The Washington Post

The charms of Le Grenier

In decorating Le Grenier, a new French restaurant on H Street NE, Marie Ziar did her shopping on eBay and at salvage stores. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Few new restaurants fulfill the promise of their names as charmingly as does Le Grenier. French for “the attic,” the two-story bistro in the Atlas District reveals the offbeat shopping of co-owner Marie Ziar, who scoured eBay and salvage stores for the outsize bird cages, worn suitcases, old mirrors and headboards that dress her loftlike destination.

“I wanted something about memories, nostalgia,” says Ziar, who co-owns Le Chat Noir in Friendship Heights with her husband, Sam. If Auntie Mame had a crawl space in Paris, the votive-lit Le Grenier, which opened in August, is what it might look like.

Le Chat Noir provides Le Grenier with its chief chef. He is Thierry Sanchez, 39, who is doing double duty, cooking in both restaurants. Born in Panama to a French father and a Colombian mother, Sanchez grew up in Mexico; at 18, he left to study cooking in France. His Washington area credits include Old Angler’s Inn and the late Colvin Run Tavern.

“I love simple things,” says Marie Ziar. So Le Grenier’s menu starts with escargots and boudin blanc and forges on to coq au vin and hanger steak that is strangely sweet and (quelle horreur!) framed with frozen fries. Of course there are crepes, respectable ones, savory and sweet. “I’m from Normandy,” explains the restaurateur.

Sanchez has some fun with two of my menu picks. His appetizer of foie gras mousse spiked with cognac sports a glassy surface that suggests creme brulee. The touch of sweet is nice. Duck confit, a main course, rests on a risotto fashioned with minced apple: tradition with a twist.

Desserts — chocolate mousse, profiteroles — aren’t worth the extra gym time. Another kir royal, though? Mais oui. Le Grenier is too cozy to leave just now.

502 H St. NE. 202-544-4999., $14.95 to $21.95.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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