French cuisine traditional and contemporary—from Dover sole meunière to savoury and sweet crepes—gets the star treatment in these kitchens. Make a reservation at one of Washington, D.C.'s best French restaurants.
Primrose has a bistro-meets-Belle Epoque look, with ostrich-feathered chandeliers, weathered teal walls, and a patterned ceiling. As for the menu, you'll find the usual suspects—French onion soup, duck liver mousse, and a whole roast chicken for two—but keep an eye out for the more creative plates such as Japanese eggplant served with a homey egg yolk purée and buttery brioche croutons or ricotta gnocchi with arugula purée and creamed spinach.
Convivial excels in all areas. It scores major points for its location, anchoring the base of City Market at O in the hip Shaw neighborhood; ranks high on style with its clean, rustic-modern aesthetic; and boasts warm service. Popular with young professionals, families, and academics from nearby Howard University, this whimsical new-meets-old menu marries French and American cuisine. Think cured herring over smashed potato salad or pear mousse with caramelized, sliced almonds.
While selections from the "Ingredients" and "Indulgence" categories on this menu need no explanation, "Craft" items honor tradition and "History" selections pay tribute to sentimental favorites. Pick and choose from the different themes for a bespoke tasting menu that could include a thrilling tempura-fried soft-shell crab set in a spiced tomato broth, or a roast chicken that is worth every moment of its 75-minute preparation. Don't forget dessert, like the passion fruit tart paired with ginger-lime sorbet or the chocolate ganache tart served with Madras curry-ice cream.
Start with a caviar grilled cheese, which is no doubt an over-the-top creation but worth every splurge. For something more classic and local, sample the chilled crab with pickled celery and mustard; while special "plant based" items like artichoke hearts or squash with kale and cranberry are deliciously wholesome. In lieu of dessert, go for a smoothie or juice, both of which share prominent real estate on this diverse menu.
Pissaladière, typically prepared with flatbread, is literally puffed up here by way of a flaky pastry topped with caramelized onion, herbes de Provence, anchovies and green olives for Mediterranean flavor. Savor the terrific broth of the bouillabaisse before tucking into the merguez aux lentilles, two thin sausage links served with green lentils set atop a salad. Savory and sweet crêpes are a mainstay of this menu, and brunch is superb.
Dinner here is a well-orchestrated symphony composed of five courses focused on vegetarian options. Commence with a neat mound of kohlrabi, slightly warmed, crunchy; and garnished with chervil pesto and sunflower seeds. Polenta dressed with a broth redolent of blackberry leaf, king trumpet mushrooms, and poached apricot is an exalted creation; and may be followed by a striking ensemble of seasonal white asparagus, pistachio paste, and basmati rice "cream" infused with morello cherries.
Imagine a melange of plates like prawn cocktail, lobster bisque, handmade pastas, as well as mains like Dover sole meunière or veal Milanese and you'll start to get their drift. Mediterranean flavors also find their way into dishes like octopus fricassee with black olives and lamb tagine with couscous. Close with a simple yet irresistible lemon tart. Set inside the Dupont Circle Hotel, this smart spot radiates much joy thanks to its genial vibe and solid food.
Pan-seared foie gras atop duck confit and paired with eau de vie-soaked cherries, or grilled quail over a warm artichoke salad are certainly French inspired. Curried butternut squash soup with apple, black sesame and toasted cashew or enoki mushroom-topped halibut over parsnip purée speak to an entirely different influence.
Few restaurants embody this neighborhood more aptly than 1789, named for the year Georgetown University was founded. Recent highlights include a warm vichyssoise with leeks, morels, and watercress pesto; brioche-crusted halibut in a saffron-mussel broth; and, to finish, an apple Paris-Brest with buttermilk ice cream.
Set 90 minutes from DC in a town whose very existence seems tied to the restaurant, The Inn at Little Washington is a destination in every sense of the word. Embellished to the last inch, the dining room resembles a jewelry box lined with patterned carpets, lush wallpaper, heavy drapes and bejeweled upholstery. Each menu has a unique focus: “Here and Now" spotlights seasonality; “Gastronaut” reflects the chef's ambitions; and “The Good Earth” offers superb vegetarian items. Their extraordinary focus on detail and sourcing is clear from the start in the BLT-inspired amuse-bouche with heirloom tomato gelée, or the excellent rye bread smeared with honeycomb butter.
The Inn at Little Washington. Photo by Greg Powers, courtesy of The Inn at Little Washington
Hero image: 1789. Photo by Deb Lindsey, courtesy of 1789