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French In DC What's Happened!?

  • c

I've had the pleasure of eating in almost every French restaurant in DC and now with Beck and Central joining the fray it truely is amazing what is considered "GOOD" food for the $$. Yes, Beck and Central spent a million plus on their restuarants (most likely the property owners did- a trick of the trade) but all the design in the world isn't going to make Beck's sausage/fennel mussels better, the tender essences of mussels are lost in the dish and $17 FOR MUSSELS.

Central is a service nightmare and personally I like my lobster in a more traditional style, not as a BURGER, but then again I'm in Maine every summer so it difficult for me, and Citronelle offers pitiful service, if Mark is not there, unless your at the Chef's table and for $200 per person- need I say more.

Marcel's is an excellent restaurant in every aspect- Food, Service, Decor and I look forward to my next visit but it is just as expensive as Citronelle, without the pre-theatre menu, and this takes me to my latest dinner at Gerard's Place.

Gerard's Place was excellent as well. Gerard was there and he introduced us to Jon Thompson his new Chef and I must say I look forward to my next meal there. The food and service quality were well above most other restaurants especially for the $$. I had sauteed scallops with a flan and parsley mousse $12 and a wild caught halibut with spices and red wine sauce $28 and my companion had a beet plate $10 and roasted duck with vanilla-mint poached pears $31 and we shared a chocolate tart $12. I have always heard how expensive Gerard's Place was but it WASN"T and when you combine that with the personal service not many French (or ANY) resturants compare. The decor isn't my favorite but I will return for the FOOD!

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  1. what about the litany of other French restaurants in town?

    5 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      true there are a few but i am not looking for avg or below avg cuisine.. I've been to pesce, bistro lepic, petit plats, bistro francais, bistro du coin, lavandou and others. they are all not comparable. what would you like to know about them, as they compare to the ones i'm speaking about?

      1. re: CAB1

        Well here's the point- you're making a broad statement about all french restuarants in the dc area while neglecting that there are a variety of french restuarants producing quality food with quality service at different price levels who serve different communities. You paint a broad brush approach to a situation that isn't as simple as you make it in this community.

        For example, in the places you named in your follow up- Bistro du Coin consistently creates quality meals at easy to stomach prices certainly well within the budget of the normal dc resident, but that seems to be left out of your overall condemnation of dc french food. Explain?

        1. re: jpschust

          I second the numerous recommendations for Bistro D'Oc. I went with friends recently and smapled many of their staple dishes: steak frite, mussels frite, and duck confit - all were delicious and reasonably priced. I must also single out their charcuterie plate which I now hold to be the best in the city. Our service was adequate, not great.

          1. re: jpschust

            first, a bistro really isn't considered in the same category as a restaurant in france; so when speaking about restaurants i tend to follow suit- "when in rome".
            second, yes bistro du coin as a couple of item worth eating BUT NOT MANY. i lived on 18th and florida for 2 years and had to many meals there that were HORIBLE!!!

            third, i specifically mentioned 4 restaurants beacuse they are considered similar and i've recently been to all of them. i don't understand why everyone raves about food that's overpriced with poor service to boot. my experience at gerard's place was excellent, as have been my experiences at marcels.--- and lets remember that the bistros DON"T create the FRENCH thought in DC--- THE BIG BOYS DO! Just as all food was compared to Jean Louie Palladin back in the day; as it is in france, nyc, san fran, chicago ect.. so i don't think i've overstepped by using my what's up headline.

            1. re: CAB1

              The irony is you named 4 places highly dissimilar and compared oranges to oranges. And your comment about bistros not doing french in DC is flat out wrong. I think you need to experience some more french cooking- there's a lot of quality french cooking both in a traditional and in a modern style in the dc area.

      2. You should make a trip to Bistro D'Oc. A meal for 2 is really quite reasonable, the setting it cute...not Central all done up but cute non the less. But more importantly the food is wonderful. I go there at least once a month and it never seizes to amaze me how consistant and delicious the courses are there. Personal favorites include the French onion soup, the duck confit (SO GOOD!), the hanger steak, and the orange infused roasted chicken with frites.

        It's not Marcel's or Gerard's (although I've never been to those places) but its a great place to go before or after a movie at E St Cinema (especially with their special where you can get 2 free desserts with the purchase of 2 entrees and a show of your movie ticket), for a date, or a nice, relaxing, tasty week day dinner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Elyssa

          I've been a big fan of Bistro d'Oc since they opened, I love the food, the ambience and the incredibly warm staff. I have to say that recently their prices have taken a rather dizzying upward spiral to a point where I think that they are really out of line. $22-23 for roast chicken? That's higher than Central territory. (And incidentally, on my one visit to Central our large group had excellent service; I wonder whether the top poster might not have visited rather early, when they were still ironing out the bugs?)

          I'll keep returning to d'Oc, I am so fond of it. But at those prices, I won't go nearly as often as I used to.

        2. "Citronelle offers pitiful service" ???? I have to strongly disagree. I have eaten there many times and service has always been impeccable. Marcel's is also a favorite but it is not as expensive (or as good) as Citronelle.

          I like Gerard's but the food has declined since Gerard left. You can tell the diffference. He may visit, but he is not in the kitchen. It makes a difference.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Dakota Guy

            Is Gerard cooking elsewhere now, or has he just delegated the cooking? We used to enjoy it when we lived in DC several years ago, and often recommend it to people - and I know my husband goes there pretty often when in DC on business. TIA.

            1. re: MMRuth

              its my understanding that gerard is still the executive chef of the restaurant and he creates, tastes, and approves every dish. least thats how it was explained to me but he is the head instructor of a cooking school- not bad for the students some of whom extern at gerards place.

              1. re: MMRuth

                Gerard now teaches at L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. His ex-wiff still runs the front of the house but he no longer cooks there.

              2. re: Dakota Guy

                I agree! The service I had at Citronelle was EXACTLY what I expected from a place of that caliber. For the life of me I can't remember the name of our server but he was French and hilarious. The whole family absolutly loved him and his opinions "You MUST get the Citronelle breakfast for dessert...I really won't allow the lady to get anything else." So funny!

                1. re: Dakota Guy

                  I don't think those two restaurants are trying to do the same thing so I wouldn't compare Marcel's and Citronelle. Admittedly, both are top tier, but Marcel's menu feels much more traditional whereas Citronelle's menu is inventive, to the point of being playful. Both restaurants exquisitely execute the dishes in their respective genres. Service is polished at both places. I simply don't think of the two in the same category so I don't even try to rank order them.

                  1. re: Dakota Guy

                    i've been to citronelle 8 or so times and michelle is not in the kitchen all the time either and when he's not there mark should be but last time in They weren't there. as for gerard not being in the kitchen i'll assume michelle and robert (marcels) rely upon there chef du cuisine and sous chefs like most restaurants especially since you cannot be in 2 places at once; or maybe they can...:)! and as i stated before my diner was excellent at gerards with or without gerard behind the stove 24/7 and it wasn't a mortgage payment.

                  2. I think it's exciting to see what's happening to French food in DC. Chefs are getting adventurous, melding French with other cultures (like ours), and seeking ways to make it more accessible. The point to living and dining in a city as large and extraordinary as ours is that we have a bit of everything from which to choose. Five years ago, French was either poorly done or astronomically priced. DC has grown leaps and bounds and I applaud it.

                    And on a side note, I assume that if you prefer your lobster to be cooked in the Maine tradition, you should not be ordering lobster at a French restaurant.

                    1. I'm not sure what you're asking. French at the high end has certainly changed since the days of Rive Gauche, Dominique's and Lion d'Or and the loss of Jean-Louis Palladin was terrible for the city. We even had the wonderful French/Asian Germaine's, the first fusion place in the US. Yannick Cam is still cooking. L'Auberge moved to the suburbs. But French is alive and well.
                      Of the places you named, the only one that's been around for awhile is Gerard's Place and he certainly has solid credentials. One of the most under-rated places in town, probably because it's not trendy. Heck, French isn't trendy. Beck and Central are hot because they're capitalizing on a different trend that started in Europe - moderate price versions of top-rated expensive places of well-known chefs.
                      There are many moderately priced French restaurants in the Metro area that have been around for years. Chez Andrée, La Fourchette, La Cote D'Or, Lepic, Le Canard, La Chaumiere, etc. They have devoted clientele, dependably good food. There have been newer places that have joined them in the past few years and they've succeeded. Just not the glitz. They are comfortable and reliable.
                      But even at moderately priced restaurants you have to expect to pay reasonable prices for good food in a city where real estate and wages are expensive.. A $17 charge for mussels isn't out of line compared to the cost in the fish market.
                      Frankly, I've found the service and food in the French restaurants in town to be some of the most consistently good. They are least likely to get caught up in trends for the sake of trends and the wait staff seems better trained and more professional.

                      1. you are really missing out if you don't hit le paradou. i was just there for their steal of a $32 3 course lunch deal. they didn't miss a beat... from my scallop appetizer (served with sauternes butter and grapefruit segments) to my soft shell crab (which basically disintegrated in my mouth with its light as air outer fried crust) to a gratin of fresh berries for dessert (a surprising combination of sweet but not sweetened berries covered in a white 'gratin' that was treated to a delicate touch of a blowtorch--as oxymoronic as that sounds).

                        give le paradou a try. i was surprised to see that the lunch gives you a choice of 5 or 6 apps, and even more main courses. (only 3 desserts though to choose from).

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: sbr929

                          I agree with Joe (Citronelle has excellent service, even if I do ocassionally find the food oversalted) and I also agree regarding Le Paradou at lunch. The food I have had is well-executed and the price is several cuts below the dinner menu's height$. And I have also found the Paradou service very professional and as warm as my circumstances (business/pleasure) allowed.

                          1. re: Bonz

                            As a guy from the Baltimore area, I was curious what Washingtonians think of Tersiguel's in Ellicott City Maryland.

                        2. I have tried to just not say anything, but I cannot help myself. The type of french cuisine you are refferring to at the four restuarants mentioned are not just normal cuisine they are haute cuisine. They are more expensive even in France because of the preparation, presentation and etc. $17 for a plate of mussells I think is rather normal in DC considering the cost of living. If you think food here is expensive for wht you get never go to Barbados, or the Virgin Islands. The whole point of spending that type of money is to experience something different than normal so a lobster burger is that. Many people have had excellent service at the restuarants you mentioned. I really think it is what you make of it most times. If you are having a good time and are pleasent service is normally better. If you are unhappy because you feel you are paying too much or the food isn't what suits your taste perhaps you won't get as intimate of service. If you don't like haute cuisine like lobster served as a burger go to a more traditional restuarant.

                          Also the smaller less expensive French restuarants are wonderful. Bistro Du Coin serves up some truly authentic french classic regional specialities. If you don't like them you do not like classic french food. And you obviously have never lived in France if you think a bistro isn't the true essence of french food. Even in DC! The French love bistros and eat more meals including dinners in them than restaurants. Yes they have two different names, and some restuarants in France tend to be more upscale, but not all of them and certainly not outside of Paris. These places serve up much more authentic french cuisine. And Beck isn't even a completely french restaurant so I wouldn't put it in the same category. Le Paradou has great food and is simillar and less expensive. And Marcel's is certainly less than Citronelle unless your wine choice was expensive (totally reasonable a good bottle of wine for a good meal).

                          I am glad you found a restaurant where they prepare the type of French food you enjoy, but I would certainly not say there are no comparisons of French food in DC, especially considering the extreme variety between food in the various french provines.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ktmoomau

                            Thank you ktmoomau for making the comment about the Bistros!! I was thinking the same exact thing--when I've been to Paris it is the bistro setting that I feel truly represents the best of French cuisine...in terms of what a typical person from France experiences day-to-day.