- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

All that’s missing is the accordion player. Le Chat Noir (the Black Cat), named for a famous Parisian Belle Epoque cabaret, is the epitome of “the little French restaurant.” French songs from the ‘50s waft from the background, and French waiters bustle about with the menu of bistro classics, from pate to mussels to steak frites to crepes.

Le Chat Noir has been a popular neighborhood restaurant on upper Wisconsin Avenue Northwest since 2005. The food is good, the cozy ambience of the two narrow dining rooms has touches of art nouveau, and the prices are modest. A wine lounge upstairs opens at 5 p.m.

Starters shine. It was difficult to choose among the savory crepes; an onion-and-goat-cheese tart; mussels in garlic butter; or a napoleon of eggplant, roasted bell peppers and mozzarella. The tempting appetizer crepes are stuffed with crabmeat, bay scallops and mushrooms in a cream sauce; caramelized onions, cheese and prosciutto; and baked apples, toasted pumpkin seeds and Camembert. We chose the special of the day, a jalousie of ham, tomato, a little brie and caramelized onions. The pastry was a bit scorched at the ends but very good, a light beginning to a good meal.

The salad of Belgian endive, Roquefort, apple and roasted walnuts was a large mound of thinly sliced endive with the barest suggestion of apples and cheese, and with insufficient dressing.

Although the main courses include a braised lamb stew, a veal escalope with Calvados, and roast chicken, steak is a fine main course at Le Chat Noir. The restaurant’s classic bistro steak frites is a thin New York strip steak topped with a pat of herb butter and served with a side of french fries. Hanger steak is a delicious, well-seasoned and tender alternative. It’s thicker than the New York strip, grilled and served in a rich, dark red-wine sauce. The hanger steak also is accompanied by french fries.

Filet mignon is a special and not always available. Beef bourguignon, ordinarily a staple on the regular dinner menu, was not available one recent evening.

Seafood is limited to salmon and scallops, with mussels available either as an appetizer or main course. The grilled scallops, served in an excellent orange-saffron sauce, are very good. Accompanied by spinach sauteed with onions and by an earthy ratatouille, this is a fine dish, prepared with care.

Desserts include the traditional French sweets: fruit tart, chocolate mousse, creme brulee, profiterolles and tarte Tatin. Dessert crepes are filled with a dozen different fillings, such as plain lemon and sugar; berries with Melba sauce; poached pear with chocolate ice cream; or pistachios with warm chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. All are delicious.

Best of all are the crepes flambees - crepes suzette (with orange and Grand Marnier), St. Martin (with banana, raisins and rum) and Calvados. The Calvados crepe is filled with caramelized apples and doused with Calvados tableside and then set aflame. Splendid.

The lunch menu is almost identical to the dinner menu, and so are the prices. In addition, there are a couple of main course salads and several out-of-the-ordinary sandwiches, such as country-style pate; lamb sausage; and fried egg, ham and cheese on toast with a Mornay sauce. The sandwiches are served with a green salad or fries.

The wine list is extensive, though exclusively French. Wines by the glass are limited to a half-dozen of the special wines of the month. Service is cheerful and efficient in this little bit of France on Wisconsin Avenue.

RESTAURANT: Le Chat Noir, 4907 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 202/244-2044

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; dinner 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

PRICES: Starters $7.50 to $13; main courses $18.75 to $27; sandwiches $9 to $11.50; desserts $5.25 to $12

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

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