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French bistro recommendations in DC and VA

So after a ten year hiatus, the Mrs. will be taking me out for genuine bistro dinner this Saturday night (the last time was after 9/11 at the much beloved, long-gone Au Pied du Cochon). Given the likelihood that another bistro dinner won't occur for another ten years, i want to make sure this one counts - so I'm looking to Chow Nation.

What am I looking for? A casual, warm and inviting place with a decent amount of chatter (to remind me of Paris). A menu that makes classic French fare sing (cassoulet, manard a l'orange, coq au vin, etc.). Snails, frog legs, rabbit -- all of that would be great, too. And good value -- it doesn't have to be cheap -- but I want to feel like someone was back there really caring and thinking about the food and wine list.

I'm juggling Bistro d'Oc, La Chaumiere, L'Auberge Chez Francois, Bastille...

What's your advice?

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  1. The only one of the places you mentioned I've been to is Bistro d'Oc. I thought it was fine but nothing special. Bistro Cacao in a rowhouse on the Hill is lovely and romantic. I've also been hearing great things about Bistro La Bonne in the U Street area, but I haven't made it there yet. I used to love Bistrot du Coin in Dupont Circle, but someone on this board mentioned that he thought their food has gone downhill. Also, it can get pretty crowded and noisy on a Saturday night.

    2 Replies
    1. re: dracisk

      Same here in that the only one I've been to is Bistro d'Oc, but I really liked it, both times I ate there. I'm remembering a perfectly cooked (for me) salmon entree the 1st time, and a mussels special the 2nd time.

      I think I like Bistrot Lepic more though. We've only sat upstairs in the wine bar for the Jazz Wednesdays, so that could be coloring my view (I mean French food just tastes better when accompanied by Django Reinhardt music). Great wine list, good food, good service.

      1. re: VaPaula

        Definitely my two recommendations as well. Bistro La Bonne is much noisier than just "chatter."

    2. I've got 2 favorite, never-less-than-wonderful bistros: Montmartre, at Eastern Market in DC, is quite wonderful, and fits your requirements. If you 're willing to expand your search a little, Brasserie Monte Carlo in Bethesda is also superb.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bcarter3

        I second Montmartre at Eastern Market. The escargot in particular is fabulous! I also think is has a wonderful atmosphere and quaint. They are undergoing some construction on the facade outside, but that shouldn't impact food or atmosphere.

      2. Bistro du Coin is tops. Just as you would like to find in Paris. In fact, these days you'd be lucky to stumble into such a place. My favorite dishes are the tartiflette and the smoked mackerel salad.

        La Chaumiere and L'Auberge are restaurants, not bistros.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          I've never been in a Parisian bistro that had the high noise level as Bistrot du Coin. I was there on a busy Saturday evening after a show. Service is typical French (distinterested), food is very so-so, and the noise level very high. Bistro d'Oc is a much more pleasant experience and with better food, IMHO.

          1. re: dpan

            You haven't? Then perhaps you haven't been to the right Parisian bistros! I think the atmosphere at Bistro du Coin is very similar to some of the places I dined in in France. I just prefer the food at Bistro D'Oc more....especially if it's a date night type of thing.

            That is not to say that the atmosphere at Bistro D'Oc isn't also very Parisian.

          2. re: Steve

            NB: L'Auberge now has a bistro.called Jacques' Brasserie.

          3. I think La Chaumiere is cozy, inviting and delicious. Pike Quenelles...YUM...but it is not a bistro. No lively bar, for example. But i've always enjoyed the food and service, especially during the winter. The center fireplace is lovely. I like Bistro Cacao and Bistro LaBonne, but the food at La Chaumiere is superrior.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dcandohio

              thank you for reminding me that la chaumiere has pike dumplings! i'm gonna make that my birthday meal this month! (i used to love it at le gaulois).

            2. Bistro la Bonne! It is very cozy and the menu has all the classics, carefully prepared. I am a big fan of this place. Not at all stuffy, they seem to care about the food a lot. Also, it's my new favorite brunch place on U Street. I had a lovely smoked salmon eggs benedict, and they serve $3 mimosas/bloody mary's/bellinis. Awesome.

              2 Replies
              1. re: hamster

                hamster: I was looking for a brunch place for this weekend; Bistro la Bonne sounds great! Are reservations necessary? How crowded does it get?

                1. re: woodleyparkhound

                  Hmm, I don't think so. Of course, I went on Thanksgiving weekend so the emptiness may not have been typical. But I sent a friend there the weeekend before (and he also loved it) and there's no way he had a reservation.

              2. Bistro du Coin can be deafening. Bistro D'Oc is quieter and has better bistro fare. Bistro Cacao also has good food, but a limited (and expensive) wine menu. Also more cozy than chattery. My favorite is Montmartre which I think has the mix of good food and buzz that you're looking for. Really like their escargots and calve's liver.

                1. Personally my choice would be Bistro D'Oc---especially if you can snag the table by the window or upstairs next to the fire place. I find their french bistro cuisine to be the most legit in DC. Their duck confit is probably the best in town. I also love their escargot and steak frites.

                  It's wonderful and makes you feel like you've been whisked off to Paris. The long list of specials is handwritten on a board that they bring to your table...I love that little touch. A perfect date night for this type of weather as well.

                  Enjoy!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Elyssa

                    Thanks for the advice but Elyssa said all the right things. I'll let folks know how it goes.

                    1. re: chowser

                      chowser, have you tried their bouillabaisse? we've never been there, and need an alternative to le gaulois.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        I'd also like to hear about their bouillabaisse. I haven't had a decent one since Au Pied de Cochon folded.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          No, sorry. I've only been for a light lunch but it has that "bistro" feel.

                          Oh, and if the OP wants higher end, my favorite French place is Bistro L'Hermitage in Woodbridge (or all places). It's higher end and not what I think of as a bistro but I think the owners obviously do.

                      2. Thank you for the wonderful thread. There's so much I have to explore.

                        So I ended up at Bistro d'Oc. And overall, it was a terrific bistro date -- the noise level and coziness I was looking for was right on. But it was uneven in terms of dining:

                        - Wine list was terrific -- great bottle of Minervois for $30
                        - Escargot and charcuterie platter were terrific.
                        - Cassoulet was not disappointing at all (as some posts indicated). The lamb was rendered a little dry, but the confit and sausage were delicious and beans were cooked well.
                        - Braised venison left much to be desired -- flavorless and underseasoned. One of the few times I have added salt to an entree.
                        - Poached pear dessert was nothing to brag about -- serviceable.

                        But all in all -- very happy to have all of that and a bottle of wine for under $150.

                        Thanks Chow Nation!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: henmonster

                          Glad you enjoyed it for the most part. I haven't actually tried any of the dishes you had besides the escargot. As I mentioned above my standards at Bistro D'Oc are duck confit, steak frites, pate, escargot, french onion soup, and roasted chicken (although I think the roasted chicken at Cafe du Parc is likely better). I've had a number of other items in the past but from my experience the ones I listed are the best.

                        2. What about Bistro Français in Georgetown? I've been going there for over 20 years and never had a bad meal. Haven't been there since May, but I notice that no one has mentioned it. Did it fall off the edge of the world?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: CUTiger78

                            Considering the other options in town I think Bistro Francais is considerably weaker. If you are in Georgetown and it's 1am, then maybe I would go there....but otherwise, probably not.

                            The food is good enough, not great. My major issue is that it's really run down. I have found holes and stains in the table clothes and napkins. The tables are sometimes rickety. It seems like one of those places that is about 12 years past it's prime.

                            1. re: Elyssa

                              I kinda feel the same, the food is always good, but it's sort of like they're just phoning it in. reliable, but not a destination.