Food

The French “Rockstar Chef” Opens a Glam Firelit Brasserie in Georgetown

Modern French brasserie L'Avant-Garde debuts with chef Gilles Epié.

L'Avant-Garde, a glam modern French brasserie, opens in Georgetown. Photograph by Scott Suchman

After nearly four years in the making, modern brasserie L’Avant-Garde is open in Georgetown. The 59-seat dining room, outfitted with a wood-burning fireplace, is helmed by French chef and television personality Gilles Epié (a.k.a. “The Rockstar Chef”) and creative director Fady Saba, who’s also behind adjoining cocktail haunt L’Annexe. The duo say they want to buck the brasserie stereotype of uniform dishes such as escargots and onion soup, and give diners a taste of what they’d find in Paris. 

“A brasserie is generous simplicity, not necessarily casual,” says Epié.

L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
L’Avant-Garde opens in Georgetown with French celebrity chef Gilles Epié in the kitchen. Photograph by Scott Suchman

There’s no bistro kitsch in the centuries-old rowhouse that holds the restaurant. Diners can cozy up to a handful of tables near the front windows, perch at a 15-seat zinc bar, or tuck into a deep booth lit by the wood-burning hearth. A green house-like “skylight room” in the rear seats another 35. A temperature-controlled wine cave with a glass display is designed to tempt diners to the 200-label list of French and American wines, 20 of which are offered by the glass.  

L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
Roasted branzino capped with foie gras. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Epié made an early name for himself in France as one of the youngest chefs to earn a Michelin star at the age of 22 at Paris’ Pavillon-des-Princes. He also found stars in Los Angeles, cooking for a Vogue-size roster of celebrities at L’Orangerie, and later his own spot, Chez Gilles on Beverly Drive. Since then he’s opened Parisian brasseries—including Citrus Etoile, named in homage to friend and late DC chef Michel Richard—and launched a reality show with his wife, actress Elizabeth Nottoli. Most recently, Epié served as executive chef at Oahu’s Turtle Bay Resort. Epié describes his cooking style as exact: three carefully-layered flavors on a plate. Also: texture, and not in the form of molecular-gastronomic gels and dabs.

“It’s god gift—you have to chew. The flavor comes out. If you don’t chew, you don’t feel anything.”

L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
Tables near the wood-burning fireplace. Photograph by Scott Suchman
L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
A very special salad with custom-grown lettuce. Photograph by Scott Suchman

To that end, diners will be chewing through a menu of highly curated ingredients. Epié has bouquet-like SalaNova lettuce grown to specific standards for a salad with shaved parmesan and vinaigrette. Amish chickens are hand-picked for a classic poulet roti with fries and roasted jus. Baker Stéphane Grattier of neighboring Boulangerie Christophe collaborates on specialty breads matched with ultra-rich butter from Bordeaux. Dishes—designed to be elegant and modern—change, well, pretty often.

“The weather changes the menu, his mood changes the menu, the way he drives changes the menu,” says Saba.

L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
A large raspberry macaron with vanilla mascarpone cream and raspberry coulis. Photograph by Scott Suchman

So if you’re in the mood for duck foie gras beignets, a comforting chateaubriand, John Dory swimming in citrus broth, or baba au rhum flambébetter go before they’re passé. 

 L’Avant-Garde. 2915 M St., NW

L'Avant Garde, Washington, DC
The “skylight room” in the rear of the restaurant. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Take a look at the opening menu here:

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.