An Adams Morgan Classic
[from August 2007 issue]

If you have followed the career of superstar Johnny Depp, then you are familiar with his wistful expressions and piercing dark eyes. Imagine, then, the surprise on seeing his seemingly, though unintended, likeness -- sort of -- overhead at Adams Morgan’s reliable old-timer, La Fourchette. The Depp look-alike is holding or pointing with a fork -- hence the name “La Fourchette,” or “the fork.” And, of course, that’s not really Depp at all peering down from the mural, but at first glance -- well. . . .

Despite the real Johnny Depp’s absence, La Fourchette offers plenty of other attractions, not the least of which is its old-world charm, its picture-perfect setting, and, its neighborhood ambiance. Lunching recently were several groups of ladies of leisure, whose conversations were peppered with nostalgia and chit-chat. At another table, a single gent brought along his reading matter and on the far side, an older couple relaxed over their wine, coffee, and shared dessert. If you are looking for downtown, big-name glitz, you won’t find it here.

Once compared to “a Parisian café of old,” La Fourchette is run by its original owners, Jacqueline and Pierre Chauvet; he's the chef, she runs the front. This French couple maintains their kitchen vigilance, even in the face of an onslaught of tonier, costlier eateries around town. Perhaps that’s why they remain while so many newcomers and wannabes with their trendy foods slink away in the night.

What about the cuisine? The midday menu is short and sweet, but it offers several well-considered appetizers, including a big bowl of mussels Provençal that a fellow luncher selected. Also on tap: two different soups (one of the day), a seafood pâté with salmon and crabmeat, and select salads. While a mesclun salad may sound humdrum, their version of ultra-fresh greens dressed with a delicate mustardy mix is truly outstanding.

As for luncheon entrées, you can’t go wrong with a classic seafood crêpe. Theirs contains baby shrimp and scallops wrapped in a delicate “pancake” and bathed in a rich white cream sauce. Paired with a salad, this makes a satisfying lunch, though not a prescription for a dieter. Having gotten this far, you might as well include dessert, which are guaranteed to bring back the confectionary charms of those sweet endings enjoyed before high-tech dessert gadgets came into being.

For example, how can anything replace the elegant simplicity of the classic Floating Island, a dessert that derives its name from the delicate meringue afloat on a sea of crème anglaise or a soft custard and drizzled with a caramel sauce? Known in French as oeufs a la neige, this dessert brings back fond childhood memories from a certain generation, and finding it as an everyday sweet is heartening -- not every confection has gone nouvelle. Besides, as you spoon down into the custard, you come up with tangled threads of a caramel that are slowly pooling at the bottom of the dish, making this a must-order-and-enjoy conclusion.

If you stop in for dinner, you’ll find that the chef has ramped up your menu choices, and you’ll be deliberating over a crab flan, an onion tarte, or a crock of onion soup as appetizers before the serious eating.

The seafood crêpes are also featured, but I’d save my calories for the simple sautéed Dover sole or the more robust steak au poivre, one of those beef-centric dishes that turns plain steak into a dish for the sages. Not only that, you might consider the kitchen’s roasted rack of lamb with sautéed mushrooms, more expensive than the steak but assuredly excellent. If you favor innards, La Fourchette’s kitchen goes where few other American restaurants dare: calf liver, veal tongue, or sweetbreads with mushrooms and cream. And then, Floating Island.

La Fourchette / 2429 18th St., NW; tel., (202) 337-3077. Hours: Mon.—Fri., 11:30am-10:30pm; Sat. brunch, 11am-3pm, dinner afterwards; Sun. brunch, 10am-3pm, dinner afterwards. Dinner entrée price range: $13.95-$24. Major credit cards accepted. (Re-opening following vacation on August 15.)

Copyright (c) 2007 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107 “fair use”).

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

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