Bistro du Coin
I am sure that I'm the last person in Washington to visit Bistro du Coin, but I have been too scared off by the crowds that I see bunched at the doorway night after night. Well, I finally had a lunch there last weekend and was glad I did.
We arrived about 1:30 on Saturday and were seated at the only available table, in the smoking section, immediately indicating the restaurant's popularity. While the place does in many ways resemble a true Parisian bistro, it feels a lot less comfortable. The tables are small, they are cheaply set with paper-napkins, the chairs are rickety, and the whole space feels cramped.
Hosts, managers, waiters and busboys were flying all around us, sometimes literally breaking into a jog. I assumed this was a bad sign, but I was wrong. Despite speaking to just about anyone who passed our table, the service turned out to be perfectly attentive, perfectly paced, and perfectly delightful with wine poured, courses well paced, and many sincere inquiries as to our satisfaction.
The food is what you'd expect. Salads, soups, terrines, pates, mussels with frites, steaks with frites, omelets with frites, a few special stews (tripe, rabbit, veal, etc.) and side dishes (frites). The good news is the frites are great. Fresh, crisp, hot, salty, and plentiful. The mussels were plump, and cooked perfectly until just done, but many still had their beards attached and you had to clean each one before eating it. The french onion soup was a very nice bread crouton with a generous topping of real gruyere cheese, unfortunately it was covering a pool of greyish, tasteless onions and not a drop of broth. The steak tartare was an ample portion of very well seasoned lean beef with a bit more spice than my liking, and was served with a wonderfully fresh, yeasty french baguette. It was good, but not as good as at Les Halles.
I will happily return for another weekend lunch to try the terrines, pates, omelets, and stews. Any favorites out there? That said, I will not ever go for dinner. Perhaps I'm a curmudgeon, but after seeing just the minor lunchtime production, I can't imagine that I would enjoy my dinner with the excitement, commotion and din that the evening rush-hour must bring. Le Chaumiere, Bis, even Bistro Lepic and Bistro Francais get the job done in a much more relaxing, night-time atmosphere.
Dinner at Bistro du Coin is, as you predict, chaotic, with the tables so close together that you find yourself perpetually being jostled by frenzied wait staff trying to get to the tables. Not fun. But the food is pretty good, as you say, so lunch is probably the best bet.
Thanks for the info' - I was planning to try this place for lunch soon and am now concerned about getting stuck in a smoking section (or being anywhere near it so that I have to smell it!) How do others handle this (those who can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke but dine at this restaurant)???
In addition to the small section upstairs, a way to avoid smoking suffocation is to go during mild, pleasant weather. As long as the weather and temperature permit, Bistro du Coin keeps the doors/windows open that otherwise are the front wall of the restaurant. But when they *are* open, it's divine. And those mussels can't be beat!
There is a small section of tables upstairs and while I'm not sure if it's a non-smoking section or not, it may be less suffocating than on the main floor. It gives a nice bird's eye view of the mayhem below as well :-)