Sometimes all you need is a little push to realize a dream. When Christophe Poteaux, executive chef at the Watergate Hotel in D.C., and Michelle Garbee, executive pastry chef, learned that the hotel planned to close its restaurant, they decided it was time to find a place of their own.
They began looking last December and when they learned Café Marianna on North Royal Street was up for sale they felt they found their space.
“It fit us and fit our style,” said Garbee. There was a good space, a patio and parking.
Their inspiration to come to Alexandria was Cathal Armstrong, chef and owner of Restaurant Eve. And like Armstrong they created their own atmosphere and presence at what had been a well-known neighborhood restaurant.
Walking in on a late summer evening, the atmosphere is soft and inviting with a back wall painted merlot, the other walls, Portobello, the mushroom color going to gold, and unobtrusive track lighting in the ceiling. One wall is board and batten and will feature the work of local artists. Opening the show is Susan Vincent, whose vivid abstracts add a splash of color. Jazz and French ballads play softly in the background.
THE STAGE IS SET, now for the food — for food and revolution is what Bastille is all about.
Poteaux, who grew up in Normandy and Paris chose the name as “something that would make me feel at home.” He lived in the Bastille neighborhood and noted that Bastille stood for revolution.
“French food has been going through a revolution for the last 15 years,” he said. “It is lighter with a lot more fresh ingredients.”
He described his cuisine as “French in its roots with regional and world influences.”
But both he and Garbee emphasized “We are not fusion.”
Instead they have brought their experiences from California, New York and Europe to the table.
For example one entree, sea scallops is served with eggplant caponata, an Italian staple but this caponata is infused with cumin and is made not only with tomato paste, onions balsamic vinegar and olive oil, the expected, but also pistachios, golden raisins and cinnamon.
Traditional Vichyssoise, a cold leek-potato cream soup is served in three small glasses, flavored with tomato, basil and fennel. While a series of small plates included a trio of Artisanal cheeses and a variety of items duck including duck charcuterie, confit, prosciutto and rillettes. The standard mozzarella and tomato is anything but, with slices of buffalo mozzarella served with slices of heirloom tomato, each slice a different variety.
Brunch too will have a French touch with what Poteaux calls “decadent scrambled eggs,” oeuf brouille, eggs scrambled French style with extra butter and cream cheese and served in a puff pastry shell. Croque Monsieur, ham and cheese on toast, is a well-known brunch item but Bastille will serve a Croque Madame as well with a sunny side up egg on top. Then there is his version of French toast, essentially bread pudding toasted.
As for desserts, Garbee, the pastry chef and co-owner is as passionate about them as she is about the decor. She will be serving a rich, dense chocolate pate and seasonal items such as a warm apple tatin and creme brulee made with Madagascar vanilla.
IN ADDITION TO THE USUAL menu offerings, Poteaux and Garbee will have a tasting menu with wine pairings. The tasting will consist of five courses, “a good way of trying a lot of things in order, a progression of flavors,” Poteaux said.
There will also be a theater menu from 5 to 7 p.m. for those attending performances at Metrostage, something that Watergate had also offered in conjunction with their neighbor the Kennedy Center.
Care for a drink with dinner or lunch? Bastille will offer wine-based cocktails as well as a variety of wines by the glass, the half bottle and the bottle. The emphasis is on French wines according to Garbee but they will be offering “little finds from small wineries” including those from the United States and Portugal.
The cocktails will include the traditional Kir and Kir Royal as well as Rose Sangria and a Viognier with star anise-infused syrup.
While Garbee and Poteaux were making their plans for Bastille, the Watergate changed its mind and kept the restaurant. But the couple have moved on and hope to offer a cuisine rooted in French tradition but created with fresh, and whenever possible local ingredients, with some twists of their own. Unconventional, fun and definitely not stuffy.