Originally published in the February 2022 issue of LCM
Inspired by European bistros, C’est La Vie makes its home in the heart of Downtown Lancaster – across the alley from Central Market in the Hager Arcade. Here, you’ll find a casually elegant atmosphere and a menu that puts the accent on artisanal French food.
C’est La Vie, which opened in 2019, and its sister restaurant, Josephine’s Downtown, are owned by Dean Oberholtzer, Daniel LeBoon, who also serves as executive chef, and Justin Ang, who is C’est La Vie’s manager. If the names sound familiar, Dean is the owner of The Belvedere Inn, while Chef LeBoon is its executive chef.
Prior to opening, the owners spent three months remodeling and updating the dining areas and kitchen of the former Carr’s Restaurant. Olga Lembesis, an interior designer based in Hershey, assisted in creating C’est La Vie’s French-inspired décor that includes antique French farm tables that she and Dean bought at an auction and repurposed to serve as high-top tables for the restaurant’s bar area. Artwork also has a French theme – Moulin Rouge – and is the basis of the restaurant’s vibrant color scheme.
An expanse of windows admits natural light and provides diners with a view of street activity, whose tempo increases on market days. Those large windows also multitask – they function as patio doors that open to offer outdoor sidewalk dining for about 60 people. Retractable awnings and patio umbrellas offer shade, while patio heaters provide warmth over the winter. “The outdoor area gives people an option for dining. We realize that some people are still not comfortable dining indoors,” Dean notes.
Seasonal creations from The Gilded Lily augment the restaurant’s décor and ambiance.
Add in the fact that the Hager building dates to 1910 – it was designed by C. Emlen Urban in the French Renaissance Revival style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and guests are afforded a unique dining experience. “The historic buildings surrounding us and the pavers on the street combine with our atmosphere to make you feel like you’re in a bistro in a European town,” Justin remarks. “Our guests have said they feel like they’re on vacation when they come here.” He adds that some guests have a favorite table, which they request when making a reservation.
As for the menu, Dean points out that C’est La Vie’s menu is “more casual than Josephine’s. You can get pizza, sandwiches or a great entrée here. It’s a great place to enjoy a meal with friends or meet for a business lunch.”
Despite the emphasis on casual fare, Chef LeBoon describes the menu as having a European or French flair, as well as a Lancaster connection through fresh, local ingredients that are used to create menu items. “We shop at Central Market,” Chef LeBoon remarks. “We offer a Central Market pizza; it’s done in our brick oven and features fresh toppings, so it varies from day-to-day,” he explains.
Customer favorites include boeuf bourguignon, coquille Saint Jacques (sea scallops, mushrooms, cream and gruyere cheese), and the French dip sandwich, which is made with short rib that’s braised for four hours and then is hand-cut and topped with provolone and a tomato relish on a brioche roll and served with classic French au jus for dipping. Other French-inspired dishes include coq au vin (frenched chicken breast) and venison chops that are prepared with a blueberry-port reduction.
For crab cake lovers, the menu offers Chef LeBoon’s signature version. Trending on the menu is a pizza whose ingredients include figs, balsamic, goat and bacio cheeses and arugula.
Desserts and breads (except for the brioche for the French dip) are crafted by pastry chef Renaud Besnard, whose lemon and raspberry macaron is a popular dessert choice. For chocolate lovers, the menu includes chocolate decadence and vanilla & chocolate fudge cake.
As for the selections from the bar, specialty cocktails are named in homage to some well-known landmarks in Lancaster, including Central Market and Penn Square, as well as a number of city streets. That’s Life (the English translation for C’est La Vie) is made from house-made cranberry compote, Stoli orange, triple sec and cranberry juice. Craft beer (from a number of local brewers) and wine are also available.
Guests can be assured there will be something special in store for Valentine’s Day at C’est La Vie. Surf & turf is one idea Chef LeBoon is entertaining. Special desserts will also be on the menu.
With theaters and music venues reopening, C’est La Vie is the perfect spot for dining before events at the Fulton Theatre or the Ware Center, which are located about a half-block away. “We also have guests coming in after the shows for drinks, appetizers or dessert,” Dean notes.
C’est La Vie is located at 18 North Market Street in Lancaster. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling the restaurant, visiting the website or on OpenTable. Call 717-299-7319 or visit clvlancaster.com, Facebook and Instagram.