Following an extensive interior and menu makeover, Sofitel’s newly revamped French bistro revived service this month with its original chef back in charge.
Lobby-level Opaline, which translates to different types of glass in French, first debuted across from manicured Lafayette Square park in 2018 (806 15th Street NW). After straying a bit from French cuisine over the years, the White House-adjacent restaurant and bar returns to its roots on Monday, March 6 with a 40-item menu change.
“These are all the French classics we sold the most of back in the day,” says executive chef Kevin Lalli, who returns to D.C. after a nearly 2-year hiatus at the helm of Colorado Springs steakhouse Prime 25.
His one-page reopening lineup at Opaline 2.0 starts with oysters, shrimp cocktail, build-your-own charcuterie and cheese plates, French onion soup, foie gras parfait, escargots, steak or tuna tartare, butternut squash agnolotti, P.E.I. mussels, endive salads, and sides like duck fat potatoes, truffle fries, and roasted baby carrots with curried pistachio.
Mains include duck à l’orange, steak frites, Atlantic salmon with braised fennel, gooey Gruyere burgers, and a croque-monsieur. Daily specials showcase all sorts of Francophile favorites (roasted half chicken, cassoulet, braised short ribs, lobster risotto, beef bourguignon, and spinach and ricotta ravioli). Dinner runs 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
“There is a common misconception of hotel food that it can’t be chef driven,” he says. “The idea is to get first-timers in here and realize this is really tasty.”
French food done well also doesn’t have to price gouge guests, he says. Opaline’s entrees start at $24, appetizers are $14-$19, and a dozen by-the-glass wines are $12 and up and bottles start at $50. Weekday happy hour runs 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Formerly dressed in black-and-white flooring, sexy retro prints, and sleek blue and gold furnishings, Opaline now looks more like a bonafide brasserie plucked from the bustling streets of Paris. The full-scale renovation in its Art Deco-era hotel includes bistro-styled wooden chairs, patterned mosaic flooring, walls painted robin egg blue, glowing orbs of light, white lace curtains, and an assortment of vintage French posters and artwork.
Lalli says his return to D.C. feels right—and it almost didn’t happen. He was just about to sign on to reopen Miami Beach institution Forge with hospitality mogul David Grutman when Sofitel came calling last fall, he says. Before the early days of Opaline, Lalli was the roving corporate executive chef for Barcelona Wine Bar.
Lalli’s comeback to the luxury hotel coincides with a citywide resurgence of French cuisine, with recent restaurant openings from Le Clou, L’Avant-Garde, Ellington Park Bistro, and Le Sel.
“This food is prep-heavy and you can tell there is lot of love and work here. Everything is scratch, not one thing is bought,” he says. A zero-waste block of tuna makes its way into a tartare, with smoked creme fraiche, fresno pepper, and puffed rice, and a classic nicoise salad. He expects to switch up ingredients in late April, when spring is in full swing.
Opaline, formerly a two-part destination with a detached dining room across the lobby, is now largely condensed to its 110-seat, window-framed bar area overlooking its wraparound patio with room for about as many. Much of the original bar team is still in place, sending out a DC Old Fashioned, whiskey flights, blackberry mules, and potent Vesper cocktails. Opaline’s new cherry blossom-themed cocktail Le Japonais Revisité, served in a gorgeous swan goblet, is available through April.
The second dining area is still utilized for events and breakfast service (7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on weekends). Opaline’s traditional French afternoon tea service (le goûter) is offered 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.