By Bob Tagert
La Bergerie – The Elegance of France and French Cuisine
”Located in the heart of historic Old Town Alexandria, La Bergerie restaurant was founded in 1974 by the brothers Bernard and Jean Campagne-Ibarcq, who emigrated from France and brought their unique style of French and Basque cuisine to America. This unique style of cooking won the restaurant immediate recognition from food critics and customers alike.
In France, the name “La Bergerie” refers to the sheltered and protected area where a shepherd keeps his flock during a storm. It was that evocative sense of protection and care that led the original owners to select a name that would reflect both the fond memories of their youth in France as well as their concern for the well-being of every one of their dining guests.
Laurent Janowsky, the restaurant’s new owner since 2000 and his wonderful staff, now continues that commitment to culinary excellence and to a warm tradition of hospitality started in 1974. Under Laurent’s skilled supervision, La Bergerie continues to set the standard for regional French cooking in the area and continues to be recognized as one of the premier French restaurants in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.”
I could not have said it any better. I have been around Old Town since the days when Bernard and Jean owned La Bergerie and it was the toast of the town. When Laurent took over the operation, he made a few subtle changes but the quality of the kitchen remained. It has to be noted here that Laurent was also a long time employee of the restaurant so he already had a great feel for its operation.
It seems that in the past this beautiful restaurant was viewed as more of a special occasion venue catering to an older crowd, however on this visit there were a few of the younger generation who have discovered this gem. A direct quote from Mike Higgins (pictured here with his lovely girlfriend Heather Empie) came in an email to us after we met them the night we dined. Mike wrote, “La Bergerie is absolutely my #1 favorite restaurant in the entire DC area, I am Laurent’s #1 fan, I have lived in Old Town for about 7 years now (I live on North Pitt St about 3-4 blocks from La Bergerie) and I eat at La Bergerie all the time. Funny story, I went on a vacation to France a few years ago, I kind of splurged on that trip and ate at several Michelin rated restaurants in St Tropez, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, etc. The trip was a totally amazing experience, some of the best food and wine I’ve ever had in my life, but in my – opinion I swear to you I’m not exaggerating – the “Foie Gras Poêlé” at La Bergerie is even better than anything I’ve ever had at any Michelin rated restaurant in France! Save yourself time and money, no need to pay thousands of dollars for a vacation to France this summer, just eat dinner at La Bergerie!”
While the restaurant doesn’t have an eye catching storefront – it is located on the second floor of the Crilley Warehouse building on North Lee Street – the interior transports you to another dimension. Muted beige colors set the tone for the restaurant with seating at tables for four and also half round booths that are very intimate. The décor is quite welcoming and makes for a very relaxing experience. The white linen table coverings add a certain amount of class to the place and the conversation tone is low and respectful of other diners.
Laurent and his staff are all about customer service! You are treated like royalty in this establishment. The excellent staff at La Bergerie has been serving their fine food ever since I can remember and we were lucky enough to have one of our favorites, Carlos, as our server for the evening. Presentation is a very important part of dining here.
The wine list at La Bergerie, as one might expect, is quite extensive with a strong emphasis on French and Californian wines. Washingtonian Magazine noted that their “International wine list is long and fairly priced.” The complete wine list features both a Standard ad a Reserve list, plus over 10 wines by glass. For guests who would like to bring a special bottle of wine from their cellar to enjoy, just check the information page on their web site for current policy.
La Bergerie is truly French dining at its best, from the atmosphere to the attentive service to the cuisine. My Achilles heel is French Onion soup and their La Soupe A L’oignon is fabulous. A rich beef based broth with just enough Gruyere cheese to please the palette and patience. Other appetizers rang from a Zucchini and yellow squash tart, to Diver Sea scallops with candied beets, Terrine of duck foie gras with pineapple chutney and brioche to the classic, Escargots.
In addition to their regular menu, La Bergerie has a sample four course tasting menu that changes slightly every two weeks. The choices for appetizers include Bergerie salad, Shad Roe, Roasted Bone marrow and six Chesapeake oysters. The second course includes Wild Mushrooms Fricasse, Norweigan Salmon, and Fresh Duck Foie Gras. T third course includes Ahi Tuna, Roasted Lobster, Lamb Loin stuffed with lamb sausage to Grilled Quail. The final dessert course includes Traditional Crème Brulee, Chocolate Molten Cake, and Orange Mousse Parfait to their incredible Soufflés with a choice f Raspberry, Hazelnut or Grand Marnier.
While I could go on and on about the food, I believe the photos accompanying this piece will speak for themselves (check out the plating of the roasted lobster). Something I forgot to mention earlier is that this place also makes a very good cocktail. Try whetting your appetite with a vodka gimlet straight up on your next visit!