PAGE THREE The MetropoList

Maison Blanche: How Sweet It Was, Especially the Cake

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

An ode to the elegance of a French restaurant now gone is the latest in our A-to-Z series on Washington area places that have disappeared from the landscape.

I can't remember exactly when I first went to Maison Blanche on F Street, just a stone's throw from the White House and the Old Executive Office Building. Probably sometime in the late 1970s or early '80s.

At the time, Maison Blanche featured a pre-theater menu for $14.95. Graduate school was over, and now, with a real job, I invited my father out with the understanding that I was going to pick up the bill: one of my first forays into playing at "all grown up."

Dinner with my dad was a lovely experience: elegant French food served in genteel surroundings. And the chocolate mousse cake was the best I had ever eaten. Even better than my Aunt Rhoda's. (Sorry, Rho.) We watched the diners around us and noticed, as one table was ending its meal, the ladies were presented with tinfoil swans, which the waiters announced were filled with cookies to take home.

"Gee, Dad," I remarked, "do you think they'll give that to us, too?" My dad, who spent many years in New York as an executive with a subsidiary of Dun & Bradstreet, quietly commented, "Well, sweetie, I'm not sure we should expect that kind of extra with a $15 dinner."

When our meal ended, there was my swan, filled with cookies to take home.

My dad, always eager to impart life's lessons, put his hand on mine and remarked, "That is the mark of a really fine restaurant; they don't discriminate based on the price of the meal."

Maison Blanche became my favorite place to celebrate: birthdays, promotions, new romances.

One year, I ordered an entire chocolate mousse cake and asked the restaurant to inscribe a special message for my father's birthday. It wasn't enough for the restaurant to inscribe the top: They fashioned an elegant chocolate scroll of regal proportions atop the cake which read: "Happy Birthday Dad: You are the mortar that binds our family together." It was as glorious as any royal proclamation, but better (all chocolate!). I brought the cake home in the front passenger seat, secured with a seat belt. I drove slower than any little old lady going to Sunday church services.

Eleven months later, when I finally returned to Maison Blanche for yet another pre-theater dinner, George, the maitre d', greeted me at the door and immediately remarked, "How lovely to see you again! How did your father like his birthday cake?" How could he remember after 11 months?

I used to go to Maison Blanche with all my dates once the relationship reached the "serious" stage. At the end of one especially nice dinner, when the time to order dessert came, I requested the chocolate mousse cake, and my (then) boyfriend told the waiter, "Nothing for me, but bring two forks."


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