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« Circle Bistro | Main | Lia's - First Impressions »

Wed, Nov 01 2006 at 11:00 AM

Cafe Saint-Ex

Posted by Jason, Nov 01, 2006

You don't usually expect to find good food at a bar. A bar is where you typically find great munchies like nachos, cheese sticks, mini-burgers, and maybe...maybe if you're lucky, you'll find some Asian-inspired potstickers.

Café Saint-Ex isn't your typical bar though. 

The first time I went to Café Saint-Ex, I mistook it for your everyday bar. It was when I first moved to DC, long before I started this site, and I think at the time I was looking for a place "to party", or something like that. I believe it was after a 9:30 Club show. My friends and I waited at the bar nursing some beers while we waited to get in downstairs, but ended up leaving when that took too long.

Little did I know, five years later, I'd be returning for a completely different reason. This time, it was before a 9:30 Club show (Carbon Leaf to be exact), and we were there for dinner...instead of a party. Amy and I were having a night out on the town without Noah, our first in about three weeks! We were looking forward to a relaxing, casual dinner and that's exactly what we got.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we returned two nights later for dinner, but this time we took Noah with us. When we were there the first time  we noticed that there were some other people there with children, so we wouldn't feel out of place with him. Also, the louder atmosphere made it ideal if he decided to throw a tantrum or scream out loud, which only happens occasionally, but you never know when that shortened afternoon nap will catch up with him.

As far as food is concerned, Café Saint-Ex is definitely doing things right, and after reading Chef Barton Seaver's Bio on the Café-Saint-Ex web site, it's not surprising. You can get an extremely good meal there for a very reasonable price. For appetizers, the wood-grilled calamari (or actually anything wood-grilled) is tender and makes you wish everyone was making calamari like that. If you're expecting those typical rubbery rings of calamari that you get everywhere else, however, you'll be sorely disappointed. This calamari is served whole. The beet salad rivals that of any that I've had at other restaurants, with a goat cheese that doesn't overwhelm the beets, but also isn't so bland that you can barely taste it. And a horseradish vinagrette punches up the entire dish.

As I said before, anything wood-grilled or maybe anything that's cooked close in proximity to where the wood-grilling happens is very good. Most of the fish is cooked this way and I'd recommend you try it. I don't think the smoky and spicy flavor will be to everyone's taste, but you've got to try it once to see. So far I've tried the salmon and flounder and both were a big hit with Amy and myself.

For desserts, the smooth and creamy goat cheesecake comes looking like a giant scoop of ice cream on top of a crumbled graham cracker crust. OH MY GOD was it good. This rivaled Ann Amernick's cheesecake I tasted at Palena not long ago. Seriously people, if there is one reason alone to go to Café Saint-Ex, it's this cheesecake. I hope they don't take it off the menu anytime soon.

I should mention that the price fixe option that Café Saint-Ex offers is a very good deal. Before 7, three courses are only $28 per person, and after 7, they are $32. Our bills have consistently been below $100 with a bottle of wine. The wine list at Café Saint-Ex is very European with the occasional appearance of a New Zealand of California wine. Prices for bottles range from $24 to $75 with a majority of them falling in the lower end of that price range.

The host/hostesses are friendly as are the servers, who don't seem to have enough time to be overly congenial, but are quick to help you with the menu and point out the price fixe option to save you some money.

Café Saint-Ex
847 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC  20009
(202) 265-7839
Web Site
Map

Corkage: I didn't check. Call the restaurant to see.
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street:  Street Parking. I found it pretty easy to find a parking spot on the streets in the area.
Closest Metro: U Street.
Reservations: Not Taken. First come, first serve. Dinner rush starts at about 7. If you get there before that, you probably wont have to wait long.
Baby friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The atmosphere is loud, which makes it great for children, and the waitstaff and hosts seem to really love babies.

Categories: Bar/Club, Logan Circle, New American, Restaurant Reviews, Seafood, U Street, Wine Bar
Link To This Post

Jon

I posted about St Ex today as well. Went there last night for a pre-concert meal as well. Funny. We should link each others' blogs.

Abby

I think they might have the same goat cheesecake at Bar Pilar (same owner); we had it the other night with a tart blueberry sauce, and it is tiny but a few bites of heaven and a steal at $3!

Jake

I love the place, I think its one of the more underrated scenes in DC. A little off the U St/adams morgan scene but still pretty awesome

Sandra

What a great post! Jason it's been awesome to see you raise the level of your food writing by so much - your site is such a pleasure (not that it wasn't always that way). But in recent times your posts are just really thorough, professional and spot-on. One quibble, though, is pricing. I know that les than $100 might seem like a "steal" for what you ordered but for me and my boyfriend (who have a combined income of well over 100K) that's still really pricy! I mean, it's not French Laundry-level pricy, but pricy nonetheless. Just my opinion :-)

Jason

Point taken Sandra and thanks or the compliments. I'm trying to eat at more "cheap eats" type places lately, but I just haven't eaten at any that are worth writing about. :( To be honest with you, eating at all these nice places has really been taking a toll on my wallet, but sometimes I just can't help it because I love good food so much!

Joseph LeBlanc

"One quibble, though, is pricing. I know that les than $100 might seem like a "steal" for what you ordered but for me and my boyfriend (who have a combined income of well over 100K) that's still really pricy!"

That's really just the nature of this city in general. There are some good cheap eats at the low end (catering to tourists and college students), some fantastic stuff at the high end (VIPs and expense accounts), but seemingly little mid-range stuff. When you do find moderately priced restaurants, they're usually busy and understaffed. This is my observation, does anyone concur? You really can't blame Jason for picking the restaurants that he does; there are a lot of good places here if you're willing to spend the cash.

Sandra

I totally don't blame Jason or other DC writers for city food prices - and your observations are totally right! That said, $100 for two with tax tip and wine isn't the end of the world, I just think that it's not quite cheap eats. And you're right, it's kind of an in between point. You can't review taco night at the press club all the time!

Michelle

My friends went there for brunch one day. You should try their BLT, they make it with green tomatoes. It's quite delicious...

Dennis

If you like Saint-Ex, you will LOVE Bar Pilar (1833 14th St NW), which is on the same block and is run by the same gang with a cook who has been at places like Cafe Atlantico. It is small dishes extraordinaire. Run, do not walk, to eat there. Warning - Bar Pilar is a real bar and can get a little noisy, but don't let that turn you off. The food is really superb.

Felicity

I have avoided Saint Ex since I ate there shortly after it opened. While i really enjoy the vibe the food has consistently been sub par. When it first opened i was shocked at how they could ruin simple things - charring a burger til no juice was left - or dry stale tasting crab cakes. Having been invited there to dinner just recently i realize that not much has changed. They are still trying to be inventive (risotto made out of barley), or creme brulee infused with mint, but unfortunately the culinary skill and ability to match flavours and balance ingredients doesn't match their epicurean ambition. I found myself leaving all the risotto after a mere few bites, and while creme brulee of any sort is enjoyable, i kept wishing that the consistency resembled more of a custard than a thin yogurt, and that the mint aroma was not quite as cloying and overpowering.

Finally, our server could be described perhaps best as "civilly indifferent".

Jason

FYI, Barton Seaver, has moved on to Hook.

Keith

The address above is wrong, it is 1847 14th St, not 847, you'll never find it there.

Maribeth

This is the first time I spent more than $50 a person. The place is oblivious to the concept of good customer service. Part of our party was arriving an hour late and they refused to seat any of us. They asked us to wait in a smelly run-down basement. Their wine list is limited. I would never recommend this "joint" to anyone, particularly at fine-dining prices.

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