BON APPETIT – L’Hommage Bistro Francais: Bringing Parisian dining to K St.
February 3, 2016
The stretch of K Street to the east of the Convention Center, comprising several blocks of nondescript office and apartment buildings, is slowly but surely starting to become more interesting. Busboys and Poets staked out its location on the corner of 5th and K and has remained there ever since. Mandu, a popular Korean restaurant a block to the east, followed its lead. And now, in L’Hommage Bistro Francais, the neighborhood has a bona fide classic French restaurant that serves up respectful renditions of the old favorites.
Maitre D’ Mustapha Fartout welcomes the impending arrival of an Italian restaurant, slated to open in a neighboring building in early 2016. The hope is that rather than serving as competition, it will help to make this previously obscure area into more of a destination. He has great faith in the vision of his boss, restaurateur Hakan Ilhan (who also operates Alba Osteria in the same neighborhood and Al Dente, near American University), as well as executive chef Joshua Laban Perkins. “I’ve worked in Paris,” says Fartout,”and our dishes are as good as anything I had there.” For his part, Perkins — having previously worked in Atlanta at Brasserie Le Coze under celebrity chef Eric Ripert — certainly has the right pedigree. And with the help of interior designer Matt Norris, who has created a cozy, understated space, evocative of Belle Epoque Paris, L’Hommage is indeed heartfelt homage to all things French.
The adjoining L’Hommage Bakery, which offers coffee and a solid array of baked goodies, is a worthy companion, but the main event is the Bistro itself. The main dining room, with its dark wooden paneling, ornate tile floor and white globe lanterns, is quaint and homey, yet elegant.
Tables are unapologetically decked out with white tablecloths and napkins, but warm hospitality and a convivial atmosphere keep things from ever getting stuffy. Wine is front and center: shelves behind the bar form a library of bottles, announcing that Perkins and company take their wine seriously. Sure enough, the wine list boasts over two hundred mostly French varieties ranging in price from $28 to $575. Twenty of these are available by the glass, starting at $10.
The relatively small menu means that the kitchen can take the time to prepare each item with care. Unlike some other French bistros, L’Hommage doesn’t suffer from overly precious preparations and tiny portions: dishes here are invariably hearty and generously sized. French Onion Soup ($10), often an afterthought elsewhere, bursts with smoky flavor, enhanced by a thick coating of melted gruyere. Steak Tartare ($16.95) melts on the tongue, either on a fork by itself, or on a toasty piece of baguette, accompanied by chopped capers and cornichons. And buttery bites of Escargot ($11), served in the classic style, with heavy garlic and parsley, are an ideal amuse-bouche: a necessary component of the consummate bistro experience.
Guests would be well advised to save room for the main courses. A generous helping of Cassoulet ($22) deftly combines tender duck confit and boudin noir with white beans, prepared just slightly al dente. Coq au Vin ($22.50) is similarly thick and flavorful, with mushrooms and pearl onions to complement two meaty drumsticks. Hearty stews like these are in fact right in Perkins’ wheelhouse: Boeuf Bourguignon ($24) and Bouillabaisse ($24.95) are also among the highlights of the entrée selection.
Pastry Chef Bibi Benahmida, whom Fartout lured onboard from his former post at Springfield’s Delice des Cieux, hits all the right notes with an assortment of desserts both traditional and original. Crème Brulee and Chocolate Éclair are on point, and the After Dinner Mint – sort of a wafer-thin mint ice cream sandwich drizzled in chocolate over vanilla ice cream – is creative without being too showy.
Despite the ubiquity of French restaurants in the U.S., it can be deceptively difficult to create a bistro that boasts elegant atmosphere and satisfying dishes, while keeping its costs out of the stratosphere. But three months into their run, it seems that Ilhan, Perkins and the rest of the team are adeptly pulling off this balancing act.