Tuesday, August 31

Oui, Oui, Bistro la Bonne!

I decided about two weeks ago that I deserved an expensive lunch. I'm sure the decision to pamper myself had more to do with my serial viewing of "Julie & Julia" on HBO and a few extra dollars in my pocket than any real momentous accomplishment. Amy and Meryl just made French food look SO goooood, I had to get some myself. So I set up a reservation for Bistro la Bonne on U St., a new-ish place I had heard good things about.
I arrive for a late lunch, around 1 o'clock, and there is one other table there, an older couple finishing up some mussels. Although there was more staff than patrons at this point, it still felt cozy and crowded, the way most French bistros should (in my limited Parisian experience, anyway). Beer and food specials were written haphazardly on some chalkboards above the bar. There was paper on the tables, full flatware and glassware settings at each seat, weird music being pushed through speakers hung high on the ceiling, etc.
My water glass was filled as soon as I sat, which was a GREAT thing, considering I was sweating my ass off from the intense heat wave washing over the District. She handed me a menu, smiled, and walked away. THANK. YOU. I love unassuming and gentle service, and she was well on her way to getting a fat tip.
Of course, I had already decided on one or two things from the menu, as is my M.O. Appetizer would have to be the soupe a l'oignon gratinee, one of my favorite uber-involved soups of all time (that's French onion soup, bee-tee-dubs). It came out in an immense crock, overflowing with molten swiss and gruyere cheeses smothering a few thick croutons. It was flavorful but not overpowering, filled with onions and even more cheese, and I had a hard time choking down the entire thing. The CHEESE, my god, all the cheese! A tad overkill for French cuisine if you ask me. It was almost like I had asked McDonald's to supersize it for me. Phew.
I could not decide what I wanted for my main entree; it was a toss-up between the short ribs (Travers de Boeuf puree de Pomme de Terre au Fromage) at $24 a plate, or the beef medallions with asparagus and shrimp risotto (Medallion de boeuf servi avec un risotto aux asperges et crevettes) for $22. I asked my server, and she convinced me to go fir the short ribs, at it is a more authentic French dish and not a more typical plate. I agreedto her upsell (I don't hate, I would have done the same thing), and I waited for my short ribs.
This was my first experience with short ribs. Every time I have tried to order them from a menu before, they were all out for the night, or something else like lamb or rabbit would entice me more than the shorties. So when my dish came out in a bowl, I was taken aback. Not in a bad way, I just expected, well, ribs. On a plate. With potato puree and some roasted veggies on a side, and some sauce poured over the meat. Not so with those slick little Frenchies. It was like a stew, with potato on the bottom, and a hunk of bone-in short ribs plopped in the middle of it all, and then surrounded by pearl onions, button mushrooms (gross, I actually ate one thinking it was an onion), and chunks of carrots that swam in this awesomely rich, dark wine sauce that I would have drank through a straw if I was having Secret Shame Night at home.
After the soup experience I went through just 10 minute earlier, I had a hard time getting through this dish, and when I asked if I could take it home, I was greeted with a smile, a nod, and not one hint of French pretension. Love love love. She packaged it up for me, asked if I would like coffee or dessert (I'm pretty sure I actually guffawed at this poor girl. Literally snorted a laugh at her, as I said I would just take the check, thanks). The whole thing ran me $40 with a fat tip as I had mentioned earlier. I would have tried to recruit this chick for my own restaurant if I had one. Her service was perfect.
I stuck around and tried to digest the lumps of cheese and meat I had engorged on as I read my book.
I guess the fact that I don't really eat French food often may have something to do with my surprise at its presentation. I always assumed it was lighter than what I got, but there must be some sect of their cuisine that takes after American's sentiment to eat until they're full, then eat some more. Either way, the food was great, I had enough left over for a great little dinner, the service was absolutely fantastic, and although it was pretty expensive, I knew what I was getting myself into, and it was proportional to what I walked away with. Bostro la Bonne, you get 3.5 NOMS!

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