To truly experience Frenchy’s Naturel, a new bistro in Shaw, you must have l’experience. Pick a protein: likely, a Cedar River Farms sirloin (seven or 10 ounces, or upgrade to a 12-ounce Roseda Farm rib steak), or you can opt for a cheeseburger, chicken, salmon or two vegetarian options — a mushroom and goat cheese omelet, and grilled cauliflower and mushrooms au poivre. Each comes with a simple green salad and unlimited fries.
Yep, that’s right, unlimited. They’ll arrive at your table crispy, hot and nicely salted, adorned with sprigs of fried rosemary. And when you take a bite, they’ll taste awfully familiar.
When the restaurant was developing its menu, “We were like, who has the best french fries? McDonald’s,” general manager Heran Mane said. “They perfected the art of french-fry making.”
They’re a near-perfect facsimile of the fries at McDonald’s, except they’re fried in beef tallow (they can be made vegan, as well), and they stay warm longer, a principal complaint about the Golden Arches. Yes, they’re fried from frozen. But instead of coming with a hockey puck of a burger, they arrive with a juicy steak — and when you finish them, they’ll keep coming and coming.
No one has pushed the offer to its max yet, Mane said. Take that as an invitation, or a dare.
Frenchy’s is the replacement for the Bird, EatWell DC group’s chicken-focused restaurant. Over a 10-day period in January, it was transformed with new bistro chairs, cow wall art, and a teal and hot pink decor scheme. Gone are the Moscow Muellers — a $5 drink deal that was offered anytime an associate of President Trump was indicted — that made the restaurant famous.
“If there is a chance of us bringing them back in some capacity, it will be on a positive note — say, we have a female president,” Mane said.
But this neighborhood spot could be a little more hospitable. On one visit, we arrived to a vacant host stand and stood for more than five minutes in the entrance. Servers and bartenders ignored us despite making eye contact, and when we were finally seated, our table had a dirty plate on it. On a second visit, I made a reservation, but the restaurant was slammed and had a line that spilled out of the building. For the 25 minutes we waited for our table, the only place to stand was either outside in the cold or directly in the path of servers. And when my friend finished her bowl of unlimited fries, a server took it away without asking if she would like a refill.
Venture outside of steak frites and Frenchy’s can be a bit inconsistent. They say you can judge a chef by his omelet, so it was disheartening that mine came out slightly overcooked. But we loved digging into the thick-cut steak tartare, with anchovies and Peruvian peppers that lend a funky tang, and we marveled over a beautiful slab of terrine studded with pistachios. The titular ingredients in a simple and elegant radish appetizer are teeny tiny and scattered across a blanket of goat cheese and herbs. They come from EatWell DC’s own farm. Dishes are priced, on average, about $5 less than their equivalents at Le Diplomate.
The “Naturel” in the restaurant’s name refers to its focus on natural wines, or wines made with no additives and minimal intervention. They’re nearly all French, naturally — but a red from Maryland’s Old Westminister Winery was a surprise hit. It’s on tap, slightly effervescent, and only $8 a glass.
As spring rolls in, Frenchy’s will add other dishes to the menu, such as escargot and bone marrow. Its patio seats 75, doubling the restaurant’s capacity — and there’s no need to wait for April, when many restaurants dust off their patio seating. On those thawed-out March days when the temperature tops 65, it will be open.
Frenchy’s Naturel, 1337 11th St NW.
202-518-3609. frenchysnaturel.com. Appetizers, $5 to $13; entrees, $18 to $39. Tom Sietsema will return next week.