A quirky space with lofty ambitions
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Few new restaurants fulfill the promise of their names as charmingly as does Le Grenier. French for “the attic,” the two-story bistro in the Atlas District reveals the offbeat shopping of co-owner Marie Ziar, who scoured eBay and salvage stores for the outsize bird cages, worn suitcases, old mirrors and headboards that dress her loftlike destination.
“I wanted something about memories, nostalgia,” says Ziar, who co-owns Le Chat Noir in Friendship Heights with her husband, Sam. If Auntie Mame had a crawl space in Paris, the votive-lit Le Grenier, which opened in August, is what it might look like.
Le Chat Noir provides Le Grenier with its chief chef. He is Thierry Sanchez, 39, who is doing double duty, cooking in both restaurants. Born in Panama to a French father and a Colombian mother, Sanchez grew up in Mexico; at 18, he left to study cooking in France. His Washington area credits include Old Angler’s Inn and the late Colvin Run Tavern.
“I love simple things,” says Marie Ziar. So Le Grenier’s menu starts with escargots and boudin blanc and forges on to coq au vin and hanger steak that is strangely sweet and (quelle horreur!) framed with frozen fries. Of course there are crepes, respectable ones, savory and sweet. “I’m from Normandy,” explains the restaurateur.
Sanchez has some fun with two of my menu picks. His appetizer of foie gras mousse spiked with cognac sports a glassy surface that suggests creme brulee. The touch of sweet is nice. Duck confit, a main course, rests on a risotto fashioned with minced apple: tradition with a twist.
Desserts -- chocolate mousse, profiteroles -- aren’t worth the extra gym time. Another kir royal, though? Mais oui. Le Grenier is too cozy to leave just now.
When I visit Paris, I seek little neighborhood places with funky decor, good drinks and great music. Le Grenier, the French restaurant and bar on the west end of H Street NE, recalls those spots on the Canal St. Martin, in Belleville or Oberkampf. Perhaps it’s the clutter of vintage birdcages, pictures and knickknacks or the mismatched tables and chairs. Maybe it’s the black-and-white movies projected onto the brick wall across from the bar or the soundtrack, which swings between French-language rock, electro and hip-hop. Or it might be the way the conversation flows around the L-shaped bar, as the regulars and first-time visitors chat with the friendly bartenders.
The wine list is packed with small producers, by both the glass and bottle. They won’t break the bank, either, with a number of bottles for less than $40 and a dozen by-the-glass selections from $8 to $10. There are good French beers you might not have heard of, such as La Divine or Colomba. And the house-made cocktails are creative, like the French Riviera, a blend of sharp Italian aperitifs and sweet elderflower liqueur, topped with a fizzing Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine.
Take note, thrifty oenophiles: The wine selection rotates monthly, so Le Grenier hosts Wine Tasting Happy Hour on the first Tuesday of the month, with free samples of the new arrivals from 6 to 8 p.m. Every Tuesday features half-price wines by the glass from 5 to 7 p.m., and select bottles are half-price all night on Wednesdays.
-- Fritz Hahn (July 12, 2013)