- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

A tire bouchon is a corkscrew, and there’s a delightful framed collection of them just inside the front door of Le Tire Bouchon, an old-fashioned French restaurant in Fairfax’s old town.

Diners walking into the little restaurant on busy Route 123 may think they’re stepping into 1950. The walls are covered in paintings, many of them faux Modiglianis, and whimsical antique objects are scattered about, including an unusual tall, narrow wooden toy church. A waiter is preparing pepper steak flambe at a table with crisp white linens. The menu is suitably retro.

Co-owner Huseyin Kansu, originally from Turkey, who has worked at such local past and present staples as Galileo and Le Lion D’Or, is very much in evidence at Le Tire Bouchon, making sure diners are satisfied. He occasionally waits on tables himself. Executive chef Kemal Deger, originally from Turkey as well, trained with Yannick Cam.

Mr. Kansu and Mr. Deger have created a menu which includes such familiar French favorites as snails, mussels, pate, lobster bisque, frog legs, sweetbreads, souffles and apple tarts. Le Tire Bouchon is French bourgeois cooking; there are no Turkish touches.

Soups and starters are identical at lunch and dinner, except for an appetizer of ravioli — pheasant with sage sauce at lunch and lobster with beet sauce at dinner. Steamed Prince Edward Island mussels in a white wine and shallot sauce are delicious. The sauce, which had almost the consistency of a bisque, is especially good.

Frog legs, a welcome return to menus from which they have been long gone, are somewhat tough, perhaps because they were frozen. Sauteed in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic and white wine, they could have used more garlic. The Caesar salad similarly was on the insipid side and would benefit from a bit more snap in the dressing.

The menu offers three soups: French onion, a lobster bisque and a soup of the day. Other starters are a lobster salad with endives, goat cheese and pecans; snails in garlic butter, and various salads. The kitchen prepares main-course salads at lunch, such as quail salad with white truffle oil, and a warm seafood salad.

A stuffed chicken breast is outstanding among the entrees. The tender white meat is filled with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, a touch of garlic butter and spinach. The result is a creamy, subtle and assertive filling. It’s an excellent dish.

A small serving of salmon is grilled and served with a fine mustard sauce. The sauce on our serving had dried on the plate, but the waiter quickly brought a small pot of extra sauce.

Both lunch and dinner menus include steak. At dinner, it’s a New York cut with peppercorns, flambeed with a modest flourish tableside. A lunchtime, strip steak is served with french fries and a bearnaise sauce. On a recent Saturday evening, the special was a filet mignon with wild mushrooms and a port wine sauce. The filet was not as tender as it might have been and the sauce was a light jus with none of the sweet glazed quality which a port wine reduction produces.

All the entrees, regardless of whether fish, fowl or meat, are accompanied by the same sides. On our Saturday night, the sides were two lovely fat green asparagus and an excellent little cake of au gratin potatoes. Delicious as these vegetables were, the prices at Le Tire Bouchon merit a greater variety of side dishes to complement the fish or meat.

Other main courses are scallops and shrimps in raspberry butter; pan seared red snapper or Chilean sea bass; duck breast with foie gras; rack of lamb, and a venison chop with a ginger cherry sauce. The lunch menu, which does not include sandwiches, tempts with braised lamb shanks and sweetbreads with wild-mushroom sauce.

Dessert is a must. There are several to choose from, but the piece de resistance — which is irresistible — is the apple tart. Thin as a whisper of silk, the warm tart is crisp, flaky and buttery, with a single layer of apples, topped with a serving of ice cream. It is truly splendid and authentically French.

Equally delicious is Mr. Deger’s souffle. We tried the chocolate offering, served with a pitcher of sweetened heavy cream. It proved to be exactly what a souffle in a fine French restaurant should be: light, airy and delicate. Good to the last spoonful.

As befits its name, Le Tire Bouchon has a very good, if expensive, wine list, mostly from French vineyards. Dining at this little restaurant is a nostalgic step into a movie set. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall showing guests to their tables.

RESTAURANT: Le Tire Bouchon, 4009 Chain Bridge Road, Fairfax; 703/691-4747

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Starters, $6 to $10 (lunch), $7 to $18 (dinner); main courses, $12 to $21 (lunch), $23 to $33 (dinner); desserts, $10

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Available behind the building

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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