A neighborhood gem, Friendship Height’s Le Chat Noir owes its name to Paris’ first avant-garde cabaret. Located on Wisconsin Avenue in the northern edge of Tenleytown, this Left Bank-inspired bistro offers an authentic interpretation of classic French cuisine.
The restaurant’s influences are obvious upon entry — a stylish Montmartre poster welcomes diners into the bohemian-styled brasserie. Le Chat Noir’s red leather booths and dim lighting illustrate the busy eatery’s brasserie flair.
Honoring a tradition common to the different venues around the quartiers of Paris, Le Chat Noir offers refuge from D.C.’s busy pace, either by letting the cool summer breeze caress costumers seated in the outdoor area or by allowing a break from stuffy dress-code conventions.
True to the vision of co-owners and spouses Marie and Sam Ziar, who also manage Atlas District’s Le Grenier, the cozy location puts an emphasis on disarming simplicity.
“I’m from Normandy, so I’m predisposed to enjoy simple things,” Marie Ziar said.
Executive chef Thierry Sanchez embodies the visionary spirit of a person raised in different cultures. Born in Panama to a Colombian mother and French father, Sanchez manages to do double duty in both restaurants. Sanchez was raised in Mexico before leaving to study gastronomy in France at age 18.
“We want to appeal [to] different crowds by giving them hints [of food] they already like, while offering something they can’t [easily] find somewhere else,” Sanchez said. “I like to experiment, use my Latin roots to create new dishes while still following traditional French techniques.”
The appetizers were nothing short of innovative. The pasteque salade ($8.25) was a garden-fresh treat with a juicy tenderness recalling the last notes of summer. To my surprise, the watermelon and goat cheese paired perfectly. Placed in a bed of arugula and topped with avocado, this seasonal dish proved to be a personal favorite. The crepe fourree ($9.95), stuffed with fresh crabmeat and Bay scallops covered in Chablis cream sauce, was equally ingenious, while the original reinterpretation of parmentier au confit ($9.50), which features mashed celery root-potato gratin, offered a creative mix of flavors.
Our high expectations for the entrees were easily surpassed. The coq au vin ($22.95), a seasonal specialty, featured roasted chicken breast braised with Burgundy and white truffles. The steak frites ($22.95) consisted of a New York strip steak covered in a layer of garlic-infused butter, and was cooked to perfection. The bouillabaisse ($22.95) came in a meticulously presented oblong of scallops, mussels, shrimp and fennel-saffron broth, covered in a house sauce of olive oil, saffron and peppers. Lastly, the never-ending bucket of moules frites ($19.95), served in either mariniere or apple-calvados sauce — both perfect for dipping any remaining fries — had a magnificent appearance surpassed only by their rich flavor.
Faithful to the French culinary traditions, galletes — buckwheat crepes — have their own section of the menu. Those looking for a timeless delight may find peace in the oeuf jambon fromage ($8.25), which flawlessly assembles a sunny side up egg, artisanal gruyere and thinly sliced ham. With its creamy filling, the biniou ($8.95) combines artichoke hearts, sauteed shallots and melted brie while the viroise, sauced in goat cheese, is one of Sanchez’s trademarks.
The myriad of elaborate desserts was a perfect end to our meal. Determined to pack in as many sweets as possible, we split the parfum estival ($8.25), a homemade salted caramel ice cream garnished with apple sauce, the crepe banane chocolat ($6.95) and the profiteroles, featuring a filling of milk chocolate and honey.
One of the locale’s best-kept secrets is that customers can pair any item on the menu with moderately priced, though exquisite, wine. This unique service motivated the recent inauguration of Le Chat Perché, a wine bar atop the restaurant, open Thursdays to Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Enclosed in a relaxed atmosphere, Le Chat Perché invites guests to watch silent films while sipping delicate wines. Sam Ziar has emphasized the importance of selecting wines from multiple regions and small producers. The top lounge, decorated in art nouveau motifs and shimmery pomegranate walls, pays homage to the vintage.
Le Chat Noir is devoted to elaborating “comfort food with a hint of class,” as Marie Ziar described. While offering intimacy in the daily chaos of D.C. life, the restaurant makes dinner time a happy discovery through a creative menu and excellent service.