Hi fellow Chowhounders,
I've been looking for great French food for a while in DC, and unfortunately the options are pretty limited. I'd like to take the chance, then, to spread the word about Cafe du Parc, probably one of my top 2 favorites.
Photos available at: http://www.thefoodbuster.com/cafe-du-...
Café du Parc stands out above all else for its price. It’s a high-end bistro for cheap: $38 for a prix fixe and about $40-$50 for 3 courses off the menu is about as cheap a price at which you’ll find good French food. Just as importantly, though, it’s got some major culinary cred, as its menu is designed by three-star Michelin chef Antoine Westermann. $40 for the guarantee of a 3-Michelin-star-quality chef–now that’s a deal, if you ask me.
Café du Parc doesn’t shine in all regards, though. Upon entering the restaurant, I immediately noticed just how normal (read typical or even dull) a bistro it is, at least on the surface. It’s located in a hotel, so not only do you get the typical excellent service, but you get that somewhat annoying, obsequious concierge service that you can expect from American hotels. The dining room itself is nicely, but simply decorated, and it has that touristy “hotel” feel to it: vases of violets (which look fake) lining the sides, pictures of DC monuments all around, really bright lighting everywhere, spacious seating, the boring white-lined walls, etc. That dullness would be my one critique of the place in general, as you really do know that you’re in a typical hotel.
I will say, though, that for what it is, the café is quaint, clean, and charming. You can tell just by looking at it that it’s going to be on the cheaper side of the luxurious, but I prefer that type of simplicity and casualness to what you get at the typical bistro, where everything seems to be overdone for the sake of being mysterious, romantic, and ostentatious (i.e. candlelight everywhere, practically no lighting, etc.).
And even the service doesn’t seem to bother me at all. If anything, my waiter really contributed to the meal, approaching me with less than the typical formality of a hotel waiter, conversing with me about my travels, giving me excellent recommendations, explaining the dishes in depth, and just giving off a real warmth and charisma that you don’t get from a “real” French waiter, who has probably been taught to mute his/her emotions completely and fawn on the guests. He was a bit overzealous, but the intention was well-placed.
Most importantly, the food delivers. When you try the food here, you’re going to immediately be taken to that quiet, comfort zone in the back of your mind where you can just relax, enjoy, and not even notice that you’ve devoured a whole plate of food in a matter of 10 minutes. Especially nice is that, for the price you pay, not only do you get some interesting combinations of ingredients that you typically might not find at other restaurants, but you also get presentation, as everything is cleanly neatly organized, dishes are balanced with different components, and in general you get a lot of color on each dish. The Pate en Croute, for example, is a colorful array of veal, pork and duck foie gras terrine, cooked with port wine and Armagnac and wrapped in a home-made pastry--that's one of the most unique dishes I've ever seen at a French restaurant. Even more importantly, the food tastes just as good as it looks! I was impressed, for instance, that the pate managed to combine the creamy and crunchy, perfectly synergizing 3 different meats and sweet caramelized onions into a savory pastry.
Overall, then, I’d have to give Café du Parc a big two thumbs up. Not only do you get superb service, presentation, food, and variety (even though the menu is very small), but you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it. There really is very little to complain about, and if you really love French cuisine—or even if you don’t—you really should try out Café du Parc if you’re in DC.
Café du Parc
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004