Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10p.m. AE, BA, MCmV.Reservations. prices: Main courses at lunch $5.25 to $8.50, at dinner $10.50 to $14. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $25 a person.
Le Vieux Logis is the kind of French restaurant where the waiter urges you to try the salmon rillettes because he helped to prepare it. It is a pleasure to dine amid such enthusiasm, and to encounter a dining room staff that has more than hearsay evidence for the quality of the food. Furthermore, it is a comfort to know that if the chef takes a day off, there are such capable hands ready to participate in the kitchen.
The mutual involvement between the front and back of the house is first evident in the waiter's recitation of the daily specials, a long list that accurately describes the dishes and thus tempts you more than the straightforward printed menu of nine main courses (seafood au gra tin, rockfish grilled with mustard, trout bretonne, two veal scallops, two steaks or chateaubriand, duck with honey and lime). In fact, it is the human factor -- the warm greeting and rush to assist at the slightest pretext -- that is memorable about Le Vieux Logis. The waiters in white shirts and hostess in gold-embroidered blouses are a charming and proficient crew.
As for the food, it also proficient and, while rarely spectacular it also has an agreeable personality. You have seen such a list before, frequently; appetizers are the usaul pate, prosciutto with melon, marinated mushrooms, ratatouille, herring, crab, snails, stuffed clams or mussels, crab en chemise, vichyssoise, onion soup or lobster bisque. The single choice that is more than trite is rillettes, but it was unavilable when I ordered it.The daily specials bring more life to the array, particularyly the salmon rillettes, firm but very buttery, a truly delicious version of that pale pink pate with enough large portion. There is nothing to complain about the other appetizers -- fresh and moist crab lumps with a whiskey-accented remoulade, duck pate of moderate zest, creamy lobster bisque that was full flavored but with a faint burned undertone -- but they fade into the vague "Whatever did we have there last time?" level of memory.
Main dishes show more flair, for the fish sauces are gently winy translucent creams and the creams sauces with meats -- veal a la normande and duck with peppercorn sauce -- have a rich, nutty, buttery flavor that enhances the dish, even when the veal is slightly too floury and the duch distinctly overcooked. The only really disappointing main dishes I have found at Le Vieux Logis are duck, for under theat sweet-tart honey and lime glaze or creamy explosion of peppercorn sauce the meat has been dry and stringy. We concentrate more happily on the accompanying wild rice. But the veal is delicate, particulary suited to the apple-accented normande style, and rockfish is grilled beautifully, both in terms of moist texture and in terms of handsome grill marks singed on the surface. This is a restaurant that prepares simple dishes with care, from a rib steak, to seafood au gratin with shrimp that are tiny but not overcooked and crab that is unfortunately shreds rather than lumps, but blended with a soft and subtle cream sauce, glazed to a lovely brown crusty surface.
In contrast to the newest downtown French restaurants, Le Vieux Logis serves old fashioned large portions. Nothing precious in the presentation here.And alongside are excellent old fashioned vegetables, perhaps cauliflower covered with garlic-scented bread crumbs or zucchimi sauteed and flavored with what seemed to be fresh basil. These small touches, along with warmed French bread and a wine list that is moderately priced for Bethesda (and well-chosen for Bethesda) endear Le Vieux Logis. As for the wine list, I considered the house specials at $8.50 vapid, but found good bottles for under $15, notably a '77 Saint Veran at $9.50 and two Alsatian wines at $12.
This being a standard menu, it includes the standard strawberry or apple tart or choclate mousse for dessert. You can skip the stolid pastries and medium-brown chocolate fluff, for there are better finales. Le Vieux Logis halves papayas and fills them with strawberries for a pretty and refreshing final course, or folds strawberries and papaya into ice cream and whipped cream for as sumptuous coupe in a stemmed glass. Such imaginative endings compensate for ordinary beginnings.
Similiar imagination was invested into carving the resstaurant into small nooks with a few tables each, bounded by high offwhite leatherette banquettes. While those plastic expanses look a bit unfortunate, the back-lighted plants behind them, the baskets and the country French decorations -- pottery and a huge copper kettle -- retrieve whatever warmth was lost. With roses on the tables and rosy striped wallpapaer on the walls, Le Vieux Logis is a restaurant that is attractive if not spectacular, lively looking, spacious and comfortable and a pleasant place trying hard to make friends.