Awake and Dreaming
Marie, the owner of wine bar Mademoiselle Rêve, said she was inspired by 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, but somehow makes me want to lightly leap in the air like a ballerina.
I never said I was a music writer. Back to food and wine.
I walked into Mademoiselle Rêve on a particularly slow 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, moving through every corner of the hostel in attempts to hear them. I was ready for wine. I didn't want anything super fancy, just somewhere to unwind. Mademoiselle Rêve seemed perfect and was less than 10 minutes away.
The bar was on a quiet side street, Rue de Vendôme, with 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, bi-level bar that felt like a grandmother's house. I saw two coats draped over the first two bar seats by the door, so I assumed they were taken and the patrons 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 the chairs for me.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Of course! What can I get you? Here are the wines tonight. What do you like?"
Marie was 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 tiny menu of a few snacks, and during the day they serve lunch.
After sitting down, I realized what Marie had removed from the seats: a bunch of blankets. They were there 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 were 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 called him, was cooking. His name is Erwin, and he worked for Marie for five years. They serve a different meal every day for lunch to lots of happy regulars — always something hearty like pasta, meat, soup, and savory pies. Erwin was making a pasta with chicken, pea soup and a seafood pie that day. He had my full attention at 'seafood pie.' This place was somehow getting better.
Since the previous day 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 went to, but like many kitchens, they mainly used repurposed leftovers for their daily lunch feature. That didn’t mean the dishes weren’t absolutely delicious; it just meant a lot of creativity and purpose behind them.
For such a small operation, this staff of three worked insanely hard.
Tia, the server five days a week, came in at 8am and finished at 2:30pm. The hours weren't crazy, but she didn't sit, stop or linger for a second. She was constantly prepping, clearing, sweeping, wiping, answering phones and greeting guests. The bar took reservations for nighttime.
Erwin didn’t stop either, but also never got overwhelmed. He sanitized the work space after each task and did dishes along the way, all day long. While the pies baked, he made a "salsa" for beef bourguignon for the next day’s special, using the tomatoes, onions and carrots that left from today's tomato sauce. He won't waste a single ingredient.
Marie did her duty of entertaining guests from behind the bar.
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 prepare with the gentlest touch.
I enjoyed a bottle of white wine with Marie and Julian, one of her regulars. He lives nearby and 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 find: 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 talked about plans 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.
Edit: As of November 2018, it appears Mademoiselle Rêve has closed. I wish Marie and the team all the luck on their new adventures. I hope they continue their dreams in places as cozy and welcoming as Mademoiselle Rêve.