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Mendelsohn said he and Race went back and forth about perhaps pursuing bistro or brasserie concepts, but they kept coming back to the notion of putting their own stamp on time-honored steak frites. So the chefs hightailed it to Paris to do some research, returning home with rounded bellies, craniums full of ideas and arms full of classic cutlery.New Directions
Though they hold a special place in his heart, Mendelsohn said the steak frites spots he grew up in could have used a bit of polish.
“All they ask you is what temperature you want,” Mendelsohn said of the no-frills joints he frequented as a kid.
He and his new executive chef (when last we saw Race, he was breaking food down to its most basic elements at the original minibar) are hoping to up the ante a bit.
First, they’ve made prix fixe dining the default option, carving out a multicourse program featuring fresh French baguettes, choice of soup or salad and a trio of signature cuts of beef.
The marquee proteins, an 8-ounce flat iron steak, 14-ounce rib eye and 8-ounce filet mignon, all provided by renowned meat merchant Pat LaFrieda, will set one back $28, $38 or $42 respectively. Each entree is privy to one of the house-made steak sauces, a roster that includes: signature béarnaise, spicy béarnaise, a modified au poivre (bolstered by ginger and green peppercorns), classic bordelaise (“a beautiful, shiny sauce,” Mendelsohn gushed) and a souped-up compound butter.
And every cut is accompanied by all-you-can-eat fries.
The endless spuds are distinctive, even if the dish — there are versions of steak frites served at neighboring Le Grenier (H Street Northeast) and Belga Café (Barracks Row), as well as at buzzy newcomer Le Diplomate (H Street Northwest), not to mention well-established steak houses (Charlie Palmer Steak, Capital Grille) galore — is less so.
But Race doesn’t feel like he’s competing with the others because, to many of them, steak frites is more gravy than bread and butter.
“We’re a steak frites restaurant. Period,” Race asserted.
Having seen his sales continue to grow even after opening side-by-side dining concepts, Mendelsohn is very much in the more-the-merrier camp. “We think there’s space for everybody here,” he said.
The beverage program is concise but well-curated, featuring a handful of artisan cocktails (including seasonally inspired house-made punch) and just under a dozen beers, both craft (DC Brau’s Corruption) and commercial (Miller Lite). There are a dozen mixed sparkling, white and red wines, mostly French, available by the glass ($10 a pop).
But most of the master list, spanning more than two dozen bottles, has been uniformly capped at $40 each.
“We want you to work your way through the wine list,” Mendelsohn said of the effort to take sticker shock out of the equation. That generosity of spirit translates into a world of sipping opportunities, be they youthful rosés (2012 Domaine Saint Eugenie Corbieres), festive sparklers (Bouvet Brut Signature) or venerable Bordeauxs (2005 Chateau Reysson Reserve).
Those looking to splurge are welcome to peruse a reserve list peppered with pricier pours ($55-$400).