I’m of two minds about Chez Billy Sud, the just-unleashed French dining room in Georgetown.
Part of me welcomes the balance added to a part of town where the best restaurant, Fiola Mare, is big, rich and Italian. Another part of me worries that the 50-or-so-seat Chez Billy Sud, mobbed on a recent Friday, is too small given the quality of its cooking. Fish soup has me returning my spoon to the bowl until I’ve retrieved every drop of broth, heady with saffron, star anise and orange peel. Likewise, a trio of profiteroles stuffed with two flavors of ice cream (olive oil and lemon-ricotta) and blood orange sorbet are destined to give Francophiles lots of competition for a table.
Diners have the Hilton brothers, Eric and Ian, to congratulate for adding another dining destination to Georgetown. A spinoff of the larger Chez Billy in Petworth, Chez Billy Sud (South) replaces the longtime Cafe La Ruche. Ian Hilton says he and his business partners had been eyeing the location for the past four years: “We loved it. We knew it could be a wonderful space with some TLC.”
Walls painted a shade of sea foam and decorated with Victorian-style sconces create an appealing backdrop for frisee salad and steak frites. Enlivening the narrow room, furnished with eBay finds, is a snug marble-topped bar. An Armagnac old-fashioned, one of a handful of signature cocktails, eases any wait there may be for a table.
Chez Billy chef Brendan L’Etoile, 31, divides his time between the two kitchens, which are far enough removed from one another that he’s comfortable serving some of the customer favorites, including duck confit, from Petworth. The entree gets its vim from a cure of cloves and peppercorns, a braise in duck fat and an encounter with a hot cast-iron skillet. The last step imparts a crisp veneer on the fork-tender duck.
The lone meatless entree springs from an idea from the esteemed British chef Raymond Blanc. L’Etoile shapes quenelles from semolina and Gruyere and arranges the soft, cheesy mouthfuls on a tomato sauce, fired up with crushed red pepper, for contrast. The dish barely made it around a table of dedicated carnivores.
Pan-roasted trout, among other dishes, is exclusive to Chez Billy Sud. Sharpened with capers and splashed with a lemon-butter sauce, the main course is accessorized with fingerling potatoes and fennel puree. Good stuff. So is the apple tart set in a fine, buttery crust.
To the side of Chez Billy Sud is a patio that will be used as the weather permits — and that will roughly double the size of the restaurant. My initial dinner in the buzzy dining room suggests the extra space will come in handy.
1039 31st St. NW. 202-965-2606. chezbillysud.com. Entrees, $17 to $29.