April in Paris? Close
By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
At first glance: Perched on a corner of 18th Street NW between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, L'Enfant Cafe looks every bit the Parisian sidewalk cafe.
The exterior trim is painted a rustic red, the interior walls are artfully battered in buttercream plaster and the art is poster-ish belle epoque. The just-renovated kitchen gleams with subway tiling. The round tables-for-two show signs of long service and are on the small side. It takes skill to manage more than two plates at a time, especially with water or wineglasses and plenty of elbows.
The sidewalk dining area on Vernon Street is especially popular with dog owners (and filled with heaters in chillier weather).
On the menu: The mainstay is crepes. There are more than a dozen savory choices and eight sweet versions. Savory options range from the light (stuffed with mushrooms in bechamel sauce) to the rich (four cheeses) to the entree (chicken and ratatouille; turkey, bacon and tomato). There are also salads and sandwiches.
At your service: The service can be a little flaky at times. On a recent visit, an order of bruschetta was forgotten, and by the time the waiter was reminded, the entrees were coming out. (And at that, it was 25 minutes before it was reported that the kitchen was out of one of the crepes.) On another occasion, a waiter said the kitchen didn't stock containers in which to pack up the remaining boeuf bourguignon for leftovers. Nevertheless, the staff is extremely personable and amusing.
On the table: The crepes are good, cooked enough to lose the doughy flavor and just thick enough to keep from tearing. The menu says that the savory crepes come with mesclun salads, but recently they've been arriving with sides of haricots verts. (The beans are a nice change, though.) The blended roasted pepper and goat cheese crepe filling is rich enough to hold but doesn't cool into a block, and roasted pepper puree is drizzled on top. The chicken in the fillings is tender.
The pate appetizer -- slabs of a coarse pork terrine and a rich duck liver pate with a wedge of brie -- is enough for a picnic for two, though the baguette was a little past its prime. The croque monsieur was made with a much tastier farm-style bread, and though the sandwich wasn't seriously pressed like the traditional Parisian cafe fare, the ham had a robust flavor. A special of quiche Lorraine was thicker than most versions, cooked through but not at all dry and with a good balance of bacon and Swiss cheese. The boeuf bourguignon was a little greasy and not thoroughly hot, but the meat was very tender, braised just to the shredding stage, and the carrots sweet. (Management plans to add a few more entrees.)
What to avoid: Cold sandwiches are all right but not as good as the rest of the menu. The belated bruschetta was ill-assembled, with the chunks of spicy sausage and tomato not settled to the bread by the mozzarella but only to each other -- the toppings all lifted off the baguette slices like a casserole lid.
Wet your whistle: L'Enfant has a full bar, a succinct list of wines (available by the glass or bottle) and a nice assortment of Belgian beers, all of which are half-price Tuesdays from 4:30 to 7:30. On the last Wednesday of each month, customers wearing a wig get selected wines at half-price.