Wednesday, April 11, 2007


"Good for the money" isn't the kind of review restaurateurs usually covet, but in the case of Bistrot Du Coin in Washington, DC, it's very fitting, in a good way.

Most people see our nation's capital as a boring one-horse town that lives and breathes politics, southern backslapping camaraderie, and little more.

Most people are wrong.

As noted before, GrasGuy spent his early adult years in DC, and I've held an affinity for the sometimes beleaguered city ever since. No, it's not New York, or London, or Paris, or even Los Angeles, but it has all of the things that make great cities like those, well, great. It's all there, the culture, the music, the interesting street freaks. There's just not as much of it, so you have to look a little harder, and you're likely to miss it from the confines of a tour bus.

Even if it this wasn't true, one thing that politicians, lawyers and their assorted hangers-on are good at is spending money. So it's no surprise that Washington has one of the most vibrant culinary scenes in the United States, though it may be a surprise to you.

Home to arguably the finest Spanish (Jaleo) and Italian (Galileo) restaurants in the country, and seemingly more African eateries per square mile than the dark continent itself, there's no shortage of variety to choose from, and thankfully as many French-tinted restaurants as is befitting a capital of the world.

While Michel Richard's Citronelle is the grand dame of DC's Gallic scene, one of my (and apparently his) favorites is Bistro Du Coin in Dupont Circle. An homage to turn of the century Paris, the high-ceilinged, zinc-barred establishment is usually so lively you expect a line of Can Can dancers to burst out of the back room at any moment. Instead, what you get coming out of the kitchen is some of the most solid and accessible bistro food this side of the left bank, with Pates, Moules, and Tartares a plenty at very reasonable prices.

GrasGuy being GrasGuy, the first words out of my mouth in a place like this after 'Pinot Noir' is usually 'Foie Gras, rapide!' In BDC's case, that means an appetizer of Sauteed Foie Gras with Sweet Sorghum Risotto and Truffle. I've never been quite sure what sorghum is, other than some sort of commodity prized by Midwest farmers, but here it makes a mildly sweet yet thick sauce - think A1 without the spices and you've got it. What, that doesn't sound too good? Well, it is, though it's not fantastic. What makes it work is the quality of the Foie Gras that they use, which isn't' too high and is a bit tough and gamy. Again, that's not to say it's bad, it's just not the pinnacle of creamy smooth Foie Gras, so the heavy handed sauce helps it out, while the truffle flavored risotto takes care of the rest. For $14.95 you can't feel too bad about it, it'd be double that in NYC, and here it's the most expensive appetizer on the menu, a full $.20 more than the Duck Confit.

With ten different types of Moules on offer - including Creamy Rouquefort and Au Pistou - it's tough not to go for this house speciality, but on the unseasonably cold April evening that I was there, something heartier was in order, and the very extensive menu does not dissapoint. With no less than six stews on offer like White Bean, Veal and Lamb, I opted for the Rabbit in Mustard Cream Sauce - another weak spot of mine - and was quite pleased. But as with the Foie Gras my satisfaction was not just from the taste, but also the value. At $17.95 the casserole was more than even I could finish, though I wish that I could have - the chef hitting just the right degree of Dijon flavor in the sauce, not always an easy feat.

No, Bistrot Du Coin is not the best restaurant in DC, but it is among the most enjoyable. A place like this would be a welcome addition in any city, even in New York where most of the "Bistros" err on the side of being too fancy and fail to capture the true spirit of the more bohemian flavored of the breed. Bistro Du Coin does just that, and for the money it can't be beat.

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