Nibble Notes: Bistrot du Coin.

The more culinary skills I acquire, the more I appreciate the French, and their contributions to the gastronomical world. During this journey, I came across Bistrot du Coin, located two blocks from my house in downtown Dupont Circle, DC. If you enjoy the true bistro experience, this is an excellent restaurant to visit.

This past Saturday night, Whisky, TMS, and I visitied for a nibble. Arriving at 1145pm, the restaurant will still bristling with energy as waitstaff zipped around delivering loaves of bread, crockpots of steaming mussels, and bottles of French wine. We intended to grab a light supper, as none of us had eaten properly that night.

For starters, we shared a Pâté de campagne Maison; a pork paté served with grilled bread and mesclun greens. The paté was slightly chilled below room temperature, allowing the fatty flavors to develop slightly in the warmer air while retaining its firmness. Whisky and I each ordered a glass of Puligny Montrachet, one of my favorite French chardonnays (at least, one of my favorites I can regularly afford to enjoy!).

For dinner, Whisky enjoyed a Tartine à la tapenade; an open-faced hot sandwich wth black olive puree, bayonne ham, and Swiss gruyère. Dee-lish! TMS and I split an order of Ravioles du Royan, mini herb ravioli in a cream sauce with Swiss gruyère cheese. The cheese 'crust' was near perfect; browned at the edges, and creamy as all-get-out (which, as I'm sure everyone knows, is pretty darn creamy.)

Dessert? French dessert is a study in sublime subtleties; basic ingredients used simply and effectively to create a taste profile rich in complimentary flavors, with no clear-cut emphasis to overpower secondary flavors. For us, it was the brioche with custard, orange blossom, and a light custard sauce. Whisky and I complimented the dessert with an iced Lillet with orange slices; if you have never had an iced Lillet, try it. They make this delightful in two flavors; blanc, steeped in candied orange, honey, mint, and fresh lime; and rouge, raspberry, cardamom, and ginger powerful on the palate. We drank Lillet blanc, a perfect pairing to the orange blossom in the custard.

Bistrot du Coin came about in the recent (80's-90') renaissance of French eating in Washington DC, a trend originally started by JFK during his presidency. The walls are yellowed with paint, helped along by years of tobacco smoke and aging. They are decorated with artifacts from all over France, as the mostly French staff will tell you. The service is comfortable and just the right speed; there is no rush here. Over the din of boisterous conversation (this is not a quiet establishment), one can barely make out the French DJ spinning trance and dance hall tunes at just the right volume. Their wine list is comprehensive and intelligently thought out; they have something for everyone despite one's preferences for type or region. The prices are reasonable, especially for DC (the three of us ate for $65, including the drinks.) And if that wasn't enough, it's one of the only places I've seen here so far that offers steak tartare, complete with egg yolk.

Interior: 7.50/10.00
Menu: 8.00/10.00
Wine List: 8.25/10.00
Service/Waitstaff: 7.50/10.00
Food: 8.50/10.00
Value: 8.00/10.00

Overall: 8.00/10.00

If you like casual (and actual) French, give it a try.



Beurre Monté.

Made from chunks of butter and just a few drops of water whisked over moderate heat, Beurre Monté is considered a "workhorse sauce," as Thomas Keller calls it. Used for basting meats, poaching lobster, and sauteeing any number of foods, Beurre Monté helps keep foods moist, enhances flavors, and helps cook foods, as the butter layered evenly helps distribute heat.

Beurre Monté

Heat one tablespoon of water until boiling in an appropriately-sized pan. Reduce the heat to low, and begin whisking in chunks of butter to emulsify. Keep the heat low and constant. Keep sauce warm until ready to use. Any unused portions can be refridgerated and reheated later.

Easy enough, right?

Speaking of Thomas Keller, here is a recipe from his The French Laundry Cookbook.

Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Sage Cream, Brown Butter, and Prosciutto

Sweet potato filling
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
4 oz. unsalted butter
2 slices bacon, cooked, cut into 1/4-inch dice
Pinch of nutmeg or allspice
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
Fresh pasta dough

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bake potatoes in tinfoil until soft, 1-2 hours, depending on size of potato. Skin potatoes and discard. Push potato through ricer and place in saucepan. Add bacon. Stir over low heat, seasoning with nutmeg or allspice and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in 4 tbsp. butter. Yields filling for 48 agnolotti. Roll out the dough, and make agnolotti using filling.

Sage Cream

1/3 cup sage leaves
1 cup crème fraîche
1 cup beurre monte

Blanch sage leaves in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain in cool water, and drain again. Squeeze dry.

Heat the crème fraîche and beurre monte with the salt on low heat; do not boil. Place the sage in a blender and process to chop it. With the motor running, pour the hot cream mixture through the top and blend thoroughly. Strain, salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat oil for deep-frying, and lightly fry the sage leaves. Dry on paper towels and set aside.

Place the butter in a skillet over medium heat and cook until brown. Reduce heat and keep warm.

Cook the agnolotti. Drain and mix with sage cream.

Set agnolotti in dish with cream sauce. Sprinkle with prosciutto, and garnish with fried sage leaves.


Mayonnaise by any other name...

I have taken a recent shine to mayonnaise. Well, I suppose it's fairer to say I've taken a closer look at this most tasty sauce.

Yes. Sauce.

I confess I have spent most of my life looking at this wonder as little more than a condiment for my BLTs. Once I began examining French cuisine more closely, I commensurately began realizing how important this sauce would become in the near future. I guess you could classify me at the time as mayo-curious.

If you are not intimately familiar with mayo (Heather, you are excused from this discussion. You may put your head down on your desk, or go to the cafeteria for a frozen fruit pop,) it is classified as a cold emulsified sauce comprising egg yolks, blended oils, and flavorings such as mustard, herbs, wine vinegar, et cetera.

As for the best mayo going, I can't begin to speculate. I can tell you, however, this mayonnaise was superb for the recipe below. It's important to note, however, that most hard-core cooking references will tell you to keep it room-temperature. I, however, am not so brave. Yet.

Asparagus with Mayonnaise Verte

1 1/2 pounds trimmed asparagus (white is ok, but green is more visually impactful here.)
1/2 cup Italian parsely, chopped
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice to taste
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste (after experimenting a little, Tellicherry large-grain crushed is best.)
2 tbsp. verjus (juice from unripened fruit, and can be ordered here.)
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Herbs de Provence to taste

Blanch asparagus for one minute. Remove from water and place in ice bath to arrest cooking. Drain well and pat dry. (Asparagus can be made up to one day ahead, store in sealed bag in refridgerator, let them come up to room temperature before serving.)

Mix the parsely, oil, lemon juice, verjus, mustard, and herbs in a food processor. Pulse until well-mixed and smooth. Fold over into mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve aside the asparagus.

This is great with any dish sauteed in butter. I wouldn't suggest mixing it with dishes in cream sauces or red sauces; the mayonnaise is delicious as the only sauce on the plate. Plus, it's flavor is extremely delicate and can be overpowered easily. We ate it with a pork tenderloin glazed with peaches and ginger. It worked well as the only side dish. (We had some cheeses as well, but nothing else, save for the three bottles of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.)

Do I like fish?

Sort of. Through the patience of my wife, I am learning. I've added salmon, tilapia, squid, and some sushi to my repertiore. Slowly, my precious! Eats fish a little at a time, it does!


Seeing it for what it is.

"When I was thirty-two, I started cooking; before then, I was just eating."
-Julia Child

How true, those words! I have always enjoyed eating well; I come from excellent stock in this regard. Parents, grandparents, great-grandparents; they all cooked wonderfully. I grew up learning from them, shadowing them in their kitchens, mimicking their techniques (even if the results fell somewhat short of their makings.) But it wasn't until a few years ago that my appreciations for thier skills, and the magic of well-crafted foods and spirits came together. When it did, though...yikes.

This site is for the epicurean in us all; in appreciation of the finest of foods, spirits, and the pleasures they create.

To start it off, Julia Child's first, and ultimately favorite, dish when moving to France.

Bon Appetite!

Sole Meuniere


6 sole fillets (6 to 8 oz each)
8 tb salted butter
1 cup flour
1 lemon juice
Fresh black pepper
Parsley sprigs

Remove the black skin from the soles. Chop the parsley sprigs, discard the stems. Season fillets with salt and pepper. Spread the flour in a plate. Dredge fillets in flour, shaking off any excess flour. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add a sole fillet or if the skillet is large enough, place 2 fillets at the same time. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Turn the fillet and cook on the other side for 5 minutes again. Set aside and keep fillets warm. Sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley. Cook the other sole fillets the same way. Add butter if needed. Melt the remaining butter in the skillet. When brown, remove from heat and place the sole fillets. Serve immediately. Garnish with lemon slices.

Serve with a lightly-chilled Chablis.