Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #17, Washingtonian 2010 #21, Washingtonian 2009 #32, Washingtonian 2008 #35
Neighborhood: Downtown, Metro Center
Night two of Restaurant Week brought me to oft-ranked Cafe du Parc, this time with Official Friend of DCWD Juli. A highly rated DC restaurant with rising rankings? Yes, please.
Cafe du Parc is a French restaurant by cuisine and by decor. The dining area is dominated by a color scheme of blue and white, apparent everywhere from the awning, to the white colonial trim and the blue-leather metal-studded booths. In fact, the only departures from this are the flourishes that separate the two halves of the second floor dining area: black iron work, an open kitchen, and Pollack-esque rainbow-colored glass dividers for the booths. Downstairs is a cafe/bar area reminiscent of a Paris coffee shop, from the countertop style to the wooden high chairs. Between these touches and the black and white photography on the walls, it's just very "French bistro."
For a small rectangular dining area, it actually gets fairly loud, something both surprising and, for a space this size, sort of irritating. This isn't made any better by the remarkably slow service; it wasn't even a full house and yet our waiter would take ten, twenty minutes between stops at our table, something that's pretty silly when you've just sat down and just need water. Moreover, our waiter never asked how Juli wanted her steak cooked; I understand chef's prerogative to dictate what doneness will make his dish taste the best, but come on, common courtesy. My opinion is to never comment on the service unless it's noticeably bad. This was an example.
Still, I'm always willing to forgive bad service if the food can make up for it. Unfortunately, it just never happened here (spoiler alert). With only a few options for each course, we went with our only choices. Juli ordered the rustic soup with potatoes and soft leeks with smoked bacon. This was an okay soup, but for someplace I had such expectations for me, it frankly just struck me as uninspired. I think for me, there's a difference between serving something "country" and presenting it as such, and then there's just an apathetic presentation; this leaned more towards the latter.
I ordered the house pate with toasted country bread. As far as house pates go, this was actually not bad, and at the least was exactly what I expected. Some decent flavors out of it, and it did have a good fattiness to it. Wrapped in up some sort of cured meat, it was definitely a good bounce back.
Juli's main course was a pan roasted hanger steak with herbed butter and pomme frites. Luckily, the dish was cooked medium rare, so we both could enjoy it and the herbed butter was decent. But I've had better bistro-style fries at almost every stop in this city that serves a similar Belgian/French gastropub fare. And the steak was just... bland. Devoid of any flavor (even something as simple as salt or pepper), it was just tender meat: good texture, but no strong flavors, herbed butter or not.
I ordered the seared salmon with a green lentil ragout and red wine jus. The lentils, I thought, just overpowered the salmon, which was otherwise decently cooked. The lentils did have the benefit of having bacon pieces in them, but that just made me even a little more suspicious (bacon, like truffles, seems like the chef's emergency panacea, when they need something quick to save a dish). Just not a pairing that I enjoyed.
For dessert, Juli had the coffee tart served with chocolate ice cream. This was so ordinary as to be unremarkable. I hate saying mean things about food, but this seemed so perfunctory, as if to say, we're just doing it because we have to do dessert.
I had a panna cotta, topped with diced fruit and served in a martini glass. I hate not finishing things, but I just could not finish this dessert. The acid of the citrus was just way overpowering, making it more sour than the normal cream that I want from a panna cotta. Not enjoyable.
This meal was just decidedly average. I've always said, it's a battle of expectations versus performance, and by this metric, this failed. Sadly, I just did not find that it was up to the quality of food and service that its price and location and reputation merits.
Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: Check out the DC location of the National Aquarium. Not as good as Baltimore, but nice nonetheless.