Spike Mendelsohn's steak frites joint, Bearnaise, is primed to open any day now on Capitol Hill. This is the Top Chef alumnus' third concept for D.C., and it's pretty simple — steak, frites, and a handful of appetizers and desserts.
The decor for Bearnaise was inspired by France but given a modern twist, Mendelsohn explained. The artwork was found by Mendelsohn's sister and mother, who took a trip to Paris for the occasion. Bess Pappas designed the space. "We wanted to give the steak frites restaurant a classic feel, with mirrors, bulb lighting," Mendelsohn said. "There's a coziness to it." Check out the artwork and see images of the multi-talented French artist and musician Serge Gainsbourg, as well as the actress Brigitte Bardot (the pair were lovers), as well as iconic designer Coco Chanel. "I feel like it's not the typical artwork you'd find in a bistro — it's kind of funky, kind of hip," he said.
The space stretches over two floors, with images of the Eiffel Tower and Moulin Rouge there. Black and white checkered floors and a small view of the kitchen round out the decor. There is seating for 80 inside, with 12 seats at the bar and a 20 seat patio.
The menu for Bearnaise is pretty straightforward. In France, it's not unusual to find restaurants that only serve steak and fries, and Mendelsohn wanted to pay tribute to that while still providing a few more options for guests. There's a two course prix fixe menu with a choice of either salad or soup to start — prices vary according to the cut of steak ordered, with choices such as the steak maison ($28), ribeye ($38) or a filet mignon ($42). The steaks come with a choice of sauce and unlimited frites. There are sides and desserts as well.
The wine list is also slightly unusual by D.C. standards — every bottle in the house is priced at $40. "I think that's kind of fun; I think it will promote more of an exchange of wine knowledge between the customer and the waiter," Mendelsohn said. Having the price question out of the way will allow guests to order more according to their mood or taste, he said. Bearnaise has a media event scheduled for this evening, after which Mendelsohn and his team will finalize an opening date. His partners in the venture include Chef Brad Race and his sister, Micheline Mendelsohn Luhn.
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