320 Massachusetts Ave, NE
The Turkish nationals Chef Kemal Deger and entrepreneur brothers Bolukbasis make or unlikely ambassadors for French cuisine in our nation’s capital. Such is the power of our melting pot society in the United States that not one eyebrow can be raised when confronted with such seemingly unlikely gathering of nationalities.
I have encountered Chinese nationals running Austrian restaurants; Germans successfully serving Turkish dishes in Leesburg and now, veteran Turkish restaurateurs debuting a French country bistro in the heart of Capitol Hill. Vive Les Etats Unis! Bistro Cacao had only been open for 3 days when we visited.
Situated in the quaint building that housed Two Quails for more than twenty years, Bistro Cacao is warmly decorated in rich red colors that make this locale eccentric, warm and cozy. Tables are closely situated in petite chambers offering plenty of privacy and romance, masked by red velvet drapes. The senescent wooden floors and the strewed art work hanging on the walls adds to the allure of this restaurant. We were greeted by very dainty and amiable French manager Veronique Onteniente.
According to an urban legend, the word Bistro, which means quickly in Russian, entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Russian Cossacks who wanted to be served quickly would shout "bystro" at the hurrying French garçons. True to its name, our service at Bistro Cacao was brisk, sometimes to a fault, like when our bread was initially served semi-warm. When alerted, the situation was rectified immediately by one of the omnipresent and attentive owners. For our appetizers, we ordered Escargots au Beurre D’Ail, Salade de Roquette and Pâté de Faisan. Out of the three our favorite was Salade de Roquette served with arugula, roasted shallots, roasted pecans topped with Pecorino cheese and raspberry vinaigrette. Close second was the “Snails”, as one of the wait staff put it, sautéed in garlic butter and minced shallots. We loved dipping pieces of our bread rolls in its dressing.For our main courses, we ordered Onglet de Boeufaux Echalottes and Mixed Seafood Grill. The clear winner was the Onglet de Boeuf aux Echalottes which is a grilled hangar steak with caramelized shallots cooked in red wine sauce and served with what seemed to be double fried French fries. The serving size is substantial without being excessive with very tender steak swimming in red wine reduction sauce. Though the mixed seafood grill was very delicious, the lemon parsley sauce and the saffron rice with which it was served made this dish more Greco-Roman than French in my opinion.
As for dessert, we selected the Flourless Warm Chocolate Cake served with vanilla ice cream and Mango Coulis sauce. Hidden inside the cake is molten hot liquid chocolate that rushes out like lava, once punctured by your fork, to engulf the cold vanilla ice cream forming perfect harmony of taste. Bistro Cacao is place to keep an eye on as it expands into the edifice next door and opening a wine bar with outside terrace seating. Under the guidance of Chef Kemal Deger (formerly with Tire Bouchon) and the experienced Bolukbasi brothers, Cacao is sure to become one of the most delightful contemporary bistros in this city of ours.