By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Much as I try, I can't seem to find a common thread between Volvos and haute cuisine. Volvos are austerely functional vehicles, hauling child protective seats with the resolve of a D-6 dozer. They're the automotive equivalent of granola with a side of stewed prunes, which, along with boutique lefty causes, is what fuels most Volvo drivers anyway.
But a lot has changed with Volvo over the past couple of years. Gone are commuter tanks such as the 240 sedan; Volvos have shed their industrial-washtub design and adopted a sleek look. Hell, the C70 coupe is downright sexy, with sloping curves, a trunk that gags on Pampers value packs from Sam's, and a bumper that would make fashion criminals out of anyone who tried to slap it with a "Save the Spotted Newt" sticker.
Van Roberts, owner of Lola The Restaurant, has a day job operating Point West Volvo in Irving. So it's relevant to ask: Is there anything about selling Volvos that translates into haute cuisine? "No, not a bit," Roberts says. Still, there may exist a common thread. The C70 comes in a host of un-Volvo-like metallic colors, including Saffron, Cassis, and Mustard -- stains you'll find on the jacket of any self-respecting New American chef.
2917 Fairmount St.
Dallas, TX 75201-1455
Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn
Yet Roberts insists his plunge into the restaurant business had nothing to do with Volvos. Rather, it was born from a need to nurture his creative side -- which kind of sounds like a Volvo bumper sticker. He likes to paint, for instance. "This is one way for me to flesh that out a bit," he says of Lola.
So when the Barclays space became available after Nick Barclay and his wife decided to sell out and pursue a dream -- owning and operating a boutique hotel in England -- Roberts, a Barclays regular, jumped at the opportunity. He struck a deal with Nick; retained most of Barclays staff, including sous chef Chris Peters; and brought Jamie Samford of Angeluna in Fort Worth on board as both chef and co-owner of the tiny 70-seat restaurant parked in an old house among the galleries on Fairmount Street. For Roberts, the Barclays opportunity prompted a "now or never" life crescendo. "If you want to do something, you gotta try it," he says. "There's no guarantees. If I waited another five years, I might not even be around."
Which doesn't explain why he called the place Lola. Roberts says he was looking for something catchy and simple. "I notice a lot of the new restaurants in New York and Los Angeles and stuff were going with simple, short names. And I wanted a woman's name, and I tried to find something that had a little bit of a jazziness to it." He also admits he likes the Kinks song, though he says a lot of his older clientele associate the name with a line from a much older tune that goes, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."
Or maybe whatever Van wants, Van gets. Roberts says that in addition to brushing on canvas, he also fiddles around in the kitchen. In fact, every dessert on Lola's menu -- from the Grand Marnier cheesecake with Chantilly cream to the raisin bread pudding with cinnamon-stick ice cream -- is a Van Roberts creation. And the roasted fresh pineapple with rum sauce and vanilla-bean ice cream shows he cooks with the verve of a C70. Roberts says he got the idea from a roasted pineapple dish he sampled in Hawaii, the specifics of which he admits are rather fuzzy. But whatever the inspiration, his version is rich, clean, and balanced. Roasting the pineapple pulls the fruit's sugar to the forefront, helping it mesh with the rum sauce, while the fruit's tartness adds contrast.
Another dish to which Roberts lays claim is the orange-caramelized salmon with sweet potato cakes. The fish is marinated in a mixture of star anise, brown sugar, rice-wine vinegar, soy, orange juice, and red pepper flakes before it's rolled in panko breadcrumbs and more brown sugar and broiled. The marinade is then reduced to a syrup and splashed on the fish. The resultant pink flesh is gently rich, almost creamy -- in a decadent way. Deep-fried sweet potato cakes, patties of potato coated with bread crumbs and flour and deep-fried, breathe with the same clean, balanced flavors.
The rest of the menu is left to Samford and sous chef Peters. Samford says he leans toward simple cleanliness and balance in his food, opting out of complicated formulations and layerings in favor of highlighting just a handful of flavors. This is evident in the visuals on the plate, which are simple and unfussy, often stark.
Sautéed foie gras with sun-dried cherry relish is a simple, generous lobe of liver resting on a crouton. Specks of dried cherry in a puddle of port demi-glace ring the delicate heap. Though slightly mushy, the liver is silky and brimming with clean, rich flavors. But what really perks this dish are those flecks of shriveled cherry, which are bursting with little pops of concentrated tang.
There is at least one dish here that treads a path of visual twists. Mary's baby-spinach salad resembles a head dress, or maybe a bouffant hairdo with a headband. A wide band of prosciutto cordons a delicate pile of fresh spinach leaves, which are laced with juicy sections of grapefruit and avocado in a light housemade French dressing.