Atmosphere: Casual, wooden-beamed walls with French copper utensils. $1
Reservatons: Not needed but recommended on weekends.
Price Range: From $3.95 for quiche lorraine, vegetable and salad at lunch to $9.60 for filet mignon with bearnaise sauce including vegetable and salad at dinner.
Credit cards: American Express, Diner's Club, Master Charge and Visa.
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Special Facilities: Booster seats; free parking lot in rear; no steps up in front.
There are, of course, many different reasons for going to restaurants. The best is sublime food. But there is also the need for atmosphere, comfort and perhaps a feeling of neighborliness. At L'Escargot the food is not great. Neither is the atmosphere. But the feeling is comfortable, the restaurant is friendly and its French bistro-type cuisine is not expensive.
L'Escargot is the type of place where the Cleveland Park regulars know that they have free parking in the rear and they can hang up their coats themselves. They know many of the other patrons and the waiters as well. And owner Gerard Pain indicates on the wine list that his selection of wines represents the best value for the money.
The atmosphere at L'Escargot is that of a French country inn with wooden beams and copper pots on the wall remaining the Francophiles of remantic trips through Normandy. On a weekday evening the restaurant has a steady hum of regular customers.
When we arrived with our child, we were not exiled to the darkest corner but given a quiet table where people could see that a child was in tow. A booster seat was immediately produced and one did not have the feeling that our daughter was merely being tolerated. The older customers at nearby tables smiled at her and did not seem disturbed or annoyed.
L'Escargot's menu is for those of us who at an impressionable age spent time in Paris and want a nostalgic trip. On the pre-nouvelle cuisine era we want to taste French onion soup, which we first tried in les Halles. No matter that at L'Escargot it is somewhat too salty, it is still crusty, tasty and reasonable at $2.10.
What was a French restaurant in our youth without escargots a la bourguignonne, frog legs, duckling with orange sauce, boeuf bourguignon, filet mignon with sauce bearnaise, la coupe aux marrons, brie cheese, mousse au chocolat and Napoleons? No surprises at L'Escargot. The standards are all there.
And so are classic daily specials. Monday's daily special is Le Gigot d'Agneau Bretonne (leg of lamb) at $7.50. Thursday has the great French dish, a Toulousian cassoulet, casserole with lamb, preserved duck, sausage, bacon and baked beans ($7.90). And on Friday the special is the classic bouillabaisse at $7.95. All these homemade dishes are served with vegetables or potatoes, salad, bread and butter.
The menu also includes a homemade pate at $2.25, which is quite good, quiche lorraine and artichokes vinaigrette.
On a recent Tuesday evening, the daily soup was a spicy Manhattan red clam chowder at 75 cents, which our 2-year-old loved.
The salad was a mixture of iceberg and romaine lettuce with an excellent vinaigrette dressing.
The special of the day -- poached rockfish in a red wine sauce -- was quite tasty at $7.90. The trout stuffed with crabmeat at $7.95 also was good. qLess successful were the calf's brains cooked in butter with capers.Evidently, the chef or the waitress forgot this order and after a reasonable amount of time the waitress apologized for the delay, asking if it were okay to wait a few more minutes. Because of her manner, we did not mind waiting, despite our increasingly impatient child. That is the kind of place L'Escargot is. When the brains came they were too salty but no matter. The zucchini provencale and the boiled potatoes on all the dishes were delicious.
Of the three desserts sampled only one was really good. The chocolate mousse, $1.50, was silky and rich. The homemade rum cake, also $1.50, had machine-made whipped cream on top and tasted flat.
The chestnut ice cream sundae, $1.60, is classically made with vanilla ice cream, chestnut puree or chestnuts in sugared syrup and whipped cream. What was right was the chestnuts, a generous portion of chunky nuts in sugared syrup. What was wrong was the coffee ice cream, which the waitress presented without explaining that they were out of vanilla, and the canned whipped cream, which was immediately removed on request. While the adults ate the chestnuts and remembered student days in Paris, our daughter devoured the ice cream.
All in all, we have had better meals in other French restaurants. But, with children, we shall go back to L'Escargot again and again.
Our entire meal for three adults and one child with a carafe of wine came to $42.05 including tip.