We had one of our best and most fun meals at Le Musee, a famous traditional bouchon — sort of the lyonnaise version of a Bistro. When we walked past the small humble looking dining room with its old plaster and wood walls, red and white checkered table cloths, and scuffed wooden chairs at 7:15, it was empty. Uh oh.
We’d reserved weeks ago, and were promised it would be packed even on a Tuesday night. So it was when we arrived again at 8 pm, with diners sitting elbow to elbow at long tables. We sat with a nice young couple from Normandy (the woman grew up in Lyon) and had a lively conversation about food, France, the US. (We later learned that no self-respecting French person books dinner before 8 pm…good to know. I made several reservations for 7:30.)
I don’t know exactly what we ate but it was delicious and the warm, welcoming atmosphere added to the specialness of the meal. All the servers looked happy, a good sign. The gregarious owner went around to every table with a handwritten menu, formed a huddle with diners and explained the entrees and plats de jour, in our case, in halting English (with help from our neighbors). He ended up picking several things for us (in halting French, I mentioned no blood sausage etc). We started with long mushrooms in a creamy sauce topped with greens in a mustardy dressing and a slice of cakey bread with a chunk of sausage in it (akin to pigs in a blanket).
For our mains, we each got a plate with creamy scalloped potatoes and a tasty sliced carrot concoction, then a dish to share of tender pork cheek in a savory brown sauce and an oval shaped dumpling coating white fish, served in a cream sauce. Dessert was a scoop of chocolate mousse beside a bright red/pink slab of what looked like a fruit pie/tart, but was not made with fruit. Instead it was with a lyonnaise specialty – – pink pralines, which are nubby, bright pink, very sweet, sugar-coated almonds. No-name wine was served by the bottle and half bottle, followed by a killer local liquor aperitif (that I couldn’t drink) served on the house. The food sounds weird and heavy but somehow it wasn’t.
Toward the end of the meal, before anyone had paid, the owner stood in the middle of the dining room and invited diners to join him in the alleyway behind the restaurant for a brief tour of one of Lyon’s famous covered passageways (traboules) so we all got up and moved out into an adjoining courtyard surrounded by high towering walls. My French is lacking so we couldn’t pick up most of what he said (apparently there was mention of prostitutes) but it was fun to see this raconteur entertaining the crowd, with people laughing and smoking. Then we all dutifully returned to the warm restaurant and lined up to pay our bills. (Ours was a remarkably reasonable 89 euros .)
Hotel des Celestians is well-located (in a fancy shopping area of presqu’ile, a peninsula between two rivers, an easy and scenic walk to the old city/vieux Lyon) and a small, affordable place to stay, with very helpful staff who booked restaurants for us and an outgoing owner who went to Cornell’s famous hotel school (at the same time I was there, in the liberal arts college). Fun talking to him about Ithaca and greatly appreciated his restaurant recommendations.
We stopped for a drink at a chic but welcoming bar, Soul Brothers, near Le Musee that had nice looking charcuterie boards.