Food

Rasika Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj Opens La Bise, a Chic French Brasserie by the White House

The playful, modern French restaurant takes over Bajaj's decades-old Oval Room space.

La Bise, a new French restaurant from Ashok Bajaj, recently opened by the White House. Photograph by Greg Powers

Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj watched as his beloved 26 year-old DC restaurant, Oval Room, was vandalized and set on fire during last summer’s protests. But even after the damage—and the tumultuous pandemic months that followed, which shuttered several downtown restaurants—he never thought of giving up on the White House-adjacent location. After all, his first ever DC restaurant, Bombay Club, sits right across the street. And the Oval Room had earned a reputation as an established power spot, well-trafficked by big names over the decades: George H.W. Bush, the Clintons, Jane Fonda, Michael Phelps.

“A lot of memories, a lot of history,” says Bajaj, sitting at one of the white-clothed tables in the dining room.

Kanpachi crudo. Photograph by Greg Powers

Enter the next chapter: La Bise, a modern French brasserie. Bajaj had been toying with changing up Oval Room’s seasonal American concept, “but the pandemic sealed the deal,” he says. The Knightsbridge Restaurant Group founder, whose portfolio ranges from Indian fine dining at Rasika to seasonal Italian at Modena, wanted to create a destination that’s a little more sexy, playful, and fun. “People have been depressed,” he says. “They’re looking for experiences—places to dine and connect.”

The dining room is hung with 1,000 small mirrors. Photograph by Greg Powers
The outdoor patio. Photograph by Greg Powers

New York-based designer Martin Vahtra transformed the space, opening up the kitchen, painting walls bright blue, installing orange booths, and hanging the walls with 1,000 glinting mirrors. An expanded outdoor patio and bar/lounge will welcome customers looking to sip Calvados Manhattans or French rosé.

Bajaj tapped chef Tyler Stout to oversee the kitchen. Tout previously led the kitchen at Southern-accented Chevy Chase DC restaurant Macon Bistro & Larder, and most recently was the executive chef at Boston’s Troquet on South. While many brasseries statically stick to the classics, Stout plans to take a hyper-seasonal approach and give dishes a modern twist. Gourgeres (cheese puffs) get an espuma made from 36-month aged Comte, while seared foie gras is matched with local strawberries and Champagne. Traditionalists can still get steak frites or tartare, though the majority of the menu is filled with items like Spanish octopus over heirloom-bean cassoulet or Ora king salmon coulibiac (puff pastry) with mushroom duxelles, herbed rice, dill, and sauce mousseline.

La Bise will be open for dinner to start, with lunch beginning in September.

La Bise. 800 Connecticut Ave., NW.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.