An Ode to Paris at L’Avant-Garde
by Jane Runnels, Dame de la Chaîne
The Bailliage of Greater Washington, DC, celebrated French cuisine at its finest with a delectable four course dinner and perfectly paired wines at the much talked about L’Avant Garde in Georgetown on June 14, 2023.
L’Avant Garde opened its doors in 2022 and sought to offer a contemporary brasserie with traditional French food, but in a sophisticated and fanciful way. Chef Gilles Épie felt drawn to focus on French comfort food in a fine dining atmosphere but with an experience elevated above the typical French restaurant. He certainly delivers on that notion as is apparent in everything from the cuisine to the service to the ultramodern atmosphere. Even the restaurant’s name, L’Avant Garde, speaks to its roots as a new and cutting-edge experience.
Born in Brittany, Chef Épie began his career working under some of the most revered chefs in France, and had the amazing honor of earning a Michelin star for his work at Le Pavillon de Princes in Paris when he was only 22. Upon moving to the United States, he worked at the Watergate Hotel for only a few months before being whisked away to Los Angeles, Paris, and Miami ultimately finding his way back to Washington, DC.
To add to the specialness of the evening’s event, the restaurant was opened exclusively for the bailliage. Arriving members and guests mingled with a glass of Michel Turgy, Grand Cru Brut Reserve Selection, Blanc de Blancs, NV from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, France. It incorporates 30% reserve wine from cellars that store nearly two decades of such wines and is aged for three years in the bottle. This exquiste Champagne exhibits aromas of crisp green apple, dried white flowers, hazelnuts, and pastry cream. Attendees could also choose their favorite spirits from the open bar. From martinis to Old-Fashioneds, the drinks were made with extra care and attention to detail down to the intricately cut citrus rinds that garnished some of the cocktails.
Once guests were seated, Bailli Judy Mazza took the opportunity to recognize Vice Chancelier-Argentier David Burka as a member of La Chaîne for 10 years and presented him with the Chaîne’s Commandeur pin as a mark of his tenure. Judy also announced that David will be stepping down as the bailliage’s Vice Chancelier-Argentier (treasurer) after many years. Members of the bailliage expressed their appreciation for his dedication and hard work. Judy was pleased to announce that the torch is being passed to Dame de la Chaîne Stacy Wharam, who has graciously accepted the Vice Chancelier-Argentier position.
Judy then started off this special evening by having diners envision that they were being transported to a night in France without jet-lag or the need of a passport. Differing from other bailliage events that typically have a fixed menu, Chef Épie presented the gathering a menu offering two options for three of the courses, allowing him to showcase a larger number of tantalizing items. L’Avant Garde’s sommelier, Samantha McCrimmon, had selected extraordinary wines to pair with each dish, which she enthusiastically and expertly introduced throughout the evening.
Dinner began with an amuse-bouche – a meticulously crafted Yellowtail tartar served in an egg shell with fresh mint. Covering the egg was a delicate puff pastry, lightly crisp and providing a wonderful contrast of textures. The combination of flavors set the stage for an extraordinary gastronomic experience.
For the next course, one option was duck foie gras with a caramelized beignet and port wine reduction. One member described the foie gras as “perfectly executed.” With each bite, the decadent foie gras yielded a buttery richness. It was expertly accompanied by a crispy beignet with a custardy interior. The flavors and textures of the dish were balanced and exquisite. The wine that accompanied the duck foie gras was nothing short of extraordinary. From the scenic vineyards of Chermignac, France, the Valleien Terciener Pineau de Charentes offered notes of ripe fruits with hints of honeyed sweetness. The pineau is a blend of 75% Cognac from ugni blanc grapes and 25% fresh montils grape juice, aged 3 years in oak barrels. Its balanced acidity and touch of sweetness provided a refreshing contrast to the richness of the foie gras.
The other option for this course was marinated Scottish salmon, herring style, with warm potatoes and oil-coated onions. The salmon was superbly fresh, light, and perfectly peppered. Nestled alongside the succulent fish were tender, warm potatoes, offering a comforting contrast of earthiness and softness. The wine selected to accompany this dish was Domaine Laroche Chablis 1er Cru Les Vaudevay 2020. Grapes for this delightful wine are grown in a cool and narrow valley and enjoy sun from early morning to mid-afternoon, encouraging slow ripening that concentrates the chardonnay grapes’ aromas and acidity. Crisp and refreshing, it showcases the purity of Chablis, with notes of green apple, citrus zest, and a subtle minerality that reflects the region’s unique terroir.
Next were the entrées. It was a difficult choice between the French turbot filet or beef matelote. The French turbot filet was bathed in a fragrant citrus broth and accompanied by an array of vibrant baby vegetables. The turbot was very tender and its subtle flavor was elevated by the bright, zesty flavors of the broth. The baby vegetables added bursts of color and freshness to the composition. The wine that accompanied this dish was Domaine Graeme et Julie Bott, Crozes-Hermitage 2020 from Ampuis, France. It includes 80% roussancce and 20% marsanne and is aged for 9 months in French oak. The wine had hints of ripe blackberries and plums met with notes of black pepper and smoky undertones, creating a multi-dimensional profile that was delightful with the turbot.
Those who chose the beef matelote with wine, Taggiasche olives, and fregola pasta enjoyed tender beef bathed in a robust wine sauce. The addition of Taggiasche olives provided a flavorful brininess and contrast to the beef. The dish showcased the amazing braising technique executed by Chef Épie. Nestled alongside, the fregola pasta brought a comforting and satisfying element, its plump grains perfectly cooked and absorbing the flavors of the dish. Chateau Phelan Segur, Saint-Estèphe 2016, a vintage originating from Saint-Estèphe, France, accompanied the beef. The 2016 vintage is 53% cabernet sauvignon and 47% merlot. Hot days and cool nights – excellent conditions for the Saint-Estèphe appellation – brought out the good acidity and aroma in the grapes in time for a mid-October harvest. The deep, ruby-red color hinted at the wine’s intensity and concentration. Swirling the glass released a complex bouquet, revealing enticing notes of black currants, dark cherries, and a touch of cedar.
Side dishes, including fragrant mushy peas, savory vegetables, and wonderful pomme frites were served family style to enjoy with either entrée.
Guests were then presented with a delightful dilemma, choosing between two fantastic dessert options. The first, a grand-cru chocolate millefeuille accompanied by a velvety all-chocolate custard beckoned to chocolate enthusiasts with its indulgent allure. Layer upon layer of delicate pastry intertwined with the rich, luscious chocolate custard. It was a rare treat to have the opportunity to savor the exquisite Lustau “Emilin” Moscatel Superior, Solera Reserva, 30-Year Sherry from the wine region of Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. To maximize sweetness, the overripe grapes are often dried in the sun for up to three weeks. The wine is blended using the solera system – fractional blending in which younger wine is blended with older wine to ensure a consistent product year to year. Layers of caramel, honey, and dried figs and hints of exotic spices create an indulgent and beautifully nuanced wine.
The second dessert choice was the raspberry macaron with heavenly vanilla mascarpone cream and tangy raspberry coulis. The macaron’s delicate shell offered a satisfying crunch, giving way to a creamy and decadent filling that went perfectly with the refreshing tartness of the large and deliciously ripe raspberries. The wine with this dessert was Chateau Laribotte Sauternes 2019, from Preignac, France. Located 25 miles south of the city of Bordeaux, the estate’s 37 acres of clay and gravelly soil are planted only with noble grape varieties: 90% semillon, 8% sauvignon blanc, and 2% muscadelle. Velvety and rich layers of tropical fruits, including pineapple and mango, were met with honey and caramel to create a complex profile. The wine’s natural sweetness was nicely balanced by vibrant acidity.
Bailli Judy Mazza introduced Fady Saba, owner and Creative Director of L’Avant-Garde and presented him with a Chaîne plate to thank him and the entire L’Avant-Garde team for the fantastic dinner and memorable evening. Members and guests had the opportunity to ask questions about the meal and comment on their favorite dishes and flavors.
“C’est magnifique!” was a common summation of the evening by the fortunate diners. The culinary experience was truly one for the books – from the tantalizing dishes to the impeccably paired wines to the gracious service – each element of the evening harmonized flawlessly.