Dining Out, Wining & Dining

La Bergerie: French Cooking with a side of Old World hospitality

Upscale, classic Service: Well choreographed, balanced
Open: Monday – Thursday 11:30am – 9:30pm
Friday – Saturday    11:30am – 10:30pm  Sunday  5:00pm – 9:00pm
Reservations: 703-683-1007
Tasting menu: 3course: $45, 4course: $65 Wine bottle: $28-$10k? Overall: Comprehensively elegant

The origin of the world’s first official restaurant as well as the first use of the word restaurant dates back to France in the 18th Century. According to multiple sources, a chef by the name of Boulanger began serving soups in his shop, under a sign that stated “Boulanger débite des restaurants divins” (Boulanger provides divine sustenance). Though many academics and professionals have disputed some of details and specifics of this tale, there remains one thing that is certain: the French are responsible for the invention and development of the modern concept of the restaurant. From the romantic cafes of Paris to the elite kitchens of Michelin Star run restaurants like Guy Savoy or L’Ambroisie the French have consistently set the standard in all aspects of the trade. I believe the key to French culinary success is balanced equation of two components: 1. Staff structure and delegation of restaurant tasks and 2. The reverence the French have for their guests.

French restaurateur, chef, and author Auguste Escoffier took the knowledge he picked up while in the military and applied it to the organization of his kitchens. The idea, formally known as brigade de cuisine, placed particular tasks and responsibilities on to each person working in the restaurant. From the chef de cuisine (head chef), to the sommelier (head of the wine program), and even the plongeur (dishwasher) Escoffier made sure each person in the restaurant was effective and working to capacity from the beginning to the end of service. This way, Escoffier ensured that all of his guests were being properly attended and the face-to-face service given was not overlapping or jumbled. This is the foundation of French hospitality, which is far more important than cooking technique in my opinion. Treat the guest strategically and the rest falls into place.

When the Champagne-Ibarcq brothers opened La Bergerie in 1974, they brought the same attitude of guest importance and hospitality. The restaurant’s name literally translates to “the sheepfold,” which is a sort of crude pen used by shepherds to keep their flock safe while grazing. Current owner and operator, Laurent Janowsky continues their legacy with his sublime understanding of what guests want and need as he effectively manages his squad of sharply dressed waiters. With deft professionalism, the waiters smoothly glide across the floor during dinner service, taking orders, chatting with guests, promptly clearing used dish and glassware, and even occasionally flambéing tableside delights.

The menu at La Bergerie is very simple and structured. There is a small appetizer and an á la carte section for those looking for a smaller portion or additions to their main dinner. The best route in my eyes, though, is the tasting menu. You can either do three courses for $45 or four courses for $65. The portion sizes of each course are excellent and will definitely leave anyone satisfied. Opening courses like crunchy sweet bread with caramelized onions drizzled with a rich demi glacé, or frog legs lightly battered and fried in tempura with homemade teriyaki sauce are to be expected; high caliber French and Basque inspired plates that waiters proudly carry around the dining room. My editor’s favorite appetizer is actually on their á la carte menu: classic French baked onion soup with melted gruyere cheese. I was not able to sample this, and the only descriptive response I got was a grunt but you could tell he was in his own personal nirvana.

The wine list is very Old World, extensive, and ranges from $28 to $10k bottles. Laurent is happy to walk through the list with any confused or overwhelmed guests, and is more than capable at describing and pairing vintages. The wine program could potentially be the foundation for a second renaissance here, but I think the job of sommelier would need to be delegated to a designated individual. With the recent new wave of oenology in the millennial generation, I am sure there are quite a few qualified candidates in the area looking to take on the challenge. I ended up ordering a Syrah from Northern Rhone, which had a deep jammy taste with clean white pepper notes and subtle mineral flavors. It paired well with the hearty entrees I was about to enjoy.

The entrees of the day were perfect for the post winter, early spring weather. I sampled the beet risotto, which was served warm with earthy notes paired with a soft goat cheese – a really well executed vegetarian dish. My second entrée was tender short ribs with steamed vegetables and puréed potato, while my editor ordered the elk and sweet potato. As for desserts I had the hazelnut soufflé, which was really nice and fluffy with crisp and flaky crust. My editor had the Cr’es Suzette: thin pancakes with orange, and sugar, which were flambéed in Gran Marnier table-side. She let me sample this and I was as impressed with the flavor as I was with the delicate way the server prepared it like a seasoned line cook.

Overall La Bergerie is a classical dining experience with enough flare to keep all walks of guests content. Laurent is staying true to his French roots and showing his guests the warmth and personalized comfort that is synonymous with high-end restaurants. I really believe the wine program here has more potential and I definitely would come back to see if anything changes. Young people are embracing the vine and who better to educate them on quality choices.

Written by: Vince Arrunategui

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