Monday, November 12, 2001

If you like restaurants with a typical American feel, skip the Coeur de Lion at the Henley Park Hotel. But if you have a refined taste and appreciate class, give it a try.
Located along Massachusetts Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets downtown, the Henley Park is an intimate hotel that attracts a clientele of wealthy American tourists with an eye for art and beauty and foreigners who are used to nothing less. The Couer de Lion caters to the same crowd, also drawing in local business people, diplomats and some politicians.
The restaurant is at the heart of the building on the ground floor. It is reached by going through the lobby, down a small corridor, up three steps and into the bar the nexus of the sunlit, brick-walled series of rooms that make up the Couer de Lion.
The spacing of the tables is just right close enough to nod hello to someone sitting nearby but not so close that you’re eyeballing other people’s food.
Soft colors dominate the restaurant white tablecloths and napkins, brick walls accentuated by classic hunt-red trim and warm, antique wood sideboards and cupboards. Wall sconces designed as Greek busts cluster on one wall. A cathedral-peaked sunroof of glass and wood beams provides a soft, natural light into the restaurant where diners sit in comfortable, upholstered dining chairs.
The overall feeling is of a very relaxed, social club where one might linger for several hours over food and drink. The plush carpeting keeps noise to a minimum, making the Couer de Lion an ideal place for a business meeting or better yet, a job interview. The relaxed atmosphere with classical music playing softly in the background lends itself for serious and focused discussions.
The Couer de Lion offers a definite hint of Europe. The majority of the restaurant’s staff speaks with European-sounding accents. The atmosphere reminds one of dinning in Brussels or Vienna.
The service here is prompt and helpful without being intrusive, even as a waiter weaves between the tables carrying a trey of fresh-baked breads a focaccia and a honey bread throughout the meal.
The Couer de Lion alters its menu daily to fit regional seasonal dishes.
Meals here are artfully and tastefully prepared. The grilled Maine salmon on a bed of asparagus was coated with spices that lingered pleasantly on the tongue.
The penne pasta with prosciutto, mushrooms, asparagus and roasted red pepper coulis must be one of the best pasta dishes in town. It plays up on the peppers without forcing their specific taste.
The dessert list was short and sweet. A fruit-bread pudding, a cheesecake and chocolate. But the best choice must have been the mango sorbet, which was delicious and refreshing.
The cappuccino was hot and creamy.
The languid, pleased feeling one takes away from a lunch at the Coeur de Lion is perhaps why the restaurant continually receives top 10 ratings in the Zagat Survey for food, service and decor.

Couer de Lion, at the Henley Park Hotel

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