Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bastille Review

Bastille gets a face-lift

On an unsuspecting street corner along the northern fringe of Alexandria, locals escape to provincial France…without the exorbitant price tags of airfare and hotel or the hassle of exchanging dollars for Euros.  Providing fine French cuisine in a casual atmosphere, Bastille meets my criteria for restaurant essentials: it not only showcases the talents of two award-winning chefs, Christophe and Michelle Poteaux, but also an interior renovation and the acquisition of a top sommelier from DC’s Old Guard, James Beard award-winning beverage director Mark Slater, formerly of Citronelle in Georgetown.  Boasting inspirational culinary feats at an affordable price, in an atmosphere where you can easily slip in among the regulars, Bastille is what I look for when I decide a restaurant is a true favorite.

Slater’s thirty-plus years of experience helps amplify the culinary power of the husband and wife chef team—an advantage that young sommeliers just can’t top regardless of how many corks they’ve popped. Mark spins yarns of many great vintages with depths of knowledge that enrich your mental journey to provincial France and pique your palate’s imagination. On my very first trip to Bastille, I was seriously pleased with my experience and the food journey.

I recently eased onto a bar stool before realizing my visit coincided with Alexandria’s Restaurant Week. My spirits were immediately dampened, as I don’t tend to like the frenzy surrounding this turbulent week for most restaurants, but my hopes were immediately elevated as the first dish was placed before me.
My meal began with three charcuterie selections, which arrived neatly aligned: pork rillette, house-made bresaola seasoned with marjoram and oregano, and a goose liver pâté topped with Concord grape aspic. The first course could have sufficed as a full meal for me on a casual Monday, but it was Saturday and I ate a light lunch in anticipation of the splurge. When Slater made a point to ask me what my wine preferences were, I demurred: “I trust your judgment.” My trust was rightly placed.  His spot-on judgment created a not-so-ordinary pairing of a Côtes de Provence rosé that shimmered salmon-colored hues in the glass. Most people would raise a brow when pink wine sloshes in their glass next to robust charcuterie; but the pair couldn’t have been more perfect.  My taste buds loved the way strawberry accents framed the savory flavors of the aperitif. The charcuterie itself was delicately aromatic and herbaceous while giving way to sweetness from the rich and fatty meat, just calling for an elegant, fresh, smooth and equally flavored rosé.

The journey through rural France continued with a seemingly-traditional cassoulet consisting of white bean stew, slow-baked pork belly, and duck sausage layered with slices of pan-roasted duck breast, topped with a crispy slab of pork belly that was out of this world due to texture and melt-in-your-mouth flavor. What really sent my mouth soaring was the combination of duck, cassoulet and a robust Bordeaux red wine known as the “bad boy” in French slang. Slater poured “Mauvais Garçon,” a blend of 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The value of this wine speaks volumes of Slater’s talents to source true gems for less, as the pedigree on this regular Bordeaux AOC couldn’t be higher coming from the notorious garagiste, or small-batch wine maker, Jean-Luc Thunevin.

Ending in sweetness, I enjoyed Valrohna pot de crème with orange compote and candied cranberries, paired with Maydie ruby port. The dessert was balanced by citrus notes folded into chocolate decadence; therefore, it needed a wine laced with sweetness and aromatic persistence to stand up to the slight bitterness and aromas of high-quality chocolate. Not ready to end my culinary vacation, I dared to forge on and order a cheese board offering three artisanal selections of a bleu, a triple-crème, and a semi-hard cheese paired with a white burgundy (aka chardonnay). Wow! I was in bliss, because the cheeses were all so smooth and rich and in need of a wine that could contrast the decadence with acidic crispness and minerality while simultaneously presenting a smooth, full-bodied, rich wine.

I departed Bastille in high spirits (and, thankfully, not the designated driver), cloaked in warmth from a heart-warming evening made of the best ingredients, friendly staff, bistro-style dining, and delicious wine. Bastille, you’re an exception in a sea of mediocrity and over-priced indulgences. I’ll be back and ready to sample more of your exquisite offerings.