Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bistro Cacao

Our buddies M and A recently moved from Capitol Hill to Adams Morgan. They invited us to help them say goodbye to the Hill at one of their favorite restaurants: Bistro Cacao. The restaurant is in a historic rowhouse on Massachusetts Ave., NE that oozes charm out of every corner.

If you ask for a table in the Red Room, you might luck out and get one of the private tables with big cushy chairs and curtains. Then again, you might also end up waiting an hour past your reservation time for said table. Luckily Bistro Cacao just opened a bar area where we were able to pass the hour. They also gave us a complimentary cheese plate to keep us from gnawing on the bar.

Once seated, we wasted no time ordering wine and appetizers. M and A have a favorite waiter who remembers what kind of wine they like. Don't you just love neighborhood places like that?

Bistro Cacao serves bistro-style French cuisine and we opted for two classic French bistro dishes: foie gras with fig compote/warm brioche and escargots.

This is not the place to come on a diet, but it is the perfect place for a little indulgence. The snails were swimming in their own little jacuzzi of garlic butter that we sopped up with the bread. Just the way we like it.

I ordered the hanger steak with caramelized shallots, red wine sauce and french fries. While the steak was a little challenging to cut (I think it was user error: always cut against the grain), once I got the hang of it, I was rewarded with a tender and flavorful cut of meat paired perfectly with the tangy red wine reduction and sweet shallots. I may also have ordered this dish just to try the french fries. Who can say no to skinny, crispy fries?

This apatosaurus leg lookalike is B's entree: herb and mustard crusted rack of lamb with roasted potatoes, mushrooms, and asparagus. The dish was finished with a rosemary jus. He must have loved it because I didn't get a bite and he polished off the whole thing (sans bone and the rosemary bush garnish growing out of the lamb).

During dinner, our waiter asked us to taste two new wines that the restaurant was contemplating adding to its list. Always happy to be guinea pigs, we gladly accepted his generous pours of both wines. This was yet another gesture that makes Bistro Cacao feel like a friendly neighbor.

Feeling pretty good after a bottle of wine and two sample glasses, we moved on to dessert. We shared the flourless warm chocolate cake and the profiteroles.

While not innovative, both desserts were very good. I usually don't go back for more than a bite or two of warm chocolate cake, but I couldn't keep my spoon out of this one.

M and A rave about Bistro Cacao and its cozy feel and personalized service. I'm thankful that they included us in their farewell tour so that we could experience the restaurant's warmth and great food for ourselves. If they ever want to make the transatlantic crossing from Adams Morgan to Capitol Hill for dinner, I hope they call us!

Second Thoughts from B

Bistro Cacao's ambiance and menu may have you reaching for your passport and Berlitz French-English dictionary, but I'm pretty sure we had not been magically transported to Paris. You know how I know? Exceedingly warm and attentive service.

I've been to Paris on three different occasions. I've been there during the highest of high seasons with a large group of American tourists and I've been there during the lowest of low seasons with a couple of local Parisians. I've eaten in small neighborhood kitchens and famous Michelin-rated restaurants. In my experience, the reputation that French service is rude and aloof is generally overblown, but not completely unfounded.

Bistro Cacao maintained an elegance and sophistication that the French are correctly known for, while still being inviting and comfortable. There is a general warmth about the place that is uncommon in fine dining establishments that would rather impress you with polish and refinement. And keep in mind that I'm saying this after we had to wait over an hour for a table despite having a reservation. Mistakes and slow diners happen, but I never felt ignored.

Granted, we were dining with regular customers who seem to have a little black book of wait staff who love them (see our trip to The Queen Vic as evidence). We often talk about how we like to try a new place before revisiting a good one. The upside is that we've experienced, at least superficially, most of what this town has to offer. However, it prevents us from growing relationships with neighborhood establishments like M and A have (or growing relationships with that amazing mustard crust on my rack of lamb that is making my mouth water as I type). I don't know that we'd choose to do it any other way, but it is nice to have M and A around when we want to see how the other half lives.
Bistro Cacao on Urbanspoon


Alix said...

I must have ordered that lamb half a dozen times, now my mouth is watering too! Cacao was the perfect place to go on Friday night after a long week ... always good food and great wine! (Never as long a wait as we had)

Matt said...

Everytime I ask Alix whether she wants to go to Cacao, she smiles and says yes. I think this simple question is a pretty good way to evaluate the quality of a restaurant. I just wish they would notice when I put "Red room, please" on my OpenTable reservation.