By Susan L. Wright
La's Bistro is a gem in the middle of Ormond Beach that offers just a hint of what it might be like to enjoy a European lifestyle -- with an all-American, Florida fresh twist.
The 11-year-old restaurant was sold and came under new management four years ago -- the change hasn't diminished the charm or the appeal of the food at the cosy dining spot. Owner Carlos Soldevilla celebrated the four-year anniversary with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by a raft of city officials and friends with a party afterwards.
By this time, he knew they had something well worth celebrating.
La's is open for breakfast and lunch, or brunch on Sundays, but that doesn't mean he's stinted on the menu or the quality and creativity of the dishes.
Before buying La's and taking over as a bistro chef and owner, Mr. Soldevilla and his family had run a pizza restaurant in Daytona Beach, but he felt restricted. "It just wasn't me," he said.
He left the pizza place to his family, bought the historic building on Granada and started developing the eclectic menu customers enjoy today.
He and his wife, Casey Jones, run the restaurant as partners, though she also works full-time at Halifax Health Medical Center. They decided to keep the original name and most of the décor, because the bistro already had a solid clientele base and it worked for them. They've only changed a few, decorative touches inside and refurbished a few things, but just had the outside painted a soft, cool blue.
That menu includes favorites, such as chicken salad, a trio of quiches, freshly made soups of the day, crab cakes, sandwiches and salads, omelets and burgers ... each prepared with a creative, deliciously different approach.
The chicken salad, which has won an annual award for best chicken salad in the area, is made with walnuts, cran-raisins, apples over greens or as a sandwich on a flaky, fresh croissant. The crab cakes are Mr. Soldevilla's version of Sicilian style, with capers, olives and red peppers and can be ordered as an appetizer, sandwich or main dish with salad.
He likes to change the menu to reflect the seasons and offers different soups, quiches and occasional specials, deciding what to cook as he visits various markets and shops around the area. He'll make a butternut squash soup one day because he's found some beautiful squashes from South America. The day I was there with a friend, he made a potato leek soup because he'd picked up some leeks that week. He planned to redo the leftover soup and serve it cold as vichyssoise the next day.
They were open for dinners for three years after they bought it, but Mr. Soldevilla wanted to have more time with his children while they were still young and cut back the hours. Instead, they do catering for special occasions.
There's a private dining room upstairs in the bungalow style building or, he said, they can open up the entire place, including the outdoor courtyard for grander events. Recently they hosted a wedding with the actual ceremony in a tent outside, cocktails in the courtyard on the side of the house and a sit-down dinner inside.
On my visit to La's for lunch, we were treated to a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant and a wonderful parmesan artichoke quiche.
Both were just perfect, the chicken salad was light, full of subtle textures and tastes - and meaty, with just a hint of mayonnaise. The quiche was creamy and savory, with a light, buttery crust. My guest and I shared our selections, so we each got a taste.
Mr. Soldevilla also is proud of his wine and beer selection and I chose one of the house wines, a crisp, smooth pinot grigio, which went well with all the dishes.
We were happy to accept the chef-owner's suggestions for lunch since the menu was so full of appealing items we would have had a hard time deciding. We were delighted when a sumptuous petite bread pudding appeared in a glass bowl -- another example of Mr. Soldevilla's approach of taking an old classic and embellishing it, including a delicate orange sauce.
Every bite was a treat. The other desserts, which they offered displayed on an antique china platter, all looked just as scrumptious.
La's Bistro is at 63 W. Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach. Hours are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (breakfast served until 11 a.m., lunch from 11a.m.-3 p.m.), 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday for brunch. For information, call (386) 676-5181 or visit lasbistro.com.