- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Yannick Cam is back. He's not in town but out in Great Falls, at Le Relais, a cozy and attractive French restaurant in a little shopping center at the intersection of Routes 193 and 7. And what a pleasure it is to taste once again his superb signature dishes.
Chef Cam dazzled Washington with his nouvelle cuisine at Le Pavillon in downtown Washington 20 years ago. Everything he cooked looked and tasted exquisite. Portions were small and prices high. Le Pavillon closed in 1991 and Mr. Cam moved on to Coco Loco, Provence, El Catalan and Le Jardin. He never stayed long but always left a trail of memorable dishes.
Now, at Le Relais, where he is the executive chef, Mr. Cam is again enchanting his guests with some although not all wonderful preparations.
Lobster is perhaps his greatest strength. Nowhere in or out of Washington will a diner find better lobster dishes than those served at Le Relais. A silken lobster bisque was the soupe du jour one recent evening.
A lunchtime special appetizer (pricey at $19) of what was described as lobster and avocado with gazpacho was not a soup at all. Two perfectly cooked, room-temperature lobster claws and a little mound of diced avocado were surrounded by dots of tangy gazpacho. The gazpacho was primarily decorative but added just that little extra to the lobster and avocado to make it a standout dish.
A main course of lobster in a beurre blanc sauce is made memorable with lightly cooked spring vegetables. The butter sauce is perfection. The dish is light, delicious and delicate. Again, the lobster is outstanding.
Perhaps the best lobster dish of all is a starter of lobster ravioli in a melange of leeks and white corn. It's a dish that harkens to the golden days of Le Pavillon, and Mr. Cam has lost none of his magic. The ravioli casings are light as air, and the filling is rich and wonderful. Ask for a spoon so as not to leave behind any of the wonderful beurre blanc sauce enlivened with lots of chives, kernels of sweet white corn and bits of leek.
At a recent dinner, the kitchen was out of the ravioli by 8:30 our waiter informed us that the restaurant had served 60 portions of the dish in one evening. Small wonder; it's outstanding. It's not listed on the lunch menu but is often available at lunchtime, too. Ask for it.
Another terrific starter is a warm terrine of veal sweetbreads served with sauteed morel mushrooms and turnips in a fragrant Madeira sauce. The terrine, which looks like a small round cake of layered potatoes, is delicious. The flavors of the elements of the dish marry perfectly.
A salad of slender green asparagus with quail eggs and an olive tapenade is a curious combination but refreshing and pleasant as a light starter.
A cold terrine of eggplant and mozzarella was not nearly as successful. There was not much flavor to the terrine, and the accompanying cooked Roma tomato halves were limp and uninteresting.
Even more disappointing was a dish of sea scallops wrapped in prosciutto. The ham was overcooked to the point of brittleness, and the scallops were tough, overcooked and tasted more like frozen than fresh. (Surely not.) The bright green parsley coulis, good as it was, couldn't save this dish.
Mr. Cam treats chicken with respect, and a breast of chicken with white asparagus in a light cream sauce is a dish that transforms chicken into something special. Morels accompany the chicken and make a good, earthy contrast to the delicacy of the sauce.
The "Daily Special Appetizer" menu contains many dishes that show off Mr. Cam's expertise: a beignet of soft-shell crab (in season), warm foie gras with caramelized mango, pan-roasted jumbo crabmeat on a potato cake, chicken and foie gras sausage with artichokes in a white truffle sauce. Main courses include sea bass and salmon, duck breast and filet mignon. It's a French menu in Yannick Cam's best style.
Unfortunately, the night of our dinner, the kitchen had also run out of another of Mr. Cam's signature dishes roast rack of lamb, as well as the evening's special, Dover sole. That makes three dishes that were no longer available at 8:30 on a Friday evening. This is not acceptable in a serious restaurant.
The bread served at lunch and dinner, although not baked in house, is worth mentioning. Both a moist, dark poppyseed bread and a nut bread are excellent. The poppyseed bread is served along with a French baguette at lunch and dinner.
Among the desserts, the strawberry soup with strawberry sorbet looks and tastes just like it sounds, and it is refreshing, simple and delicious. A baba au rhum is a beautifully presented, light and lovely classic French dessert, well perfumed with rum.
The large, airy dining room at Le Relais is divided into two sections by an open, room-size wine rack. Doors in a glass wall on one side of the room open onto a pleasant, tree-enclosed patio with a dozen tables shaded by umbrellas. There's an intimate bar with a few tables and a charming small private dining room.
Service is attentive and everyone seems eager to please. The drive from Washington takes about 40 minutes, but it's a beautiful journey and the meal is worth the trip. Memo to Mr. Cam: Fix those scallops, lay in enough lamb and Dover sole, and hang around awhile this time.


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