LA piquette: 3714 Macomb St. NW | Cuisine: French
Located in the heart of the city’s northwestern quadrant, between Cathedral Heights and Cleveland Park, La Piquette is a new favorite for Washington D.C. Francophiles. Restaurateurs Bruno Fortin and Cyrille Brenac — co-owners of Bistrot Lepic & Wine Bar in Georgetown — opened La Piquette in November 2013, seeking to offer a casual alternative to their other dining rooms’ sophisticated design. Even its name, derived from the French expression for “second-class wine,” reflects the bistro’s attitude toward simplicity.
You will not find long table linens or an extended wine list, but La Piquette seems to expand its base of regulars by the hour.
Loud and cramped, the convivial ambience reproduces a Parisian feel in the middle of Maycomb Street. The informal feel of the dining room extends from a seasonal patio where customers can enjoy en-plein-air meals to an upper dining room with tall tables facing an eight-stool bar and an open kitchen.
Chef Francis Layrle is a Gascony native like Brenac, with whom he “bonded over memories of dear childhood dishes such as garbure or cassoulet.” Chef Layrle can be found looking after the kitchen’s usual run. An earlier chef de cuisine at the French Embassy, he served eight ambassadors for over 35 years. In 2006, he departed the diplomatic corps to join Fortin and Brenac in establishing the restaurant’s menu.
“I know the neighborhood quite well, and people here appreciate good food. I don’t like the term chef. I just like to cook,” chef Layrle said as he supervised the orders moving through the counter. “When clients say they enjoyed the food or look happy, it’s the best reward.”
Layrle’s take on classic French gastronomy reflects his refreshing modesty, whereby the bistro’s selection of dishes becomes seasonal comfort food.
The salade composee ($14) came as a beautifully arranged composition of lentils, quinoa, grilled leeks, roasted beets and creamy avocado. Dressed in a sherry vinaigrette, this revival of the Gallic “composed salad” tradition places each ingredient so artfully that the overall dish could easily be confused with a still life painting.
Gentle simplicity triumphed in a more popular variant, the roasted beets and grilled leeks ($12), served with yogurt, fresh mint and walnuts. Its aesthetic composition was the perfect complement for the impeccably tender, slightly smoky leeks.
The salmon tartar ($14) was lusciously textured with avocado, shallots, chive and an unmistakable citrus kick. The chickpea soup ($9), a homemade vegetable broth with cumin, harissa, cilantro and a hint of saffron, and the assiette de fromages ($18), featuring generous amounts of young manchego, drunken goat and fourme d’ambert, were the ultimate study in delicacy.
After such delightful introductions, we ordered an alternating selection of both seasonal and regular entrees. The steak frites ($26) and entrecote frites, in Burgundy and bearnaise sauces respectively, were cooked to perfection.
The week’s specials, the agneau grille aux herbes ($29), a deep-flavored grilled lamb T-bone placed along a smooth potato gratin, and the jumbo soft-shell crab meuniere ($16/32) from the Chesapeake Bay, drenched in butter alongside sauteed spinach, were not only delicious but uniquely fitted to fall dining. The mushroom risotto ($26) introduced a mouthwatering assortment of hen of the wood, shiitake and royal trumpet, all clothed in melted parmesan.
Winter luminaries include duck confit, cassoulet and Gascony’s signature garbure ($24). During spring and summer, Chef Layrle tends towards lighter fare: sauteed, garlic-based calamari ($14); light yet crispy crab cakes ($22); and chicken with crawfish ($26), flawlessly diluted in Armagnac sauce.
Despite having thrown ourselves into multiple appetizers and filling entrees, desserts still proved essential to the experience. The apple tarte a la mode ($9) was the favorite, given its subtle but velvety consistency lying under a crumbly crust. Other recommendable choices are the house-made ice cream ($9) — mint and caramel are particularly extraordinary — and the cake substratum filled with liquid chocolate that formed the chocolate fondant ($9). Impeccable and succulent, the chocolate fondant is well worth the 10-minute wait.
An array of farm-raised ingredients combined with a meticulously curated yet price-friendly selection of wines and cocktails make La Piquette exactly the type of fun, simple and delicious experience that Brenac, Fortin and Layrle had envisioned from the beginning.