Those fiercely proud intowners who live in Adams-Morgan surely know it already, but La Fourchette is under new management. We'd be the first to say "vive la difference" -- only we never got around to trying it back when.
It's the sort of place a typical Parisian would drive right past, anyway --because at the speeds they drive they'd never notice the little window and door. Besides, you really have to stroll by if you want to check the chalked-in, frilly-script specials of the day on the blackboard.
As we entered, I did think it strange that Christmas lights would still be up. But then our 11-year-old son observed how nice it was that there were tiny bulbs lit up in the red, white and blue colors of France, and I just nodded sagely.
Except for some bright light from the kitchen in the back, the atmosphere is ever-so-continentally soft: red and white oilcloth covers on the candlelit tables, walnut-stained wood floors, wagon-wheel-lantern chandeliers, hanging plants, a large brick wall with here a mirror, there a travel poster and even a couple of copper bed-warmers for good measure.
Along the wall sides of the tables were some fine long church benches serving as seats to complement the bent-wood chairs. The four of us slid into a table not far from a little four-stool bar. Look up, and there was a large mural featuring a diner gesturing vigorously with his fork. The fork, our junior Inspector Clouseau duly noted, translates into "fourchette" --and, voila, the name of the place.
Enough out of him. On to two beers, a Coke and an exceptionally tall glass of orange juice as we settled down to the decision phase of our soiree.
There were six specials this day, from mussels at $5.50 to veal scallopini "a la creme" at $7.25. And for those with slightly lower sights, we hasten to add that there are less expensive winning combinations that our kids spotted immediately.
Time out first, though, for some soup -- specifically, an excellent little pot of onion soup with a thick cheese roof on it at $1.50 for my wife and our son and, for me, a $1.50 bowl of homemade "du jour." The jour in question was a mercredi, which meant tomato, with three slices of melba toast and a hearty "Bon Appetit!" to all from the waiter.
My soup was wasn't at all you basic snack-bar issue; it was a thin homemade blend with some sort of herbal flavor. Our 8-year-old daughter took a test dive into my bowl and came up for more, so I let her take the remaining laps.
Her follow-up was an order of Pate de Campagne Maison at $2.40, which consisted of two more-than-she-could-eat slabs of the freshest, along with lots of kicky little pickle slices. This, plus liftings from our seemingly unlimited supply of French bread and butter, was her idea of bliss.
Her brother, meanwhile, was reveling in Quiche Lorraine, a large quarter-pie of it on a well-heated plate for $2.95.
My wife tried the veal scallopini special, a beautifully sauced dish that came with some nifty little deep-fat-fried, creamy potato puffs and smooth creamed spinach.
These same good vegetables embellished my order of chicken breast a I'Estragon that's tarragon), which featured soft meat in a slightly sweet-tasting sauce.
When it became clear that our daughter couldn't exhaust the pate supply, even with a little help from her friends, we wrapped it up for later on.
Miraculously, however, the kids still found it within themselves to participate in a four-way demolition of two royal orders of mousse in their cups. Add a pair of coffees to the meal and stir gently until a bill arrives for $31.97 plus tip.
Under its new owners -- he the chef and she the gracious hostess -- La Fourchette blends the essentials of fine French cuisine: savoir faire and butter. That's good for a growing adult, all right; and when the children are content, too, we'll gladly elect a Family Out Francais.
La Fourchette 2429 18th Street NW. 332-3077. Atmosphere: Small, continental, informal and eager to please. Price range: From salads or a quiche below $3 to entrees mostly $5.50 to $6.75. Hours: Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Closed Sundays. Special facilities: Accessible by wheelchair. Boosters for children can be devised. Street parking available in the evenings. Reservations: Not necessary. But you may want to call ahead to find out what's cooking. Credit cards: None yet, but personal checks are accepted.