By: Alexandra Greeley
Puzzling over the translation of the restaurant name Et Voilà! (5120 MacArthur Blvd., NW)? The Palisades bistro, popular for its exquisite Belgian-French food, beckons patrons with its hip name: “there we are.” Well, actually, here we are, seated promptly despite the burgeoning crowds and thanks to reservations.
The big draw, of course, falls into several categories: the bubbly social scene; the Belgian beer list, and…the Belgian food. Even the hamburger, the Et Voila! Burger, must have a native twist with tomato-and-onion confit, Gruyère cheese, and a side of Belgian fries. Actually, the fries look and taste just like what an American chef might put out in some fancy eatery.
Although Et Voilà! is open for lunch daily except Mondays, it seems evening meals are the biggest draw, which means you need to make reservations. Seating options will vary. A group may choose to sit upfront at the restaurant’s tall table with several tall stools. Otherwise, patrons can opt to sit at the bar, at a chef’s table, or at any regular table back towards the kitchen.
Seated, it’s time to tuck into the menu, overseen by chef Claudio Pirollo since 2008. His concept of appealing eats ranges from the superb onion soup, filled with onion slices, a rich broth, and topped with a super-gooey layer of melted Gruyère cheese that seals in the heat and flavor. Onion soup fans in the metro area may rank this as the very best choice they have ever spooned up and enjoyed.
Furthermore, the chicken liver mousse with cornichons earned big cheers. It’s served with raisin-walnut toasted bread. Perhaps one of the more unusual offerings is the baked snails with garlic butter and toasted country bread. Patrons will gobble up each slice of bread and immediately ask for more.
Scanning through the dinner main courses, the first to catch the eye is the predictable offering of mussels, a Belgian fave. It’s offered as a casseroles of moules prepared in four different ways: steamed; steamed and seasoned with curry; steamed with shallots, tomatoes, and lobster bisque; and steamed with beer, cream, and apples. All entrées come with Belgian fries.
Indeed, other main courses include several seafood options, such as the Norwegian sole or the grilled King salmon. But to keep one’s order in line with Belgian tastes, order the country’s famed Blemish beef stew, otherwise known as carbonnade a la flamande. It’s composed of cubes of tender beef simmered in Belgian beer. Other temptations include the hangar steak with a green pepper sauce, and if available, the rack of lamb. The last is not a menu regular, but a special. If any are still available, the rack is superb.
Additionally, be sure to scan the dessert menu before you leave. Obviously, most offerings have a Belgian slant, and leading off the list are the profiteroles, puff pastries served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Among the other choices is the Floating Island, a classic of meringues afloat on a lake of custard cream. Brussels waffles with kabocha pumpkin, Alex Cake (the chef’s favorite dessert of dark and milk chocolate mousse with almond biscuits), and a cheese platter among several others.
Of course, scanning the beverages menu should begin and even end the meal, from the robust Belgian ales to the snappy cocktails (how about a WhistlePig 10 Manhattan), wines, champagnes, and digestifs. As you pay the bill and depart, you will look back over the meal (lunch, brunch, or dinner) and probably be grateful for your Belgian event.
For more information about Et Voilà!, call 202-239-2300. Hours: Lunch, Tues.-Sun.; Dinner, nightly. You can also visit the restaurant’s website.