Monday, January 29, 2024

Lutèce (Washington, DC)

Lutece Restaurant
1522 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007
Mon 01/29/2024, 07:55p-10:55p

Lutèce Exterior

For the final meal of my recent visit to the District, I ventured out to Georgetown to somewhere that'd been highly recommended to me by a number of industry people, including those at Oyster Oyster and Jônt. Opened in February 2020 (and re-opened that August), Lutèce largely follows the neo-bistro mold, and serves a modern style of internationally-inflected French-ish fare. The place comes to us from the husband-and-wife team of Chef/Partner Matt Conroy and Pastry Chef Isabel Coss, in concert with The Popal Group, a local hospitality company responsible for the likes of Lapis and The Berliner.

About the Chefs: Matthew Conroy hails from Boston, and started his hospitality career during his teenage years, first washing dishes and then serving as a short order cook at local diners. He eschewed culinary school in favor of practical training, and in September 2007, joined the team at Verde in the ski resort town of Stratton Mountain, Vermont, where, by the age of 22, he had risen to the position of sous chef. In June 2010, he moved back to Boston to work the line at Tony Maws' Craigie on Main, where he stayed for a year.

April 2012 saw Conroy relocate to New York for a gig at Alex Stupak's Empellón Cocina, which represented his first foray into Mexican cookery. However, by September the following year, he was working as EC at Little Prince, a French bistro in the South Village, and then took on a similar role at Virginia's in Alphabet City starting in June 2016. Then, in March 2018, he became opening CdC at Justin Bazdarich's Oxomoco in Brooklyn, achieving a Michelin star for his cooking at the wood-fired Mexican spot before leaving to start work on Lutèce.

For her part, Isabel "Chabela" Coss is a native of Mexico City, but spent her childhood summers in Michoacán with her grandmother, who taught her to cook. At age 17, she was able to land a baking position at Enrique Olvera's seminal Pujol in the DF, which is where she decided to focus on pastry. Following culinary school, she moved to New York in 2011 and secured employment at Empellón Taqueria, achieving the title of Pastry Chef in 2013. In 2016, Coss helped open Agern, Claus Meyer's Scandinavian eatery inside Grand Central Terminal, then went back to work for Olvera as Pastry Chef at Cosme, and also took on overarching pastry duties for the whole Casamata group. She stayed there until December 2020, when she came to DC to join Conroy at Lutèce.

The two were scrambling in that first year or so, but things eventually settled down in 2022, and they were able to get a bit more serious about the direction of the place. In September that year, Lutèce was named one of the New York Times' "50 Favorite Restaurants." This was followed by an appearance on Washingtonian's "100 Very Best Restaurants" list in January 2023, while Food & Wine deemed Coss one of its "Best New Chefs in America" in September. Most recently, just a couple weeks ago in fact, Lutèce achieved a #2 ranking on that same "100 Very Best Restaurants" list from Washingtonian.

Meanwhile, running the kitchen this evening was Chef de Cuisine Corey Orsburn, who actually joined the team back in December last year. He comes to DC from OKC, and his last position in Oklahoma City was at Nonesuch, while he also boasts experience at the likes of Grey Sweater, Ma Der Lao Kitchen, The Jones Assembly, and Chae Modern Korean (where he worked while attending culinary school at Platt College). As for the front-of-the-house, it's the charge of GM Elizabeth Parker, who actually spent considerable time in France and formerly worked in wine importing.

Lutèce Interior
Lutèce takes over the home of Café Bonaparte, a French crêperie that the Popals had opened all the way back in July 2003. The layout is basically the same, but the space has certainly been gussied up considerably.

Lutèce Menu Lutèce Cocktail List Lutèce Wines by the Glass List
Here we see the restaurant's menu of contemporary bistrot-inspired dishes, as well as the cocktail list (courtesy of Head Bartender Megan Coyle) and wines by the glass selection. Click for larger versions.

Lutèce Wine List: Introduction Lutèce Wine List: Bubbles Lutèce Wine List: Bubbles Lutèce Wine List: Bubbles Lutèce Wine List: White Lutèce Wine List: White Lutèce Wine List: White
Lutèce Wine List: White Lutèce Wine List: White Lutèce Wine List: White Lutèce Wine List: Orange Lutèce Wine List: Rosé Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red
Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red Lutèce Wine List: Red
Managed by Sommelier Chris Ray, Lutèce's wine list is almost exclusively French, and has a distinct focus on biodynamic, organic, and sustainable offerings. Corkage is $35 for a bottle (limit two), or $70 for a magnum (limit one). Click for larger versions.

maine scallop crudo
maine scallop crudo [$22.00] | leche de tigre, serrano, radish
Up first was this vibrantly-hued crudo, one that played sweet-n-saline medallions of scallop against the acidity of tiger's milk and the bracing heat of radish.

dry aged steak tartare
dry aged steak tartare [$23.00] | sunchokes, tarragon aïoli, chili
This dish certainly beckoned to me given my penchant for steak tartar. And indeed, the beef was great texturally, with just the right amount of chew, and showed off some agreeably mustard-y, pickle-y notes as well, all while the sunchoke chips provided salt and crunch.

j'ai deux amours
j'ai deux amours [$17.00] | pineau des charentes, china china amer, lemon, cinnamon, clove
Served hot, this cocktail was the perfect antidote for the chilly weather this evening. I got plenty of sweet spices, evened out by citrus and a bitter, medicinal backing.

french onion 'soup'
french onion "soup" [$21.00] | shiitake, pain de mie, gruyère
A rejiggered soupe à l'oignon did a pretty good job capturing the essence of the classic dish thanks to its bevy of cheesy, earthy, and savory-sweet flavors, offset by a bit of a peppery edge and lightened up by that greenery.

charred napa cabbage
charred napa cabbage [$18.00] | tahini, parmesan, roasted sesame
The Chinese cabbage is apparently the only thing that's been on the menu since day one, fittingly, since it was also my favorite dish of the night. I loved its harmony of bitter, crunchy, and charred elements, matched seamlessly with the salty, fluffy cheese, though even more crucial was that nutty, creamy sesame paste, which tied everything together.

café d'abeille
café d'abeille [$17.00] | barr hill gin, salted honey, lemon, coffee liqueur, reshi extract
The evening's second cocktail was the best of the lot, and my bartender's pick as well. The key here was the botanical nature of the gin, and how that undergirded the cocktail's honeyed, funky, herbal, and warmly spiced nuances, all while the finish showed off the roastiness of coffee.

golden ossetra caviar
golden ossetra caviar [$60.00] | pomme paillasson, crème fraîche, dill
Stout, hearty cylinders of potato featured crisp, roasty exteriors and tender insides, and served as an apt foil to the salinity of the oscietra. At the same time, the crème fraîche worked to moderate the interaction, and I thoroughly enjoyed the freshness of the dill, too.

roasted broccoli
roasted broccoli [$17.00] | smoked cashews, mimolette cheese
Broccoli and cheese combined in nostalgic fashion, and the duo was well complemented by both the nuttiness from the cashews and the zing of the pickled onions. However, I will say that I would've liked more texture on my florets.

grapefruit moon
grapefruit moon [$17.00] | mezcal, grapefruit, capitoline tiber, warming spices
This next cocktail highlighted the signature smoke of the mezcal, playing it off of citrus, sweet spice, and a delightfully bittersweet finish reminiscent of Campari.

parisian gnocchi
parisian gnocchi [$28.00] | oyster mushrooms, white miso, preserved lemon
Gnocchi arrived as light and fluffy as just about any I've had. The dumplings were set in a pleasantly piquant sauce--one with hints of brown butter and mustard--while the earthiness of the 'shrooms grounded the dish.

roasted monkfish
roasted monkfish [$36.00] | black lentils, tatsoi, lobster oil
Monkfish showcased a satisfyingly meaty consistency, along with a healthy dosing of brine that melded well with the sweet heat of lobster oil as well as the bright, bitter tat soi. Also key were the lentils, which offered up a nice nuttiness that tempered the flavors at play.

new amsterdam
new amsterdam [$17.00] | rye & bourbon, vermouths, chocolate bitters, kumquat syrup
The final of the four cocktails listed on the menu, this was certainly the booziest of the bunch. The nose here was all about citrus commingled with baking spices and chocolate. Taste-wise, I got a lovely mole-esque sweet heat, countered by a back end that went in a decidedly medicinal, herbal direction.

amish chicken
amish chicken [$33.00] | heirloom grains, leeks, sauce albufera
My chicken wasn't as juicy as I would've liked, but was otherwise quite tasty. I especially appreciated how the bird combined with its hearty base of grains as well as the zesty leeks, with everything bound together by that Albufera sauce. Interestingly, I even detected a bit of what seemed like anise.

Lutèce Dessert Menu Lutèce After-Dinner Drinks List
And now we come to the desserts, which are joined by a healthy selection of after-dinner libations. Click for larger versions.

Honey Semifreddo
Honey Semifreddo [$16.00] | 18 mo. comté, honeycomb
This sort of reimagined cheese course was a definite standout tonight. I loved how harmoniously the salty, nutty character of the Comté meshed with the dish's overtly honeyed notes, while all the smoky, brittle bits were superb as well. Pretty masterful I have to say.

'not your usual espresso martini'
"not your usual espresso martini" [$17.00] | green chartreuse, chateau de sau rivesaltes rancio, cynar
David was manning the bar tonight, and when I requested a dessert-y cocktail to close out the meal with, he certainly delivered. This was essentially a riff on an espresso martini that was probably better than any espresso martini I've had. The crux here really was the interplay between the drink's cool, minty, vegetal notes and the sweet, roasty, coffee-tinged flavors that appeared on the mid-palate.

"Canelé" [$15.00] | toasted cinnamon, apple, brown butter
This faux "canelé" was a winner as well. I was impressed by its balance between super creamy chocolate and dark fruit nuances, while the cinnamon and apple provided some winter-y sensations that certainly hit the spot. Yum.

Earl Grey Bonbon
Mignardise duties were handled by a lone Earl Grey bonbon, which did an admirable job conveying the floral, citrusy nature of the tea.

As I mentioned above, Lutèce came highly recommended to me by folks in the industry, and it turns out for good reason. The kitchen embraces the whole bistronomy ethos, offering modern riffs on French cuisine, tarted up by global touches and flashes of whimsy. But there's also a je ne sais quoi to it all that's both tantalizing and delicious. Now as for the Chefs' next steps, Coss and Conroy, again in partnership with The Popal Group, will be debuting a contemporary Mexican eatery by the name of Pascual sometime in early 2024. Coss will be leading the charge on this one, and a daytime coffee shop called Volcán will also be part of the project. I might have to check the place out next time I'm in town.


Blogger albuddah said...

the semifreddo was like a slice under the shaved cheese? and in itself purely sweet, not savory?

Friday, April 19, 2024 5:42:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yep, from what I recall, the semifreddo had a clear honeyed taste, which played well with the Comte. I was like that classic combination of cheese and honeycomb.

Monday, April 22, 2024 7:07:00 AM  

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