Nov 26, 2008
I was excited about visiting Et Voila in the Palisades, even more so after we walked in and the narrow, deep space reminded me of many great gastropubs in Philadelphia, where I developed an enthusiasm for brasserie food, particularly savory hanger steaks dripping with shallots.
Neil and I arrived sans reservations on a Friday at 7:30. They have a handful of seating at the small bar but the hostess offered us a table without hesitation even though the restaurant was mostly full. The menu is traditional Belgian, which is to say it is not especially remarkable – and that’s fine with me, as long as what they do with the food is remarkable.
The beer menu is solid but not overwhelming, which we considered a respite from the trend of offering more beer options than Congressional seats. The endive salad had a good ratio of ingredients but was ordinary. The butternut squash soup was smooth but bland; I would have preferred a sweeter, more caramelized and robust base. A side of pommes frites were cut bâtonnet-size and cooked perfectly (perhaps twice-fried?) but the only dipping options were ketchup or mayonnaise. (Disclosure: Call it a crime, but we did not order mussels. I'm just not a fan yet.)
My hanger steak was also prepared perfectly, sitting atop fingerlings and bathed in a rich Bordelaise sauce but with too-few shallots. I like onglet aux beaucoup échalotes...which aren't Alba truffles, so please don’t skimp. Neil ordered waterzooi (chicken in velouté sauce with julienned vegetables). Again, the meat was excellent – tender, plump and juicy – but the velouté was bland and the vegetables were a disappointing limp garnish. I found myself reaching for the salt shaker yet again.
For dessert, the vanilla and green tea crème brûlée arrived in two tiny cups. The vanilla was excellent, but I think we've officially reached the limit on what one can successfully accomplish with green tea. File this one under “good in theory/bad in practice”; the flavor does not translate well to custard.
They were at capacity the entire time we were there, and the service consequently suffered; our waiter was calm and knowledgeable but could not provide timely or adequate attention. Those who enjoy being amidst the din of a bustling restaurant would be comfortable at Et Voila; their space is tight, frenetic and quite loud when full. The decor has a warmly neutral West Elm vibe and the huge clock projected onto one wall is sweet.
Loved: The bread. Divine. A beautiful crisp, flaky crust encasing a heavenly web of supple dough. When I die, build my coffin out of Et Voila's bread and I will rest in eternal bliss.
Hated: First, the succession of consistently unremarkable dishes. Second, the check -- after realizing I spent over $100 of my educator's salary on a succession of consistently unremarkable dishes.
I found myself comparing Et Voila to Les Halles (rest in peace), even though I hold small, one-offs braving a tight market in much higher regard than celebrity-powered, chain restaurants. I wanted to love it, I really did. But -- and most dishes arrived with a "but" -- while Et Voila has certainly mastered technique, unfortunately their food is short on flavor...yet both are required for a meal to be truly worthwhile.
5120 MacArthur Blvd NW
Washington, DC 20016