L'Auberge Chez Francois
332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls, VA
What can I say about Chez Francois that hasn't already been said? Washington City Paper writes that "Chez Francois may be the area's last bastion of classic French cuisineThe Washington Post calls it "the grand dame of French restaurants," although "presentation is a little dated." Washingtonian magazine points out that "it's all about nostalgia at this Alsation institution, now in its sixth decade." Critics tend to praise Chez Francois for its service, its superb dishes, and its attention to detail.
We nixed the aperatif in favor of wine (a delicious Fess Parker Syrah) and the wonderful house beer special - a Stella blended with amer picon, a bitter, orange-flavored French cordial made from quinine, spices, cinchona bark, oranges and gentiam. It's at once refreshing and citrusy, yet with a hint of spice. The drinks are accompanied by a plate of garlic toast and French bread. The garlic toast is warm, buttery and crispy - top it with the house-made cottage cheese spread to temper the garlicky bite.
The amuse bouche arrives next - a small slice of house quiche. On Saturday, Chef Jacques offered up an onion quiche that was so creamy and fluffy it put eggs to shame.
Then it's time for the appetizer. Chez Francois offers a wide variety of appetizers, including rich, creamy lobster bisque, French onion soup, frog legs, garlicky escargot. Craving something rich and meaty, I ordered the braised veal cheeks. Served in a mini cocotte, the chunks of tender veal cheek were presented in a thick meaty broth with tender root vegetables, much like a miniature beef stew. It was delicious to the point that I was tempted to suck up the liquid with a straw. The hubs had a pleasant caramelized apple tart topped with Roquefort cheese.
The salad de l'auberge offers a nice change of pace, followed by a a small portion of refreshing house-made citrus sorbet to cleanse the palate.
Finally, your entree - no matter if you select fish, duck, beef, rabbit, shellfish, Chef Jacques crafts each dish with attention and care. I had the poached lobster, accompanied by crab meat and asparagus, in a lobster butter sauce. The hubs enjoyed Beef Wellington, which was presented as a tenderloin topped with duxelles and wrapped in a puff pastry. A puree of root vegetables is always presented to the table in a communal serving dish.
Upon finishing, you have the option of selecting dessert, which includes a plum tart, a decadent chocolate yule log, or the famous Chez Francois souffles - followed by coffee or tea. When you think that you could not possibly fit another bite, the water drops off a plate of mignardises - small chocolate truffles and crisp tuiles.
All in all, Chez Francois is a wonderful restaurant for special occasions. While the food can be very rich, you can select dishes that are on the lighter side. Since the portions tend to be smaller, the meal is not as overwhelming as it sounds, but you will certainly leave absolutely, completely, 100-percent full.
(Photo credit: Jacques H.)