Review: L’Auberge Chez Francois

In what has now become a yearly tradition (we’ve only been doing it for two years but that’s long enough to be a tradition, right?) my coworkers and I take a long, long lunch in the spring to L’Auberge Chez Francois.

How long, you ask? Well, if you factor in the drive to the restaurant… about three and half hours.

It is totally worth it.

If you’ve never heard of it before, L’Auberge is an amazing traditional French restaurant in Great Falls, VA that has been around for years and years. It’s expensive, it’s old, and it’s a DC classic. My friends who grew up in DC (I know, they exist! Shocking.) will tell you that it’s the place they went for milestone birthdays, graduations, and all of those other big family moments. For the average DC foodie who didn’t grow up here, it might go undiscovered due to its remote location, audience of older clientele, and expensive price tag.

Luckily, we discovered L’Auberge’s $38 fixed price lunch. You get four courses (appetizer, salad, entree, and dessert) and a glass of wine. It’s expensive for a lunch, yes. But again, it’s totally worth it. You might, as we did, even get an “amuse bouche” which is a complimentary plate from the chef. Ours was a caramelized onion quiche which was perfect to start our meal with! Not to mention the garlic toasts and cottage cheese spread.

Mushroom Crepe

For my first course, I had the mushroom crepe (above). The menu describes it as “a crêpe with chives, stuffed with a duxelle of mushrooms, tomato concassé, Madeira sauce.” This was my favorite dish of the afternoon. The mushroom duxelle is almost meaty in flavor, the crepe crispy and smooth, and the mushrooms on the side are cooked to perfection. Perfection.

For my salad, I forked over the extra $4.75 to have the Roquefort cheese salad instead of the house salad. No picture, sadly, as I inhaled this before I remembered to snap.

Main course was a lobster salad, described on the menu as “Maine lobster salad on garden greens, asparagus, tomatoes – with vanilla vinaigrette.” This was, admittedly, a little strange when I first tasted it. The vanilla vinaigrette wasn’t totally to my personal taste (I tend toward preferring savory over sweet) but it tied the salad together perfectly. The lobster was cool and refreshing, the asparagus were cooked better than any asparagus I’d ever had before (we debated at the table as to the cooking method and finally came up with “blanched”).

Maine lobster salad

The capstone to the meal, though, had to be the souffle. These must be ordered midway through the meal as they take 25-30 minutes to prepare. The fixed-price lunch comes with a complimentary dessert but the souffles cost about $8 extra. Again, they are totally worth it (seems to be the theme). If you’re dropping $38 on lunch already, what’s another $8, right?

Right!

Last year I ordered the chocolate souffle, but this year I opted for the raspberry and vanilla. Normally I’m not one to mix fruit with other food (fruit purist?), but this was heavenly. It’s fluffy, the perfect amount of raspberry, tart and sweet, powdered sugar, creamy deliciousness. It seemed huge when it came out but it melts in your mouth – I ate the entire thing.

Raspberry Souffle

I am looking forward to next year’s adventure to L’Auberge already!

Bonus/insider pro tips:

  • If it’s nice out, asked to be seated on the patio. It’s beautiful out there (with an emphasis on the bee-you-tee-full).
  • Make reservations. Even for lunch. Supposedly the dinner reservations fill up 3 months in advance.
  • Dress up. The crowd is older than average and it is very, very formal. Lunch you could have more outfit leeway, but for gentleman a jacket is still de rigueur.

Late Haiku

This weekend was a bit stressful for me. I was traveling, my mind was elsewhere, etc. etc. You know the drill. So I completely forgot to write a haiku on Sunday. Please forgive my tardiness and accept a mid-week token of apology: a late haiku.

Can’t wait for the pool
Summer brings so many things
Memorial Day!

Okay, not my best effort. But hopefully it got you thinking about your fun Memorial Day plans. Speaking of which, don’t forget to wear sunblock! I recently switched my facial moisturizer to SPF 30, which dermatologists recommend now as the minimum amount. InStyle, my favorite magazine (thanks Mom), had a feature this month on sunscreens. They have some good tips, though some of their favorites are expensive. I’m not one to spend upwards of $20 on one bottle of sunscreen, but I did make a vow this year to fully protect my entire body with sunscreen when I sit out by the pool. I bought some classic Coppertone (love the smell!) for my arms and legs and a fancier Neutrogena with a higher SPF for my face, neck, chest, and shoulders.

Memorial Day, here I come!

Jazz in the Garden

There is one event that cements summer’s arrival in DC: Jazz in the Garden.

Beautiful music, outside in the funky setting of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, every Friday afternoon (5-8:30pm). The ultimate people-watching scene. Yummy sangria, blankets, snacks, and (usually) gorgeous summer evening weather.

The JING kickoff happens this Friday, May 25th. For more details and specific performer dates, visit http://www.nga.gov/programs/jazz/.

This is a great country…

Pillsbury crescent rolls. They are the answer to the question, “why is the United States still considered a world power?”

The other day, I was making Pillsbury crescent rolls (cringe all you want – I wasn’t about to spend 8 hours making croissants from scratch like my dedicated friend A). I took the can from the fridge, unwrapped the wrapping, heard the soft but satisfying “pop” as the pressurized can opened, and 8 minutes later I was eating warm, flaky, buttery, nearly perfect crescent roll (except for that Yellow 5 and Red 40). Mmmm, reminds me of childhood Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. The crescents were always my job.

And then, as I sat there chewing the buttery deliciousness, I thought to myself, “America is a great country.” You can buy a can, open it up, and in 8 minutes have delicious crescent rolls. Who even thinks of this stuff? America. F*** YEA.

Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)

Tom Kha 1

I have expanded my kitchen horizons so much in the past year that I can’t even believe it. If you told me last year I’d be cooking with coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce I would have laughed in your face. Especially since pescetarianism/vegetarianism coincided with learning to cook for myself post-college, for years I had tended to stick with the simple and easy – pasta with sauce from a jar. Noodle packets. Steamed broccoli and brown rice. The occasional casserole. Buying strange ingredients inspired a fear in me – probably a fear of failure – that prevented me from trying new dishes and especially trying new or “ethnic” cuisines.

Now, partly in thanks to Pinterest, partly because of my bored taste buds, and partly because of living with N and being friends with E, I have expanded my cooking horizons to…Thailand!

Thai cuisine takes some getting used to if you haven’t tried it before. This Tom Kha soup is a pretty good introduction, and a great standby if you’re already loving Thai food. It’s a soup with subtle flavor, mostly of coconut, that can be amped up with spices (see the chili paste ingredient in the list below). And you can add whatever your heart desires – shrimp, chicken, tofu, greens, mushrooms, you name it. I like to serve it over brown rice to make it a more well-rounded meal but it would make a great first course served simply in a small portion.

I made this version of Tom Kha (usually referred to as Tom Kha Gai) on Saturday night to rave reviews. It came together in about an hour but I wasn’t being very efficient, so you could probably do it faster. The pictures are from the leftovers that I had last night. It still great the next day, though I was wishing for more fresh citrus to brighten it up again. I need to follow E’s example and always keep lemons on hand…

Tom Kha 2

Enjoy!

Tom Kha (Thai Coconut Soup)
Ingredients:
1.5 cans of coconut milk (you can substitute light coconut milk)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (use fresh, it really makes a difference)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp chili paste (add more to taste depending on how spicy you like it)
1 stalk lemongrass (I used the dried kind but use fresh if you can find it)
1-2 kaffir lime leaves (if you can’t find these, just add a little more lime juice)
zest and juice of 3 limes
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: firm cubed tofu
Optional: soba noodles
Optional: spinach
Optional: mushrooms
Optional: shrimp 

To make:
1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low/medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and lime and lemon zest. Saute until fragrant.
2. Add the coconut milk, vegetable broth, fish sauce, and chili paste. Add the lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
3. Add your optional ingredients as desired. I like to sear my tofu (and if I have time, press it and marinate it) in a separate pan with salt and pepper before adding to the soup. I also like to add fresh spinach and sliced white mushrooms at the very end. You could add shrimp or chicken, whatever your taste preference.
4. Add the juice of the lemon and limes and turn off the heat. Remove the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, discard.
5. Serve hot over brown rice or noodles.
Makes 4 servings.

Tom Kha 3

Tom Kha 4