Where the waffle rules supreme
At a glance: Behind a modest storefront in a Rockville Pike strip mall lies an unexpected treasure: an 85-seat temple to the waffle. The comfortable suburban dining room gets its heaviest traffic for brunch, when crowds gather for perfectly made waffles topped with fruit, sugar, chocolate and even smoked salmon. But even lunch, dinner and dessert embrace the waffle in some form, with waffle sandwiches and a selection of waffled confections.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Thierry Jugnet, a French-born and -trained chef with serious culinary chops. Jugnet apprenticed with Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel in Lyon before crossing the Atlantic to work with Yannick Cam, and soon popped up at Ridgewells Caterers in Bethesda. In 2003 Jugnet opened his own restaurant, and waffles were a focus from the get-go. "I was shocked when I came to this country to see how the waffles were made. I didn't like what I saw. I wanted waffles from home," Jugnet says. "So first it was desire. Then it became a passion. Then it became an obsession."
On the menu: Mosaic Cuisine and Cafe's menu can best be described as comfort food with a French accent. The brunch menu, served every day until 2 p.m., is extensive, with omelets, favorites such as eggs Benedict, and some intriguing options -- such as Mont St. Michel ground sirloin with scrambled eggs and Hollandaise sauce. Eggs are cooked with finesse across the board, and the smooth, tangy Hollandaise betrays its maker's classical training. But it's the menu section labeled Wafflessimo that draws the eye. Here you can find an array of those waffle preparations: waffles as the "toast" in French toast and served with scrambled eggs; waffles served with fruit and caramel cream; egg, bacon and waffle sandwiches; and waffles topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. With such a singular focus one expects the execution to be perfect, and Jugnet does not disappoint. The slightly sweet batter cooks for only 45 seconds in the restaurant's custom-built and imported European waffle irons, creating a light, fluffy cloud of cake inside a thin, crisp shell. The result approaches the Platonic ideal of wafflehood.
The lunch menu features serviceable salads, a classic Caesar, a green and red lettuce salad, as well as more interesting entries such as a goat-cheese souffle salad with grilled pesto eggplant. But lunch also falls under the long shadow of the waffle: Any of the restaurant's sandwiches can be ordered on your choice of wheat, rye, white or . . . waffle. The utility of the waffle, split down the middle, as sandwich bread is a surprise. The delicacy of Jugnet's batter makes for an airy sandwich shell, and what at first seems decadent, a ham croque with swiss cheese sauce for example, ends up feeling less heavy than its counterpart on bread. The croque works especially well with the waffle's lightness and slight sweetness, as did the French dip and paprika parmesan chicken piccata.
At dinner the full influence of the waffle finally wanes a bit (though you can still order from a small selection of waffle sandwiches). Starters include brie quesadillas and Peking duck rolls, but the highlight is something called the flaming torte, a thin-crust French-style pizza that pops with smokey bacon and sweet onion and is brought together with a thin layer of creme fraiche. My table of three practically fought over the last slice. The main courses are made up of simply presented favorites such as boeuf bourguignon, pork medallions with roasted apples, pecan-crusted trout and a flatiron steak rubbed with BBQ spices. Nothing is fussy, fancy or particularly progressive, but it is all well seasoned and the cooking is skilled and consistent. This is not an accident; simplicity and consistency are at the center of the chef's philosophy. "My background is very upscale," says Jugnet, "but what I like to cook is uncomplicated, true food. It is very simple, very honest cuisine."
For dessert, the waffle makes a triumphant, if expected, return. There is brandy-soaked waffle pudding, waffles served simply with strawberries and whipped cream, and, my favorite, a flourless chocolate waffle with ice cream. Look past the waffle and be rewarded with a wonderfully traditional version of crepes suzette.
Of course, if you are dazzled by the selection of waffles, it might help to know how the chef himself likes his: "Ah, that's easy. It's the way we have it in Europe when you go to a fair or to the beach," he says with an audible, French-accented hint of nostalgia. "Hot from the iron with a bit of powdered sugar. That's it."
At your service: Service is quick and friendly, and takeout is available all day.
What to avoid: A side of vegetables at dinner was overcooked. The creme brulee wasn't nearly firm enough, a shame because it was rich and flavorful.
Whet your whistle: There is a nice selection of beer, wine and champagne. On Mondays bottles of wine are half-off, and on Tuesdays get a glass of champagne with each entree.
The bottom line: A suburban surprise, with a strong emphasis on the waffle, that features pleasing surprises elsewhere on the menu.
--Justin Rude, Spetember 10, 2010