Anyone who thinks traditional French food is dull and dated has not tried Maison Blanche lately. Chef Pierre Chambrin is as inventive as French chefs are expected to be today, but also offers the traditional long menu of tournedos and grilled chops and scallops in puff pastry and pommes souffles. He has something for everyone -- the steak-and-potatoes eater and the avant-garde -- and usually it is very good. On the inventive side, Chambrin sauces his duck with citrus and ginger, accompanying it with peppered pineapple. On the traditional side, his grilled fish -- try pompano if it is available -- is simple perfection, garnished with just-saut,eed baby shrimps and mushrooms. And he grills liver beautifully -- sliced thin but not cooked dry. The pates can be disappointing -- their texture too smooth and rubbery -- but then a simple crab and corn soup can be extraordinary, with that extra intensity of seasoning that highlights but does not overwhelm these delicate ingredients.
Maison Blanche is in the grand style, with a bevy of highly polished waiters flaming dishes and heating and carving tableside, and trolleys of pastry jewels being rolled around for inspection. The space is lavish and the tone is imposing; you do not forget that this is the restaurant closest to the White House. It is nice to see that whatever power that offers, Maison Blanche continues to strive to deserve it anew. 1725 F St. NW. 842-0070. L $9- $24, D $17-$24. L daily ex Sat, Sun, D daily. Closed Sun. AE, DC, MC, V. Res sugg. Full bar.