January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

A happy French bistro near Eastern Market.

No. 28: Montmartre

Photograph by Allison Dinner.

The snug room means you may overhear details of the next table’s romantic misadventures, but obsessing over amour is so French it seems fitting at this almost-always-packed bistro on Capitol Hill. (Hint: Best to go when Congress is out of session.)

Wine bottles and the “carte du jour” specials listed on placards at the table add to the Paris-on-the-Potomac feel. You can even expect a whiff of Gallic attitude when making reservations: “Yes, I have a table at 6, but another party’s coming in at 8.” Once you’re inside, the clock stops, and there’s all the time in the world to sip Beaujolais Nouveau and watch the scene shift from young families to starry-eyed Hill staffers.

Chef Stephane Lezla’s food marries a modern-bistro sensibility with robust grand-mère cooking; the menu is so full of keepers, it’s hard to know where to start. But you’re as safe with a shredded-beet terrine as with long-simmered rabbit leg with olives, the juices running over noodles scented with truffle oil. Lezla teases maximum flavor out of even the simplest dish. A calf’s liver with onions is a salve for a weary, jaded diner, while his chestnut soup is both sweet and smoky—not unlike the roasted chestnuts sold on the streets of Paris in winter. Pot-au-chocolat, crème brûlée, or ice-cream-filled profiteroles with dark-chocolate sauce close the deal.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.