Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Atmosphere: Bustling Left Bank.
Price range: $5.45 to $8.25.
Credit cards: None. No personal checks.
Special features: Narrow entrance through bar; tables close together. No highchairs. Booster seats. Usual Georgetown parking dilemma.
With everyone screaming about high prices and inflated costs, it's a pleasure to find a restaurant where a family or a couple can dine and enjoy life in the "inexpensive" lane.
Aux Fruits de Mer always has offered an alternative to expensive French restaurants. Its small cafe setting two doors away from its sister restaurant, Au Pied du Cochon, creates a Left Bank bustle right on Georgetown's Wisconsin Avenue.
The two-level dining area is jammed with as many tables as can be fit into it. Yet waiters somehow waltz around them, and Parisian chaos prevails. Service is quick--almost fast-food--yet quality is evident and low prices do not mean discomfort. There is still plenty of time to linger over coffee or contemplate ordering a second lobster.
A few items for landlubbers are available, but fish is the focus and freshness the goal. Daily specials supplement the printed menu and emphasize seasonal favorites.
The decor isn't fancy at Aux Fruits. You enter through the bar; if it's a weekend evening, you're almost assured of a wait. The dark wood-paneled ceiling with its hanging lanterns creates the look of a ship and the bumping waiters reinforce the sense of a tilting deck.
A few portholes lining the walls add to the illusion, but the real star is the large corner aquarium that can be enjoyed from nearby tables.
The food soon makes one overlook any defects in decor. Manhattan clam chowder ($1.65), loaded with vegetables in a well-seasoned broth, was a hearty beginning. The onion soup au gratin ($2.35) was more than a beginning; it was sufficient for our 6-year-old's dinner. Its thick cheese topping over a rich broth with some French bread was a perfect cafe combination.
Our son, passing over minute steak and short ribs, requested a plain bowl of buttery spaghetti ($5.45). The waiter seemed confused, but wrote it all down. When the spaghetti arrived swimming in red clam sauce, the waiter's shrug spoke volumes; here was a language barrier to be reckoned with.
The spaghetti in fact was a delightful dinner, which our son, with a lot of coaxing, came to enjoy. Now we know why a friend finds this item one of the restaurant's best.
Sampling broadly, we unearthed other dining gems. We shared an appetizer of oysters florentine ($2.95), a perfect blend of oysters, spinach, bread crumbs and seasonings.
Finding a special dinner was difficult, for they all sounded good. Salmon and fresh lobster with crabmeat were possibilities, but when a menu lists bouillabaisse, my husband stops reading and makes an immediate selection. It was a wise decision. Four pieces of garlic toast accompanied the fish stock that contained an abundance of mussels, clams and bite-sized pieces of rockfish ($6.95).
I did not fare as well with the swordfish meuniere ($7.25), which was dry and hardly the buttery, fork-tender delicacy that swordfish can be. But with the delicious crusty bread and the creamy cole slaw and tastes from everyone else's plate, I was just temporarily disappointed.
The dessert menu has a good selection of pastries and fruits. The children shared the chocolate mousse ($1.25), a small cup of light, not overbearingly rich, mousse. It provided the perfect sweet taste to end a fish supper.
Aux Fruits de Mer is a bountiful, inexpensive deep sea treasure we all enjoyed. Our hearty dinner for four with beer, soda, tax and tip cost $40.05.