April 2004: Le Tire Bouchon

As professional as you're likely to see short of dining at Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner.

Le Tire Bouchon is marking its first anniversary, and it has every right to celebrate. It is not beginner's luck that this French restaurant is very good. The talent in the kitchen and dining room is experienced; they have worked at a who's who of local restaurants, and they have come together in style. Co-owner Huseyin "Marcello" Kansu boasts stints at Le Pavillion, Le Lion D'Or, and Galileo; maitre d' Francis Genre held forth at La Bagatelle, La Maison Blanche, L'Auberge Chez François, and La Colline; chef Vatche Benguian (who is on leave) produced first-rate dishes at Le Mistral and La Colline. The restaurant leans toward the traditional and hearty French with the likes of French onion soup, rack of lamb, and a selection of soufflés. It's hard to go wrong.

The restaurant is not large, but it is very pretty. The walls are tempered pastels that help set off the attractive French posters. The service is professional. Prices are not low, but they are in line with the quality of the cooking. Appetizers and salads are $8 to $15, except for the fresh foie gras. Main courses are $18 to $29. The menu is not long, but it covers quite a lot of ground.

Among the appetizers, try the ravioli of lobster with red beet and ginger sauce; Nantucket sea scallops wrapped in prosciutto from Parma with an accompaniment of lentils; and sautéed frog's legs with tomato, sweet garlic, and white wine. Also pleasing are the crumbly pheasant pâté with green peppercorns and brandy, and the carefully pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras with whole chestnuts and sun-dried cherry sauce. The soups are very good–a lobster bisque with a vibrant flavor instilled by the seafood and brandy, and an intense and delicious onion soup.

On the main-course list are five seafood dishes, five dishes of meats and fowl, plus a special or two. Fish is impeccably prepared: black sea bass sautéed with saffron with a sauce of white wine and fish essences and spotted with diced tomatoes; snow-white Chilean sea bass; and the bistro favorite, moules mariniére with pommes frites. A luncheon special of fresh rock shrimp with penne and a sauce of garlic butter laced with Pernod was very good. When whole fish is available, such as the Dover sole, it's a treat. Here's where professionalism counts; the swift deboning occurs at tableside. Finally, lobster lovers can soak up the seared Maine lobster–meat removed from the shell and stuffed into the body cavity–with golden chanterelles, radicchio, and balsamic essence.

Meat dishes are every bit as good. Try the sliced duck breast with sun-dried cherries and ginger sauce; the roast rack of lamb with a Dijon-parsley crust and rosemary jus; or the entrecôte with cracked peppercorns that is flambéed tableside, an old-fashioned touch that has almost disappeared. The least satisfying main course was the grilled tenderloin of pork whose mango sauce was too big a cultural leap. If you order it, ask that it be cooked no more than medium.

For dessert, the made-to-order apple tart or soufflé should be ordered at the beginning of the meal–the tart is better. Diners also can enjoy the almond-and-peach tart or the profiteroles with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and almonds. The cheese platter is very good.

The wine list offers about 50 choices, most from France, a few from California. Although prices are not high, there were no bottles under $30 at last look. There should be some. Supplementing the meager list of four wines sold by the glass would be another improvement.

ATMOSPHERE: Elegant but not stuffy.

FOOD: Excellent traditional French cooking.

SERVICE: As professional as you're likely to see short of dining at Maestro at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner.

PRICE: Dinner entrées $16 to $29, luncheon entrées $12 to $17. Dinner for two: about $100.

VALUE: Very good.

BOTTOM LINE: A welcome addition to the dining scene, particularly for its French cuisine.


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