DC is currently undergoing an exciting boom in shiny new French restaurants, one of which was opened late last year by the team behind Georgetown’s popular cocktail bar L’Annexe. The profile of the chef Gilles Epié, the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star at age 22 in France, was what initially caught my eye and so did the beautiful looking dining space. Earlier this year, I had a chance to chat with one of my foodie colleagues at work who lives in Georgetown and mentioned L’Avant-Garde. He looked up the restaurant’s website and immediately expressed his shock at how pricey everything on the menu was. While I was also surprised as well, I hoped that the higher price range means the kitchen is really doing something special to deserve it. On our recent visit to the restaurant, however, my wife Jun and I were left shaking our head.
No savory dish from the bistro-focused menu at L’Avant-Garde on our visit was priced at $25 or less. Of the appetizers, we split grilled octopus accompanied by baby potatoes, olives and smoked paprika, at $31. We liked the spicy kick from the harissa aioli, but Jun wasn’t sure if this was the best octopus she had ever tasted. The two main dishes were also more memorable for their hefty price tag than how delicious they were. $53 got us a dish of four sea scallops with bone marrow and black truffle; while the scallops were capably grilled, we were quite surprised that there was overly heavy use of pepper that significantly undermined their texture. Is the chef an unabashed pepper lover or did someone at the kitchen accidently dump pepper? We were starting to lean toward the former conclusion after encountering Chateaubriand, one of the signature dishes at the restaurant with whopping $62. To give credit where credit is due, the tenderloin fillet was quite wonderfully grilled, and we both had very high praise for the texture. But again, why so much pepper that overwhelmed our palate quickly? After mixed experience on the savory side, we were quite pleased with the delightful lemon and white chocolate panna cotta with lavender honey ice cream which provided a nice break from all the peppery flavor. On the other hand, Jun felt that she had had better souffle elsewhere than the one presented from the kitchen.
There is full bar with a not surprisingly French-heavy wine list, with most bottles exceeding $100. The service overall was efficient, and the upscale dining space was as chic as it looked on the photo, filled with smartly dressed diners largely on the younger side. Jun and I really wished we had had a more memorable meal at L’Avant-Garde. We might visit again to try other dishes since it was only two of us and we didn’t have a huge appetite that day on our visit, but nevertheless the restaurant left a lot to be desired to be considered the go-to French newcomer in the District’s dining scene, especially at the price point that may shock some people who are familiar with French bistro experience.
KenScale: 7.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
Address: 2915 M St. NW, Washington, DC 20007
Reservation via Resy