Bistrot Lepic & Wine Bar
1736 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Chef/proprietor Bruno Fortin opened Bistrot Lepic in April 1995 and named it after Rue Lepic, a street in Paris where he formerly resided. The restaurant is a cozy 50-seat affair that is undoubtedly as close as you can get to casual dining in the French capital without actually hopping on a jet. The fare is pure bistro with a number of regional and contemporary touches; and chef de cuisine Simon Ndjiki-nya obviously keeps his patrons happy, as the restaurant is nearly always full & overflowing and constantly abuzz with locals and visitors alike.
Starters, for example, are rife with time-honored French classics: bacon-onion tart sided by green salad ($7.95); homemade country pâté with prunes and Armagnac ($7.95); organic Burgundy snails baked in garlic butter ($7.95); boneless pig's feet with onion sauce ($7.95)
Soups and salads are also well represented. A special salad of arugula and mixed lettuces is topped with a luscious and colorful assortment of roasted peppers, olives, and morsels of creamy goat cheese ($8.95). I also very much enjoyed the Provençale vegetable soup with canellini beans and pesto... although I thought it needed a bit more pizzazz in the seasoning department.
When it comes to the main course, the cassoulet ($22.95) is benchmark. Duck confit, chunks of lamb, and Toulouse sausage arrive at table awash in a garlicky sea of canellini beans. The calf's liver ($17.95) is another traditional house favorite. The flesh is done to a right-on-the-money medium rare, precisely as requested, and exhibits a positively silky texture. Capers, black olives, and roasted grape tomato halves add immeasurably to the mix, but it is that splash of Jerez vinegar that provides just the proper punch. Accompaniments include excellent mashed potatoes and firm-to-the-bite haricots verts.
If your tastes are more contemporary, you may wish to sample the coquilles Saint-Jacques, meaty sautéed sea scallops companioned by ginger-broccoli mousse and finished with a light but exceedingly flavorful ginger butter ($24.95) or, perhaps, the salmon presented in a golden brown potato crust adorned with fresh grapes and a provocative ouzo grape sauce ($19.95). And for a more exotic touch, the free-range organic chicken teamed up with curry, coconut milk, lemongrass, and saffron basmati rice ($17.95).
The only semi-disappointment proved to be the house-made tarts ($7.50). The pear tart surrounded by an infectious strawberry coulis passed muster, but the apricot tart sported a crust that was obviously indicative of a period of prolonged hibernation in the nether regions of the fridge.
If you can't make it for dinner, lunch is always a good bet, as the Bistrot offers a different pre-fixe each week: 2 courses, $19.95; 3 courses, $24.95.
And you will certainly want to spend some time in the cozy upstairs wine bar/lounge, sampling the interesting selections available by the glass. Tuesday is an especially good night to stop by, as there is a complimentary tasting from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. and a discount of 20% on all bottles.
The Artful Diner
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