I’m tempted to start this review by telling you about one of the best desserts I have EVER had. But sometimes it is good to save the best for last. Sneak peek: I loved my dessert at Bistro Bis.
If someone asks me how I feel about French food, I would say it is not at the top of my list. I tend to favor the stronger flavors of Asian or Indian food. Middle Eastern cuisine is high on my list as well. This is why as I work my way through the Washingtonian‘s 100 Very Best Restaurants, the list of French restaurants left to try are piling up. I will say that a wonderful Restaurant Week dinner at Adour this past summer went a long way towards changing my view. Village Vines, the site offering 30% off at some of the area’s high end restaurants, includes Bistro Bis on its list, which helped steer me to the Capitol Hill establishment sooner rather than later.
The atmosphere at Bistro Bis is soothing, with warm cherry wood and beautifully upholstered banquettes. I like it immediately, even though they are just opening for dinner so we are basically the sole diners at least for a while. I realize how much a bustling room can add to an atmosphere when you enter an empty room. However, we are greeted by an enthusiastic server, who replies to our compliments on the menu and decor with “that’s why I’ve been here seven years.” I like a server who likes his job.
We’ve arrived just one day after the spring menu has been launched. This gives us the opportunity to try some new dishes. This turns out to have some great advantages and one small disadvantage.
Advantage: the salads. I have the beet salade au citron with boursin cheese, pistachio, and orange. My husband has the endive salad chardenoux with crisped pears, walnuts, and blue cheese. I like his a teensy bit more than mine. Both salads are fresh, beautifully prepared, and include a beautiful blend of fruit, greens, and creamy soft cheese. My husband declares his salad “one of the best I’ve had in a long time.” The bread is as it should be: warm with a crispy crust. It is a more than satisfying start. In fact, it is the kind of start that puts me in a good mood in anticipation of what more is to come.
We order two entrees to share. The first is ravioli forestiere with wild mushroom artichokes, turnips, spring pea coulis, and truffle butter. The flavors are delicate. The flavor that stands out most is the peas. This amuses me because now when I think about pea puree I think about “Top Chef DC.” You will only understand this reference if you watched the show. If you didn’t its not worth an explanation and I apologize for the somewhat obscure reference.
Disadvantage. Our second entree is Monkfish a la Soubise. This is a porcini mushroom encrusted fish with spinach, vegetable brunoise, beluga lentils, and sweet onion cream. The first bite of fish is salty. After that I don’t taste the salt so much, but the fish is neither warm nor crisp. It is a bit of a letdown from the salad course. I do eat every bite however, so by the time the server comes by it is gone. I do not offer any feedback, but in hindsight this is a mistake. This dish is new for the spring menu, and perhaps our opinion would be helpful.
Any disappointment I feel is wiped away by the dessert. It is listed on the menu as Tarte aux Cerises. The server tells us that the wait staff tried it the night before and couldn’t get enough. It combines vanilla shortbread, white chocolate semifreddo, and amarena cherry gelato. It is beautiful. It is phenomenal. Every bite is a symphony of tart cherries oozing out from beneath the sweet creamy chocolate, and the delicately crisp shortbread and the cold gelato. A ribbon of spun sugar on top is simply dazzling. I have one piece of advice if you happen upon Bistro Bis and this dessert- do not share it. You deserve your own serving. Trust me.
An entree is otherwise known as a main course. Does it have to be? I find the main course during this particular meal at Bistro Bis to be dessert. But it may not be the next time. I would definitely put Bistro Bis back on my list to try again. Another entree may indeed produce better results. I already know what I’m having for dessert.
Bistro Bis, 15 E Street, NW, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.4
Zagat rating: 25
#15, Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants 2011