It's 10:30 on a Saturday night, and we have been waiting an hour for the table we reserved at Bezu in the Potomac Promenade Shopping Center. The small lounge area in the front of the restaurant is full. So is the tiny bar. Some people have just dropped in for a glass of wine on a cold winter night; others are also waiting for tables.
Eddie Benaim -- who owns the place with his wife, Lydia, and chef Dennis Friedman -- works the crowd, greeting familiar customers, placating those who have endured long waits. He sends out a few drinks and then a few nibbles, offering a running update on the status of tables -- "two tables have paid their bills and we are just waiting for them to leave," he confides.
Open just three months, Bezu (Benaim's phonetic spelling of bisou, French slang for "kiss") is already the hot ticket as a place to see and be seen in Potomac. Nearby are a pizza place, a Thai-Japanese-Chinese restaurant and a couple of taverns -- but nothing with the upscale style and verve of Bezu.
Friedman grew up in Potomac, pursued a cooking career after graduating from Indiana University and has cooked in New York, Hawaii and Washington. Friedman describes his food as French-Asian. His presentations are as dazzling as Bezu's decor; and sometimes the food tastes as good as it looks.
The dining room seats about 50. A row of high-back upholstered booths fills one wall, and a banquette takes up most of the opposite wall before it wraps around a corner to embrace a large circular table that has already become a favorite of ladies who lunch. Four small square tables line the center of the room, broken up by a round table topped with a large floral arrangement.
The colors are warm -- terra cotta tending to orange -- and the designs are modern geometrics. Elegant pendant lights illuminate each booth; a chandelier that looks like palm fronds hangs over the circular table. Halogen lights do a high-wire act over the bar. The tables are highly polished wood and barren of tablecloths.
The soup changes daily, but the servings are always large and served in deep oval bowls. A leek and potato soup had a green tinge and tasted of potato earthiness. Another day, a fresh tomato soup was lightened with cream but still hearty.
There are only about two dozen items on the dinner menu, and the printed menu's presentation of entrees and appetizers is just as spare -- each entry listing its main ingredients without a description of how each is used. Sometimes the whole is greater than the parts. For example, the Nori Tuna was a perfect cylinder of prime ahi fried tempura-style, wrapped in nori (dried seaweed), sliced and overlapped in a circle atop a soy-mustard vinaigrette and dotted with a tomato-ginger relish. It looks gorgeous on the plate; the combination of flavors and top ingredients is perfect.
The crab cake -- pristine jumbo lump crabmeat held together with a spicy mustard sauce -- is about as good as one can get. And the wild mushroom ravioli -- gentle pillows of mushroom inside silken won ton dough marching down an oblong glass plate -- tasted of the outdoors.
In contrast, a well-dressed Caesar salad, complete with anchovies, looked lovely in its Parmesan crisp basket, but I found that there is such a thing as too much of this tasty crisp. What a waste of good cheese.
And what's listed on the menu as duck confit turns out to be a spring roll look-alike -- the meat from a duck leg shredded and rolled into a lumpia wrapper. It was bland, without the richness of confit or the tartness that a more assertive sauce might have provided.
Sometimes the dishes are just too fussy and overproduced. A luncheon hamburger is gussied up with Kobe beef, a tomato confit and a cockscomb of frisee. And the french fries were dredged in rosemary and Parmesan. Too much froufrou and not enough grease for a decent-tasting burger. And a side of coconut mashed potatoes didn't complement the coconut or the potatoes.
On the other hand, a rib-eye steak was cooked to order. It had a strong beefy flavor and was accented with baby corn and crisp broccoli. And a wild Alaskan salmon, lightly charred on the outside but butter-soft inside, paired well with the sweetness of creamed leeks.
According to Friedman, the most popular dish on the menu is the Fuzu Rice Noodles, which are served with stir-fried scallops, shrimp, chicken, snow peas, carrots and onions. The shrimp and scallops were fresh-tasting, and the dish packed a bit of a hot pepper punch for the back of the throat.
The signature dessert is listed as mango fritters, but beignets would be a better description. They are scrumptious. The cheesecake was light-tasting and slight in stature, and the homely bread pudding was one of the few dishes that tastes a lot better than it looks.