My wife and I were supposed to dine last evening at the new Bastille restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. Unfortunately, chef Christophe's father passed away in France the night before, and the restaurant has closed for supper while the chef is away.
So I went to OpenTable.com, and we decided to visit Gerard's Place on McPherson Square and see how it was doing under its new chef. They showed openings at 6:30 and 7:30. However, during the thirty seconds or so while I consulted with my wife, the 7:30 option disappeared, and we were left with 6:30 and 8:00. Since she had an early commitment on Sunday, we took the 6:30 slot.
We arrived at the restaurant around 6:20, and found only two other tables occupied. We were seated immediately before the other couple arrived, and given a choice of a rectangular or a round table -- nice for us to have that option.
We were given both the and dessert menus upon seating, and asked for the wine list (the dessert menu includes several items which are prepared from scratch, including two souffles, so dessert orders are requested when ordering earlier courses.)
The dinner menu did not reflect the information currently on the restaurant's Web site. It did not offer the $59 three-course supper listed on the Web site at all. It offered only the $87 chef's tasting menu, which must be ordered by everyone at the table (a restriction that for me generally eliminates it from consideration), or an a la carte menu (not shown on the Web site) with entrees from $24 to $44 (the veal chop).
The ladies ordered starters -- an elegant "beet tasting" ($16), consisting of yellow and red beets presented in four different presentations (which reminded us of the "toybox of tomatoes" at the French Laundry), and a salad of fresh greens ($10). The beets were impressive; the simple salad greens were a very small portion, unadorned by anything but a simple vinaigrette, and hardly seemed worth $10.
The accompanying bread was considerably more dense than an average Parisian baguette, but nicely crusty. The sweet butter was fresh and flavorful, blessedly unwrapped (of course).
Our four entrees included fresh salmon ($28), rack of lamb ($38), and two orders of the signature duck breast ($36). All were excellent, plated in a universal round motif, accompanied by potato gallettes, perfectly cooked vegetables, and fully-flavored reduction sauces.
We shared, first, two cheese plates: a Firefly chevre, a Tomme, Roquefort, and a perfectly ripe Pont l'Eveque (one of my very favorites), and then a citrus souffle and a Valhrona chocolate dessert midway between a souffle and a flourless torte.
Accompanying wines were a very nice 2004 Lauverjat Sancerre ($58), an outstanding 2002 Grant Burge Holy Trinity (grenache/syrah/mourvedre, $85), and a 2005 Ravenswood Icon syrah ($62), which was not decanted and didn't really open up until it was almost finished. The wine list is quite different from what is shown on the Web site, with a few additional foreign selection, but also a number of selections (including the sole petite syrah).
Apart from disappointment at the greens salad, the food was very good, but the only dish which was really interesting was the beet appetizer. The rack of lamb didn't evidence any particular crustiness, herbs, or seasoning, and consisted of five fairly small chops, cooked a bit past the requested rare. The duck breat portions were medium-rare as requested, but also fairly small, and didn't display any particular herbs or seasoning. The rest of the dishes were enjoyable, but did not display any particular creativity in design or artistry in plating.
The cheeses were plated with no accompaniments or complementary toppings (e.g., grape must, honey, etc.) whatsoever.
Service was generally quite good, but even with a half-full dining room, it required an effort to attract attention in order to order the third bottle of wine, which, as a result, did not arrive before the cheese was served. Thus one diner was without wine for the final few bites of her entree, which is unacceptable at a restaurant of this level.
We enjoyed the meal, and all had a good time. But my wife and I agreed that the restaurant was, in general, somewhat disappointing at this price point. We would not return without some reason to think that the overall dining experience had improved to provide better value, and the menus reconciled with what is posted on the Web site.
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