Treasured Georgetown deli Booeymonger just wrapped up a decades-long run, and its quaint corner address will soon welcome fresh meat in the form of a burger-driven brasserie (3265 Prospect Street NW).
La Bonne Vache, which translates to “the good cow” in French, is a team effort between a pair of local culinary couples: vet chef Rob Aikens and his restaurant designer wife, Rachel, and Ari and Claire Wilder (Chaplin’s, Zeppelin’s).
“We decided we wanted to do a French brasserie with a unique twist with burgers as the entree,” says Aikens, a former protege of restaurant magnate Stephen Starr who’s led top kitchens across New York, D.C., Philadelphia, and London. The British expat’s 30-year resume includes extensive experience in burgers (Ghostburger, Dandelion) and French cuisine (Pastis). He says combining his shared love for both under one roof was a no-brainer.
“Corner brasseries are a local place to hang out, have a great bite, and meet your mates,” says Aikens.
The Aikens happen to live a block away and were always attracted to Booeymonger’s location nestled in its historic residential neighborhood. When the owner decided to close and find a new occupant, they pounced on the idea of doing a welcoming bistro with the Wilders.
“The stars aligned. Something was speaking to me about it, between the architecture and corner exterior,” says Rachel Aikens.
The fast-moving project came to fruition in a matter of weeks, from an inked lease to chef tastings and newly finalized menu. The team is targeting an early June debut for the 42-seat bistro that plans to pair French fare with beers, wines, and Champagnes at lunch, dinner, and brunch. Joining Aikens in the kitchen is John Kim, the former chef de cuisine at Starr’s Electric Lemon in NYC’s Equinox Hotel who recently relocated to D.C.
“We all believe in how special this place is and everyone is on board with what we’re going to do here,” says Ari Wilder, who’s curating the booze selection. “We want to appeal to all walks of life—men, women, and kids.”
Starters include duck liver mousse flanked with everything spice, brandied shallots, tart cornichons, and Comté cheese; shrimp and avocado cocktail; and salmon rillette with citron aioli, cucumber, and dill. Classic salads include a Lyonnaise topped a warm poached egg and bacon lardons.
The headlining list of burgers draws inspiration from iconic French dishes and flavors. The “bourguignonne,” for instance, features red wine-braised short rib, caramelized onions, and smoked bacon, while another loops in truffle brie. The “steak au poivre” comes with green peppercorn Cognac aioli, French blue cheese, and button mushrooms, while the “croque madame” plays with a fried egg, frisee, smoked ham, and melty gruyere. A vegetarian burger is built with roasted mushrooms and green lentils. Look for four burgers on the menu at any given time.
A small sandwich section piles proteins and French garnishes between a baguette. Shaved ribeye joins watercress, horseradish aioli, and vinaigrette, while pounded grilled chicken paillard comes with veggie crudités and green olive almond dressing.
Aikens revives his longstanding relationship with famous butcher Pat LaFrieda to build a beef blend for the bistro that brings a “nice little funk” to each four-ounce patty, he says. Aikens started consulting with LaFrieda back in 2010 in Philly, where he opened the British-styled Dandelion pub for Starr with a mission to perfect the cheeseburger (in 2013, Philadelphia magazine crowned his gastropub burger the best in the city).
More recently, he helped build D.C. pop-up Ghostburger into a pandemic-era success (he’s no longer involved with its permanent Shaw location in the old home of Oaxacan-themed Espita Mezcaleria, where he also worked starting in 2017). Before that, he was head chef at Rockefeller Center’s fancy Rainbow Room. NYC came calling again in 2019, when Starr tapped Aikens to reboot his high-profile Parisian bistro Pastis in the Meatpacking District and open Eastern European-French showpiece Veronika inside a Swedish photography museum.
He officially left Starr’s hospitality group this year, but he’ll soon reunite with the James Beard Award-winning restaurateur on a neighborly basis. Starr is on track to replace Georgetown’s Dean & DeLuca with an Italian market this year, building upon his growing D.C. empire that includes steakhouse St. Anselm and perennially packed Parisian staple Le Diplomate.
The D.C. restaurant industry is in the midst of a full-blown French food revolution as of late, seeing a surge of new arrivals like Le Clou, Petite Cerise, and L’Avant-Garde, to name a few.
For Aikens, the cuisine has never gone out of style. “I’ve loved French food since I was a kid— I was introduced to it at the age of eight,” he says.
La Bonne Vache’s short desserts section sticks to Francophile favorites like a silky chocolate mousse dotted with cocoa nibs and Chantilly cream-filled profiteroles, with cookies in chocolate chip, salted peanut, and almond-sable jam varieties. Prices are pretty cheap by Georgetown standards; most menu items are $12 or under.
The renovation retains historical elements like Booeymonger’s tin ceiling, and small edits include adding bistro-styled chairs and a fresh new coat of white paint across the brick facade. A sealed side door will pop open to life as a takeout window, joined by outdoor tables framing the exterior.
The building’s owner happens to come from a long line of butchers and cattle ranchers. Artistic odes to its black-and-white namesake will be aplenty, between cute cow accents and old-timey family photos on the farm.
“It has amazing bones and felt like a brasserie already. You walk in and it feels like a million memories are already there, we’re just adding to it,” says Rachel Aikens.