Review of L'Hommage Bistro Francais
PHOTO: Interior of L'Hommage Bistro Francais courtesy of L'Hommage Bistro Francais
Situated in Washington, D.C.’s still transitioning neighborhood of Mt. Vernon Triangle, owner Hakan Ilhan Paris-inspired restaurant L’Hommage Bistro Francais casually reimagines the bistro concept of a small, approachable restaurant with short, fixed hours into a broad hybrid of bistro and the more formal brasserie.
Of course, the expressive difference between the two, for many Americans, is minute. A bistro has lunch and dinner at fixed hours (noon till 2:30-3:00 pm for lunch and 7:30 pm till about midnight for dinner) whereas a brasserie serves meals throughout the day, without break, and has a very traditional French menu such as coq au vin, steak tartare and maybe if you are lucky even pate en croute.
Either way, much like his deft Italian restaurant Alba Osteria which has a creatively infused Italian menu, Mr. Ilhan’s molded the ideal sentimental elements of a Parisian bistro experience with a more expansive brasserie menu and hours (L’Hommage Bistro Francais is open from 11 am to past midnight seven days a week except on Sundays when they open at 10 am) to create a comfortable neighborhood spot.
Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the cavernous 200 person seated space. While the below street level main dining room does harken back to the days when Parisian landlords used their tiny basement kitchen to feed their tenants, which allegedly started the bistro culture, the tremendous ceiling heights and room was decidedly gargantuan and grand instantly diffusing any notion one was in a basement.
Still, the carefully French-inspired decor felt straight out of a scene from the Hollywood set of Ma Vie En Rose. Dark woods, white table clothed covers and splashes of a perfect red Dior lipstick gave off the impression of a romantic and intimate space. Sadly, without the short ceilings the beautiful intimacy of a quintessential bistro was decidedly overpowered.
For those who also do not care about whether a restaurant’s space looks like a bistro or not, the evaluation of the French inspired menu probably carries more weight and in this Executive Chef Josh Laban Perkins interpretation of classic French cooking would not embarrass him in Paris. For those who do not care to venture to non-public transportation accessible Palisades for the best French food in Washington, D.C. at Et Voila, then you now have a solid option steps from a metro.
Hors d’oeuvres include SOUPE A L’ONION GRATINÉE (onion soup), ESCARGOTS, and TERRINE DE CANARD while the main dishes covered BOEUF BOURGUIGNON, BOUILLABAISSE, STEAK FRITES, CASSOULET TRADITIONNEL, and COQ AU VIN. The escargots were particularly lovely, having been cooked for the right amount of time at the exact right temperature, with enough butter to make my cholesterol count soar along with my tastebuds. Stop by during happy hour for escargots, wine and great company with the superb L'Hommage Bistro Francais staff. For less than $15 (including 25% tip), you can fill up and have some fun while you are at it.
For more substantial dishes, linger at the dining room table for conversation over the Boeuf Bourguignon. Nothing particularly notable about the boeuf bourguignon except it comes with a bit more mashed potatoes than one would find in Paris. Since I do love my potatoes I welcomed this four spoonful extra dose.
A singular word of caution: avoid the Cassoulet Traditionnel. Mine was too salty and lacked enough beans to really give the quantity of meats some balance. Of course, “avoid” might be too strong a word as this balancing act is personal preference, but considering cassoulet is my favorite French main course you can understand the context of just how many cassoulets I had to eat to index a good cassoulet versus a bad cassoulet. My guest had no complaints about the cassoulet because he had never had one before and his Steak Frites was again fine if not amazing.
As for wine and cocktails, I skipped cocktails because I had a cold but the wine list was more than adequate. None of my favorites were on the list but I noticed the other tables went through a few bottles with ease.
The one thing to really note about L’Hommage Bistro Francais, in addition to providing Mt. Vernon with a solid restaurant option (one which you should definitely book for Valentine’s Day if Et Voila is sold out), is the tremendous staff. Everyone was not just friendly but interestingly knowledgeable. All but one person I spoke with actually was fluent in French (with a great backstory as to why they were fluent) and served the tables with careful attention which never, not once, felt overwhelming. Even when the restaurant had closed, I felt no pressure to leave. Much like a Parisian bistro where guests linger until the last drop of wine is finished. In this way, Mr. Ilkan deserves tremendous amounts of credit for giving his guests an opportunity to not think about time and that, in and of itself in time obsessed D.C., is worthy of attention.