April 10, 2011

A Taste of Paris in Washington

So, this winter we spent over two weeks in Europe. For Jonathan it was a time to experience new cultures and appreciate the European lifestyle. For me, it was a time to become reacquainted with a place I love and share it with the most important person in my life, my husband. Now, we are back in Washington DC and are both missing the food and atmosphere we experienced in London and Paris. Since we cannot jet back across the Atlantic at any time, we decided to see if any of the French bistros in DC had a bit of that elusive Parisian cafe culture.

There are several French restaurants, cafes, and bakeries in Washington DC. Since returning from Paris, I have had the opportunity to have lunch at Patisserie Poupon and dinner at Bistrot la Bonne and Bistrot du Coin. This is the beginning, but definitely not my final conclusion, of my quest to find an oasis of French cafe culture in my own backyard.

Located on Wisconson Avenue in Georgetown, Patisserie Poupon is a cute cafe and bakery. When you walk in there is a glass case filled with French pastry delights and sandwiches on your left and a few tables and a coffee bar towards the back of the shop. My aunt and I stopped here for lunch one afternoon we shopping in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to get for lunch at Paris cafes is a baguette sandwich with brie or camembert cheese. Unlike in the United States where there might be mustard or mayonnaise on the bread, in Paris there is butter. It is fantastic - a rich and creamy sandwich. So, I was curious what the baguette sandwiches would be like at Patisserie Poupon. Much to my delight my brie baguette here came with lettuce, tomato, and butter! And the baguette itself was crispy on the outside, moist in the middle, and very tasty. In addition to baguette sandwiches, Patisserie Poupon has lovely pastries and European coffee beverages.

Bistrot la Bonne is located in the middle of the U Street Corridor and is the first French bistrot Jonathan and I went to for dinner after returning from Paris. It was a cold and cloudy Sunday evening... Bistrot la Bonne was fairly quiet when we arrived. We placed our order and waited for the waitress to bring us our wine. There something almost familiar, but just not quite. The wine was good, but was a different year than was on the menu. Bread and butter is an important part of the meal in all of Europe, but especially in France. And, the bread in France is so wonderful and European butter is normally cultured which gives it a more rich buttery flavor than the sweet cream variety we have in the United States. During my European travels I have always appreciated and savored these simple items. At Bistrot la Bonne the bread was good, but the butter was American not European style.

We shared an order of onion soup that was delightful. (No, it was not as good as the onion soup we had les Gourmands de Ile on ile saint louis, but that was exceptional.) For an entree I had a good plate of vegetables Provencal and Jonathan had cassoulet. Both were good - but just that. We had a nice dinner, but it did not transport us back to Paris.

So, a few weeks later we headed out to Bistrot du Coin. Walking into the restaurant my expectations were high. If not here, where could I escape to what I was missing from Paris?

Bistrot du Coin is a bustling bistrot with high ceilings, a balcony with additional seating in the back of the room, vintage French advertizing posters on the walls, and a disco ball hanging from the center in the center of the room. The atmosphere is always festive and there is the dim of people talking that is reminiscent of busy bistrots and brasseries in France. On past visits to Bistrot du Coin I had tried tartines (open face sandwiches), salads, and desserts.

On this visit I ordered la traditionelle mouclade des charentes (mussels in a curry cream sauce) and frites. Jonathan ordered cassoulet and a bottle of wine for us to share. (This classic French dish has became one of his favorites, as well as his bench mark for all French restaurants after our trip to Paris).

After we ordered, our server brought our wine and some bread. I have to admit, the bread and butter at Bistrot du Coin were not as good as what we ate during our travels. Again, the bread was good but the butter was not cultured.

But, I did not despair... Our wine was very good and our food arrived quite quickly. The mussels and fries were excellent - definitely French comfort food! Jonathan enjoyed his cassoulet very much and said this version of the dish came much closer to transporting him back to Paris than Bistrot la Bonne.

So, how would I sum up my quest thus far? I plan to continue my search, but for now Bistrot du Coin is my favorite place for simple French comfort food in a cozy atmosphere that almost transports you to the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, the English menus and din of American accents quickly remind you of your exact geographical location if you start to dream...

1 comment:

Nicole said...

The next best thing to travel has to be trying out restaurants from the country we're missing. It seems they're never exactly right, but fun to keep searching, trying, hoping. :)