Perched on Columbia Road above Adams Morgan sits Napoleon Bistro & Lounge, sister to Café Bonaparte in Georgetown. Overlooking the squalor that many under-aged kids call a “great Saturday night,” Napoleon suffers to no inferiority complex. The interior design breaks all the rules of casual with cabaret red, black and gold-rimmed decadence. Run by the offspring of the Popal family, Omar, Fatima and Mustafa ambitiously attempt to bring Paris to our DC doorstep.
Napoleon has always represented a go-to spot for an outdoor weekend brunch with friends for a classic Benedict or, my favorite and one of the best in Washington, the Salade Nicoise. You’ll also find me there for an evening glass of prosecco and possibly a late-night shuffle to global grooves in Napoleon’s imperial underground champagne bar. So in exploration of the leading French dinner menu, I ventured in on a Friday night with a D*MNGOOD team. We were warned before our dinner that, due to a large party in the dining room, the kitchen was sure to be backed up. We ordered a few appetizers, including the Moules au Coulis de Tomate, the crabcake special, and the highly recommended Ahi tuna tartar, which “people come from afar to sample.” I decided to observe the fixed weekly specials and order the braised rabbit for my entrée.
To be frank, I like my cuisine how I like my couture: haute. Unfortunately, each dish presented its own individual blunder to be reckoned with. The crabcake was lumped together lightly and presented colorfully, yet the bright sauce surrounding it lacked salt and acidity. I enjoyed the seasoning of the tuna and the way it was packaged delicately in a thinly sliced cucumber, but the manner in which the fish was cut left the tartar spongy. The mussels were tiny and chewy, but the broth that drowned them was surprisingly elegant. Too bad the bread on the table was chalky and possibly from the evening before. It pained me to have missed the post-mussel broth-dipping and savoring moment many of us find so precious. Certainly, not something the Emperor of the French would write home about unless to faire une tirade.
Despite the socks-with-sandals appetizer course, I impatiently waited for my rabbit while the dinner partner to my left waited on another special that night, kangaroo. Some might quiver at the thought of eating either of these bouncy beings, but, for me, anything out of the ordinary is a must. Though I’ve never tried kangaroo, I’ve always enjoyed rabbit as a winter classic in a spicy stew with potatoes or alla cacciatora with olives, capers and white wine. When our plates arrived, I was slightly confused. His looked like beef, and mine looked like chicken. What was thought to be exotic suddenly seemed drab next to the lamb sausage crepe and the baby spinach salad with radicchio ordered to my right. Sure enough, if it looks like chicken and smells like chicken, it may as well be chicken.
While the dinner menu may not entice the elitist French cuisine connoisseur, the atmosphere is unlike any other in DC. I would highly recommend Napoleon as a place to impress a new love or rev up an old one with a perfect espresso or champagne cocktail. The outdoor seating area is one of the nicest in the city on a warm day, and the dark dining room and bar are perfect for late-night, dark-rooted behavior.
Quick foodie note: Napoleon’s chef, Yomi Faniyi, is graduate of the CIA (Hyde Park) and has competed at the James Beard House in New York.
|Address:||1847 Columbia Rd., NW (Mintwood Pl.) Washington, DC|
|Metro:||Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan|
|Specials:||Daily (5:30-7:30 PM): half-priced champagne cocktails; $5 house wines by the glass and half-priced beers at the upstairs bar|
|Go for:||Late-night scene; outdoor seating; cocktails|