- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2008

Gerard Pangaud was the chef at Gerard’s Place on McPherson Square downtown for 13 years. His restaurant was noted for meticulously prepared, sophisticated and expensive fresh French cuisine.

Then Mr. Pangaud decided it was time for a change, and in 2006, he left the restaurant for a senior position at L’Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda. He has returned to McPherson Square part time, renaming the eatery Gerard Pangaud Bistro, revamping the menu and presiding over it as executive chef, cooking there from time to time and overseeing the kitchen.

The chefs are students he taught and trained. He trained them well. The cooking is first-rate.

The bistro is a family enterprise: The chef’s wife, Michelle, serves as hostess, and daughter Vanessa is on the wait staff. Service is attentive, knowledgeable and generally excellent. The space is delightfully intimate, where conversation can accompany good food.

It is not what Americans think of as a bistro. It’s more accurately an upscale French bistro, with bistro reflected in the menu rather than the decor, which at Gerard’s includes an eclectic mix of large contemporary photographs, old-fashioned lamps to shed a mellow glow across the room, and a marvelous old French porcelain wood-burning cooking stove at the door.

Peter McCall, the sous-chef in charge of the kitchen, does a superb job with the menu, which is almost identical at lunch and dinner in selection and price. There are no steak frites or roast chicken, nor is there the ubiquitous Caesar salad.

There is however, a beautiful and refreshing salad of red and golden beets. Alternating slices of yellow and red beets have been roasted in olive oil and paired with a spoonful of a creamy, delicate goat cheese. Nothing could be better as a light appetizer.

Three thin rounds of diver scallops, sauteed and dressed with a subtle citrus beurre blanc is equally pleasing, accompanied by a tiny portion of chopped orange segments. The dish offers a harmonious combination of the shellfish with butter and citrus. Alas, it arrived at the table barely lukewarm. Had the scallops been warmer, the contrast with the orange would have been even more harmonious.

Nuggets of veal sweetbreads, lightly breaded and sauteed to a crisp finish, can start the meal successfully, too. The demi-glace sauce and two pieces of chanterelle mushrooms add complexity and sophistication to a perfectly executed appetizer.

A recent soup of the day was of roasted chestnuts enhanced with apple and celery root. A cake of wild mushrooms is served with a sorrel sauce, and fresh duck foie gras is paired with black mission figs in a vinegar-and-honey sauce.

The braised short ribs make an outstanding main course. Cooked long and slowly, the short ribs are served in a rich wine sauce. The mashed potatoes accompanying the ribs are redolent with butter and cream. It’s a dish for a prince.

A saddle of venison is served with sweet potato and beet puree, dried fruit and a reduction of red wine marinade. Another good winter dish is a reflection of North African influences: a tian, or stew, of lamb with a medley of white, green and fava beans.

Wild coho salmon is sauteed with carrots in a lemon-ginger beurre blanc, and potato-crusted rockfish with a tarragon sauce. At lunch, the rockfish, crusted with mushrooms and herbs, is braised and accompanied by sauteed spinach.

Portions served at the bistro are not overly large (none of the usual complaints here about belt-breaking portions), so there’s room for desserts, which include a variety of sweets from house-made sorbets to a terrine of chocolate with crushed pistachios and a timbale of baked pear and pear sorbet in a red wine sauce.

A mango tart, delicate and delectable with a coulis of passion-fruit sauce, is not to be missed. The tart is made of thinly sliced mango baked on a crisp, thin tart base, the top lightly coated with buttery caramel.

Wine by the glass is exclusively French, a shortcoming in a restaurant in America. For diners wishing to bring their own wine, the restaurant does not charge a corkage fee during the week.

The chef offers a five-course tasting menu for $87 per person, with wine pairing available for $54 per person. The five courses now are duck foie gras confit, diver scallops, potato-crusted rockfish, and roasted breast of duck; dessert is the terrine of dark chocolate.

RESTAURANT: Gerard Pangaud Bistro, 915 15th St. NW, 202/737-4445

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

PRICES: Appetizers $10 to $27.50; main courses $27 to $37.50

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Metered street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: McPherson Square

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