Washington D.C. has a vibrant dining scene, and new restaurants are opening all the time. To help choose the best in French cuisine, here are three favourites: a new neighbourhood gem, a long-time star, and a celebrity chef’s first outpost in the nation’s capital.
CHEZ BILLY SUD
Georgetown is Washington’s oldest and toniest neighborhood, with gracious Federal-style mansions, tree-canopied streets, and lots of shops and restaurants. Chez Billy Sud is a bright new spot on the dining scene here, and you won’t find a cozier place in the city; sage green walls are dotted with gilt-framed mirrors and milk glass sconces, plus there’s a charming outdoor terrace to enjoy in nice weather.
The menu includes many French classics such as confit de canard and steak frites – which are consistently good – though I come here for specialties that we’re less likely to see elsewhere in Washington. My favorite appetizer is Oeufs en Meurette, a traditional dish from Burgundy. Eggs are poached in a red wine sauce made with forest mushrooms and garlic confit, and served over a thick piece of toasted country bread. Break into the egg and that soft yolk combines with the wine sauce to make for a heart-warming starter — perfect on a chilly autumn evening.
I chose a main dish straight from the South of France; roasted loup de mer with crispy skin contrasted nicely with the luscious texture of the vegetable barigoule, with fennel so rich and tender from braising in white wine and broth. Briny black olives and roasted tomatoes added nice visual accents to this sunny dish. In just a few bites, I’m reminiscing about dining along the Côte d’Azur last summer.
BISTROT LEPIC & WINE BAR
Celebrating 20 years in Washington, Bistrot Lepic has built a strong following by offering delicious, authentic French cuisine. I’m always impressed with the food here — and the number of French speakers in the dining room. Their new chef, George Vetsch, offers creative twists on the classics, and more seasonal variety throughout the year. Bistrot Lepic is better than ever.
A recent meal there started with a dish as pretty as it was delicious — a hand-made tart with alternating slices of pear and squash, hiding melted gruyère cheese and bits of prosciutto inside. Figs soaked in port wine and a side salad rounded out this hearty appetizer. Updates to their dishes include duck breast with the classic cherry sauce, now served with sweet potato quenelles studded with bacon. The bacon adds a smokey intensity that complements the duck and really elevates the dish nicely.The desserts here have also improved, and my favorite is the île flottante — fluffy meringue topped with slivered almonds for crunch, all floating on its crème anglaise.
The dining room is in a narrow townhouse, and there’s a wine bar upstairs that is both comfy and chic at the same time – perfect for l’apéro before dinner in the restaurant, or perhaps for lighter bites and wine before heading out to the theatre or a concert. The whole experience harkens back to the restaurant’s namesake: Rue Lepic in the 18ème arrondissement.
DBGB KITCHEN AND BAR
Originally from Lyon, Chef Daniel Boulud directs his restaurant empire from New York, expanding throughout the States, Europe and Asia. Having eaten at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Daniel, I was excited to try his first restaurant in Washington.
The bar was buzzing when I arrived and after trying one of their creative cocktails I understood why. Champagne with a splash of apricot liqueur and lavender syrup created a russet hue in my glass that not only matched the autumn colors outside the window, but so did the taste. Earthy and fruity, yet crisp and refreshing — it was a great way to start the evening.
The menu is varied, offering tuna tartare, coq au vin, steak, and even whole roasted pig, yet I chose dishes that reflects Boulud’s heritage. House-made sausages are featured here, and they do not disappoint. The Boudin Blanc made with pork and flaked with black truffle was pillowy soft, moist, and so delicate in flavor. Served with sliced apple and pommes mousseline, it was very satisfying. My friend’s choice was less subtle, but just as delicious. The Tunisienne lamb sausage had been seared to create a nice bite, and seasoned with harissa to complement the chickpea and spinach accompaniment. Very different flavour profiles, but both were scrumptious.
DBGB Kitchen and Bar is an airy, vibrant restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows in the modern CityCenterDC district. With neighbors such as Hermès, Dior, and Longchamp, this new French restaurant is right at home in Washington.
Phil Tremo is the France Today Ambassador for Washington D.C.