Wednesday, March 22, 2006


OUT FRONT: During the 6 1/2 years he worked at the Occidental (1475 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), chef Patrick Bazin was a behind-the-scenes guy, managing more than cooking, he says, even as his kitchen staff served upwards of 500 diners a day in the historic Washington dining room. The opening earlier this month of a restaurant of his own in Northern Virginia puts him back where he says he prefers to be: front and center, in the exhibition kitchen at Bazin's on Church (111 Church St. NW, Vienna; 703-255-7212).

That's where we saw him on Saturday, working shoulder to shoulder with his crew, including two former sous-chefs from the Occidental, Yuri Sori and Max Hernandez . Actually, we saw a lot of Bazin while we waited . . . and waited . . . at the bar for our table, which was reserved for 7:30 but didn't actually become ours until 75 minutes later. "We've been open only a week, and with no advertising, we're packed!" a waiter greeted us. "I've got a big section," he added, imploring us to be patient. Over the din, Julie Bazin , Patrick's wife and co-owner, worked the crowd like a savvy politician, trying to soothe ruffled feathers.

Thank goodness our appetizers arrived quickly. A chopped salad with chickpeas, olives, feta cheese and lemony dressing was pretty and satisfying, as were panko-crusted oysters served in their shells atop nests of spinach. But barbecue duck quesadillas were sweet enough to qualify as dessert. Entrees were staggered, so that two of us sat looking at our companions' food while we waited for our orders to show up. Both a pork chop and mustard seeded salmon were overcooked. But crab cakes paired with horseradish coleslaw proved delicious.

The nearly 100-seat restaurant replaces a firehouse on its block. A ceiling of cut pine, intended to look like "the inside of a wine barrel," says Bazin, also resembles "the bottom of a boat." Designed by developer Steve Bukont , the brick-walled space is at once casual and stylish -- the intended effect; the chef says he wanted to create a restaurant where neighbors could drop by two or three times a week, either for a glass of wine and a few appetizers or a multi-course dinner (weekend brunch starts sometime next month, with lunch service a future possibility).

We're keeping our fingers crossed, hoping to get a better ETA the next visit.

Entrees $16-26.

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