresh.