Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to make his new French brasserie in Georgetown the type of place that his daughter, a GU student, would want to eat. Along with converting a stuffy, 37-year-old steakhouse into a dazzling dining room full of Instagram-able components like a “fabergé egg” booth, he’s leaving his biggest restaurant to date in the hands of a 25-year-old chef, Jaryd Hearn.
At Brasserie Liberté, a 250-seat behemoth that opens for brunch and dinner tomorrow, Hearn thinks his burger will hold its own against Le Diplomate’s burger Américain, a Big Mac-style creation with its own cult following. He combines three cuts of meat into his patties to get the right ratio of fat. The double gets made smash burger style, but Hearn cold smokes the meat before it hits the flat top to replicate a char-grilled flavor. The fennel seed bun integrates a foaming butter base.
“It’s definitely a heavy burger,” he says, adding his play on a Thousand Island dressing “really lightens the whole thing up.”
Hearn learned that Stephen Starr’s always-packed French bistro on 14th Street NW is the city’s gold standard, so he ate there three times. The chef’s commitment to R&D comes in part from the two years he spent in the modernist kitchen at Alinea, Chicago’s sole restaurant with three Michelin stars. He keeps in touch with now-executive chef Simon Davies, bouncing around recipes and ideas. He also worked there alongside Keith Bombaugh, the chef at Mirabelle, Ilhan’s French place downtown.
“I looked a lot towards my time at Alinea, not so much plating, or big picture of the dish but how to create a carrot that tastes like the best carrot you’ve ever had in your life and do that all the way through the menu — that makes each and every component special,” Hearn says.
His fries, which supposedly went through over 77 trial versions, take three days to make. They’re soaked for 24 hours to remove the starch, with water changed every four hours. Hearn says the spice mix is “to-die-for.”
A vegan carrot grain bowl was created with college students in mind. A Bourguignon that subs in a mushroom medley for meat is vegan-friendly, too. Hearn didn’t tell his 100-person staff it was meat-free during a tasting session, and near no one believed him.
“That tells us we really nailed it,” he says. “With so many restaurants, the vegan dish is just grilled veggies on a plate — we want them to crave that dish and want to have it twice a week.”
Hearn calls the cassoulet a “big winner,” made with scratch sausage, lamb, chicken, and a white bean puree. His French onion soup took three months to perfect. Along with mastering a “complex” beef-mushroom broth, the Emmental Swiss cheese was the hardest element to get right.
“I hate when I go into a French onion soup and all the cheese just falls inside. You should be able to cut through the cheese and pull a piece of it,” he says.
The brasserie will also be running hours conducive to fueling late-night cram sessions or feeding other restaurant workers. It stays open until 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on weekends.
“We want to be what Bistro Français was at one point,” says Ilhan, referring to the M Street NW staple that closed in 2016 after 41 years. “I used to go there a lot for French onion soup and Benedict. There’s a need for that.”
Ilhan also thinks there’s a need for a middle-ground option that’s not trying to compete with its pricey Cafe Milano neighbor. The average price point for dinner entrees is $20 to $25.
“We want to be an everyday restaurant for the neighborhood — parents visiting their kids in Georgetown to tourists,” he says.
Brunch kicks off at 8 a.m. for early risers on the weekend, filled out by avocado and lox Benedicts, omelets, and a bourguignon skillet.
An extensive collection of over 150 wine labels are available by the bottle ($28 to $2,000), with over 20 going by the glass ($8 to $23).
Along with eight draft beers, the cocktail list ($11-$13) is filled out by varied versions of Old Fashioneds, martinis, sours, mules, and a zero-proof “Nogroni” option. A shiny Austrian espresso machine will send out shots all night long.
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- Brasserie Liberté Gives a Fusty Georgetown Steakhouse a Revolutionary Redesign [EDC]
- An Alinea Alum Will Lead the Kitchen at Georgetown’s Anticipated Brasserie [EDC]
- Mirabelle’s Owner Is Bringing Georgetown a Brasserie for Millennials [EDC]
- Mega-Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan Is Adding Yet Another Restaurant to His Roster [EDC]
- More Fantasy Dishes — Like a ‘Potted’ Banh Mi — Are En Route To Mirabelle [EDC]