Story by Jeanette Wages
Whether you are an avid fan of The French Chef who knows Julia Child's cookbooks from beginning to end or a casual diner who can almost pronounce ratatouille, you can most likely admit that French food has always been prepared with a little glamour and a hint of mystery. Let’s be honest, who wouldn't expect a higher level of cuisine from a classically trained French Chef? Here in Alexandria, I’ve noticed a huge intimidation factor when asking my local friends to sit down for a French meal with me. I’ve heard everything from, “I don’t need super fancy plates with tiny portions” to “There's no way I'm eating snails and frog legs for dinner!” (But you really should try them. They are quite delicious!) In all seriousness, French cuisine is as diverse as it comes with a few keynotes that will never change: freshness, quality ingredients, technique and (my personal favorite) butter.
When I think of French cuisine, I think of indulgence and richness. Beautiful sauces, sumptuous meats and did I mention the butter? With February being all about romance, what better time than now to explore some of Alexandria’s best French offerings?
119 S Royal St, Alexandria, VA 22314
On South Royal Street in Old Town, not far from the main strip of King Street, is Fontaine Caffe & Creperie. With the easy feel of a French Cafe, the name still has the Italian spelling from the original owners. Fontaine is an approachable option for diners of all levels that is known for its crepes. Typically a street food, crepes are a simple, thin ‘pancake’ filled with anything and everything! From market-fresh veggies to sweet and creamy Nutella, this French favorite is the definition of diverse. But Fontaine’s menu has a variety of options as well as offering a traditional or buckwheat crepe as a gluten free option. But the menu doesn't end there. They offer an impressive selection of brunch, lunch and dinner items, all while keeping their ingredient list under 30 items to ensure they are only using the freshest ingredients. I personally enjoyed the Parisienne, which is roasted herb chicken, ratatouille & brie cheese. Everything was freshly prepared and perfectly cooked with just the right level of crunch to the vegetables. Fontaine is the perfect place to enjoy with the girls or on a date, sipping on coffee or cocktails and sharing a crepe or two!
127 N Washington St, Alexandria, VA 22314
Wandering over to North Washington Street, there is a little gem that has been gracing the area for 38 years: Le Refuge. When entering this quaint restaurant, you are instantly transported to a family-owned bistro in the French countryside. The menu and recipes never change, offering their loyal customers the comfort of knowing that their favorite dishes will always be there, just the way they remembered them. Offering lunch, dinner and a pre-fixed menu, Le Refuge creates a relaxing atmosphere that allows you to sit back and enjoy, with each course served at your desired pace. The menu items are approachable while remaining authentic to French roots. If you are ready to try escargot, theirs is cooked in diced tomatoes and garlic butter, bringing out the flavor of this delicacy. I also highly recommend the Escalope de veau Francaise, a veal cooked in a lemon, butter and parsley sauce and served with fresh vegetables that are cooked to perfection. Just make sure you save room for their desserts; they are all made from scratch! It's almost as if this local eatery was designed with special occasions and memory-making in mind.
205 E Howell Ave, Alexandria, VA 22301
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Old Town, located in the heart of Del Ray, is Del Ray Cafe. Though this French restaurant proudly its 'Best Brunch' award on the wall, I think that its dinner menu deserves a few accolades of its own. This inviting two-story restaurant puts you at ease from the moment you walk through the door. And if the atmosphere wasn't enough to keep you, the impressive quality of the food certainly will. Del Ray Cafe maintains their innovative French country cuisine with fresh, organic ingredients and the love of a phenomenal sauce. My recent visit included Foie Gras, perfectly seared and plated over a blueberry sauce, followed by Roasted Moulard Duck Breast with Salsify, roasted purple potatoes and a kumquat sauce and finished with Baked Alaska for dessert. Every morsel was impeccable, leaving my taste buds yearning for more, each bite transporting me to France. The staff, the ambiance, and of course the food will make you want to spend every date night in this lovingly refurbished, 1925 Del Ray house turned casual eatery.
4231 Duke St #2485, Alexandria, VA 22304
Down on Duke Street, there is a restaurant you won't want to miss! Tempo was opened 30 years ago by one of Alexandria’s first husband and wife chef duos. The brightly colored prints create a beautiful contrast to the contemporary white walls on which they hang. It's a space that will entice you to dress up, order a premium cocktail and enjoy the ambience. The menu is a collection of both French and Italian fine dining options. My meal began with the frog legs (you knew they'd be here somewhere) in a light sauce. They were flawlessly prepared and plated, as was the Medaillon De Boeuf Au Roquefort-Tenderloin with Roquefort cheese, mustard and cream and served with potato croquettes that will fill your heart with joy. There is no doubt that I'll be back! Not only is the food delicious, but the casual and kid-friendly atmosphere is top-notch!
So, order some carry-out and watch Beauty and the Beast with the family or get fancy and have a romantic night out with your significant other or friends. Whether you’re single or taken, this French cuisine will elevate your date night to new levels.