Monday, February 26, 2007

Montmartre: Older, Wiser, and Tastier

Giada: Bobby, I and a few friends trekked our way to Capitol Hill for a visit to Montmartre last Friday evening for dinner. Bobby and I have been to Montsouris, a french bistro in Dupont owned by the same team as Montmartre, a number of times and find it a decent neighborhood locale. Given that Montmartre is also a french bistro, we were expecting similar experiences. What we got just may tempt me to make that trek to the Hill again. Although maybe when it's a teensy bit warmer.

Bobby: Montmartre is, of course, an area of Paris principally known as a haunt of many important artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and as the home of scores of nightclubs, including the Moulin Rouge. (Giada really likes that movie. I think it's just okay.) While Montmartre doesn't entirely succeed in bringing a sense of cool to the stodgy Capitol Hill dining scene, it is a step in the right direction.


Giada: Like its brother (or sister ... I'm not sure how you tell that sort of thing) Montmartre is a surprisingly small dining space. Frankly, for such a small place, I'm surprised I've heard of it as frequently as I have. So, word to the wise, make a reservation.

Bobby: I think they are sister restaurants. At the Volokh Conspiracy, there was a discussion about the origins of using the feminine gender for stuff like ships and states. I believe the consensus was that the use of the feminine gender was a hold over from Latin.

Giada: Woah, Bobby. Let's not scare away the readers. Just yet, anyway.

Bobby: Anyway, there is definitely something appealing about small dining spaces. It helps give a restaurant more intimate and neighborhoody feel, which is almost always a good thing.

Giada: Although the small space means almost inevitably that tables are pretty crowded, and indeed that's the case at Montmartre. But it seems like the best choice, both for the owners who can fit more people in, and for patrons who have a better chance at getting a seat at this fine establishment.
The walls are a pleasing shade of yellow, and the restaurant is capped by a high ceiling with rustic exposed wood beams, which helps make the small space feel less crowded.

Giada's Decor Rating: 7 out of 10
Bobby's Decor Rating: 7.5 out of 10


Giada: To me, it seemed that the food was the major distinction between Montsouris and Montmartre, with Montmartre head and shoulders above the former. We started with a round of escargot baked in the traditional "mere anne" style, along with a bowl of moules. Both were about average for french bistros in the area (e.g., Les Halles).

Bobby: Yeah, neither was especially note worthy, but they weren't bad either. I'm always surprised how much I like escargot.

Giada: For the main course, nothing was really jumping out at me (although one of our dining companions had the opposite problem of not being able to decide what to order), so I settled on the braised rabbit served with olives, mushrooms, and creamy linguine. I was fairly full already from the few glasses of wine, bread and mussels I'd been enjoying, but let me tell you -- that rabbit did not go to waste. It was cooked perfectly, with the meat practically falling off the bone. The linguine was small portion, nestled just on top of the rabbit, that provided a creamy alternative to the deep flavors of the sauce. The mushrooms and olives could have been there or not -- the dish is plenty large enough that it doesn't need accompaniment, and the flavors of the two got lost in the sauce. But those too disappeared off my plate, for whatever that's worth.

Bobby: I had the venison for the main course. 'Twas quite well-prepared and not too gamey, which was a good thing. The sauce was a little stronger that I would have selected, but on the whole it was an excellent dish.

Giada: For dessert, the entire table chose either the chocolate cake or chocolate mousse, which was probably too bad, as there were other tempting options we'll never know about. I had the mousse, and overall, it was just ok. It's wasn't particularly creamy, and I didn't care for the addition of small pieces of dark chocolate added throughout, which gave it a chunky taste.

Bobby: I had the chocolate cake. It was chocolate, so to that extent it was great, but not a particularly note worthy dessert. I still ate every last bit, though. Afterall, it's dessert.

On a related matter, I'd like to note that one of the parts of making chocolate is called conching. Apparently, it is the part of the process where the cocoa butter is grinded down. I think this term should make it into the general lexicon, meaning beaten down by society or The Man. For example, Ina was totally conched by Oya in their handling of her Valentine's Day deposit.

Giada's Food Rating: 7 out of 10
Bobby's Food Rating: 7 out of 10


Giada: On the whole, service was somewhat mixed. While one woman (the owner, perhaps?) clearly worked to ensure the patrons' satisfaction and our waiter was prompt, that was somewhat off-set by another server's stressed and harried attitude. Yes, it was a Friday night, and yes, one of our dining companions was over 30 minutes late, but her attitude was still more abrupt and severe than I thought warranted. Particularly since we ordered wine and appetizers before the final member of our party arrived, meaning that the progress of the meal was slowed little or not at all.

Bobby: Okay, so I initially ordered the veal and the waiter gave me a smirk and said "Are you sure about that?" I said that I generally was a fan of veal, it's barbarity notwithstanding. He said that they'd had mixed comments about the veal and that maybe I should try something else. This back-and-forth made me totally lose confidence in the veal, so I went with the venison instead. But then the waiter kept asking me if I was sure about that choice. It was really annoying. I mean, it's a good thing to let diners know which of the dishes aren't well-liked, but at some point you just have to accept the patron's order and let it go. Letting go was not a strong suit of the waiter.

Giada: In the waiter's defense, he did bring a motherlode of corks to a friend of ours throughout the night after she had mentioned she was making a cork board out of them.

Giada's Service Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Bobby's Service Rating: 6 out of 10


It's a lovely and intimate dining atmosphere, and while many of the dishes are more than excellent, others are merely average. Prices are standard for what you'd expect, with appetizers in the $6 - $10 range, and entrees priced around $20 - $25. Capitol Hill isn't a neighborhood we find ourselves in often, but Montmarte might have be a reason to change that.

Giada's Overall Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Bobby's Overall Rating: 7 out of 10

327 7th Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003

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