French Twist
By Phyllis C. Richman
Washington Post
August 18, 1986

The lawn is just a cement sidewalk, and half the flowers are two- dimensional painted on the side of the building. Still, the free-standing, half timbered building that houses Le Vieux Logis is so bedecked with window boxes and trellises, so overflowing with real flowers, that it seems like the cusp of Wonderland. Inside the restaurant, the French farmhouse fantasy is reinforced by wooden shutters, copper caldrons and rough-textured, white washed walls. And this country French restaurant on the outer edge of Bethesda’s restaurant district fulfills yet other urban yearnings: It has its own parking lot with valets at your service, and free parking can generally be found on the street. Just smell that country air.

No wonder Le Vieux Logis tends to be packed even on weekday evenings. In addition, word must have spread that they’re a new chef. He’s Trent Conry, who came fro Occidental by way of Windows catering. Le Vieux Logis is now an old-fashioned French restaurant with new fashions on its menu. Conry has expanded the scope to beyond France to Danish Herring, Asian Lobster Spring Roll and American vegetarian creations. Furthermore, his menu offers dishes prepared with little or no salt, butter, or cream on request.

You can tell much about a restaurant by its soup and salads. Le Vieux Logis’s aspirations show in the pedigree of its bibb lettuce-it is Kentucky limestone, the Lamborghini of lettuces-and in the youthfulness of the leaves in its spinach salad. The inevitable Caesar Salad is dressed with three cheeses- Pecorino, Asiago and Romano-and the plain green salad has an herb and shallot vinaigrette; clearly this is not a typical iceberg-lettuce Franco-American suburban restaurant. While Le Vieux Logis serves such old clichés as lobster bisque and onion soup, they’re fresh from this kitchen rather than reconstituted or poured from cans. Conry even gives them a twist: asparagus with the lobster, port wine in the onion soup.

The clue to appreciating this kitchen is to seek the straightforward dishes. They are not as plain as they may sound, and they outshine the fussier preparations. Among appetizers, for example, the marinated Danish Herring is a revelation to anyone that thinks jars of supermarket herring are the state of the art. A whole herring fillet is sliced a fanned out on the plate around a tidy mound of diced yellow Finnish potatoes tossed with whole-grain mustard dressing, a small pool
of sour cream and a tangle of onions. This herring is gently sweet, definitely salty and vinegar-sharp, with that winey mellow quality that only the Danes achieve with herring and the Alsatians with sour kraut. Its reason enough to navigate the Beltway for dinner at Le Vieux Logis.

The appetizer medley of wild mushrooms is equally luscious, though not as rare. Fat chunks of mushrooms are sautéed, bathed in tomato-tinged madeira sauce and piled into a box of delicate puff pastry. Lamb is almost as seductively simple. A thick chop is perfectly seared and pink, accompanied by slices of boneless loin, chive whipped potatoes and green beans.

Fish entrees head in the other directions: red-wine and shallot sauce with salmon, mustard flavoring the plaice, lemon and thyme on the shrimp and citrus sauce on the honest-to-goodness Dover Sole. A plump fresh filet of halibut is flecked with basil and arranged on a wonderfully brash and vinegary hash of corn, diced vegetables and crisp friend potato bits.

This kitchen concentrates on the main stays. If blueberry bread pudding is on the dessert cart, you’re in luck. But the emphasis is on solid cooking with a bit of flair, and on good- natured bustling service. Le Vieux Logis is a busy place, and for several reasons.




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