The refreshed dining room in the Sofitel certainly lives up to its lustrous name. To look around Opaline Bar & Brasserie is to admire shiny black tables, sleek saffron-colored chairs, mirrored columns and walls treated to wavy blue fabric, a textural detail that tempts visitors to run their hands over the plush ripples.
The all-day menu, from chef de cuisine Doug Islieb, is French, a flavor that’s enjoying a resurgence across the country, including in Washington, most recently with the wine bar Primrose. While concise, the collection of dishes reads like a French primer. Enter escargots, steak frites and apple tarte tatin.
And disappointment. Black bread crumbs made an unappealing cover for an appetizer of snails, and thick ravioli contains spinach of so little flavor, if you ate the pasta with your eyes closed, you’d have a hard time naming the filling. Really, the only takeaway from the starter is cheese and a brown butter sauce. Duck a l’orange has the texture of sawdust and is missing any sign of the expected citrus. Best for its large scallops, bouillabaisse is an otherwise wan rendition of the Marseille classic, while soft roast chicken is draped with a jus that simply tastes — can “brown” be considered a flavor?
“Is everything okay?” a host inquires at one point. My companion wants to pipe up, but she’s chewing . . . and chewing . . . on a steak that is cooked to the shade of red she likes but is so tough she wants to ask for a chainsaw to cut the culotte. A nearby cone of french fries looks good, but its contents taste like factory issue. No amount of chopped parsley or mayonnaise can rescue a bouquet of blanks. Kudos, though, for all the bronzed garlic in the accompanying sauteed spinach.
Warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream is a modest step in the right direction, a far better finish than a so-called “pavlova” consisting of pale strawberry slices, each topped with a hard, white meringue kiss. Honestly, the confection looked like something kindergarten students would make for a Mother’s Day project.
Unfortunately, service is as inept as the cooking. Even when the dining room finds a handful of pants and dresses in seats, the servers bumble their way through meals. Waiting . . . and waiting . . . for bread one night, a waiter explains the delay by telling us the bread is being baked as he speaks. Yet the basket he eventually drops off is neither warm nor especially evocative of an in-house baker. As we exit Opaline, we pass tables whose occupants left before us but whose surfaces have yet to be cleared of dirty settings.
The best luck I’ve had in multiple visits to the rethought Sofitel is a seat on the patio, framed in greenery and featuring a separate menu. A daiquiri and a snack of pink beet hummus with a rainbow of crudites are pleasant ways to unwind in good weather. More, please — and less of the mess that brands Opaline mere eye candy out of the gate.
806 15th St. NW. 202-730-8701. opalinedc.com. Sandwiches and entrees to share, $16 to $45.