Food critic

The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2018 Spring Dining Guide.

At Primrose, a sweet spot for bistro food and uncommon wines, the chandeliers are made using ostrich feathers. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)


(Not yet rated)

The wine bar with the French accent has me at the chandeliers. They’re made using ostrich feathers, and they reflect the design sensibility of Lauren Winter, who co-owns the corner Brookland bauble with her husband, wine geek Sebastian Zutant. Together, they’ve created a sweet spot for bistro food and wines you don’t see everywhere else. If you went during winter, you’ll notice the menu has grown longer, the cooking more consistent, since the place opened. Steak frites features bavette, lean but flavorful, and a thatch of thick thrice-fried potatoes that make you sad when your fingers find the last one. Newly installed chef de cuisine Jonathan De Paz has refreshed the script to include hazelnut-showered beets affixed to their plate with Meyer lemon puree, and crisp rockfish poised on a nest of fermented kohlrabi and finished with brown butter. Dessert might be another glass of wine (Zutant is keen on an unfiltered Beaujolais that he likens to “rosé-plus”) or a collection of warm madeleines served with your dip of choice (pistachio cream works for me). The corner restaurant recently added weekend lunch, patio seating and a slew of new cocktails, including an Ingenue that drinks like an R-rated Orange Crush: French evolution!

Primrose: 3000 12th St. NE. 202-248-4558.

Open: Weekend lunch, dinner daily.

Prices: Mains $16 to $26.

Sound check: 73 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.

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The following review was originally published Dec. 22, 2017.

Sebastian Zutant’s new Brookland wine bar, Primrose, highlights France’s less-familiar regions on a list featuring more than 75 labels. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Wine and whimsy make a perfect match at the French-inspired Primrose

It was love at first sight last month when I came face to facade with Primrose, the young Brookland wine bar from District restaurateur Sebastian Zutant and his wife, designer Lauren Winter. 

From the street, the windows of the corner dining room captured the kind of merrymaking crowd competitors would kill to host. But it’s less the happy faces and clinking glasses that draw me in than the whimsical interior. Winter, a principal with Edit Lab at Streetsense, has created a dreamy environment with the help of bar painted turquoise, marble table tops trimmed in silver and, most amusing, chandeliers puffed up with ostrich plumes. Instagram, get ready.

Zutant, never one to swim with the crowd, is easy to tag in the mix. He’s sporting blue hair these days, and he’s eager to introduce you to one of the natural wines on his French-focused list, some 75 labels from some of France’s less-familiar regions. Examples from his own winery, the Lightwell Survey, also make an appearance. The wares include a blend of Riesling and syrah called “Los Idiots,” named, says Zutant, because the mix “was such a gamble, we were idiots to do so.”

Coq au vin (red-wine-braised chicken, lardons and carrots), is worth a return trip. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

French onion soup is topped with a molten cap of Gruyere and Emmental, and the broth has a rich, beefy sensibility despite being meat-free. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

The wine maven has poured juice at some of Washington’s best known dining venues: Komi, Rasika, Proof, the Red Hen and All-Purpose Pizzeria. His attraction to Brookland was as natural as the wine he serves. “We live here,” he says of his family, and the tree-lined streets and multiple churches help create “a little town inside the city.”  

The introductory menu at Primrose, named in part for one of Winter’s grandmothers, is a single brief page, highlighting a handful of bistro staples and a few dishes with vegetarians in mind. Whipped rabbit dropped off with apricots poached in cardamom syrup makes a pleasing start, but rillettes de lapin are easily sourced in Washington. Less common is French onion soup with such a beefy sensibility that you’re skeptical when you’re told the broth beneath the molten cap of Gruyere and Emmental is made sans meat. The deep flavors of the liquid are culled from porcini mushrooms and kombu, or dried Japanese seaweed, says chef de cuisine Eric Schlemmer, 32, formerly of Bibiana downtown and Sovereign in Georgetown. (The consulting chef is Nathan Beauchamp, culinary director of the Fainting Goat and Tiger Fork.)

Restaurants of all stripes are nudging cauliflower into the limelight. Primrose’s contribution flags white florets in a salad along with golden raisins, hazelnuts and the subtle French curry known as vadouvan.

Chocolate pot de creme. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

Little touches make big impressions. House-filtered still and sparkling water are offered gratis, for instance. The snug zinc bar is one of many transporting fine points. As Zutant says, “When you walk in, what you see is Paris.”

See and taste. Chocolate pot de crème, so rich you should consider sharing it, is an ideal way to bid adieu in what has already become a beacon in the neighborhood.