Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, January 25, 2004
In preparation for its 25th anniversary this year, brothers Jason and Adam Tepper have lightened and brightened La Miche. Fresh carpet, new tile and fabrics evoking the charm of life in rural France are as seductive as the gentle pop of a cork being eased from champagne.
Jason Tepper is only the second chef in the restaurant's history; his brother manages the front of the house, with its two intimate dining rooms. The siblings bought the business from founder Bernard Grenier after Jason left the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Washington two years ago.
Jason Tepper's menu reads like a roll call of French restaurant staples. Thus there are garlicky snails, onion soup and a fruited terrine of foie gras to consider as appetizers, and roasted rack of lamb, salmon with lobster sauce, and Dover sole to move on to for main courses.
Not to be confused with any pretenders, that last dish is labeled "true Dover sole," because European waters are where the chef gets this noble fish, revered for its delicate taste and firm texture. Wisely, Tepper doesn't do much to it, gently sauteing the sole, displaying it on a nice bed of spinach and accenting it with a bright lemon-butter sauce. The preparation costs $31.95, but it's a classic. So is that rack of lamb, each succulent bite whispering of herbs and mustard. Cooked just the way you ask for it, the meat is framed with haricots verts, roasted tomatoes and au gratin potatoes.
If it sounds as if I'm starting dinner in the middle, it's because first courses tend not to be as compelling as what comes second. Frog's legs are big and plenty meaty, for instance, but they're sauteed to a dry texture, and if it weren't for the tomato-garlic sauce, the dish wouldn't have much savor at all. Mussels may be baked with crab meat, but they're also chewy, and duck rillettes -- duck cooked in fat, then mashed into a rich paste to be spread on crisp rounds of bread -- is delivered so cold, its flavor is lost. For best results, let it warm to room temperature before digging in.
La Miche's French onion soup, steaming hot and rich with sweet onions, reminds me why this dish will never go out of fashion. Tepper also trots out a fine braised tripe, the soft webbed folds of the meat enhanced by a light brown gravy sharpened with tomato paste. As you eat this earthy dish while tucked into a banquette beneath rafters hung with woven baskets, it is easy to imagine yourself in a real French country inn.
"Would you like a souffle this evening?" your waiter will ask when he takes your dinner order. Resist the temptation, unless your idea of a souffle is a bland mush of mildly chocolate-flavored egg whites lurking beneath a leathery cap. Souffles are not the only underachievers in their group. The raspberry creme brulee combines rubbery custard with an improperly torched surface, a travesty made worse by a dusting of plain powdered sugar. A refreshing scoop of pina colada sorbet is paired with chilled slices of fresh pineapple that would be better if they were grilled or otherwise warmed.