that’s some good(?) french food

Smouie Kablooie was in downtown Fairfax City the other night for dinner at Le Tire Bouchon – which has been well reviewed by the Washingtonian and Washington Post.  We had mixed opinions about the experience – but would recommend it overall.

The restaurant itself is quite small – which can provide either an intimate experience – or a very loud one – depending on who you are sharing the restaurant with.  We were lucky to have only a few other tables seated when we arrived – though the volume of their conversations increased exponentially with every bottle of Chateau consumed.  The heat was also turned up a bit too high for our comfort – particularly given how pleasant the weather outside was that evening.

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We began the meal with two sets of appetizers.  The French Onion Soup was quite good – probably some of the best we’ve had locally – with a generous portion of cheese and a flavor that was just salty enough to enhance the flavors.  The Caesar salad did not fare as well.  The lettuce seemed to be the kind of pre-cut romaine you would normally buy from your local grocery store and the dressing lacked even a hint of anchovy.

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This course was followed by a turine of duck foie gras and a plate of escargot.  The foie gras was exceptional and, flavor-wise, well paired with slices of a dry, sweetbread.  However, we were disappointed to find the sweetbread could not stand up to any spreading of the foie gras – so we resorted to using dinner rolls.  The escargot was disappointing – served too hot, with too much oil, and no seasoning.  Letting it sit for a good ten minutes and applying a few dashes of table salt greatly improved it.  I would also recommend the chef consider using garlic – rather than what seemed like powdered parmesan cheese – as an accent.

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Despite the mixed emotions over the first two courses, there was not doubt in either of our minds that the meat course was one of the best we’ve had in the area.  Rack of lamb was exactingly prepared to a beautiful medium rare and served with just the right amount of seasoning.  Sea bass, served with a delicate cream and bourbon sauce, gave us the sensation of eating a fresh Maine lobster – perfect textures and flavors that were warm and buttery.

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Dessert was also a big hit.  Although the apple tart and individual soufflé’s are their signature desserts – you have to order them at the beginning of the meal to allow adequate time for their preparation.  We opted for a plate of three tastes of crème’brûlée.  The vanilla and raspberry were very good.  The coffee flavor was not good, and suffered from a burnt sugar crust.   Espresso was pulled to short and lacked crème’ – the regular coffee was prepared in an individual French press – but was too watery to be considered coffee – more like hot, brown water.

In the end, it seems that this restaurant does some things very well – and others very poorly.  Overall the experience was good, though, and we would recommend it so long as you stick to the realm of dishes they have mastered.

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