First Look: Medium Rare

In the restaurant world, what’s old is new again: suspender-clad bartenders, comfort-food classics. That’s one reason the two-month-old Medium Rare in DC’s Cleveland Park has been an instant hit. The inspiration behind it is a Parisian restaurant that opened in 1959, Le Relais de Venice L’Entrecôte, where the menu couldn’t be simpler: It offers one fixed-price dinner—salad and steak frites—plus a handful of wines, and there are no reservations. Then, free of charge, you can get a second portion of steak and fries.

Owners Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher, founder of BGR the Burger Joint, have made some American tweaks: Their $19.50-a-person menu includes a vegetarian option (a grilled portobello mushroom with roasted-red-pepper sauce), diners can get ketchup for their fries, and Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin play on the speakers. The low-ceilinged, 70-seat space—formerly the Greek restaurant Yanni’s—is also streamlined, with exposed brick and butcher-paper-topped tables.

A L’Entrecôte idea Bucher stuck with: The makeup of the sauce on the steak frites remains a secret. Whatever it is—we taste cream, mustard, and black peppercorns—it’s good. The meat, a dry-aged sirloin-cap steak, and the McDonald’s-like fries can be great, though there has been some inconsistency: Second portions of steak can be overcooked, and fries were crispy one time, soggy another.

Among the desserts—think big slices of Carnegie Deli cheesecake and six-layer carrot cake—the hot-fudge sundae is the winner, just the way you remember it, down to the rainbow sprinkles. How’s that for a throwback?

This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian. 

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