Second Time’s a Charm.
DC is a town built on promises that are rarely delivered, and there are plenty of restaurants around the Capitol that follow that lead. They oversell and under perform. White tablecloths, long winded menu descriptions, overpriced whiskey, and badly cooked steaks; most are over reaching and fall flat. There are some good restaurants of course. They are who they say they are, delivering simply great food in warm environments. We know them the minute we walk through the door.
Sometimes, sometimes someone surprises; and we almost missed it. Béarnaise, on Pennsylvania Avenue SE in Capitol Hill, feels like the real deal.
Built around a French Bistro concept, the web ad-liture says Béarnaise is inspired by the owner’s experiences in Montreal and Paris. You know the basic idea – steaks, fries (frites), and friendly wines and beer at reasonable prices delivered by considerate, understated staff. A casual neighborhood place where you hope to become a regular. Now, we love Montreal! So much so that we choose to live there part time. It’s a great, great food town. The Quebecois can rock a menu. Since Chef Spike Mendelsohn and his sister Micheline tout their Montreal heritage, our expectations were sky high. Unfortunately our first visit was a bit uneven. The kitchen seemed at sea, the front of house lacked a guiding hand, and neither seemed to be on speaking terms with the other.
There was something about the place however…
Hil and Mark both worked in restaurants, and who doesn’t have a bad night. So on a very cold Monday night, we dropped in for dinner. We were met with warmth, charm, and a great meal. None of the past problems were evident on our second visit. The food and the service were terrific. We ate at the bar, giving us the opportunity to meet several of the regulars, the Manager – Catherine, and the Executive Chef – Brad. Both remembered all too well the night we had visited previously. It had been a regretfully memorable evening for them as well.
While the concept remains essentially focused on steaks, there were some changes to the menu – most notably the addition of mussel pots and the elimination of oysters. Notably, the chicken liver pâté and steak tartar are delicious and the portions rich and large enough to share. The wine list has a good selection of approachable wines all at $40 a bottle, and a short list of more expensive, reserve wines. The wines are mainly French Rhones and Bordeaux, with an Argentine, South African or Loire Valley thrown in. It is a well thought out selection which complements the food.
Welcome Béarnaise. Bienvenue a Capitol Hill. We will definitely be back.