The first time I ever ate French food, it was in a little street café in Montreal. My parents, my best friend, and I had gotten caught up in the melee that was a flamenco guitar concert in the square of this foreign city and we were directionless. To make matters even worse, none of us spoke French.
It was dark and we were starving, so we took a seat at a promising-looking French café. Everything was in French and I’m sure our waitress thought we were “horribly uncultured” because 1) we were Americans and 2) probably didn’t speak any other language other than English. Actually, this isn’t true of our group, but in this case, we were out of luck. No speakers of le français in our party.
My friend and I tried our best to translate using the two months of French we had learned in 6th grade—and picked out dishes that carried known words; poulet (chicken), beouf (beef), vin (wine). It was a start.
My mom found a word she knew; foie gras. I’ve eaten strange things from all over the globe—but I had never eaten duck liver. My mother promptly ordered the dish to share. It was my first taste of authentic, French food. It was heaven—and so very French.
I am proud to say that there is another extraordinary establishment devoted to the French culinary arts in Washington, D.C. It is in my top two favorite restaurants in the city (the other is an authentic Italian joint that also stole my heart). I eat at this place so often that the owner knows my face and I when I sit down, the waiter asks how I have been since the last time I was there. How much can change in 5-10 days?
It’s that good.
The name of this well-known secret is Bistro Cacao.
Located at 320 Massachusetts Avenue, NW it is only a few blocks’ walk from Union Station.
I have patronized “The Bistro” for every meal, and I can tell you that the menus are to die for no matter what time of day you decide to drop in.
The brunch menu contains my favorite rendition of eggs benedict in the world. Accompanied by sweet breads, croissants, chocolate spread, delicious jam, and two sides of my choosing (usually bacon and fruit), it’s hard not to fill up on extras before the main course. The price tag for all this food is also pretty decent — at least by Washington, D.C. standards. It’s less than $17. Throw in the usual cup of coffee or bellini and you’ll hit $20 — still not bad for a gourmet breakfast that will keep you full until mid-afternoon.
The lunch and dinner menus are just as amazing. My favorite lunch entree is the steak salad and I usually prime the palate for the upcoming steak extravaganza with the lobster bisque soup. The Bistro’s French Onion soup is also to die for — just be careful not to burn your tongue on the copious amounts of gourmet cheese.
For dinner, I usually go big. The night is young and the wine list extensive… let’s order a bottle. Ha ha! In terms of solid food, I like to try one of the specials—veal, fish, game… I’m making my own mouth water. The quantities for both dinner and lunch are quite generous, but you have to make sure to leave room for dessert.
I have sampled the entire dessert menu, and, honestly, it’s hard to choose just one plate each time I peruse the little, red book. The poached pear is definitely a favorite—and I suggest you give it a try. Homemade chocolate sauce. Yeah, I gotcha.
Scrumptious menu aside, Bistro Cacao has become a favorite for another reason; ambiance. The staff is amazingly friendly and, like I said before, the waiters know my face and can usually guess what I’d like to order before I even sit down. It feels personal and warm, like you’re eating at home.
The backdrop for this gourmet culinary play is also very French — and also very fun. Located in a three sprawling row-houses, Bistro Cacao has tables abound. However, instead of packing guests into rooms of cold, uninspiring furniture, patrons are transported to France. Tables are tucked into the sides of rooms, surrounded by wing-back armed chairs with cushions for comfort, and framed by red drapes that can be let down for privacy. Classy, French music plays overhead and you can’t help but settle into your pouf chair contentedly. Did I mention they have a spectacular patio for outside dining?
I love The Bistro because the atmosphere is relaxed and professional — and you know, whatever you order, the next hour is going to be heaven on a plate. I hope you visit. Joie de vivre!
320 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002
Who should go?
D.C. residents and visitors — anyone who enjoys good food, wine, and puff chairs.