Last week, I found myself at a place that people don’t much talk about anymore – Aux Lyonnais. This is Alain Ducasse’s take on the bouchon, a style of restaurant from Lyon specializing in that region’s traditional and very meaty fare. I brought my boyfriend, a real Lyonnais, for dinner last week. We started with an apéro at the nearby Coinstot Vino and then arrived for our 9:00 reservation (booked online).
My first impression: this restaurant is beautiful. With its gleaming zinc bar, tiled floors, and checkered tablecloths, Aux Lyonnais is decorated like the French bistro of my dreams. If I were a tourist, as 80% of the clients appeared to be, I would enter and say “finally… this is the place.”
That first flush faded fast. Three minutes after being seated, a waitress arrived to take our order. We asked for more time and a second woman returned two minutes later. We sent her away but had only a minute of peace before the original waitress reappeared in order to “help us” by explaining a few of the dishes. “It’s not that I don’t understand the dishes,” I told her in French, “it’s that I haven’t had time to read the menu.”
Our entrées arrived within minutes of ordering. The waitress brought our glasses of white wine, ordered to accompany those starters, just as we were finishing the last bites. They sat untouched on our table as we moved on to red wine for the second course.
Grumbling about service is risky business. It can make the writer look clueless (she doesn’t understand the local customs) and/or peevish (she complains at every restaurant). I’m taking that risk because the service wasn’t simply bad, it was… American. Being rushed through a meal by a server who wants to turn the table is not an experience I expect to have in Paris. Then again, Aux Lyonnais isn’t a particularly Parisian place. It’s part of a global empire that includes restaurants in more than 15 countries, not to mention culinary schools, cookbooks, and cookware.
There was a moment, while I was tasting my quenelle de brochet and smiling at a couple kissing in the corner, when Aux Lyonnais felt terribly French. But then the waitress returned to ask about dessert while I still had a mouthful of fish.
Wikipedia says that “the emphasis in a bouchon is not on haute cuisine, but rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.” If that’s true, then Aux Lyonnais, with its apathetic service and absentee owner, is a spectacularly failed bouchon. The food was delicious, but I felt like a sucker.
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