La Bise Opens Today in Former Oval Room
French restaurant La Bise, 800 Connecticut Ave. NW, replaces Knightsbridge Restaurant Group’s power dining spot the Oval Room today. Owner Ashok Bajaj retired the glitzy, white tablecloth spot last fall after 26 years.
The interior underwent extensive changes despite a $1 million renovation in 2014. Due to its proximity to the White House, windows were broken and the carpet and tables were damaged by fire during last summer’s protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd. So Bajaj opted to start from scratch with help from interior designer Martin Vahtra of Project Design Associates in New York, who also was behind the Oval Room’s redo.
The lounge, just off the entrance between the two dining rooms, now has an extended bar where guests can watch the chefs at work in the new open kitchen. The bar area sports new liquor displays, new lighting, colorful tile and French-inspired wallpaper. Overhead, octagonal display cases are filled with greenery and bottles.
The two dining rooms each have their own style. The main dining room, painted turquoise, features a wall with 1,000 random mirror tiles and another with coral wallpaper depicting female figures. The banquettes are a black-and-white stripe design. The Oval Room’s dangling theatrical lights are a holdover. A private dining room, painted dark blue, features custom murals of Notre-Dame and the Left Bank, and deep tufted orange banquettes. Both dining rooms have deep moldings, new sconces and clusters of framed art.
Despite the city’s COVID-19 restaurant capacity restrictions ending about a month ago, La Bise, which means “the kiss,” downsized it seating 15% to reflect post-pandemic restrictions. It can seat 98 inside and 40 on the expanded seasonal patio, which caters to those wishing to dine al fresco.
Tyler Stout is the new executive chef at La Bise, which means “the kiss.” He was most recently the executive chef at Troquet on South in Boston. Stout grew up in Raleigh and Pembroke, N.C., helping at his family’s farm and their Cozy Corner restaurant. At age 15, he moved to Germantown and began cooking at the Comus Inn before studying at L’Academie de Cuisine. He has also worked at Newton’s Table and Barrel and Crow, both in Bethesda, and Macon Bistro & Larder in D.C.
Stout’s menu, which is 80% his and 20% what Bajaj wanted, straddles modern and traditional. But the menu won’t be stagnant. Some French brasseries can put out flawless food for month on end, but rarely introduce something new. “I believe in 52 seasons a year,” Stout said. “The menu is hyper-seasonal and will always be changing. Nothing is going to stay the same besides a few classics,” like the steak frites, gougères and beef tartare.
Others are contemporary dishes made with French techniques and flavors, like the barberry duck breast with confit leg meat pressed with herbs and used as filling in freshly rolled cannelloni that takes 12 days to make and is served with sweet spring turnips, heirloom cherries and foie gras jus.
“The goal for me is a Michelin star,” Stout said. “I want that. I need that.”
Appetizers range from $10-$19 and include kanpachi crudo with green strawberry, lime and rhubarb consommé; a grilled Maine lobster with English peas, Chantenay carrots, a hoe cake and ginger-carrot emulsion; and seared Hudson Valley foie gras with brioche, buttermilk, local strawberries and champagne. Entrées range from $25-$39 and include wild sturgeon with purple asparagus, razor clam, sugar snap peas and asparagus fumet; a local New York strip steak with spring onion soubise, melted leaks, bone marrow croquette and bone marrow jus; and a wild mushroom vol-au-vent with wild mushroom bechamel, spring fricassee and mushroom reduction in addition to the steak frites. For kids, there is a wild mushroom ragout with French fries and braised baby bok choy.
Half of La Bise’s wine list is filled by French labels, with the balance largely reserved for American and Spanish varietals.