French restaurant opens in Hialeah

Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez, owners of the La Fresa Francesa Petit Café, celebrate on opening day.
Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez, owners of the La Fresa Francesa Petit Café, celebrate on opening day. el Nuevo Herald

A Cuban in Paris and the Eiffel Chicken are only two of the names of dishes served at La Fresa Francesa Petit Café (The French Strawberry Petit Café).

In March, after 12 years in Los Angeles, Sandy Sanchez returned to her native Hialeah along with her French boyfriend Benoit Rablat. Together, they’ve opened Hialeah’s first French restaurant, located in the heart of the City of Progress. On their menu, French culinary secrets complement Cuban cuisine staples.

“It’s a dream come true,” Sanchez said while tending to guests. “I always promised myself that I’d return to Hialeah when my parents were older so that I could take care of them. And I’ve done it. But with Benoit, the love of my life ...we’ve opened this café restaurant, which for us is like our baby.”

The festive ambiance of the new business, which opened last week, inspired Mayor Carlos Hernandez, who wore a black Parisian beret for the inaugural toast.

“For us, it’s a great honor to have this restaurant open in Hialeah because it reflects our message: that young people like Sandy [Sanchez], who left the city at one point, return to live in our city,” said Hernandez. “Everyone started calling each other, spreading the word that there’s a new French restaurant and that it’s incredible, the first in Hialeah, and we wish it much success.”

To the sound of C’est si bon, the popular melody composed in 1947 by French pianist Henri Betti, different dishes began to parade around the room on Wednesday: among them a salad named Spring Time in Paris and a succulent smoked Salmon. A dessert with the name, The Pride of Hialeah, comprised of dulce de leche crepes with fresh mango drizzled in condensed milk, was also served.

Chef Rablat said he hopes the business will obtain a liquor license in the next couple of weeks. Once it does, the restaurant plans to start selling French wines.

For now, stresses Rablat, the establishment is open from Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Future plans include nighttime hours of operation.

“It’s definitely a great change making the desicion to move from Los Angeles but I adore the energy of Hialeah,” said Rablat. “And we’re making it work, blending the traditions of French cuisine and that of Cuban cuisine. And that’s why everything is made in-house.”

Sanchez, 39, decides to return to Hialeah a little after her older brother Ralph Lazaro, passed away in December. Now, Sanchez takes care of her parents Maribella and Rafael, who are 69 and 72 years old, respectively. Sanchez says it wasn’t too hard to convince Rablat, 38, to “start a new adventure in Hialeah.”

“He would follow me to the moon,” Sanchez said, laughing. “In comparison with Los Angeles, in Hialeah we are six hours closer to his family in Paris.”

Sanchez moved to Los Angeles in 2002 with the dream of becoming an actress. But since her arrival, she started working as a waitress. She worked in small cafés and in fancy restaurants. And it wasn’t hard for her to find work in that field because she grew up in the family business: Cantinas Maribella, “there’s none like her,” which operated until the early 90s on East 10th Avenue and 42nd Street.

The couple publicly thanked Councilman Paul “Pablito” Hernandez and Jennylee Molina, a local art and restaurant publicist, for supporting the opening of restaurant, located in front of Triangle Park on 59 West Third St., close to Okeechobee Road.

“This is the type of establishment that we needed in Hialeah,” said the councilman. “We’re very happy that they’ve invested in our city.”

Follow Enrique Flor on Twitter @kikeflor