I n the 1950s, Yolande Lacan’s parents emigrated from France to Canada, ultimately winding up in Whitefield, New Hampshire, running the Playhouse Inn. Her father Noel Lacan was the chef, but her mother Lucienne might have had the better palate.
“She would sweep into the kitchen at 5:45 p.m. in a cocktail dress, because back then we dressed for dinner, and take two monkey dishes with a ladle each of the soups for the evening,” Yolande says. “She would swirl, blow, sip, and say ‘Cherie, the onion soup needs a dash more sherry!’ then spin on her heel, her skirt would flare, and she would flounce into the dining room. Father would just grin and bear it and say, ‘Oui, darling!’”
The menu at their daughter’s restaurant, Yolande’s Bistro & Creperie (at 99 Orange Street, in the heart of New Haven’s Ninth Square), is an homage to them both. Options include substantial entrees ranging from “non-scary,” as Yolande describes the traditional and unassuming Steak Frites, to the “scary side.” “We do frog legs, nothing froufrou, very simple, the way people in the countryside do it,” she says.
On the lighter side, there are “galettes” (savory crepes) and “crepes” (sweet ones), all made with buckwheat and oat flours, which makes them “naturally gluten-free,” though the recipe took a lot of tweaking. So did mastering the crepe griddle, which Yolande found in the attic of a house she bought in 1997 in Florida. She moved the crepe griddle along with her a dozen times since then, never once plugging it in until this September (it runs on three-phase power). It took nearly two weeks to spin a proper crepe, a process that sounds a bit like playing at a potter’s wheel. “We had to boost the RPM to get it smooth and fluid, almost like an artist,” Yolande says. “You can’t hesitate, and you can’t be scared of it.”
Though the restaurant vibe is French casual, the galettes are the result of care and attention to detail, achieving a silky yet substantial texture, delicate yet filling. The Florentine features spinach mornay, a béchamel sauce with Gruyere, nutmeg, a bit of mustard, and a hint of cayenne, for an earthy kick. The cayenne is a perfect example of her mother’s influence, taking a French foundation and adding an unexpected ingredient. The Chicken Du Jour galette with house pilaf was topped with mushrooms the day we dined, and too big for us to finish. Thankfully, the galette held up better than expected as a leftover.
Starters are worth sampling, in particular the Onion Tarte Tatin, a savory flaky pie crust topped with slivers of sweet red onions and dots of white chevre. The Tomato Provencale, stuffed with breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic, topped with cheese and herbs de Provence, like bruschetta in reverse, makes for a good starter or side, though it’s technically under the “Something More” section of the menu. Frites Maison (house fries) are served with garlic herb aioli, and arrived a beautiful crispy, golden brown, comforting bar food on a cold night.
On a weekend, try a galette topped with a poached egg—ours was cooked to perfection—which stars as a mainstay of the brunch menu. Bottomless Mimosas and Bloody Marys begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, along with Galette and Crepe options from the regular menu, salads and Quiche classics like Lorraine, with ham and gruyere, or the daily deep dish quiche, which recently featured shrimp, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onion.
Beyond the aforementioned day-drink favorites, the bar offers traditional French options such as the anise-flavored Pastis, and other aperitifs (before the meal) and digestifs (after the meal) including Kirsch, Framboise, and Poire Eau de Vie, or the French style of schnapps in cherry, raspberry and pear. Traditionally, Yolande says sparkling cider should accompany galettes and crepes, perhaps because the acidity provides a nice counterbalance, but also because of regional proximity—crepes come from Brittany and the cider from neighboring Normandy. Yolande is sampling several more local varieties right now and hopes to add one to her menu soon, but she longs for a genuine French cider to help keep the bistro “as close to French traditional as possible.”
In that vein, her walls are bold colors—earthy red, cornflower blue and sunflower yellow, hung with classic French cocktail ads. She wants her customers to feel as if they’ve stepped into France the moment they walk in the door. “For people who have traveled, it’s whatever part of France they have traveled to,” she says. “Some see a Paris bistro, and others see the colors and see the South of France.”
Yolandes Bistro & Creperie
99 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Fri 11am-9:30pm, Sat 9am-10:30pm, Sun 9am-2:30pm
Written and photographed by Jane Rushmore.