Martin Senoville, the new chef in charge of the menu makeover at Georgetown fixture Cafe Bonaparte, insists he’s cooking just like he would if he was back home home in Paris. There’s only one, somewhat obvious challenge.
”It’s exactly the same, like it’s there,” Senoville says. “Just the difference is English.”
It’s only been seven months since he’s moved from France, so the language barrier is still a daily impediment. Cafe Bonaparte co-owner Omar Popal hired Senoville to help reinvent the 16-year-old French bistro, which reopened with a new name yesterday following a hiatus used for renovations. At Lutèce by Bonaparte, the awning is outside is gone, and the popular crepes are no longer on the menu.
New dishes include one with chanterelles and fresh truffle in smoked potato cream. Another features foie gras with raspberry vinegar labneh. Lutèce by Bonaparte’s menu takes cues from both the Parisian bistro and the modern gastronomy restaurant where Senoville, 32, cooked before moving to the U.S.
The kitchen will bake its own bread, make its own jam, and concoct a vegetarian French onion soup. The restaurant will also embrace the French tradition of two-course lunches and three-course dinners at a flat rate. The menu will change seasonally.
”I just like to cook classic French recipes,” Senoville says. He grew up in a family of chefs and sold his restaurants, Uptown and Chez Josephine, before moving to D.C. to be closer to his wife’s family.
As for the decor, Popal ripped out the drywall in the dining room to reveal exposed brick and added plants to make the 26-seat restaurant feel even cozier. Jazz now plays on the sound system in the evenings.
Besides the six seats at the bar, there’s a new six-seat chef’s counter, and the plan is to add a special menu there, perhaps with wine pairings. The new name, Lutèce by Bonaparte, is a reference that French speakers will understand. Lutèce refers to the old city of Paris.
The family-owned Popal Group has been on a tear with flipping and refreshing its restaurants, turning Napoleon in Adams Morgan into Afghan bistro Lapis and Malmaison in Georgetown into the Berliner beer hall.
Popal has had this idea to create a more Parisian, more “refined version” of Cafe Bonaparte for awhile, but it didn’t come together until he connected with Senoville.
”What’s so great about our partnership is Bonaparte is small, like those places that you see in Paris,” Popal said. “It’s got such a cool vibe and the way that he does the plates, it all comes together.”