Nestled in the Willard Hotel right near the White House sits a little French restaurant that packs a powerful punch. Cafe Du Parc is consistently named one of Washington’s best restaurants and for good reason. The food here is very very good.
Now I am of the belief that French food should not be executed by a chef who is not a master of French cuisine. French food is like driving a Ferrari, just because you own one and you bought it doesn’t mean you know how to drive it. The same thing applies to French cuisine, just because a chef knows how to make French food doesn’t mean he truly knows French cuisine. There are a few restaurants that pull off French food fairly well in Maryland, Petit Louis is great (but inconsistent at times) and Terisguel’s in Old Ellicott City is also solid (but a tad boring in their menu). Neither pull off every aspect as well as Cafe Du Parc does.
Now I have been to Cafe Du Parc on numerous occasions and each time I’m left very impressed by the talent that exudes out of their kitchen. They not only delivery high quality food they deliver it with flair and skill.
On a blustery cold Valentine’s Day night, I entered their restaurant with Mrs. Unmanly Chef by my side. The entrance to Cafe Du Parc can be a little confusing as their bar/cafe is situated at their “entrance”, the hostess then greets you and takes you upstairs to your seats. The decor is classic D.C. chic with white crown moulding bordering the walls and a gold interior that creates a warm and inviting ambiance for the diners.
The staff at Cafe Du Parc is friendly and accommodating they are willing to work with you to make sure that your dining experience is how you want it to be. I observed one diner with numerous allergies meeting with the head chef, he then offered to create a custom menu to suit her needs due to the fact that there was a special Valentine’s Day menu with limited options available.
As I mentioned, the Valentine’s Day menu was a price fixed 5 course menu; which I am usually not a fan of but I can also appreciate the fact that the chef wants to put on a show for you on this special evening.
We began with amuse of Oysters with a cucumber jelly and sea water foam, neither of us really care for Oysters but the flavor was pleasant and the dish was well executed. Oysters for me are a consistency thing so it doesn’t really matter how they are prepared, I don’t usually enjoy them.
The first course was a foie gras terrine topped with a strawberry compote, the terrine came with two pieces of toast that were a ideal companion for such a rich and smooth creation. The foie gras was smooth, rich, and had a nice robust flavor. There wasn’t a single note in it that overpowered your palette, instead it all worked together to form a delicious combination in your mouth. Meanwhile the other option was a vichyssoisse which basically is a cream soup that has pureed potatoes, leeks, and chicken stock. This also included butter poached chunks which were so delicate that they melted in your mouth. The vichyssoisse had a mild pleasant chicken flavor to accompany the leeks and lobster flavors in the soup, the cream was not over the top rather it was just enough.
The intermezzo was a white peach and rose water granite which was the perfect move by the chef in his menu design. The granite completely cleansed your palette with the subtle hint of rose water that left you with a pleasant feeling in your mouth. The peach flavor was flavorful but not overpowering, all in all this was a very ideal choice for a intermezzo.
For the main course, we ordered the Truffle Butter Chicken and the Duet of Roasted Lamb Chop and Venison Loin. Good Choice.
The truffle butter chicken is a work of art, the chicken breast is tender and succulent leaving no hint of dryness. The use of oyster mushrooms as a sauce base creates a great rich salty savory flavor that works with the chicken well. But the true star of the dish was the side of potato gnocchi that was so delicate and moist we could’ve mistaken them for a gnocchi you’d get in Florence, not Washington D.C. The gnocchi simply melted in your mouth, the buttery mild cheesy flavor was heavenly and left you wanting more.
The duet of lamb and venison was a difficult dish to execute, in my opinion. Both cuts of meat are very lean and tend to have a gamey flavor when prepared poorly. Luckily, Cafe Du Parc’s head chef, who hails from Marseilles knows what he’s doing. The lamb chop had just the right amount of char on it while yielding nothing in the flavor department; it was succulent and so flavorful that I wish I had a whole slew of lamb chops all to myself. Meanwhile the venison loin, although small in portion size, was delicious and perfectly executed. Both cuts of meat were crafted perfectly as the meat was tender and juicy.
But I would be remiss if I did not mention the dark horse star of the evening, which was the potato croquets that accompany the duet of lamb and venison. These literally like little bites of heaven, the crispy outsides were only mashed by the absolutely creamy and savory potato inside of the croquets. They formed the perfect partner in crime to team up with the protein of this dish.
The evening finished with a trio of desserts that were tiny but packed a nice flavor punch. A trio of cake, flourless cake, and creme brulee made for a ideal conclusion to a impressive 5 course meal.
Overall, Cafe Du Parc (at least on this evening) is not about completely stuffing your face. Rather it’s about truly enjoying the skill and talent of the chef who is cooking for you. When you dine here you can tell you are being treated to a world class demonstration by a top chef. You will also know that when you look at your bill, because it can be pricey. However, that is to be expected especially when dining out on a special night where restaurants have razor thin margins and must turn a profit in the hyper competitive world of fine dining.
So go visit Cafe Du Parc, if you stay at the Willard you definitely should visit. Mrs. Unmanly Chef would never forgive me if I didn’t mention their brunch. It is out of this world. Since they also service the hotel (which if you have never stayed at the Willard, you should it’s probably the best hotel in all of the DMV), the brunch is usually served buffet style. But that does not mean the quality dips in the slightest bit. It is great and affordable, I highly recommend it.
Final Grade: A
P.S. Thank you to their kind staff, especially Franklin for running after me to give me my credit card because I forgot it. Service like that shouldn’t be forgotten.