- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A canard is a duck, but in the French vernacular, a canard is also something false, often a joke, and a little lump of sugar that grandmothers dip in coffee and give to their grandchildren when parents aren’t looking. At Le Canard in Vienna, a diner can get all three.

In a small strip mall on Branch Road SE, at the corner of Chain Bridge Road, Le Canard presents itself as a French restaurant, which it is, to a point. The menu lists traditional French dishes in flawless French — such as snails in garlic butter, onion soup, veal scallops with apples and Calvados and calves’ liver.

The dishes, though, are prepared in American rather than French style, no doubt to the preference of most diners. The snails have balsamic vinegar added; the liver is served with onions. Names define dishes, but not always at Le Canard, and the diner who expects the classic preparation may be disappointed.

What makes Le Canard unusual is not its food, but the singalong piano bar. Every night except Sunday, a pianist tickles the ivories while regulars come to sing old favorites, usually in trembling soprano and rumbling baritone. There’s a microphone, which can make conversation difficult even at some distance from the bar and the piano. The singers all seem to know one another, and it’s an amiable and cozy scene.

Le Canard is a serious restaurant, however, as its downtown prices attest. A starter of coquilles St. Jacques in the classic French style is served in a creamy wine sauce topped with bread crumbs or cheese and lightly browned; it’s usually served in a scallop shell.

At Le Canard, three large sea scallops are topped with a mushroom sauce and accompanied by a small green salad. (The menu describes the sauce as lemon butter.) The scallops are tender and delicious, but the mushrooms, while good on their own, do not work well in combination with the scallops. Mushrooms appear as well in an appetizer of shrimp and mushrooms in lemon garlic butter and in a main course of sauteed trout.

A special appetizer salad with smoked duck breast and cheese turned out to be a mix of salad greens with several thick slices of smoked duck and a chunk of cheese. Despite the unusual presentation, it could be a very good combination.

The duck dishes, both a roasted half duck and a baked duck breast, don’t quite live up to the expectations in a venue that has duck as its name. The roast duck can be ordered in five styles: flambeed with orange brandy; with honey, brandy and Grand-Marnier (bigarade); with cherries (Montmorency); with apples and Calvados; and with chestnut stuffing. Technically, a sauce bigarade is an orange sauce, so in culinary parlance, a duck a l’orange is the same as one with a bigarade sauce.

More to the point, the half roast duck was a bit tough, though the skin was nicely crisp. A special of duck breast, on the other hand, was almost unreal in its tenderness, sliced thickly, without any of the fat usually rimming the side of sliced duck breast.

Filet mignon crusted with black pepper is very good (better, perhaps, than you’re likely to get in France). The steak was tender, with good flavor and nicely enhanced with the peppercorns. It was accompanied by a dollop of mashed sweet potatoes as well as the vegetables that adorn every main course.

The paillard de volaille is not the thin, pounded chicken breast that the term “paillard” signifies, but a plump, diagonally sliced chicken breast in a light cream sauce. There was little evidence of either the lemon or the black pepper crust promised on the menu.

Other main courses include grilled salmon with a sauce bearnaise; medallions of veal in various guises: sauteed with citrus butter, or with apples and Calvados; breaded and served with capers and lemon; and sauteed with Marsala and mushrooms. Penne pasta is topped with shrimps and scallops, and capellini with a tomato and basil sauce.

Desserts include an excellent rich creme brulee flavored with Kahlua and an unusual, delicious bread pudding with Bailey’s Irish Cream and topped with warm caramel sauce.

Lunch dishes include many of the evening’s appetizers and entrees (except for the duck dishes), but at reduced prices. Dishes such as chicken Marsala, sea scallops, trout and calves’ liver are on the menu.

The California house wines by the glass or bottle, called Camelot, are fine and reasonably priced. The wine list tends to be on the expensive side. Service is attentive, and as for that lump of sugar, the kitchen no doubt would supply it if you asked.

RESTAURANT: Le Canard, 132 Branch Road SE, Vienna; 703/281-0070

HOURS: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday

PRICES: Starters, $5 to $9 (lunch), $7 to $15(dinner); entrees, $10 to 16 (lunch), $16 to $27.25 (dinner); desserts, $7

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Plenty of parking in front of the restaurant

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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