Can French cuisine regain the dominant position it once held in New Yorkers’ hearts and dreams? Perhaps the route is from the bottom up.
Perched on a heavily trafficked West Village intersection, Lyon is beautifully decorated in the authentic fashion. But hard tabletops and mirrored walls turn the long, narrow space into an echo chamber: for much of the evening, I couldn’t hear my companion without cupping my hand over my ear.
Termed a bouchon, the Lyonnais term for a meat-centric bistro, Lyon’s menu is studded with carnivore bait, like boudin noir, bacon-wrapped loup de mer, a green salad with bacon, and so forth. Prices are modest, with appetizers $10–14, entrées mostly in the $20s (a Niman Ranch strip steak au poivre at $45 is an outlier), side dishes $6–8, desserts mostly $9–10.
The wine list fits on a single page, and as you’d expect, is dominated by reds. There are more bottles at $75 and above than I think a restaurant in Lyon’s price range can justify, but there are enough choices below $50 to satisfy the casual diners that a place like this presumably attracts.
There’s an emphasis on Beaujolais, with eight bottles in a separately captioned section of the list, but I found a 2006 Domaine Les Côtes de la Roche Saint-Amour ($49) too shallow and bitter for its age.
With the food, I can’t find any fault at all. Pieds de Porc ($22; below left) was impeccable: two plump cakes with pig trotters and foie gras, a light coating of mustard, and a stew of green lentils and sherry vinegar. This is a dish I dream about.
My companion had the Pintade ($27; above right), a breast of guinea fowl, root vegetables, and thyme. I sampled a bit of the fowl, which was plump and tender.
Among the pro critics, Sam Sifton of the Times (who awarded one star) and Steve Cuozzo of the Post (who awarded two) are in broad agreement, finding Lyon very good at its best, but also uneven. [Due to their differences in interpretation of the star system, Sifton’s one and Cuozzo’s two are essentially the same thing.] We may have fortuitously avoided the clunkers, or maybe Lyon is getting better, as Cuozzo suggests.
Because Sifton is an incompetent buffoon, he insisted that Lyon needs “An entree that every third person in the restaurant orders,” a new index to success that I’ve not encountered in any other review. I realize that a dish made from pig parts will never be the people’s choice, but the trotters fit the bill for me.
Lyon was nearly full on a Thursday evening; service was as attentive as it needed to be. The loudness of the room would make me hesitant to return with anyone whom I wanted to converse with. Dinner at the bar, some night after work, is the more prudent course.
Lyon (118 Greenwich Avenue at W. 13th Street, West Village)