Awake and Dreaming
Marie at Mademoiselle Rêve said the inspiration for her cozy wine bar's name was Alain Bashung's French rock song "Madame Rêve," or "Madame Dream." The song had spoken to her. Listening to it now, it's beautifully haunting and makes me want to lightly leap like a ballerina to its eery background music.
I never said I was a music writer. Back to food and wine.
I walked into Mademoiselle Rêve on a particularly boring night in Lyon when no one was around at the hostel. The only people there were doing work, and I had already put in my day's duty of interviewing brewers in New York over a spotty, muffled phone connection. I was ready for wine. I didn't want anything super fancy, just somewhere that locals go to unwind. Mademoiselle Rêve seemed perfect and was less than 10 minutes away.
The bar is on a quiet side street, Rue de Vendôme, with seemingly very little going on. Excellent. When I walked in solo, I was a bit intimidated. It didn't seem like there were any free seats in the dark, cozy, bi-level bar that feels like a grandmother's house. I saw two coats draped over the first two bar seats by the door, so I assumed the chairs' inhabitants were outside smoking.
"Come! Sit!" sang a friendly voice from behind the bar. Moments later, a vibrant woman with a huge smiled appeared and cleared a chair for me.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Of course! What can I get you? Here are the wines tonight. What do you like?"
Marie is the owner and bartender at Mademoiselle Rêve. Not only did she help me find a great affordable red wine, but she also offered me a smaller version of their meat and cheese plate since I was alone. I'm so used to high-volume New York restaurants with strict "rules," especially about food portions, so this was quite literally a dream. Even though her bar was packed, Marie made sure I was comfortable and happy. The bar has a limited menu of a few snacks, and during the day they serve lunch.
After sitting down, I realized what she had moved from my seat was a bunch of blankets - in case patrons got cold sitting by the door. I loved this place.
Marie is from Normandy where seafood is king. I was happy to be welcomed into her workplace-that-is-home in Lyon, where hospitality, wine and comfort are top notch.
After we chatted about why I was in Lyon, Marie invited me to come in and watch the staff cook lunch one day. I could learn about the dishes, take pictures and ask questions. Sounded fun to me!
Later that week I went in when "the boy," as Marie calls him, was cooking. His name is Erwin, and he's worked for Marie for five years. They serve a different meal every day for lunch to lots of happy regulars. It's always hearty: pasta, meat, soup, and savory pies. Erwin was making a pasta with chicken, pea soup and a seafood pie that day. He had me at 'seafood pie.' This place was my jam.
Since the day before they served fish with seafood sauce, today we'd make a pie with the rest of that rich, chunky seafood sauce. There's a farmers' market down the street that they use, but like many kitchens, they mainly use repurposed leftovers for their daily lunch features.
For such a small operation, this staff works harder than you can imagine. Tia, the server five days a week, comes in at 8am and finishes at 2:30pm. The hours aren't crazy, but she doesn't sit, stop or linger for a second. She's constantly prepping, clearing, sweeping, wiping, answering phones and greeting guests. The restaurant takes reservations for nighttime. Erwin doesn't stop either, but he never gets stressed out. He sanitizes the work space after each task and does dishes along the way, all day long. While the pies bake, he starts making a "salsa" for beef bourguignon tomorrow. This will utilize the tomatoes, onions and carrots that are left from today's tomato sauce. He won't waste a single ingredient.
After my "shift" of standing, drooling, chatting and taking pictures, I settled in for a nice lunch plate. I had already tried the pasta, so I went for just the soup, seafood pie and the beautiful crisp salad that I watched Tia painstakingly prepare.
I enjoyed a bottle of white wine with Marie and Julian, one of her regulars, who lives nearby and is a nurse. He spoke very good English, and we talked about New York and Miami. He was nervous for an upcoming trip to South Beach during Spring Break, and I described what he might expect to see: huge, colorful drinks loaded with cheap alcohol -- the complete opposite of our current cozy scene on a cloudy afternoon in Lyon.
I enjoyed my time with the folks at Mademoiselle Rêve. It felt good being around restaurant people, and they made me feel so welcome. Marie is planning to move to Spain or Switzerland to have a baby. I'm sure she'll be an awesome mom; she sure made me feel taken care of.