Throughout our culinary journey together, my wife Jun and I have explored restaurants on the wide spectrum of style and format. We have had success in both fine dining institutions as well as casual dining joints. The key, in our experience, is always the execution. Even when a restaurant has all these elaborate schemes on the most exotic ingredients and the most ingenious techniques, how the kitchen puts everything together is an entirely different manner and we’ve had some very notable misses in the places that have received a lot of buzz and even critical acclaim. On the other hand, when we have a fantastic meal at an underrated restaurant that does not garner as much attention, we really appreciate our experience even more. I was really hoping we would have that revelatory experience at Lutèce, a cozy French bistro in Georgetown. Unfortunately, there were some kinks we encountered during our visit earlier this month.
When we walked into the restaurant, Lutèce screamed a hidden gem all over the dining space. We were seated for a tasting menu (at a reasonable $75 per person) at the counter seating right in front of the kitchen; we were already quite enamored with the vibe at the restaurant by the time we sat down. The concept at the restaurant seemed to be straightforward French bistro cuisine with modern touch. Among the three starter trios, we were both fans of the golden ossetra caviar with pomme paillasson and crème fraiche, and the corn soup with basil oil was an ideal dish for the summer. On the other hand, Jun didn’t particularly like the steak tartare wrapped in shiso, noting the shiso’s flavor overwhelmed the tartare.
The beet salad that came after was solid, but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the Parisian gnocchi that came after; even though wee were told the gnocchi was made with 18-month Comte cheese, I barely tasted the magical flavor of the very best Comte we’ve had before (most recently in Burgundy, France in the spring). On the other hand, the main dish of duck was quite fantastic, with its spot-on texture and accompanied by fennel, cauliflower and cherry to really help enhance the flavor of the duck. Similar to the savory dishes, the desserts had both hits and misses. We liked the fennel sorbet and mousse that came as a palate cleanser, but Jun was horrified by the funky flavor of the mezcal sabagione with hoja santa ice cream, as well as the marshmallow and kiwi bite in the petit fours section. Suffice to say, it was a lot of mixed bags overall.
Getting a reservation at Lutèce via Tock isn’t too challenging but if you want the counter seating experience, I suggest you book a couple of months in advance as there are only two counter tables. The wine list at the restaurant was quite interesting, with many natural wines and especially from the French region of Jura that had been getting a lot of attention in the oenophile world. As mentioned above, the atmosphere of Lutèce is absolutely lovely and perfect for a date night or intimate time with friends and family (the restaurant is also located in a relatively quiet part of Georgetown away from the tourists roaming around M Street). I can’t say Lutèce, despite the initial impression, gave the most amazing meal. We have certainly seen very successful restaurants with simple French bistro concept before; perhaps we may come back for brunch for which the restaurant is quite popular in the DC dining scene.
KenScale: 7.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.5/10)
Address: 1522 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007
Reservation via Tock