People look at me quizzically when I tell them that one of my favorite restaurants in DC is in the Palisades. Most people give me a little head tilt and say, “I don’t know where that is?” “Yeahhhhh,” I always sigh. “It’s above Georgetown, towards the Potomac. Totally inaccessible, but I SWEAR OMG it is worth the trip up there for Et Voila!”
I’m sorry I’ve kept it to myself this long… I’ve uh…been busy and stuff. Plus the restaurant is super tiny, and if you knew how good it is, you’d be there filling up my seat. Call me selfish, whatever, I can take it. But I’ve finally cracked and the secret is out: Et Voila! is delicious, unpretentious Belgian food, and you should go. Don’t have a car? Get yourself a Zipcar, grab your bike out of hibernation, strap on the rollerblades, call up your ex, do whatever it takes. Even (gasp) take the D6 bus! I mean business.
So all this gushing, but you’re sitting there staring at your computer screen asking what IS Et Voila!, exactly? Located along Macarthur Boulevard, this French/Belgian gem doesn’t look like a whole heck of a lot from the outside. But once inside, I always feel like I’m in London, or even Paris. The wait staff speaks almost exclusively French, and the close, cozy interior always has a buzz about it.
Chef Claudio Pirollo and Pastry Chef Mikael Cornu have built an accessible menu full of well executed classics. Et Voila!’s Web site quips, “Chef Pirollo was named “Best Young Chef in Belgium” in 1994 and served as the personal chef to the Irish Ambassador for the past six years.” And not for naught. The menu, full of staples like mussels, french onion soup, foie gras, is in a word impeccable. The brunch menu isn’t to be taken lightly either – Belgian waffles, of course, but brunch favorites such as eggs benedict with smoked salmon, leek quiche and croque madame come out to play. The quiche has a flakey, buttery savory crust, and every detail right down to the cheese in the quiche shine through.
What is a Belgian place without pommes frites (french fries) and a big steaming pile of mussels? Useless, that’s what. Et Voila’s frites shine, fresh cut and served in a cone with mayonnaise, the perfect accompaniment to mussels in a deep, flavorful broth – just as they should be. Not a mussels fan? The burger that can go with those fries is fantastic – Meyer ground Beef with Chimay beer and Bacon hits me right in my greasy spot.
Don’t leave without tasting dessert – Pastry Chef Mickael Cornu hails from Vendee, France and is an expert specializing in intricate cakes and authentic European-style desserts such as Pistachio Miserable and Crème Caramel. The night I was there Pastry Chef Mikael Cornu had whipped up some crisp macaroons, melt in your mouth style. Request them if you’re there, see if they’ve got any – they are fabulous.
The other aspect of Et Voila! that speaks to me is the beer list. Favorites like Chimay Red, Delirium Tremens, and Raspberry Lambic come together to create a thoughtful short list of the best Belgium has to offer. At brunch, the coffee is french press, and is served with steamed, not cold, milk. I also love that it’s a purely neighborhood spot. I was with friends once, and although we certainly weren’t the only twenty-somethings, the ages ranged more than your average Penn Quarter eat place. There were plenty of families and couples my parents age, or my grandparents age. I couldn’t help but laugh, “so this is where they hide all the gray hair in the city!” Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded of a world outside trendy Washington – DC and Arlington are so young, it can almost feel like College Take Two.
To me, it is these little touches, like steamed milk, mayonnaise with the fries, and macaroons that make Et Voila! the perfect hidden oasis. The details that no shiny enameled downtown restaurant can fake – the details that come from a Chef that loves food and just wants to share, regardless of the trumpets, red carpets and fanfare that may or may not come.