100 Best Restaurants 2008: Westend Bistro

No. 15: Westend Bistro

Cuisine: The long-awaited Washington outpost of Eric Ripert’s growing culinary empire is no note-for-note re-creation of his revered Le Bernardin in New York. Ripert has dispensed with the formal elegance of his flagship, along with its purely piscatory focus, opting for a roster of classics—fish stews, braised veal cheeks, pasta Bolognese, even a hamburger—all rendered with the touch of a four-star chef.

Mood: The generic upscale design does little to create a specific sense of place in the glass-walled ground floor of downtown DC’s Ritz-Carlton—you could be in any hotel in any city in the world. But there is buzz: In the early weeks, young, well-heeled diners flocked to the place, dishing knowingly about the pouty-lipped chef between sighs over the food.

Best for: People looking for the elegance and finesse of dining out at the highest level without the formality and the fuss—or the exorbitant prices.

Best dishes: Creamy West Coast oysters; mini fish burgers topped with shaved fennel; rich and zesty tagliatelle Bolognese; veal cheeks in a buttery pillow of potato purée; Chesapeake seafood stew abundant with shellfish, its broth intense and light; poached skate wing and braised endive in a lush brown-butter sauce; chocolate-caramel cream topped with sea salt.

Insider tips: If you’ve never eaten at Le Bernardin and wonder what the fuss is about, zero in on two dishes: The salmon rillettes is the same recipe as the one served in Manhattan, and the Chesapeake seafood stew, though shy of four-star elegance, hews to the parent kitchen’s philosophy of seeking out the freshest fish and treating it with reverence. You won’t find mini fish burgers at Le Bernardin, but don’t miss them here: The two-biters—served three to an order on the bar menu—are even more satisfying than the regular-size fish burger. They’re also easier to share and a lot cheaper.

Service: ••½

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.