La Bise, Washington, DC

Nancy and I ventured into the wilds of downtown Washington for dinner, and what a dinner it was. As part of my extended birthday celebration, Nancy took me for dinner to La Bise. It had been recommended by Lisa and Frank McAuliffe, and you can take their recommendations to the bank.

La Bise is in downtown Washington, just across Lafayette Park from the White House on a little orphan block of Connecticut Avenue. We were able to find a parking space right in front of the restaurant. It seemed too good to be true, and it was. We had an early, 6:00 reservation, and there is no parking on the block until 6:30; and the block is ground zero for DC’s aggressive tow-away enforcement. What the heck. We sat outside with a view of the car, and the restaurant folks kept a vigilant eye out for tow trucks. I was poised to dash out and move the car,

Nancy and I sat down and I ordered a cocktail (Woodford Reserve on the rocks), and the waiter asked what type of ice cube(s) I wanted. That told me we’d get great service.

I savored my drink for a bit while we talked, perused the menus and watched for tow trucks. Some very good bread appeared on the table, half white and half whole wheat, along with butter and some sun dried tomato butter.  It disappeared in the natural course of events, and the waiter offered to bring more, but we declined.  

Meanwhile we’d made our choices. Nancy ordered a Morro Bay Avocado Salad to start, and was delighted with it. The seasonings included ancho pepper, gooseberries, cilantro, and more.  Nancy commented on the complexity and attention to detail in presentation, and the server commented that the kitchen staff used tweezers in the preparation of dishes. It’s an excellent, well thought out dish.

I ordered the Spanish Octopus, which came with charred fennel, basil, kalamata olive, and ‘nduja vinaigrette After our trip to Vail, I didn’t have to look up ‘nduja.

Delicious. The octopus was fork tender and enhanced by salt crystals, the richness of the kalamata bits, and the fennel. The dressing was very tasty, with the ‘nduja balanced with some sweetness and tang. I suspect that those green sprigs were bits of what, fennel? about to blossom. They complemented the dish beautifully.

On to the entrees. Nancy was thinking of the sole, but Lisa McAuliffe had raved about the Okra King Salmon Coulibiac, which also received a glowing endorsement form our server. So salmon it was, and it was a big hit.

The oro king salmon was encased with a layers of, from inside out, black trumpet mushrooms, herbed rice with a dil sauce, and a puff pastry crusted with herbs, and served over a sauce mousseline. Here it is, a bit overexposed.

The salmon itself was beautifully marbled and as tender as can be. The puff pastry was … luscious, and the inner layers were just as good. The seasoning of the dish was beyond thoughtful, and overall it was a magnificent dish.

I ordered the Rohan Duck Breast.

There’s a lot going on here. You can see the figs, and that’s a sweet potato puree. The duck breast has been trimmed for presentation, and the brown orb at the top was a very light sweet pastry, and the underexposed dark form at the top right is a confit duck leg pressé. The sauce is a cooked wine syrup.

The Rohan duck was exceptional. Sous vide took it toward medium rare, and then it was seared, giving the seasoned layer of fat a wonderful crispness. Wow! Too often sauces served with duck are cloyingly sweet, as here. At La Bise, the sweetness of the vincotto is balanced by the richness and additional subtle sweetness of the figs and the pastry and the puree. Brilliant, and the little fennel (?) blossoms made another welcome appearance.

Most remarkable, however, was the confit pressé. It was not pressed duck, but shredded confit of duck leg pressed into a form and then caramelized.  It was so rich, so flavorful, so good, one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while, and I’ve been eating some truly magnificent dishes

I’d asked for advice on a wine to have with the duck and, after consulting with the wine director, the server returned with a bottle of grenache and another fall-back bottle in case I found fault with the grenache. It was just the thing. I didn’t bother with the other bottle.

“Would you like some the dessert menu?” “No, thank you. No dessert.” “Is this a birthday or anniversary?” Well, yes.” “Then you’re going to get it anyway.”  

Ah, a lovely and delicious little white chocolate cake. It was followed by the bill and two pretty petits plaisirs with beautifully balanced flavors of apricot and ginger.  

And there we are, a wonderful dinner with the love of my excellent life.

I can’t imagine how he sensed that it was a celebration dinner, Don’t I look like the typical downtown diner?

La Bise is an exceptional restaurant. Clearly, they have a first-rate leadership team, and my hat is off to all of the team members from the people who set and oversee the plan to those who perform the most unheralded tasks. One of the things that helped knock this meal out of the park was the service. Our waiter, Matt (who didn’t volunteer his name (thanks, Matt) but yielded it up when I asked). Matt is a true professional. He “read” us well and adapted himself to our pace.  We were never rushed, and never had to wait. He was affable, relaxed, informed, all in all a model server, as good as any I can remember.

La Bise isn’t exactly cheap. Entrees range in the 30s, but that’s in line with the location. Given the quality of the food and the service, La Bise is a bargain. Go and see for yourself.

***

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