A lot can happen in a single year in the restaurant business, but, remarkably, very little has changed at L’Auberge Chez François since it opened in 1954. Chef François Haeringer—a native of Alsace, France—opened the restaurant only six years after immigrating to America. Though he didn't know how to speak English when he arrived, his cuisine translated into quick success. In 1976, he moved the eatery to its current 6-acre refuge in the hills, styling it after an Alsatian auberge, or "family inn." There, the restaurant has continued to thrive, first under François and now under his successor, his son Jacques.
Alsatian cuisine is notable for fusing both German and French fare. This influence is readily apparent in dishes such as the Alsatian feast, which pairs sauerkraut, sausage, and pork with duck confit and foie gras. But adherence to Alsatian traditions doesn’t deter the chefs from exploring the East Coast’s own bounty, as evidenced in the veal scaloppini with Virginia ham and the poached Maine lobster with sauternes-butter sauce.
If L’Auberge Chez François never prepared another morsel of food, people would still come to visit for the ambiance. Embroidered pillows and French murals make the waiting room feel more like someone's living room. In the dining areas, Haeringer family heirlooms lend a dash of authenticity and beauty. In the outdoor courtyard, red wooden chairs and benches mingle among flowering plants, and antique streetlamps illuminate a gazebo nestled amid bushes and hanging shrubbery.
Le Vieux Logis translates directly from the French to "the old lodge." And when it changed hands in January 2014, co-owner Chef Gautrois brought back the old-world ambiance that people grew to love over the years, not just in the food but the decor as well.
From the outside, the eatery has the feel of a countryside cottage, with a terracotta roof and dark wood shutters. And on the white stucco is a handpainted mural of a mountainside meadow, with people perched at bistro tables. This look and feel carries through to the interior, where the banquettes are upholstered in rich tapestries and quaint knickknacks such as copper buckets and painted china adorn the walls.
The menu heralds a return to classic French cooking, lauded by the Washington Post as "a stroll down memory lane, to a time when white space was less of an aspiration in restaurant dishes." Here's a sampling of what to try when you visit:
When Sonny Abraham took a job at his father's restaurant, he assumed it would be a temporary arrangement until he received his pilot's license. But it was amid the hot suds of soapy dishes and the clatter of pots and pans that he fell in love with the restaurant industry and began dreaming of starting a fine-dining establishment of his own. In pursuit of his new dream, Sonny secured culinary positions at upscale hotels throughout Washington, DC, even traveling to Switzerland to work in a high-end kitchen. Ten years later, Sonny captains the kitchen of his own restaurant, Brasserie Monte Carlo.
Inside the restaurant, which was very recently REAL certified by the United States Healthful Food Council, Sonny whips up French Mediterranean dishes with housemade sauces and herbs from his own garden. The chef often delivers the still-sizzling dishes to the dining room himself, where diners await their meals over glasses of fine wine. A vivid mural sweeps across one wall, depicting typical scenes from Monte Carlo, from French sunbathers tanning on a beach to an ex-car-insurance salesman working on his first attempt at a romance novel, Even Car-Insurance Salesmen Fall in Love.
Blue 44 is the go-to spot for a moderately-priced, dependable meal in Washington’s Chevy Chase neighborhood. Already considered one of the area’s best restaurants despite its 2011 arrival date, the classic upscale American menu here is versatile without being huge. For appetizers, tackle a pierogi, claw through some lobster mac ‘n’ cheese or down duck confit eggrolls. For something light, there are several options for soup and salad, and sandwiches range from raved-about burgers to crab cakes to a Pittsburgh cheese steak, courtesy of the owner’s Western Pennsylvania heritage. The ample dining room is bathed in dark tones, with a textured tile ceiling and lots of tall, stiff-backed booths. Chandeliers light the main eating area dimly, while simple photographs and painted brick touches fill out the style. Sneak back to the small hooded bar for a drink; there are only a few seats, but the drinks are worth standing for.
"It’s not sleek or trendy, but La Ferme totally nails warm and charming," says Bethesda Magazine, which awarded the restaurant its 2013 Editors' Pick for Best Restaurant for Ambiance. Housed within a rustic, yet romantic farmhouse, La Ferme definitely appears to embrace the spirit of an inviting household instead of a stuffy fine-dining establishment. Tables fill two separate floors as well as a covered outdoor terrace, and soft pastel hues, floral drapes, and antique-looking sconces help give the impression of a cozy home in the French countryside. Similarly, the menu embraces a rustic style of cooking that emphasizes hearty, satisfying flavors over nouveau techniques. Seafood appears prominently throughout the menu, tempting diners with everything from house-smoked Norwegian salmon to fricasseed Maine lobster. However, the chefs don't neglect terrestrial countryside classics. Dishes such as French onion soup with melted emmenthal cheese or roast rabbit stuffed with wild mushrooms and herbs and sandwiched between two macrons round out the menu of classic French comfort foods. Even La Ferme's extensive wine menu manages to highlight the vineyards of France while still featuring bottles from as far away as California and New Zealand.
Is Terasol an art gallery, a coffee shop or a French bistro? Yes to all, actually. This Chevy Chase spot serves three square meals a day from its charming café space, where warm lighting and a plate-glass window light up the ample woodwork inside. Even more color comes from the large amount of artisan jewelry, pottery and crafts that hang on the walls or sit inside long, open shelves. As much an artistic shop for locally-made goods as it is a restaurant, Terasol supports DC’s creative side with occasional showings and constant displays of beautiful wares. Of course, they also support the old French countryside, with a rustic menu that ticks off great dishes like a checklist: French onion soup, beef bourguignon, mussels and frites. A warming quiche is available , and the croque monsieur will satisfy the largest of appetites.