December 21, 2007

Cafe du Parc ~ Salty and Sweet

Pour mon anniversaire, je suis allee' au Cafe du Parc. Cafe du Parc is a French bistro located inside the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. I'd heard about it from a French friend, who said it's probably not for everyone, but if you're looking for an authentic French bistro, it comes pretty close.

It was a little tricky to find parking. There is no street parking near the entrance, and the Willard's garage is actually on the street behind the building (F St/Penn Ave). But once we figured it out, we were on the elevator on our way up to the lobby and the restaurant.

I decided to order a glass of Dubonnet as an aperitif. It is similar to vermouth, slightly sweet but leaving a hint of bitterness in the aftertaste. It was served in a tiny glass. Here you can see the dubonnet next to a regular water glass.

For appetizers we ordered pumpkin soup (le soupe du jour), French country soup which was served with a thick slice of hearty French bread, and I had the assiette de petits plats, or the small plates sampler. The pumpkin soup was very good, poured at the table over small fresh croutons. It was creamy but not too rich, yet strangely enough did not have much pumpkin flavor. I did not taste the French country soup, but apparently it was delicious and hearty without being heavy. It had a lot of cabbage and onion, and I saw some pretty enormous pieces of cabbage, which had to be cut with a knife. I guess I'd attribute large leaves of cabbage to the fact that it's supposed to be from the country?

And the sampler had egg florentine, a mix of small pickled veggies, fried flounder strips with tartar sauce, and a piece of "Greek-style" beet. The egg and spinach was delicious, served in a small oven dish with spinach on the bottom, a soft boiled egg on top, and then a poached egg (or rather just egg white) on the top. Absolutely delicious. The pickled veggies were... well, pickled veggies. They were good. The flounder was also very tasty, and I loved how it was served: three strips standing up in a container that held the tartar sauce on the bottom. The beet seemed placed there just to add a bit of color. There was nothing exciting about it, although I happened to have a bit of it after eating a bite of the egg florentine, and wow! What a combination. If you order this, please don't eat the beet first.

For the main course, we ordered the Cocotte de legumes braises (sauteed vegetables with olive oil, garlic and Guerande salt), the Endive salad with roquefort, walnuts and scallops, and I ordered St. Jacques roties au beurre persille' (roasted scallops with parsley and garlic butter) with a side of Gratin de choux fleur (cauliflower au gratin). The cocotte was served with fresh chicory on top, which made us think at first that they had brought a salad by mistake, but it was in fact a warm dish full of vegetables.

The Endive salad was reportedly delicious, even though the consumer in general does not like roquefort cheese. And my scallops, well, I could tell that the scallops themselves were delicious and fresh, but the parsley and garlic butter on top was SO salty that I could not force myself to finish them. And there were only four! They were served with baby endive leaves and walnuts, a delicious companion to the scallops.

The cauliflower gratin was delicious, and very creamy (not thick and gooey), but it was just too rich. I think that it could suffice on its own as a meal, because I'm not sure how many people could actually eat that and something else. Highly recommended but not if you have a small appetite.

The highlight by far was the dessert. It was a struggle to make the decision because we were all so full, but since we were celebrating two birthdays, it was just inconceivable not to order at least one dessert. So we ordered the Parfait glace' Grand Marnier et ses oranges confites (Grand Marnier parfait with candied orange) ~ although I'm remembering now that the menu actually read souffle', not parfait. Hmmm. Anyhow, it was a delicious dessert, and the presentation was stunning. Unfortunately I only had my cell phone camera with me last night so please excuse the quality of the photos, but I think you will still be able to appreciate the presentation. The combination of chocolate and orange is a time-tested favorite.

All in all I enjoyed my dining experience and would return to Cafe du Parc. In general the food was quite salty, so as they say, the chef must have been in love. Hopefully his heart will settle down and he'll stop double salting the food. Dessert was wonderful and there were so many interesting choices that I would suggest definitely saving room for it on your next visit.

The maitre d' was fabulous, funny, and not too hard on the eyes either. Everyone I saw there was French, which gives the place an even more authentic atmosphere. Our waiter seemed somewhat new at the job, but hopefully given another month or so he'll be up to speed with the demands of the job. The tables are upstairs but for those who cannot climb stairs, there is an "elevator." Well, I think it used to be an elevator about 100 years ago. But it does do the trick of transporting someone up to the second floor. The bar downstairs is very cute and chic and they have a separate menu of small plates. I would definitely love to return just to the bar some evening for a glass of wine and a petit plat. The restrooms were single-person, and they had nice sinks and faucets, nice soap, and very nice towels. Very clean and I love the little sign on the outside that changes from "vacant" to "occupied" when you lock the door.

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