Eleven years after crossing the Atlantic with original furnishings, stellar French recipes, and the desire to bring authentic French food to the restaurant-saturated city of Boston, a good wind has filled the sails of La Voile Restaurant of Newbury Street.
Riding a tide of popularity, the French restaurant, its name means “the sail,” opened a second location in nearby Brookline, Mass., attracting regular customers with classic French service and food offerings.
In this week’s Q&A with the Recipe for Success blog @ Boxerbrand, manager Nathan Derri offers some insights into how the oh-so-French restaurant took its place among the best of the city in 2015, earning the distinction as the Best French Restaurant in Boston.
Q: How did La Voile wind up in Boston after a long run in Cannes?
The owner, Pierre Hoenegger, is an American sailor who loved and frequented a Cannes restaurant called La Voile au Vent (the sail in the wind) and when the restaurant shut down 12 years ago, he was able to buy all the furniture and reopen the concept here in Boston. The concept was to open a truly French restaurant here. Although there are others, there’s one on Beacon Hill, and others, there was nothing like us, which is very traditional, but also very casual.
To be truly French we have a staff, cooks and sommeliers who are all well versed in French traditions, cuisine and French wine. We have a small restaurant, which seats about 75, but we have a strong base of regular customers who keep those seats filled.
Q: La Voile was reconstructed with many of the bones of the Cannes restaurant.
Everything was brought over from the old restaurant, including the zinc bar, the tables and chairs, the wooden wine fridge (an old Butcher’s fridge), the marble console, the vintage chandeliers, sailing pictures, the entrance door — and even some of the staff!
Q: You’ve said that having great staff, like your experienced chefs, sommeliers, and others is very important to your success.
Ensuring we have the best people working for us is critical, especially in Boston, which is over-saturated with restaurants. Our biggest obstacle is that there’s too many restaurants to meet the demand, but for us, we survive because we’ve found our niche. And our staff is a big part of the reason we are so successful.
Q: Your food is another key ingredient.
We’re known for our Dover sole, a traditional dish seared in butter, capers and lemon, and the Fois Gras. Our menu is quite small, so everything is made fresh every day. Those dishes and a few other staples have been carried over to our second location in Brookline, where chef François Grayon is using his French cooking background to put some new touches on the menu.
Q: What is the experience La Voile strives to create?
The experience starts with the greeting at the door and it continues until you leave at the end of the meal. We really try to have every aspect of it feel as though you’ve been transported from the front door to a brasserie in France. All of our staff are extremely knowledgeable and our sommeliers help the customers choose the very best wine to pair with their courses. There is a great attention to detail, from A to Z. Even though we are casual, and not fine dining, we spend a lot of time contemplating every action we take to enhance the diner’s experience.
Q: What advice do you have for someone wishing to enter the hospitality business?
Go to work with people who really know the industry. It’s a special world, and it’s good to be around people who know how to follow their gut. Have a really strong market strategy. You cannot open a restaurant without knowing where you are going, who your customers will be, and how to create an ambience and experience that will continue to draw them back. — La Voile uses Boxerbrand’s Capri menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!