A waiter brings over a chalkboard listing the specials. Tonight, the
options include not only crab-stuffed avocado and veal kidneys -- one of several kinds of innards offered here -- but also chicken satay with peanut sauce. To anyone who knows the owner, chef Bernard Grenier, this Asian accent on the menu is not unexpected, for his wife and business partner, Thasanee, is Thai (their son Benoit also has a stake in the family business, as manager). After more than two decades at the helm at La Miche in Bethesda, Grenier has taken his act downtown, to this 100-seat restaurant, which he named after his native Languedoc in southern France.
Languedoc has long stood apart from the rest of France, even claiming a
second language, Occitan. At the same time, Languedoc has adopted the flavors of the regions that border it: Its proximity to the ocean means lots of fish, and hints of Spain also make their presence known. The fats of choice in Languedoc tend to be olive oil, pork fat and liver rather than butter.
Cassoulet, the rib-sticking white bean stew, originated there.
To put Bistro d'Oc in the context of other bistros around town, the
newcomer is neither as formal as Bistro Bis on the Hill nor as consistently
delicious as Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown. Bistro d'Oc is more like a solid B
student, likable and reliable and good to know about if you are in the
neighborhood or in need of pre-theater sustenance. The young staff is warm and helpful; the cozy setting allows for suits and ties but also -- this being a
tourist zone -- shorts and fanny packs.
The menu has its charms, too. From France, there are snails in garlic butter and a respectable pate wreathed in greens, diced tomatoes and gherkins. Better than the French onion soup, though, is the very American bowl of chowder thick with sweet corn and rich bites of crab, punctuated with crisp bacon.
Almost anything served with french fries here is apt to please, be it the
crisp-skinned roast chicken, presented with a sauceboat of rosemary-flavored jus, or the thin and flavorful hanger steak, cooked the way you order it. The fries are doled out in small mountains, and you might be tempted to conquer them all. They're thick, long and nicely fried. Don't even think about asking for ketchup: It wouldn't be French, after all, and they're too good on their own. An appealing duck leg confit, rich and crisp, comes with more-ordinary sauteed potatoes.
I'm a fool for offal, and this kitchen isn't shy about serving these less
popular parts of the animal, like braised tripe or crepinette, the pleasantly
earthy flattened sausage made of pig's feet and cooked with duck fat, poised on slices of meaty grilled portobellos. On the other hand, an old-fashioned
appetizer of sauteed calf's brains is a bust: The custardy texture is right
on the mark, but the only flavor that comes through is from a handful of
capers scattered over the meat.
Some fish are more equal than others here. Sauteed salmon on a bed of cabbage with a thyme-laced red wine sauce is satisfying at dinner, as is an entree at lunch of steamed salmon with fat lengths of crisp golden
potato and rosemary-spiked hollandaise. But the bistro's take on
bouillabaisse is a big disappointment, with less-than-prime fish and
shellfish sitting in a watery broth vaguely seasoned with garlic and saffron.
There are six or so side dishes for ordering a la carte. The best of
these are those golden fries and some tomatoes simply roasted with olive oil and garlic cloves. Creamed spinach, alas, proves dull and watery.
In keeping with the restaurant's theme, the wine list focuses on the
Languedoc region, at least as far as the red wines are concerned, and good
values abound. It is easy to sip well here for under $30 a bottle. The white
wine choices are far fewer, though, which is a shame given the possibilities
from that part of France.
Desserts lean toward Gallic crowd-pleasers. A plate of profiteroles is
just what it should be: hot and airy balls of pastry draped with warm
chocolate sauce and treated to a scoop of vanilla ice cream. There are also a very nice apricot pudding and creme caramel. Yet my favorite way to bid adieu is with crepes suzette. What's not to like about warm folds of crepes dabbed with a sort of orange jam, both buttery and boozy, and accompanied by whipped cream? It's an old-fashioned splurge in a restaurant that wants to be more than a convenience, and frequently hits that mark.
--Tom Sietsema (June 1, 2003)
This French restaurant with the burnt-orange walls offers one of the least expensive packages and the most flexible hours of any of the places I sampled. Unfortunately, the choices are also among the most limited and the least impressive.
Focus on the first and third acts. A bowl of steaming potato-leek soup and a square of pepper-edged pâté with gherkins and fig paste make perfectly pleasant appetizers, while a custardy raspberry claflouti and a trio of chocolate-drizzled profiteroles signal sweet comfort. But the main courses taste as if they came from a different kitchen. A flavorless cut of pork is cooked to rigidity, foisted on sliced potatoes that also shoot blanks. Salmon tastes like yesterday's catch, a flaw that is only magnified by a bed of insipid, wet mashed sweet potatoes. Bistro d'Oc's bread is cottony fluff; the inclusion of a glass of wine in the deal prompts me to ask what's being poured. My attendant is busy, however, and he seems annoyed by the question. "Just red or white," he responds. Later, I watch another waiter pour a pre-theater red from a big jug of generic burgundy. The juice will remind you of your youth -- say, a college kegger. The discerning sipper will want to spring for the extra $7 or so for a glass of the house merlot or syrah.
--Tom Sietsema (May 13, 2007)
The Deal: Three-course dinner for $21.95 includes a glass of wine
The Time Frame: Daily 5:30 to 7 p.m. and post-show, typically 9 to 10 p.m.
Nearby Stages: Ford's, National, Shakespeare and Warner theaters
Reality Check:$28.50 a person with tax and tip