Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Monday through Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m. BA, MC. Reservations.
Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 6 to 11 p.m. AE, BA, CB, D, MC. Reservations.
IT IS TIME to come to the defense of the French. Now, I know it is hard to defend French restaurants against the charges of snobbery, haughtiness and disdain for the purse, but to tell the truth, while French restaurants will never challenge McDonald's as family eating houses, more and more are serving the down-to-earth food that nurtured the appreciative stomachs of the French themselves, at down-to-earth prices. Certainly you can dine in French at over $35 a person around Washington. But you can also eat good French food, served with a professional flair, at Chez Froggy, where the dinner menu cautions that the minimum charge per person is $6.50, or at La Brochette, where the main dishes average $5 at dinner.
Chez Froggy is not for the starvation budget; with dinner entrees at $6 to $9, appetizers averaging $2 and desserts $1.35, a dinner with wine can run over $15, lunch $10. But a pareddown meal, a satisfying one at that, could cost half as much.
You might wonder how a restaurant that has named itself Chez Froggy can take itself seriously. And once you visit it, you might wonder how a restaurant that serves on Disney-ish vinyl frog place mats can be taken seriously. Indeed, I wondered whether the plaid-carpeted room didn't need the serious attention of a vacuum cleaner. But a restaurant can't be fairly judged until the last bite and the staff's goodbye, and I found myself responding enthusiastically to each polite "Come again."
It is easy to like Chez Froggy. The menu is modest, with a choice of nine main dishes, five appetizers, three desserts. But, like the wine list, the choices have been made with care, show a personal touch and an avoidance of presumption. And if you are looking for a single reason for dining at Chez Froggy, the rack of lamb is enough. Rarely does a restaurant offer rack of lamb for one, rarely is it priced as low as $8.75, and rarely is it prepared better. The meat is delicate and well trimmed, browned with bread crumbs, parsley and garlic, and cooked precisely as ordered. I would prefer that the captain carved it rather than having to cope with it myself on the plate, and the green beans were a disappointment, but they were happily overshadowed by the crisply sauteed potatoes and heavily garlicked broiled tomato. Furthermore, the salad at Chez Froggy revives one's respect for restaurant greens, in additional to being dressed in a robust, creamy vinaigrette.
The menu choices at Chez Froggy are the usual classics: duck with orange sauce, Cornish hen with tarragon, pepper steak, salmon with hollandaise, veal in cream, trout nicoise and frogs' legs at dinner, at lunch some of the same plus liver, coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon and egg dishes. I didn't find one dish that missed. The fish is deftly cooked, the liver delicate, the frogs' legs moist and fragrant and artfully arranged.
This is a restaurant where one should concentrate on main dishes. Except for the thick, pale yellow cold cucumber cream soup, the appetizers - pate, snails, clams casino, onion soup - lack personality. And the most original dessert, creme brulee, is a clumsy rendition. Greater care goes into the coffee; both the American version and espresso are uncommonly good.
So is the service. True, the kitchen can be slow. But the waiters are attentive without hovering, are there just when you need them and not when you don't and are gracious without being the least bit unctuous. Clearly this is a restaurant that focuses narrowly on doing a few dishes well and serving them professtionally. The surroundihes well and serving them professionally. The surroundito enjoy.
I'm heading right into the desserts with La Brochette, for nowhere else in town have I found an authentic creme brulee, its custard limp and delicate under a translucent sheet of caramelized brown sugar. Nor have I found elsewhere that mythical dish of the French nursery, floating island, in this case mounds of meringue adrift in the same eggy custard. La Brochette makes tarts - not those concrete-crusted rectangles glazed in pseudo-plaster that most French restaurants misguidedly display right up front so you know that they consider your sensibilites a joke, but homey short-crusted apple and pear tarts made with fresh fruit, marbled with strands of custard, scented with vanilla. The raspberries are topped with ivory sabayon, whipped cream and a few almonds, and cost nearly half what other French restaurants charge.
La Brochette occupies the site of what have been the most and the least expensive French restaurants in Washington, and now has settled towards the lower end. While it bills itself as "country inn in the city," its decor has been better described as "genuine mishmash," having no less than two kinds of imitation paneling, a brick wall, touches of mod wallpaper and two stone fireplaces that fill you with admiration but warm you with gas and electric fires. The setting is lyrical - sunny or intimate, depending on the time of day - as long as you don't look too closely. The service, too, is personable, prompt, but not nearly a class act.
At La Brochette the menu is fairly extensive always including brochettes of beef, lamb and fish, which, despite their being the restaurant's namesake, were the least successful of the dishes I tried. In fact, there seems little point in studying beyond the first page of the term paper folder than acts as a menu. The real interest is in the daily specials, mimeographed on the first page, usually the kind of food that reminds us of French country inns: tripes a la mode de caen, choucroute alsacienne, boeuf bourguignon, cervelle de veau, langue de boeuf. It is heavy winter food, tending to be rich and brandied, hearty enough to carry you through an arduous afternoon at the computer. As such, you don't really need an appetizer, particularly since they, too, are hearty and only competent rather than thrilling. Best choice, if you must, would be the pate - rough and very moist, bacon-wrapped and large enough for two.
La Brochette's homey style is carried too far in the salad - iceberg lettuce with a few shreds of carrot and a black olive - which is more worthy of Burger Chef than a French country inn, but the dressing rises to its surroundings on occasion.
Truth in menus does not usually go so far as to require trustworthy recommendations, but when La Brochette's daily list reads, "Chef Henri's Special Recommendations," you can belive it. A vension stew, so designed, was gamey and powerfully winey in a fine dark sauce, its chestnut puree good enough to make you welcome the winter that brough it. At $5.25 for lunch, this is one of Washington's culinary bargains. You could also do well with brains, coated with a gauze of eggs and sauteed with butter and capers. Puff pastry stuffed with shellfish and mushrooms matches a highly perfumed cream sauce with crisp, flaky dough - one of food's most promising contrasts - to make a very pleasant dish for $3.65 at lunch, $5.25 at dinner. An unusual dinner dish, reminiscent of some oriented skewered beef preparations, is paper-thin beef rolled around spinach and mushrooms - which remain crunchy and nearly raw if you order your beef rare - and topped with a pungent dark thickened sauce. At $6.50, it is one of the menu's more expensive main dishes.
In all, the prices are remarkably reasonable at La Brochette, main dishes averaging $5 at dinner, $4 at lunch, and portions being as generous as the quality. The wine list offers only about a dozen choices, a standard mix with a top price of $8.50. Strangely, though, a glass of Almaden costs $1.50, which seems excessive. So, like Chez Froggy, one could eat for very little, and a splurge wouldn't cost more than about $15. Unlike Chez Froggy, the menu reflects the chef's daily whims, the vagaries of the weather, and the market's possibilities. Thus, it is the kind of restaurant one could lunch in frequently without repetition, fully confident that one's mood for a simple bluefish meuniere or an elaborate steak au poivre or en croute will be satisfied, in addition to knowing that one's sweet tooth will be pampered.