So Long Steakhouse, Bonjour Creperie
by Melissa Bailey | Oct 17, 2012 3:23 pm
Posted to: Food, Downtown, Ninth Square
Waiters tested coffees. A new cook got her start on napkin-folding duty. And batter began to sizzle on the griddle, as a new creperie set up shop in the Ninth Square.
The activity took place Monday at Yolande’s Bistro and Creperie, a new restaurant set to open Friday at 99 Orange St., the former home of Central Steakhouse, which closed in late May.
A visit to the space Monday found Yolande Lacan directing a steady flow of workers polishing glasses, mopping floors, setting up payroll and choosing art for the walls of the new restaurant. The large space, which Central Steakhouse had trouble filling with customers, seats 75 on the ground floor and another 50 in the basement, not counting two bars.
Lacan plans to bring it back to life with quiches and sandwiches on baguettes for lunch, French bistro specialties for dinner, and sweet and savory crepes (called “galettes”) at all meals.
Click on the play arrow at the top of this story to watch Stefanie Ponzillo, a lead cook, demonstrate her newly acquired crepe-spinning skills Monday.
With her new restaurant, Lacan promises to address a dearth of brunch options downtown: When you walk downtown on a Saturday at noon, she noted, “there’s nothing open.”
“Brunch will be popular,” she predicted.
The creperie marks a milestone for Lacan, who is setting out on her own for the first time after a lifetime of working in hotels and restaurants. She was conceived at a hotel opening. When she was 3, her parents, both French, opened a hotel in New Hampshire called The Playhouse Inn.
For the next 14 years, Lacan grew up in the kitchen, the bedrooms, and on the stage of the hotel, which had its own cabaret and summer theater. She had her first kiss in a linen closet. Her dad, a chef, served frogs’ legs and escargot there, in a town of 2,000, for 14 years.
“It was a magical childhood,” recalled Lacan, who writes about her childhood and current dreams at her blog, The Inkeeper’s Daughter.
Lacan (pictured) stayed in the business. She has traveled around the country serving as a general manager of hotels, specializing in openings and renovations. She came to Connecticut two years ago to help open a hotel in Shelton. She ended up living in New Haven.
The creperie marks the first time she’s stepping out on her own.
“The anticipation is nuts,” she said in a break from orchestrating preparations Monday.
The new bistro will use some of her father’s French recipes, she said. The artwork on the newly painted walls reflects her familial roots in southern France.
“The goal, between the menu, music and decor, is when you walk in, you escape New Haven, the U.S.,” said Lacan, “and step into France” for an hour.
The vision takes a bit of imagination: The restaurant sits across from The Lot, a pocket park near a busy bus stop on Chapel Street. Patrons at the Central Steakhouse have complained about unsightly views into the alleyway, where Lot-goers sometimes stop to take a pee.
Lacan expressed full confidence as she prepared to take a gamble on the restaurant. She got connected with the building owner, Bill Christian, through networking at The Grove, a coworking facility a few doors down on Orange Street.
By November, when she expects to get her liquor license, she will employ 18 full- and part-time staff, she said.
New hires include Trish Johnson (pictured), a recent graduate of the Connecticut Culinary Institute in Hartford. Johnson, who lives in New Haven, will be starting out as a cook. On Monday, she unwrapped red-and-white checkered napkins. She said she expected to do a lot of prep work. Her strength, she said, is “knife skills.”
Nearby, two servers taste-tested coffees. (Lacan doesn’t like coffee, so she let them choose the house brew.) They settled on the French roast.
Stefanie Ponzillo (pictured), who followed Lacan from a previous job at the Westport Inn, flexed her newly acquired crepe-making skills. She used a wooden paddle to “spin” a crepe onto an electric crepe griddle. Then she waited.
“When it bubbles and starts to change color, then you flip it,” she explained. She spread Nutella, folded it, and tossed it onto a plate.
The house specialty, Lacan said, is a lemon-sugar crepe that tastes like it’s bathed in lemonade.
Yolande’s Bistro and Creperie will be open Friday and Saturday for dinner from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Hours will be: Tuesday to Friday 11 am.- 2 p.m. for lunch; Tuesday to Thursday 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. for dinner; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for brunch.
Tags: crepes, ninth square, yolande
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I hope the place does well. The walk down Chapel Street is currently a barrier, unfortunately. You have to walk next to a lot of noise and pollution, and the sidewalks are narrow and crowded.
It would be great if the parking spaces along Chapel, particularly the four that are located in front of the Citibank, were converted into pedestrian plaza space. This could be done for approximately $500 worth of materials.
Most other cities are doing this because it makes the area more pedestrian-friendly and attractive. Doing that would bring a LOT more customers than the four parking spaces do. Google “parklets” and click on Image Search if you don’t believe me.