Review | L’Avant-Garde is raising the bar for French dining in D.C.

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Some seasons, I discover myself twirling so much pasta round my fork it appears to be like like I’m nonstop carbo-loading for a marathon. One other stretch of time, I can’t escape foie gras.

Take now in Washington. Should you’re a fan of French meals, you’re in luck. Ellington Park Bistro and Le Clou, from cooks Frank Morales and Nicholas Stefanelli, invite you to open extensive for snails stuffed in gougeres and sweetbreads showered with truffles, respectively.

Then there’s L’Avant-Garde in Georgetown, whose chef hails from France. Born in Brittany, Gilles Epié educated underneath a few of his nation’s most revered cooks — Roger Jaloux, the longtime chef de delicacies for the legendary Paul Bocuse; Alain Senderens, another founding father of nouvelle cuisine — and obtained a Michelin star for his work at Le Pavillon des Princes in Paris when he was simply 22.

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Since then, he’s cooked in Los Angeles, notably at L’Orangerie; Paris; and Miami. He’s no stranger to Washington, having been coaxed right here by the late, great Jean-Louis Palladin to work on the Watergate Resort shortly after arriving in the US in 1993 “with two suitcases and no papers,” Epié says. Six months in, the West Coast referred to as.

“He doesn’t need to show himself,” says proprietor Fady Saba, who recruited Epié, 63, with a mission in thoughts: “We wish to have enjoyable” whereas additionally making a restaurant that transports diners to Paris.

L’Avant-Garde wastes zero time spiriting patrons throughout the pond. For starters, the menu is obtainable in French in addition to English. The senior employees seem like straight out of central casting, Gallic division. If the butter or fish whisks you again to some fancy dinner you recall from Europe, it may be as a result of Epié sources each from France.

Saba put $3 million into the restaurant, and it exhibits, beginning with a door that requires some muscle to open and persevering with with a low-ceilinged bar and eating rooms that seem like no different within the metropolis. Ribs of wooden stretch throughout the partitions. Gold domed lights illuminate the luxe, semicircular cubicles, and a crackling hearth within the heart of the motion additional warms what as soon as housed The Guards, in its heyday a magnet for celebrities and members of the restaurant business. Save for the zinc bar, L’Avant-Garde is freed from French restaurant stereotypes. And all the things you contact exhibits thought. Discover the marble coaster on your cocktail?

The nice appears to be like lengthen to the meals. If bread is hooked up to a dish, signal on. My first style of Epié’s cooking was a bit globe of puff pastry atop a maritime “bouillabaisse” of John Dory and different fish, a soup that features tender macaroni and a rouille teasing with harissa. Epié says the presentation was impressed by a decadent Paul Bocuse signature, la soup aux truffles, or truffle soup capped with puff pastry.

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The restaurant’s duck foie gras beignet, however, is an Epié authentic. A little bit kitchen magic produces an orb with a shell, produced from a beer batter, that crisps within the fryer and breaks open to disclose each strong and liquid foie gras. Within the firm of a port wine discount spooned on prime, the shiny first course is a live performance of candy, salty and crunchy notes that some diners will discover irresistible.

In Washington simply seven months now, Epié likes what he sees, principally well-educated individuals who wish to eat. “They don’t care” in Miami, he says, and as a lot as he likes Los Angeles, it’s “too stylish.” The chef’s liberal use of foie gras in Washington appears to be a response to earlier American audiences that averted the controversial luxurious, both by legislation or distaste. An appetizer of mustard-lit celery root rémoulade is all however obscured by a skinny sheet of duck foie gras, flippantly seasoned with salt that crackles, then melts, just like the delicacy, on the tongue. Branzino topped with a puck of foie gras is a hyperlink to Epié’s early years in the US, when he observed what number of American menus listed surf-and-turf combos.

Even a few of the lighter appetizers exude an exciting richness. Butter-textured Scottish salmon blossoms in a marinade of bay leaf, juniper and shaved uncooked onion. Served as a single thick slice, the orange-colored fish is flanked on one aspect by cash of boiled potatoes enlivened with tomato French dressing. The luxurious first course is a dressier model of a dish “my mom used to do,” solely with herring, says the chef.

Epié oversees a kitchen crew of a dozen, nearly all of whom are recent to the enterprise. Two months earlier than L’Avant-Garde opened in December, Epié says, he held cooking lessons for the newbies, beginning with dressing and sauce fundamentals.

A diner can style the coaching within the roast hen, primarily based on a recent Pennsylvania hen the chef compares favorably to what he loves in France. Textbook-perfect, it picks up taste from herbes de Provence and fennel and arrives with french fries whose golden hue is the results of twice-frying the potatoes in clarified butter. Sharing ought to qualify you for sainthood.

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Good cooks are good editors; they know what to play up and what to attenuate. A fillet of John Dory, slowly cooked in butter, comes with a sauce of flippantly sweetened lemon juice and olive oil and a dusting of lime leaf zest. However the sparklers are used with a restraint that permits you to style — and admire — the wild-caught fish.

“Purchase one of the best elements, and 80 p.c of the job is completed,” says Epié. His risotto is memorable with Arborio rice, stained from the cooking water he makes use of to melt porcini mushrooms from France, and completed with earthy truffle butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. (At L’Avant-Garde, cream is reserved for desserts. Milk is deployed to cook dinner, say, the leeks for a chunk of cod.)

A few of the menu is meals you might need seen earlier than. Little of the cooking elsewhere compares to Epié’s.

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Samantha McCrimmon was recruited from the luxury Magee Homestead in Saratoga, Wyo., to be the sommelier right here. Enlist her assist, and you need to, and put together to be seduced by her French-leaning assortment and the keenness with which she describes no matter alternative you’ve made. Simply keep in mind to supply a value vary in case you’re disinclined to faucet into your 401(okay). There are many bottles priced nicely into the triple digits. Once I challenged McCrimmon to supply a fairly reasonably priced and distinctive wine that might bridge hen, fish and meat dishes, the Rhône fancier rapidly named the 2020 Domaine des Hauts Châssis, Les Galets, Crozes-Hermitage, out there for $90 a bottle. L’Avant-Garde presents corkage for $50 per bottle and, uncommon for lots of institutions, doesn’t restrict the variety of bottles a diner can convey to the restaurant.

Already one of the vital necessary eating places to set sail this yr, L’Avant-Garde will not be with out flaws. My first try to order beef cheeks discovered my server returning to the desk with a tragic face. “The chef isn’t happy with the standard,” he informed me earlier than rhapsodizing in regards to the chateaubriand, so I bit. Moments later, the waiter reappeared to tell me that the meat cheeks have been in truth simply tremendous. Say what? I ought to have gone with the chateaubriand, as a result of the meat cheeks, whereas expectantly tender and enriched with pork stomach, got here with a discount that appeared to be equal components wine and salt. The entree — ordering it, consuming it — was memorable for all of the mistaken causes. And whereas I loved the hearth present with the baba au rhum, the confection was so boozy, it was higher suited to a glass than a plate.

The employees virtually insists you order the raspberry macaron. Heed their counsel, then swoon on the sight of jewel-like purple fruit ringing whipped mascarpone in a sublime “sandwich” constructed with chewy macarons, white as snow. The sweetness of the structure is stored in verify with lemon juice in a pool of raspberry sauce. The kitchen additionally serves a beautiful bittersweet chocolate souffle and a Roquefort terrine, veined with apricots and walnuts and held along with the assistance of butter in addition to the pungent blue cheese — my form of mosaic.

Visits to New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles prior to now six months reconfirm my perception that Washington surpasses these in style meals locations in relation to all manner of fine dining. The arrival of L’Avant-Garde raises the sport for the French competitors and burnishes the constellation of stars.

2915 M St. NW. 202-652-1855. Open for indoor eating 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday via Saturday. Costs: Appetizers $27 to $49, major programs $43 to $62. Sound verify: 70 decibels/Dialog is straightforward. Accessibility: The steps, slender entrance and heavy door discourage wheelchair use. Pandemic protocols: Employees should not required to be masked or vaccinated.

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