For his new job at La Bise, the French replacement for the venerated Oval Room in downtown D.C., executive chef Tyler Stout has come up with a description for the cooking that’s a little more specific than just calling it “modern.” At the restaurant that opened blocks away from the White House last week, Stout says he’s aiming to present recognizable, classic flavors, but “in a way for 2021, and not 1985 Ducasse.” La Bise (800 Connecticut Avenue NW) will cater to the type of diners who are familiar with that named-dropped chef’s work, but also “your aunt who never goes out to eat and wants a well-done steak,” Stout says.
That’s the line the chef will have to walk in his new role, which follows three years at Troquet on South, one of the top French restaurants in Boston, and a history in D.C. at Macon Bistro & Larder and Bethesda’s Barrel and Crow. Every dish on the opening menu (full version below) is under $40. Stout says customers are welcome to show up in shorts, but La Bise is also gunning for a Michelin star. That would be a first for restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, who oversaw a 26-year run for the Oval Room before shutting it down during the pandemic.
La Bise serves Maine lobster, but instead of poaching it, the kitchen cooks it over clean-burning binchotan charcoal on a Japanese-style konro grill. Cooks baste the lobster with a compound butter that includes lobster roe, lemon juice, and a little bit of saffron. An accompanying hoe cake contains more roe and carrot juice, both providing an orange color. The sauce is a carrot-ginger emulsion with reduced butter, and there’s an espuma of shishito pepper and basil. Because La Bise adopts a “hyper-seasonal” approach and constantly tweaks the menu, Stout says the $19 first course may only be around for a few weeks, even though it’s the dish he’s most excited to serve.
Stout serves seared foie gras, but his version is a play on strawberry shortcake with compressed fruit, homemade brioche that’s toasted in butter, and a strawberry-Champagne sauce with a little tarragon steeped in it. A buttermilk foam stands in for whipped cream, and a strawberry shrub (vinegar syrup) helps cut through the fatty main ingredient. The chicken liver pate on a charcuterie board is about 30 percent foie, which Stout says makes spread taste less like iodine. He’s making his own head cheese and cured sausage, but the ham on the platter comes from the Bayonne region of France.
Larger dishes include an Ora King salmon coulibiac, a throwback dish of fish in puff pastry with mushroom duxelles, herbed rice, dill, and sauce mousseline. A $38 serving of pistachio-crusted lamb loin comes with sous vide lamb belly that’s been crisped up on the grill, chanterelle mushrooms, and English peas that have been cooked in pea juice with herbs, preserved lemon, and a butter emulsion. The “wild garlic” listed with the lamb is actually a green garlic chow chow, a sweet pickle made in the style that Stout ate with just about everything while growing up in North Carolina.
Bajaj wanted to see steak frites on the menu, so Stout put together pieces of dry-aged beef that get lightly glazed in Bordelaise sauce and served with Bernaise. He says he spent two weeks workshopping fries, winding up with a technique that incorporates multiple rounds of blanching, chilling, and baking.
There are still white cloths on the tables, but Bajaj ordered an aesthetic refresh to make the space feel less stuffy and more “playful,” he says. One step was knocking down walls around the central bar to create an open kitchen. Others included hanging mirrored tiles around a wall in one of two dining rooms, generating a feeling like sitting inside a disco ball. A wall wrap features an abstract pattern of cartoon female figures showing off salmon-colored skin, which adds a dash of pink flamingo kitsch.
“It lifts you up, and that’s exactly what the goal was,” Bajaj says. “Coming out of this year of sort of downs, we want to feel good.”