Café Lola Derived From 'Heart and Soul'
By RITA PAPAZIAN
Article Launched: 12/19/2008
When having a conversation with chef and co-owner Henri Donneaux, it is easy to hear and feel the passion and joy he has in opening his own restaurant with his wife, Ivanina, following his many years as an executive chef and chef for other restaurateurs.
Now he is the master in his own kitchen and host in the couple's own restaurant welcoming patrons to their French café at 57 Unquowa Road in the Galleria building, a short distance from the Community Theatre. The location is a familiar site for restaurateurs, and now Donneaux is enthused about opening a French restaurant that harkens back to his childhood in Belgium's French-speaking city of Liege in the southern part of the country. He learned to cook from his grandmother and mother.
After more than 20 years in the restaurant business it was time to open his own. Selecting a location proved an easy decision for the couple. They wanted to open their restaurant in Fairfield, the town that has been their home for the last few years. The time and decision were right both personally and professionally.
The couple knew the type of restaurant they wanted to open and set about finding the right location, crafting a floor plan and making the interior design decisions that would be inviting
for a café offering French home cooking. That reminded Donneaux of his childhood. Donneaux credits his wife Ivanina's talent in interior décor that offers a welcoming environment.
In a recent interview in the smaller of the restaurant's two dining rooms, which seat 48 patrons, Donneaux explained that the interior décor is a reflection of the couple's philosophy to open a restaurant that would mirror the Old World, traditional French cooking, presented in a comfortable, informal setting.
He calls the setting "shabby chic" with an eclectic style of dining chairs, paper set atop white tablecloths and light creamy yellow walls that reflect the light and add brightness to the dining rooms, even on a gray December day. Tasteful and distinctive antiques mix with collectibles interspersed with coffee table books of photography to enhance the ambiance of a French café.
In order to present a unique and flavorful menu, Donneaux has devoted considerable time to selecting local food suppliers. He buys his fresh eggs from a farmer in Easton and his breads come from Billy's Bakery on Black Rock Turnpike, one of his vendors he has patronized for many years.
"I work with local products as much as I can," said the chef, noting the restaurant buys its all-natural meats from Ox Hollow Farm in Roxbury and root vegetables right here at the indoor farmers market at the nearby Fairfield Theatre Co. on Sanford Street.
Café Lola offers a very inviting menu for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, along with a weekly menu of specials offered throughout the week. Here is a sampling of menu choices:
For lunch, patrons can choose from a choice of salads, or a "Make Your Own" salad by choosing either fish or chicken from the grill and combining it with a choice of salad greens and dressing. Lunch plates range from crepes and tarts to a Black Angus burger in a brioche or a grilled vegetable and goat cheese in a ciabatta, plus a choice of chicken pot pie, salmon, mussels or steak-frites.
The dinner menu offers a choice of Petite Plates with a selection soup, salad, pate, escargot, mussels and a vegetable stew, or Grand Plates with the main entrée of either salmon, mussels, steak, chicken, duck or rack of lamb. Of special note is Donneaux's Beef Bourguignon, which is the traditional French stew of Burgundy wine, tender carrots, pearl onions and mushrooms over Pappardelle pasta.
The dessert menu offers the classic recipe of Crepes Suzette or a Tarte Au Pommes Provencale, which is a thin apple tart with vanilla ice cream and a honey-lavender sauce. Other dessert choices include Pot De Crème Chocolat, which is a Belgium chocolate pudding with Crème Chantilly; Pain Perdu Aux Apricots, which is a brioche bread pudding with Muscat soaked apricots and caramel sauce.
The Sunday brunch menu is extensive with a variety of egg dishes, crepes, pancakes, soup, salad and burgers. Of special note is "Henri's Mom's French Toast," which is described on the menu as cooked in bacon fat, topped with a fried egg and bacon. Patrons are advised to "approach with caution, as it is highly addictive."
When he was a child, Donneaux stood beside his grandmother helping her make the pies. He went from his grandmother's kitchen to culinary school léécole Hoteliere in Namur, Belgium, at age 15 where he studied until he was 19. In 1985, he came to the United States when he was offered an assistant chef's position at La Panetiere in Rye, N.Y. He stayed in that position for three or four years before moving to Paris where he was an assistant chef at Guy Savoy. He returned to the States and worked at Bouley in Manhattan and then became executive chef at the Field Club of Greenwich. Also, he was the executive chef at Figaro Bistro in Greenwich for 15 years.
Café Lola offers a boutique wine list representing wines from all over the world that simplifies the choices for diners looking for just the right complement to the menu. Looking forward, Henri and Ivanina Donneaux will be hosting wine and scotch dinners to introduce patrons to their menus.
The couple is planning menus for Christmas and New Year's Eve, the latter will have two seatings and an a la carte menu.
Donneaux is excited about opening a restaurant. He knows that this new venture for the couple is something that comes from "the heart and soul." This goes back to that passion that is so evident throughout the café's two dining rooms.
The café is open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (with extended hours on Friday and Saturday). Sunday brunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, call 292-8014 or visit