Lutèce, the reboot of classic Georgetown French bistro Café Bonaparte, started serving food from a new chef with Michelin star credentials last week on a patio that claims a portion of Wisconsin Avenue NW.
A lot has changed since co-owner Omar Popal revealed the more “refined,” remodeled version of the 16-year-old cafe in December. In February, Popal announced that Matt Conroy, who worked as chef de cuisine at Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant Oxomoco in Brooklyn, was leaving New York City to replace chef Martin Senoville. But just as Conroy was beginning to take over, the coronavirus shut down the restaurant in March, and Conroy stayed in New York to self-quarantine with his pastry chef wife.
Now Conroy is back in charge of a “neo-bistro” that draws inspiration from a Parisian restaurant scene that is skewing more casual. The menu will change frequently, but to start it includes summery salads with heirloom tomatoes and melons, and mains like grass-fed flat iron steak that’s marinated in koji, the fermented rice base for soy sauce and miso, and served with salsa verde. Some Mexican influences are still present in dishes like Parisian gnocchi with poblano peppers, sungold tomatoes, and corn, or lamb ribs with tamarind glaze, chipotle, and lime.
For brunch, Conroy’s making dishes like ricotta tartine with raspberry preserves and olive oil, a short rib pastrami sandwich with garlic aioli and sauerkraut, and a classic French omelet with soft Boursin cheese.
“I’ve worked in quite a few fancy French restaurants when I was younger and did the fine dining road. I loved the technique and the sourcing of product, but I kind of fell away from the white tablecloth and stuffy atmosphere,” Conroy says. “In Paris right now, you’re seeing a lot of that, where you have chefs that were trained in Michelin-starred restaurants and they started opening bistros. The music’s a little louder, there’s exposed brick and natural wines, and that’s what I fell in love with. That’s what I’m trying to bring to Lutèce.”
Like many people stuck at home, Conroy spent his quarantine messing around with sourdough starter, and the result is a squash blossom-topped focaccia he’s baking in the restaurant’s single oven.
The tiny restaurant now boasts a 24-seat outdoor dining space on Wisconsin Avenue, taking advantage of the two empty storefronts adjacent to Lutèce. That makes it one of the more than 20 Georgetown restaurants that have taken over sections of a street. A takeout program will launch soon.
“It’s just as exciting to be opening up a restaurant in a pandemic as is in a normal situation,” Popal says. “For the hour and a half that you are sitting it with us, we just kind of want to transport you somewhere else [since] you can’t you really travel at this time.”