For many people dining alone is a scary idea. It has never bothered me in the past. I’ve always been able to amuse myself, strike up a good conversation with a bartender, or other loner patrons of an establishment. As a married man now, I am fortunate to have someone awesome I to dine with. Five years ago, I did a lot of dining alone, mostly, I was exploring Northern Virginia and Washington DC, because I had just moved there for work and really hadn’t made any good friends yet. On the recommendation of a sales representative I was buying wine from, I ventured to a spot in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington D.C. called Bistro Du Coin.
The neighborhood is a hip area with a lot of historic buildings, foreign embassies, boutique shops, and bars and restaurants. On the corner of Connecticut and S Street, you’ll find Bistro Du Coin. Like every place I ventured to, I would always pull up their website to view the menu and photos. This website was, and still is, not the greatest website I have seen. I resembles the old free websites I used to make in high school and college for the numerous bands I was in; in so many words, amateur. I didn’t let it bother me too much, because the word-of-mouth vouch my sales rep gave was glowing. I was told, the food was awesome and cheap, the wines are retail price and sometimes cheaper because the owner would forget how much he paid for cases years ago, and it is a neat place. As a Francophile, I love French wines and food. French bistros are my favorite places to eat. I would usually go into the DC on my day off of work which was the case for my first trip to Bistro Du Coin. I arrived mid-afternoon, between lunch and dinner. I prefer the late lunch on my day off if I go out to eat. I remember the scene vividly. The restaurant seems larger than it is because it has very high ceilings, and a tall back bar made of really old weathered wood. There is old French bric-a-brac all over the place and a ton of tables pushed pretty close together. There is a balcony that has more seating over the kitchen and overlooks the main dining room. The tables are small and chairs look old and weak and most of the tables had red and white table clothes on them. There are multiple disco balls that hang from the ceiling. You are reading that correctly, disco balls.
I sat at the bar, my preferred choice. There was an older couple sitting along the wall finishing lunch and was being served coffee. A few servers were milling about and a man sat at the far end of the bar near the kitchen working on a laptop drinking a glass of wine. I would later find out he was the owner, Michel. The one tip I was given and told to look out for was the hand written daily/weekly wine specials written on paper hanging below a large spool of paper like you would see on the table at a doctor’s visit. You know the roll of uncomfortable paper they roll out for every new patient. On this paper is a special wine selection picked by owner Michel from the mountains of wine he has purchased over the years. I was told this is where I will find the best priced stuff and unique bottles. There was about a dozen or so wines on there. Some were fully labeled and specific, others just said a specific region of France with no producer. I don’t remember the producer, but I remember I ordered a glass of Chateaunuef-du-pape Blanc they were offered for $7. The whites from this region typically let grapes like Viognier, Marsanne, and Rousanne do all the heavy lifting. It was incredible with a nice golden hue and strong aromatics. As I sipped the wine, I pondered the wine menu. It had far too many visual errors for me, and different size fonts, different fonts, some pictures, but great pricing. I was already enjoying the ambiance to let the little things bother me. I decided to order the Foie Gras appetizer. I love Foie and most preparations I’ve enjoyed in the past had some sort of a fruit element to the dish. My favorite up until my visit to Bristo Du Coin was a Foie Gras over pineapple gnocchi and butter sauce. This one was more savory, seared and served over barley and an herbaceous brown sauce. It was new and far better than the typically sweeter preparations I was used to. Complimented by the glass of wine, things were looking good. A few more people had wondered in and seemed to be friends with the bartender. They sat a few seats away from me. I was taking my time today. I took the metro in from Northern Virginia and wasn’t worried about driving. I ordered a glass of red wine off the specials selection. They had simply written, Pommard, on the menu for $8 or $9. I love Burgundy wines and decided to take a chance. I had also ordered Tournedos Poele with a Roquefort cream sauce; steak frites. They had plenty of other choices that looked really good and I almost settled on a mussels preparations, but to me, steak frites is how I judge French bistros. The Pommard arrived and it turned out to be a Louis Jadot Pommard 2003. If you aren’t familiar with the region of Burgundy, their reds are mostly Pinot Noir, while Gamay is also grown in the south of Burgundy is regions like Beaujolais. I was very familiar with Louis Jadot and the 2003 vintage. It was a hot year all over Europe and ripened sugar levels to incredible levels making bigger juicier wines than they are typical. The wines of 2003 won’t be as long lived as more classic vintages, but makes and made for drinking at their peak. This Jadot was drinking well. It still had a griping structure and loads of plump fruit. It was going to be a nice match for the steak. The steak arrived and it was perfect. It wasn’t too big, there was a heap of frites and enough sauce in the accompanying boat for me to dip my frites in. By the end of the meal, I was completely stuffed and satisfied. The food and wine hit all their marks, and ambiance was great. It was a little hodge-podgy in some respects, but the Bistro was long lived, of course things will collect over the years. By the time I left, the proverbial hour of happy was upon the day and to say I didn’t leave happy would be a lie.
Where I live now, sadly there isn’t a true French Bistro. It is probably a good thing, because it would most likely just disappoint me. Washington D.C. is full of steak houses, ethnic spots, Cafes and Bistros. Big corporate money and government expenditures is usually what is being spent and prices can get out of hand really quickly in DC. It has become a mecca for great chefs and celebrity chefs these days. There are a few spots I’ve always enjoyed going that fly under the radar, Bistro Du Coin is by far my favorite. Despite eating meals at some seriously great spots in DC and around the world, Du Coin remains as the best. It probably has a lot to do with definite lack of pomp and circumstance, great food, and laid-back attitude they take.