The goal behind Georgetown’s new modern brasserie is to appear and function as though it were plucked from the streets of Paris.
L’Avant-Garde (2915 M Street NW) opened in Georgetown on Wednesday, December 7 next door to cocktail cove L’Annexe. The two were meant to open as a pair, but like many pre-2020 plans, this one was foiled by the pandemic. The chic drinking retreat opened in fall 2019 but its sit-down sibling, held up by permits, missed that crucial moment before the world turned upside down.
Now, three years after L’Annexe opened along Georgetown’s main M Street drag, its other half is ready to shine. Built out of a centuries-old row house, 100-seat L’Avant-Garde is narrow but long and understated from the outside with a dark exterior to match L’Annexe. The culinary operation is led by chef Gilles Epié, who at 22 was the youngest chef to receive a Michelin star. He’s cooked for a long list of notable guests including former President Bill Clinton, French President Emmanuel Macron, Princess Diana, Bruce Springsteen, and Al Pacino, to name a few.
Owner Fady Saba classifies the cuisine as Southern French, which means influences from the region’s nearby neighbors Italy, Spain, and North Africa are all in the mix. Baby potatoes are bathed in a harissa aioli, Moroccan semolina accompanies a caramelized-roasted cod, and bubbly Bellinis and French spirits play starring roles on the cocktail menu.
“This is a very sunny cuisine, very fresh cuisine, very aromatic cuisine,” Saba tells Eater.
Simplicity is a word Saba and Epié use a lot when describing the menu. But the process to develop the menu wasn’t simple at all — mostly because of the overarching vision that the dishes coming out of this eatery on M Street NW should taste like they’re 3,000 miles away.
“The target for us is as if we were opening in Paris today,” says Saba. For him, that means watching the weather in the city. It’s going to be a cold week, which means truffles are on the menu at L’Avant-Garde. “We kind of forget when we did the menu here – and we still want to forget – that we are in the U.S.,” he said.
Saba says Epié was perfect for the project not only because he understood his ambitious vision, but he’s also particular.
“He has his crisis about one ingredient so you lose your whole weekend listening to Epié: ‘What are we going to do to replace this, to replace that,’” said Saba.
To acquire all those ingredients, L’Avant-Garde traverses the map. The meat and most of the vegetables are sourced stateside as far away as California, but the butter, foie gras, truffles and some of the fish are shipped from France.
The small opening menu is made up of seven starters and another seven entrees. To begin, there’s a duck foie gras beignet, octopus with baby potatoes, and a salad with a uniquely shaped, curly lettuce. Mains ($35-$58) include a classic French roast chicken with frites, Saint-Pierre (John Dory) with baby vegetables, and a roasted sweetbread with caramelized endives and baby onion. Desserts include a “large” raspberry macaron, a white chocolate and lemon panna cotta, and a Roquefort terrine with walnuts and apricots.
Epié is working with Georgetown stalwart Boulangerie Christophe’s head baker Stéphane Grattier on breads, desserts, and pastries. Epié says its carbs convinced him that recreating French cuisine was possible in D.C.
“When I tried a bite I said ‘this is really, really awesome and he knows exactly what he’s doing,’” said Epié.
Beverage director Hakim Hamid carries over the artistic style of his cocktails at next door’s L’Annexe. Four Bellinis headline the drink menu. A classic peach with a not-so-classic composition is created with champagne, lapsang souchong tea, bay leaves, and the titular fuzzy fruit, while seasonal “Lychees in a Pear Tree” combines champagne, vodka, lychee, and pear.
Infused liquors and washed alcohols are put to work in drinks like “Jade Gimlet” (coconut-washed gin, Green Chartreuse, basil, lime oil); “Thyme is of the Essence” (vodka, thyme and lavender-infused Cointreau, grapefruit, raspberry shrub); and “La Ville des Lumières” (French single malt, roasted banana butter-washed sweet vermouth, walnut bitters).
A bar area up front paves the way to a grand fireplace near booth seating, which, in turn, leads to the main seating area, with a ceiling completely made up of skylights.
Sommelier Samantha McCrimmon oversees a wine list of over 200 mostly-French labels. Saba says it was a priority to offer substantial by-the-glass options as well. Its 20-count selection ranges from $17 to $27.
L’Avant-Garde joins other high-end French eateries in the Georgetown neighborhood like La Chaumiere, Lutéce, Apéro, and Brasserie Liberté. French cuisine is especially on the rise around D.C., thanks to Le Diplomate’s continued reputation as a politico and celebrity magnet and recent arrivals like Le Clou in NoMa and Ellington Park Bistro in the West End. But Epié believes he’s creating something that the city, and the broader U.S., is lacking.
“I don’t think there’s a French restaurant like this in D.C.,” says Epié. “So many states in America, people open restaurants with cuisine ‘à la française’ which is French-style cuisine, but here we are French cuisine.”
Ultimately the idea is not just to create a French restaurant but to transplant guests to the City of Lights.
“They’re gonna be able to try the real flavor from France, for people who don’t have a chance to go to France. That’s what I’m excited about,” said Epié.
To start, L’Avant-Garde is open for dinner, Tuesday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.