Eiffel Tower Cafe seems a grandiose name for this cozy French restaurant in downtown Leesburg. The Parisian edifice is central to the decor -- in paintings and, in a jaunty version, in the logo. But the name sounds so lofty and steely, and Eiffel Tower Cafe is neither.
Tucked into a historic clapboard building not far from Routes 15 and 7, the restaurant is a warren of cubbyholes hidden behind a vine-covered side patio that seems cool and inviting, even on a warm summer day.
Behind a wall of windows lies the main dining room, embraced by a pair of niches and filled with tables swathed in white linen and set with fine china and silver cutlery. A single, full-blown rose decorates each table. Plates, some Quimper, others with French bistro designs, are hung to form a cornice around the room. There are a few copper pans, more flowers and crystal. A small, brick-walled dining space occupies the front of the house, and other dining areas can be found up a stairway or two and finally out on a second-story balcony.
This is the domain of French native Madeleine Sosnitsky. She's likely to meet you at the door, offering greetings in her mellifluous French accent, and you'll see her tending to little details throughout your visit. Sosnitsky's restaurant roots in Washington go back to the Sans Souci, the standard for French cuisine and power brokers in the three-martini-lunch days. She has been in Leesburg, which she said reminds her of the South of France, since 1998.
Stepping into Sosnitsky's cafe is like making a brief sojourn to the Left Bank. Scratchy renditions by a French chanteuse (sometimes Edith Piaf, sometimes not) waft through the air. Other diners talk about vacations and wine and long-ago rendezvous (and sometimes about killer real estate deals). People on cell phone calls take their conversations outdoors, even without being asked. Everybody seems engaged in a conspiracy to pretend they are in Paris.
The menu is filled with old favorites, but they never seem tired.
An appetizer of the house terrine is as rich as duck liver and oh-so-smooth. It's a classic, served with onion confit, tiny cornichons, toasted baguette and a tangle of bright-tasting greens.
In another, a flaky circle of warm puff pastry encases goat cheese, the tang of the cheese infusing the buttery richness of the crust. It's all bedded on crisp baby spinach, napped with a tarragon sauce.
The Caesar salad is traditional, too, with anchovies splayed across the bits of romaine, but I would prefer an even heartier dressing.
There are also snails in garlic butter, sauteed calamari and a daily soup, though no French onion.
The small daily menu is augmented with specials, including at lunch one day a hearty French steak sandwich and a crispy soft-shell crab. The steak, from a cut described as similar to flank steak, was cooked perfectly rare, though it was a bit too thick to be eaten as a sandwich.
Main courses are classics, too: lobster, lamb, beef medallions, monkfish, venison, red snapper and, one evening, a special of flounder. But their presentations are innovative and the tastes, fresh.
A roast lobster, smelling and tasting of the clean sweetness of the sea, is served with risotto and a surprising cabernet sauce. Beef medallions, also cooked perfectly medium-rare, nest against mashed potatoes and a sheaf of buttered haricots verts.
The dessert tray mixes chocolate, raspberry and lemon cakes with creme brulee and just-picked strawberries. But the stars are the fruit sorbets: mango and pineapple, each served in a shell of the appropriate fruit.
A visit to Eiffel Tower Cafe reminds you just how wonderful French standards can be.
Eiffel Tower Cafe 107 Loudoun St. SW., Leesburg, 703-777-5142, www.eiffeltowercafe.com. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends. Appetizers at lunch, $6.25-$10.95; main courses at lunch, $9.50-$15.25. Appetizers at dinner, $6.25-$12.75; main courses at dinner, $22.75-$29.25.
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