“This reminds me of that big restaurant in New York, Balthazar,” I overhear a fellow diner say as he navigates the expanse of L’Hommage Bistro Français in Mount Vernon Triangle. Dark wood, golden lighting, red banquettes and mirrors that appear to have been plucked from the 19th century create a handsome frame for boeuf bourguignon and Côtes du Rhône.
Washington restaurateur Hakan Ilhan would be pleased to know that a stranger thinks his latest contribution to the dining scene compares favorably to the Manhattan icon in SoHo. Balthazar, after all, was his chief inspiration for L’Hommage Bistro Français, introduced in September. “We need something like this in D.C.,” figured Ilhan, whose best-known Washington establishments — Al Dente and Alba Osteria — are Italian.
Joshua Laban Perkins, 42, was recruited to make L’Hommage Bistro Français taste as good as it looks. A Memphis native whose previous post was at Grove Grill, an American bistro there, Perkins earlier served as chef de cuisine at the late Brasserie Le Coze in Atlanta, sibling to Le Bernardin, the lauded New York seafood temple. The chef takes to heart the name of his new digs, paying homage, he says, “to the chefs who came before me.” In other words, L’Hommage is not a “sous-vide-and-foam environment.”
That’s an understatement. The menu reads like a roll call of French classics: duck terrine, steak frites, cassoulet, coq au vin, chocolate mousse. Gougères crack open to reveal molten Mornay sauce. A bountiful choucroute is decorated with plump house-made sausage, and the roast chicken is a proper one, crisp and golden and presented with buttery whipped potatoes. Specials can be just that: One day’s pan-fried sweetbreads, dusted with Espelette, further benefit from raisins and red onion cooked with simple syrup. (If the chef tweaks a classic, it’s usually for the better: To thicken a sauce, he prefers rice flour to regular flour.)
“I forget where I’m at,” says a table mate. Oh, he knows he’s in Washington, but the food puts him across the ocean. Breezy service complements the cooking, and isn’t it nice to see tables with linens? To the side of the entrance, a boulangerie serves pastries, coffee, sandwiches and meals to go from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Not so long ago, this address was a vacant parking lot. Now, it’s a charmer on the order of Maurice Chevalier — and, more important, a reminder of the healing powers of a good meal in dark times.
450 K St. NW. 202-791-0916. www.lhommagedc.com. Lunch sandwiches and entrees, $12.50 to $19; dinner entrees, $21.50 to $26.95.