2011 Spring Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011
"How are you?" the hostess greets a dapper senior in the foyer. "Now that I'm here," he replies, "I'm fine."
Patrons leave the bustle of Georgetown for the French countryside when they step inside La Chaumiere, which looks every bit of its nearly four decades.
That's a bouquet, by the way. Heavy wood beams, ancient chandeliers, copper molds on the wall and a crackling fire in the cold months convey old-fashioned charm in the main dining room (there are two smaller private areas, perfect for parties). The menu follows suit, making room for calf's brain and pike quenelles on a list that revels in French tradition. Say oui to one of the best lobster bisques in the city and to the rack of lamb edged in mustard and herbs, the meat cooked just as you ask for it. But sidestep a dessert souffle, which must be ordered in advance (the chocolate version tastes flat).
Those quenelles are fabulous. The dumplings are made the classical way, relying on a smooth paste of flour, eggs, butter and cream (panade), and pureed pike spiked with paprika, cayenne and nutmeg. First poached, then baked, the cloudlike dumplings are presented in a pool of rich lobster sauce. It takes great discipline not to polish off the whole indulgence. I don't have it.
Dover sole is $39, a reminder that the fish is the genuine article from across the pond. Chef Patrick Orange, who has co-owned La Chaumiere since 1983, knows to cook the delicacy gently to preserve its sweetness. If you're feeling less flush, fresh river trout showered with slivered almonds is a fine alternative. Calf's liver splashed with vinegar and shallots is exquisite, not the least bit grainy. Like many of the main courses, it is served simply with piped mashed potatoes and baby carrots by a server in a long white apron whose accent continues the illusion that you're not in Washington.
Orange says he tried to update his menu 10 years ago; patrons let him know they weren't interested in wasabi or soy sauce in their food, and except for some seaweed salad here and a note of ginger there, he has since stuck to a decidedly Gallic path. "I'm not interested in molecular cuisine," he says - and Francophiles applaud.