Bearnaise, South Capitol Hill

After a long day of running around, steak tartare sounded perfect to me and my young dining companion, and after hearing about the version at Béarnaise, it sounded like the perfect restaurant for us.

Given how crowded Good Stuff Eatery and We The Pizza were, I was surprised to see that there was walk-in availability at Bearnaise (this could be a simple matter of price – I, myself, did a double-take when I saw the prices of their three steaks online). We took a seat at their lovely, but completely empty, marble-topped bar at around 7:45 PM.

Our charismatic bartender, Luke, poured me a draft of DC Bräu’s “The Corruption” ($7) and a bottle of Bell’s Two-Hearted IPA ($8), while improvising a mocktail for Matt, a variation on a Thyme Lemonade ($6).

The steaks at Bearnaise come with unlimited frites, but the price-points (8-ounce flat-iron, $28, 14-ounce entrecôte, $38, and 8-ounce filet, $42) are a bit startling when you’re used to the Mendelsohns’ other restaurants, and also Cleveland Park’s Medium Rare. Given that the steaks come with unlimited fries, they’re less expensive than at first glance. When I walked back to the restroom, I noticed a beautiful-looking entrecôte on a plate, charred on the outside, nice and bright red on the inside – it was a lovely looking steak.

We both got our own Beef Tartare ($15), and this rendition is as good as I’d heard it was. The tartare is hand-chopped to order, and comes with some of the condiments left for the diner to mix in, including a raw egg yolk on top (if this was a quail egg, it’s the largest I’ve seen). It wasn’t served with the potato crisps I was expecting; rather, with an abundant quantity of decent-quality bread – not baguette, not focaccia, but something rectangular and airy – honestly, this dish would be better served with the house made potato crisps I’d read about. Also, this version of beef tartare leaned strongly into the acidic side of the register, so keep that in mind when you order it – it’s within the norm, but certainly an acidic (rather than an unctuous) version. Overall, we both liked it a lot.

Having ordered the green beans, Luke steered us away from them, and toward the delicious Brussels Sprouts ($9) – a plate of halved, thoroughly grilled beauties topped with enough Bearnaise to cut through any bitterness, and to nudge this dish into decadence. While delicious, you might want to ask for the Bearnaise on the side if you’re worried about calories.

A second side order of Champignons à la Montréal ($9) was a plate of roasted portobello mushrooms, thoroughly braised in red wine. I got to enjoy most of this, as Matt still hasn’t developed a palate for red wine reductions, but if you enjoy them, then you’ll enjoy this. It was as simple as it could be, perhaps with some Provençal herbs in the mix, but just a little bit.

Matt was starving from a day of exercise, so I ordered a glass of wine and ordered ushim a dessert. Most of the wines here are all $40 by the bottle, $10 by the glass, and I spotted a 2009 Duboeuf “Domaine des Quatre Vents” Fleurie on the menu, but since I was sitting at the bar, I looked up and noticed open bottles of the 2011 and 2008. While I am not a fan of Duboeuf, I do like this one particular bottling (one out of about a thousand), and when I saw the 2008, two words were bouncing around inside my head: “Distributor Closeout.” Although this retails probably for around $20, I didn’t care – I knew the 2008 was drinking, and asked for a glass. I got a hefty pour, and it was just wonderful – putting the “flowery” in “Fleurie, and fully mature while not being one jot over the hill. While it lacked some depth (it was, after all, a Duboeuf, it was that rare moment when you get to enjoy a fully mature glass of Cru Beaujolais). If they have the 2008, get it by the bottle – don’t get the 2011; get the 2008. They’re probably paying $10 for this, and you shouldn’t care if they are.

For dessert, we got an order of Profiteroles ($ ), three very good, reportedly house made, pastry shells, filled with fairly generic vanilla ice cream, but served with a pitcher of good, warm, chocolate syrup. I was trying to back off at this point, but I still got my licks in. While not Et Voila quality, this was still a fun dessert that was worth ordering.

A couple of things before I go: I was surprised, to say the least, that Chef Race recognized me – I honestly didn’t think he knew me from Adam, especially since I look very different right now, but sure enough, he brought out the first course and we chatted briefly. Because of this, I’m obligated to mention a few things: I was steered away from the green beans and towards the Brussels sprouts, the potato crisps were 86d and we got bread instead, and most importantly, I just found out now that the profiteroles didn’t make it onto the check (I should have reviewed it earlier, but this could have easily been an oversight because we ordered dessert last-minute). The bill after tax was $87.69 and if I recall, we left an $18 tip.

All of this preface because (and I think you know what’s coming next) I have to initialize coverage of Bearnaise in the Dining Guide. Using the simple criterion, “if someone were taking me out to dinner, where would I want to go,” and based on this one meal – including my sighting of that steak, and the fact that they had the 2008 Fleurie in stock for $40 – I’m initializing Bearnaise in Italic, behind only Montmartre and Beuchert’s Saloon in Capitol Hill South. 

“Did you really just rate one of Spike’s restaurants in Italic, Don?” 

Yes, yes I did.

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