By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Then: Solid cooking with a bit of flair (1996)
Again: Only fair
"Sorry it's been so long!" a woman of a certain vintage says to owner Diana Dahan as they meet each other (buss, buss) in the foyer of one of Bethesda's grande dames, inspired by an inn in Dordogne, France.
I'm tempted to say the same thing when I show up. Of the thousands of restaurants I've been to since I became food critic in 2000, "the Old Lodge" was not among them. (It was last reviewed in the Magazine in 1996 by my predecessor, Phyllis Richman.)
Le Vieux Logis is 32 years old this month, and the operation looks as if it hasn't altered a bit in all that time - tired dessert tray included. Packed with plants, pots, slow-moving fans and seats sheathed in dizzying fabric, the French restaurant is a throwback to another, distant era. Yes, that's "Que Sera, Sera" playing in the background, and yes, the vegetarian burger is touted in print as "a taste for the NOW generation."
Much of the food fits right in. It tastes dated. Especially the meats. Lamb and beef will be cooked the shade you ask, but you might lose interest a few grill-branded bites into the vapid rack and steak au poivre (where's the pepper?), respectively. I cry foul on the dry duck a l'orange, too. Vegetable accompaniments are a mixed bag of piped potatoes and stiff carrots, crisp haricots verts and limp broccolini.
Liver and onions, lots of them, and Dover sole draped in lemon-butter sauce, are therefore surprises - pleasant landings in a busy dining room watched over by a mistress of ceremonies who might walk away from a conversation if she gets the least bit distracted. The pampering that supposedly goes on here evades me on multiple visits.
The best strategy is to stick with what's simplest: oysters on the half shell (albeit with lemon to perk them up), French onion soup (hopefully warmer than the bowl I got), maybe an old-fashioned cocktail. Le Vieux Logis serves eye-popping gimlets in glasses the size of bird baths.