Le Vieux Logis Still Young at Heart at Quarter Century
By M.J. Pleasure
The Gazette
Nov. 17, 2004
 

The profusion of flowers outside Bethesda's Le Vieux Logis issues a colorful denial that November is here. Inside this veteran charmer, a mixed bouquet brightens every table.

"I love flowers," owner Diana Dahan exclaims. "If I have to be here, I want it to be a garden!"

This "Old Lodge" is more than that. It is a home away from home for her very loyal customers as well as a repository for what Dahan has collected in her travels. Every conceivable space is covered. "Tchotchke heaven," she calls it -- but they represent good memories. Some of the paintings are by her artist mother.

Not only the customers are loyal; chef Freddy Cabrera is, too. He started in the kitchen when Dahan and her best friend and partner, the late Marcel Montagnier, opened the restaurant 25 years ago and worked his way up.

Dahan's warm welcome, even for newcomers, rivals the renowned hospitality of Le Vieux Logis' namesake in the Dordogne region of France. High-backed banquettes divide the well-lit restaurant into intimate dining spaces and Dahan leads us to a table in a nook. The lively saffron-colored Proven├žal print cloth covering a white cloth, to our surprise, turns out to be high-grade paper.

After delivering the menus, our server expertly reels off the evening's specials -- too many to recount. At one time, there were 15 to 20 every night, Dahan says, because customers were loath to part with favorites when the menu changed. The eventual solution was to include some favorites on the menu: crabe en chemise (crab-stuffed crepe with lobster Cognac sauce), panko (Japanese bread crumbs) flounder, crispy duck a l'orange and clams casino Copenhagen, for example.

Dahan's husband, who is from Denmark, is in charge of importing the real McCoy for the signature appetizer, marinated Danish herring. Seasonal specials this evening feature halibut, rockfish, venison and osso buco -- typically about $29 each.

We hear the soups (at the moment lobster bisque and old-fashioned French onion) are excellent, but we opt to share the New Zealand green lip mussels simmered in white wine with garlic and fresh herbs. The kitchen prepares two plates accordingly for us and splits a salad for our companions. The mussels are magnificent. The passionate pear salad, made with baby arugula, Bosc pears, Stilton and toasted pine nuts sprinkled with verjus (acidic grape juice used like vinegar), is a delight and the bread -- raisin pumpernickel, a cracked wheat and challah (it's Friday night) from Bethesda's Breads Unlimited -- is exemplary.

Osso buco (braised veal shank) couldn't have been better unless it had risotto Milanese, the traditional Italian accompaniment, instead of orzo pasta. But that's a personal preference.

Grilled halibut is delicious, plated over a bed of mashed potatoes with a hint of horseradish -- a nice touch. The artichoke hearts, shiitake mushrooms and green beans in a balsamic glaze is a welcome change from the usual vegetables. Salmon filet emerges from the grill cooked as requested and complimented by a shallot-infused Port sauce and mashed potatoes. Monkfish medallions remain a treat, even when substituting the mustard and horseradish sauce (normally reserved for the panko flounder) for the usual lobster sauce.

Dahan and her kitchen are open to reasonable requests. Most items can be prepared with less or no salt, butter or cream or with sauces on the side.

The dessert tray brought around is a beauty; among the offerings are lemon cake, chocolate raspberry cake, chocolate meringue cake, apple tart and fresh mixed berries. It would seem criminal to ignore the chocolate cakes. But whether or not you do, you will be treated to acomplimentary plate of excellent butter cookies. The thin s-shaped gems are baked from a family recipe.

With an accent on fine food, hospitality and service, it is easy to see why Le Vieux Logis has developed a devoted following.




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