A Saturday night, and not one, not two, but three bachelorette parties crowd Lola, the four-month-old restaurant in the loft district. Given that a lesser-known postulate of the theory of relativity predicts grave consequences for the space-time continuum if more than two bachelorette parties occupy the same place at the same time — you likely slept through that lecture in Physics for Poets — the mood is understandably tense.
The brides fidget with their veils. The mothers of the brides mutter into their glasses of white wine. One party has been lingering over dessert for a while. The second party, in personalized black T-shirts (Bride, Maid of Honor, etc.), is finished lingering and looks around impatiently as the beleaguered server splits the check eight ways. The third party, the women all decked out in black dresses and expensive heels, clusters around the bar, staring daggers at the other two. I'm at a two-top tucked against one wall, sipping a cocktail called "The Printer's" (Maker's Mark, ginger beer, a dash of bitters, named for the nearby loft) and hoping for a knife fight.
I have yet to see an inflatable penis, but the night is young.
The bachelorette parties shouldn't surprise me. After all, we are right around the corner from the heart of the Washington Avenue scene. And the restaurant has taken for itself a distinctly feminine identity: Not simply is it called Lola, but the restaurant treats Lola like an actual person. The website (www.welovelola.com), refers to Lola as "she," and the cocktail menu is introduced with "Lola loves to sip," the food menu with "Lola loves to taste."
Yet Lola seems to be going for something both edgier and, crucially, less self-involved than the average bride's last hurrah or the tottering dregs of the Sex and the City crowd. Several dishes have female names freighted with sex and danger: Lolita, Jezebel, Delilah, Salome. Our server wears a fluorescent pink wig and informs us that at her bachelorette party there were strippers. (Female strippers.)
The space conforms to the loft-district aesthetic: exposed ceiling, brick walls, hardwood floors. The main dining room is framed by the bar at one end and a stage for live music at the other. An alcove off the bar allows for a bit more privacy, and there is a small patio along one side of the building.
The previous tenant was Crêpes in the City, and crêpes remain on Lola's menu — in fact, it's the crêpes that bear the aforementioned women's names.
Lola's sandwiches are also named after women, but in a sign that someone at the restaurant has a sense of humor, these are less urbane names than those given to the sexy crêpe: Edith, Josephine, Joan. The sandwiches might not have the sexy names, but the one I tried, the "Edith," was a satisfying serving of roasted turkey, avocado, chopped pancetta and roma tomatoes.
But I digress.
How each name applies to each crêpe is unclear and, ultimately, moot: These are very good crêpes. In fact, the underlying crêpes themselves were as good as any I've had in town, thin but able to stand up to substantial fillings, neither too sweet nor too eggy.
The "Delilah" comes stuffed and topped with an étouffée of shrimp, crawfish and crab. There is a generous amount of buttery sweet meat and a welcome softly acidic note from a confit of tomato, but the highlight is the sauce, a rich, brown-red roux laced with enough spice to dampen your brow but not — sorry, Samson — to put hair on your chest. The "Lolita" is especially hearty, the crêpe rolled around asparagus, pancetta and caramelized onion and then topped with cherry tomatoes and a béchamel-like sauce. The sauce could have used a tad more seasoning — really, nothing more than freshly ground black pepper — but the combination of pancetta, asparagus and onion brought more than enough flavor to make up for it.
Besides crêpes and sandwiches, the menu offers several small plates (labeled as "Nosh"). Usually, I would make a snarky aside here about the whole small-plate thing, but Lola is now the third restaurant in the past year (along with Sanctuaria and the Bridge Tap House & Wine Bar) to inject some new life to the tired trend, so I'll say only that you should try Lola's polenta fries. The fries are straightforward: crisp exterior yielding to a soft, not-quite-creamy interior. But instead of serving these with a dipping sauce, the kitchen pairs them with ratatouille, and the verdant flavors of tomato, eggplant and the other vegetables provide a lovely complement to the salty, starchy fries.
Lamb "Lolis" are simply individual lamb chops, three to an order. These are seasoned with Dijon mustard and rosemary, coated with panko crumbs, pan-fried and served atop a vividly colored and lightly sweet carrot purée. Underneath the crunchy panko coating, the meat is tender, its natural gaminess filled out by the flavor of rosemary.
The cheese plate is described on the menu as "a seasonal assortment of French cheeses," which manages to be wrong at least twice, maybe thrice. The cheeses aren't seasonal, I doubt the French would claim any of them as their own, and I'm not convinced they are actually cheese. Each "cheese" is actually a gelatinous slab of cheese blended with something else: port wine, stout and, uh, green. (Sage, maybe? The color distracted me from our server's description.)
The cocktail list is impressive, composed with a mixologist's enthusiasm rather than a penchant for gimmicks. Besides "The Printer's," I enjoyed the "Castro," a very strong margarita made with Dos Lunas añejo tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime juice and a floated shot of Grand Marnier. The wine list is brief and reasonably priced, mainly late-vintage French whites and reds.
Fair warning: The restaurant is loud, and not only when rival bachelorette parties are preparing to do the Jets vs. Sharks dance. Even on a weekday evening, with few tables filled, live music and the rise in conversational volume that it causes fills the space. But the vibe is laid-back, the food and drink good, and the overall energy is a welcome change of pace from the usual trend-humping clatter of the loft district. Besides, Lola will have plenty of time to settle down when she's older.