That six-Euro jambon-beurre sandwich found on the streets of Paris. Kouign-amann pastries prepared daily in a Brittany bakery. The alchemy of a mother sauce.
Mt. Vernon Triangle’s anticipated new cafe-meets-bistro Petite Cerise, from the team behind nearby Mid-Atlantic marvel The Dabney (chef Jeremiah Langhorne and his business partner Alex Zink), is guided by these “little epiphanies,” as Langhorne calls them, that come with eating in France.
Petite Cerise opens Tuesday, March 14, a few blocks from the Convention Center at 1027 Seventh Street NW. Situated in a 130-year-old, two-story building, the bright corner newcomer exudes a low-key elegance with plenty of French flourishes.
Petite Cerise veers away from the sometimes-narrow conception of French food in America, and with that, there’s no steak frites or French onion soup on the menu. Instead, the restaurant aims to highlight the incredible breadth of the cuisine from various regions of the country.
“There’s so many other dishes, so that’s what we really want to focus on is a lot of those other dishes and doing them as good as we can,” Langhorne tells Eater.
He’s taking a crawfish in a tomato crawfish cream sauce that he had in Paris, but using lobster for the sauce. “We’re making huge batches of lobster stock and then cooking it down to the most concentrated flavor,” explains Langhorne.
Langhorne has wanted to create a restaurant like Petite Cerise for a very long time. Conceptualized in 2018, Petite Cerise’s construction was set to start right as the pandemic paused plans. But Langhorne’s love and deep respect for French food and cooking techniques goes back to the start of his culinary career, while working in the kitchen of Charlottesville, Virginia’s now-closed OXO under the direction of chef John Haywood.
“Seeing these concrete, beautiful, age-old techniques that if you followed them would always produce really good food was just something that I was really excited by and enamored with,” says Langhorne.
“Poisson ‘À La John Haywood,’” a tribute to his mentor, is almost exactly the same as a dish that he cooked under Haywood in the early 2000s—almost down to the aged balsamic. The potato-crusted snapper is accompanied by a raw fennel salad with lemon, bacon lardons, and balsamic-roasted pearl onions.
“That was the first dish that I ever learned how to fully cook, plate and make that I could make as pretty as the chef I was working for who was making it,” he says, “I really dialed it in, and I loved it. It was so good.”
But the team isn’t boxing themselves into the cuisine either. A traditional-ish French omelet “à la Petite Cerise” encases caramelized onions and gets topped with a cream sauce. House-brined and smoked pig ears sub in for bacon lardons in a salad Lyonnaise.
“Little changes, little touches to kind of personalize things to make them a little bit different,” explains Langhorne.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, Langhorne and his wife began regular pilgrimages to France, visiting Paris and then touring the rest of the country to take in its range of cuisine. He brought his business partners along in 2019 as they were conceiving the restaurant; six months ago, he embarked on a ten-day tour with Petite Cerise’s head chef.
“We came back more excited and charged up than ever to just get in here and start to try to see what we could do,” says Langhorne.
It’s from this “patchwork of different dishes and moments” during his travels that Petite Cerise came into focus, he says.
In the morning, guests can saddle up to the coffee bar, and choose from traditional French pastries like croissants, canelés, and pains au chocolat. The goal is to give visitors an opportunity to slow down.
In Europe, “I like sitting down and even if I’m just having a croissant and a coffee, just sitting down and eating it,” he says. “And that’s what we’re going to do here.”
The snail in the restaurant’s logo is a constant reminder of that ethos. Baguettes and sourdough from Maryland’s breakout bakery Manifest Bread are made with regionally grown grains.
Petite Cerise opens amid somewhat of a French restaurant boom across D.C., with highly anticipated openings like L’Avant Garde, Le Clou, and Ellington Park Bistro surfacing this past fall and winter while Opaline just came back online.
“It’s frustrating for me because this restaurant was slated for like four years ago, so had the pandemic not happened, we would have been well ahead of that curve,” says Langhorne.
Still, he says French fare was well overdue for a U.S. comeback.
“There’s a cyclical element to it. French restaurants have been a little out of vogue for long enough now that people are like ‘you know what, that food is really good,’” he says.
Petite Cerise is open Tuesday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations are available via Resy.