Saturday, May 7, 2011

Petits Plats

Dishes To Die For: Belgian endive salad with roquefort; baguette; Lalande de Pomerol

My friend Michael was back in DC after a two year posting in Nepal, and we were looking for a place to reconnect. "The food is not that important to me," he said, "let's just find a cozy place where we can be comfortable and talk." I knew what he meant. It's not that he is indifferent to food. But celebrity chefs, designer dining rooms, and innovative cuisine would be a distraction. We needed a place where good food could be taken for granted and not be the star, a place where where we could enjoy a meal together rather than have the food as a third character at our table.

We opted for Petits Plats, located in a townhouse at the north end of Woodley Park's restaurant row.  Worn wooden floors and pale yellow walls greeted us as we entered. Although it was a weekday night, each of the rooms was packed and we definitely needed the reservation that Michael had made. We were ushered past what used to be the front parlor on the left (now hosting a private dinner party), the small but seductive bar in the lobby, and the living room beyond (where guests in formal wear stood chatting near the fireplace), up the staircase to a second floor room at the back of the house.

Despite its name, Petits Plats predates the deluge of small plates restaurants and offers traditional French food. In fact, "petits plats" in the French sense, does not mean small plates at all, but rather is a term of endearment for simple but good dishes that have the potential to be "mastered into exquisiteness". And that is exactly what I felt about the food on that particular night.

The wine list started with a 2005 Bordeaux for $25 and a Pomerol for $45 (and went up from there). This immediately told me that the selection was designed to offer quality wines within human reach, that the management would rather make good wine affordable than allow mediocre wine to ruin a meal, even if it meant cutting in to their own margins. We chose the Pomerol, which although not the finest of this designation, I knew to be good value. And it was perfect, the kind of wine that makes you understand why the French drink wine on a daily basis, and why, therefore, it must be affordable (adjusting for DC prices, that is!)

To start I ordered the belgian endive salad with roquefort, walnut, and apple.  I worried a little when the salad arrived seemingly drenched in dressing. (I had imagined chunks of cheese rather than a creamy dressing). But upon first bite, I found that the creamy part was very light, just enough to coat the leaves, and the chunky parts were solid enough to impart the depth of sensation that you want from good cheese. Paired with one of the best crusty baguettes I have ever had, I could not have asked for anything more.

All of this basic perfection put us at ease, lifted our spirits, and launched us into getting reacquainted. By the time the entrees arrived we were deep in conversation. If my venison was a bit on the dry side, well, by now I was feeling quite tolerant....especially because Michael's beef bourguignon was a stand out, an old standard taken to a level I did not know existed. "Mastered into exquisiteness" really is the only way to describe it.

Since we were not ready for the evening to end, we decided to order dessert. The waiter nodded approvingly at our choice of tarte tatin. I wouldn't say this was the best dessert I have ever had, but it did give me a new insight. The sweetness finished off the meal in a way that suddenly seemed indispensable to its completeness. Leaving those savory notes to linger in the air would have been like stopping a musical performance before the finale. I often waver about whether to have dessert, but now I think I will adopt a new criterion: if the meal is that good, it deserves to be finished properly. If not, well I have been known to walk of out a show before its conclusion...

Finally, sated, we got up from the table to leave. As we reached the bottom of the staircase, Michael turned halfway round and gazed up at it. "You can almost imagine when people lived in this house," he said. Yes, the interior of Petits Plats still feels like the home it once was, an apt setting for the bon petits plats, the simple dishes it does so well. And it was the perfect place to welcome Michael home.

Petits Plats on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

SvoMama said...

It sounds utterly delightful!