Praline Serves French Cuisine and Sweets
Many people know Praline bakery and bistro, 4611 Sangamore Road, Bethesda, for its sweets and pastries such as cakes, tarts, croissants, chocolates and macaroons, but it also has a bistro upstairs that serves French-inspired dishes.
Pastry chefs Susan Limb and Patrick Musel, who worked together as part-time pastry chefs at the White House under executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, opened Praline a decade ago in the Shops at Sumner Place.
Everything at the bistro and bakery is made in house from scratch using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. While both the bakery and bistro opened at the same time, “Many regulars have forgotten or don’t even know about the charming bistro upstairs,” Limb told DC on Heels. They must be distracted by the sweet smells and displays of the bakery. But, if they would just look up into the well of light, they’d find the bistro. A flight of stairs just inside the front door leads up two floors the tiny dining room that rings the atrium and spills out onto a brick courtyard.
To help lure diners upstairs, the tiny bistro began serving more than 15 sweet and savory crêpes at the beginning of the year. Limb said the crêpes bring a cohesive connection to the bakery downstairs. The crepes are served all day, and there’s even a peanut butter and jelly crêpe on the kid’s menu.
Savory buckwheat crêpes are paired with a mixed greens salad, good for lunch or a light dinner. Prices range from $12-$16 and include the classic ham and Swiss cheese or smoked salmon with caramelized onions, spinach and crème fraîche to more creative combinations like creamed chicken, peas and carrots to shrimp, scallops and salmon with a Cognac sauce or the crab and mushroom veloute. Sweet crêpes, which range from $6-$9, include the bare bones such as butter and sugar or lemon and sugar to more decadent offerings such as Nutella and banana or chestnut cream and whipped cream.
But, Praline’s bistro is not limited to just crêpe. It has a full menu offering French classics like escargot, house-made pate, niçoise and Lyonnaise salads, and ratatouille.
On a recent visit, a guest and I sampled the French menu. I started with the onion soup gratinée ($8), which was delicious full of onions and baguette and topped with a generous amount of melted Swiss cheese. My guest started with the salad of the day, which was a mixed green salad with a tasty crab cake that got a high ranking.
For entrees we ordered the classic beef bourguignon ($26) and poulet grand mere ($24). The poulet grand mere was delicious with half a perfectly cooked chicken with bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms served over rice and covered with a wine and cream sauce that was the best. The beef bourguignon had onions, carrots and mushrooms, but replaced the usual potatoes with penne pasta placed on top. It was tasty, but a bit on the small side, and I would have preferred the traditional presentation with potatoes instead of the pasta. We also ordered a side of garlic and parsley roasted potatoes ($8) to share, which was also on the small size for the price. Although listed as a side to share, it was really just enough for one.
For dessert we sampled Praline’s signature walnut dacquoise ($9), which has layers of light cake filled with roasted walnuts and a walnut mousseline that was to die for. We also tried the opera cake ($9), which is almond cake soaked in coffee and layered with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream. Unlike tiramisu, which is soaked in espresso but only has a mild hit of the drink, the opera cake had a strong, overpowering coffee flavor. If you are a big coffee lover, this is for you. Otherwise, skip it for something else like maybe a classic crème brȗlée mad with real vanilla beans, praline crunch bar or lemon almond cake. Or perhaps a few classic Parisian macaroons for $2 each. (I recommend the passion fruit with house-made passion fruit jelly.)
Starters are priced from $8-$18, salads from $8-$16, meal and poultry from $16-$26, seafood from $24-$28, sides from $6-$8 and desserts from $6-$9. The lunch menu includes quiches, eggs and sandwiches served with mixed greens or fries along with a pared down version of the dinner entrées. Brunch is much the same as lunch with the addition of waffles and pastries. Generally, we found serving sizes a bit small, especially for the price, although the taste and quality of the food were top notch.
Praline will open second bakery at 2985 District Ave., Suite 140, in Fairfax’s Mosaic District this summer. The bistro is open for lunch from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for brunch Saturday and Sunday, and for dinner from 5-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 5-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The bakery is open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.