Jump to content
jswwiles

L'Auberge Chez Francois, The Haeringer Family's Romantic Alsatian Getaway in Great Falls

Recommended Posts

Why, oh why, did no one warn me against Auberge Chez Francois?!

Oh, the humanity!

Because you never asked!

It really isn't that bad, you know. The atmosphere is lovely, the patio being one of the singularly beautiful places to dine in the Washington area, the service often inexperienced but well-meaning and attentive, the wines adequate although nothing like what they were even just a few years ago, the stemware proper, the drive to Great Falls more rush-hour frantic than romantic (it used to be romantic taking Chain Bridge Road to Georgetown Pike, winding up the curves to the Old Dominion Drive intersection, and anticipating what lies just a few short miles ahead), the food old-school fusty, meticulously prepped, and ultimately heavyhanded, the souflees still fun to order, and the whole experience still magical in a farcical, Inn At Little Washington sort-of way, no? What I mean is, you can believe it if you just close your eyes to the obvious, and try, really try, to love it?

I was here earlier this year and enjoyed my dinner.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am wondering if this place is a bit like Tio Pepe, that is to say brushed with a touch of the ol' fairy dust of memory. Though perhaps it has not quite sunk down to Tio Pepe level. I went there once, I imagine, when I was way too young to appreciate it. That was about 16 years ago (I guess that makes me a bit of a spoiled youngin'). I remember the food being decent, but not extraordinary. Certainly not enough to awaken a still immature palate.

I remember that I had a few slices of ham with raspberries and blackberries as an appetizer and trout almondine (woo... fish with almonds?! how novel!) as an entree. A tuile with sorbets for dessert. I think I remember this solely based on the fact that at the time I knew it was a special and unique experience. The atmosphere, the way they took care of us, the way they were constantly filling our water glasses before they were empty! If I remember correctly, there was almost always a server within easy reach. Regardless of the food, as Don maybe alluded to, there is something that is vaguely mystical about the place. But maybe it's a bit $ for that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is where Tripewriter asked me to marry him :blink: I will forever cherish my complimentary...pen and wallet calendar. Hee hee. The food was heavy -- but come on, it's Alsatian cuisine, right? What else would you expect? With no offense meant, my Alsatian meals -- there and elsewhere, including France -- have been meaty and solid. I'm with Don on this one -- relax and enjoy the show -- and the souffles :P

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Why, oh why, did no one warn me against Auberge Chez Francois?!

Oh, the humanity!

I'm shocked! After all, the readers of Washingtonian rated it their favorite restaurant this year. For the 22nd time. :blink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I loved the place when I went there . . . twenty-some years ago. I confess that I haven't been back in a while, and certainly not since the fire. I've enjoyed the few dishes I've prepared from their cookbook, especially the chocroute and the herbed cottage cheese. As Walrus said, it is solid Alsatian food--not as fancy as some other cuisines.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I was there a few years ago on a special date, back when I religiously followed the Washingtonian's 100 best for food advice. What I remember most out of the experience, upon reflection, is that they were extraordinarily kind to young diners of "fancy" food. The service was snooty, knowledgeable, and available enough to make excitable early 20-somethings feel that they were getting the "French fine dining" experience, but warm and approachable enough not to intimidate and make us feel uncomfortable.

I also learned that 3 courses of red meat, including a wild game plate and the addition of duck on my salad, followed by a chocolate dessert and accompanied by red wine, doesn't make for the lightest supper and may negate the romantic intentions of the meal...

:blink:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So what exactly was the problem?

Sorry it has taken me a bit to respond.

The ambience was EXACTLY what I expected. Kitschy, but fun kitschy. So much so that I found myself looking around the room and remarking, "Wow. Finally a place that makes Wagon Wheel Chandeliers WORK. I always knew it could be done." And I mean that, sincerely. A solid "A".

The service was impressive old-school service. From the rote-but-well-played greetings, the coat-check, the long walk to a table by an obsequiously kind manager, to the mandatory check-back after every course, to the glances from the suited managers prowling the room looking for elderly damsels having a hard time with their chair backs and asking if everything was satisfactory --they are seriously good about service. We also got lucky, I imagine, with a waiter from Spain. Those hombres know how to schmooze. I don't mean that in a condescending way, at all. I'm jealous of those guys. If I hadn't had to refill every glass of wine, personally, for the rest of the night (one half bottle white, one bottle red), that guy would get an "A+". I normally wouldn't care, but this was supposed to be a special night (Thanksgiving), in a special place, with a load of loot to boot.

Don't get me wrong. I perversely enjoy dropping $350-400 on dinner for two, now and again. It makes me feel alive.

But the food! Oh My God. The food was nearly abominable. The appetizers were complete crap. The second course of up-charged salads we had were okay-to-good. The entrees were a joke. The Gal was in the mood for the turkey dinner, and what came out were carving scraps. My Game Plate was different textures of the same grill, all charred. The desserts were an afterthought, at best. The, also up-charged, souffle was like a hint of a real souffle. As if it were saying, "Hey, this is what a souffle might be, if a souffle didn't care about itself."

It all reminded me of my axiom regarding any restaurant that has a great view: the better the view, the worse the food.

I can see why this restaurant has it's defenders. It's been there for 30 years. People grew up there. Went to their first Big Dinner with the Adults, had their first grown-up drink with Grandma, smoked their first joint in the parking lot with Uncle Rickie, whatever. But it's not for the food.

Four nights later, the two of us had "Nana's Sunday Dinner" at The Majestic in Old Town, a complete turkey dinner for four, which was $68 total, not including our 2 orange Nehi's. It was pretty damn good. I just finished the last of the turkey yesterday.

Ciao - S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Don't get me wrong. I perversely enjoy dropping $350-400 on dinner for two, now and again. It makes me feel alive.

But the food! Oh My God. The food was nearly abominable.

Ciao - S

That does not match the restaurant I have been to about half-a-dozen times over the years, the last time maybe two years ago.

First, $350-400 for two has as much to do with the wine as the food. Maybe it's because my wife and I don't drink as much or spend as much on wine, but you could easily get out of there for around $200. Not cheap, mind you, but nowhere near what you spent.

Secondly, I just can't believe anything that comes out of their kitchen was "nearly abominable." I understand many on this board think Chez Francois is overrated or overpriced, but I just don't buy what you're selling. I also know the establishment well enough that if you raised any concerns to management, you would have been taken care of just fine.

This raises a point that maybe belongs in another thread, but how do people deal with reports of a restaurant, any restaurant, that does not match their own experience, so different that it seems to lack credibility? I'm not saying you lack credibility, but that's my initial reaction to your report.

For example, I work with someone who claims that Ray's served mediocre steak and that Michael was rude to him. That does not match my reality at all, so I discount it. Should I? Should I believe that Chez Francois ever serves food that is "nearly abominable?"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This raises a point that maybe belongs in another thread, but how do people deal with reports of a restaurant, any restaurant, that does not match their own experience, so different that it seems to lack credibility? I'm not saying you lack credibility, but that's my initial reaction to your report.

For example, I work with someone who claims that Ray's served mediocre steak and that Michael was rude to him. That does not match my reality at all, so I discount it. Should I? Should I believe that Chez Francois ever serves food that is "nearly abominable?"

A restaurant is a subjective experience. Your palate, temperament, and expectations are not the same as his, and you were there at different times. No restaurant is ever objectively great; it will invariably fail to please someone. I've had bad meals at several board favorites, and I am sure that others have been displeased by places that I rave about. Recommended viewing/reading: Rashomon, and the Palena thread. :(

I found the food L'Auberge as very heavy, but had some great wine, and found the restaurant itself enjoyable. The only dish that I enjoyed enough to remember was the sauerkraut/fish combination - listed on the website as a "medley of smoked trout, salmon, finnan haddie, fresh monkfish, and salmon on sauerkraut." It was delicious.

ETA: I will comment that describing something as "complete crap" doesn't give the reader a whole lot of information. Was it a bad flavor combination, executed poorly, composed of inferior ingredients, or just not to your taste?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Secondly, I just can't believe anything that comes out of their kitchen was "nearly abominable."

I can absolutely back up rockshrimp on the "nearly abominable" description from personal experience - I've had individual items come out of this kitchen that are so downright bad they're infuriating. Although rockshrimp's first post was clearly a drive-by , the follow-up post was evocative and thoughtful (although I agree with Heather that the paragraph trashing the actual food could use more supporting detail).

Cheers,

Rocks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Chosen "Best Restaurant" in The Washingtonian's annual readers poll for the 272nd consecutive year.

Looks like Todd hasn't quite pulled the sub-geriatric set in to the circulation base, yet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have always had excellent experiences at Chez Francois, especially with the service and atmosphere. The food, for the most part, has been very good as well. But I have to admit, as you get older and start eating at places like Citronelle, the food at Chez Francois starts to seem a bit more mediocre. That is just the way that is goes, when you start experiencing a wide variety of places, the old standbys don't quite live up to expectations anymore.

I may not hold Chez Francois in the highest regard anymore, but, as you can tell from the Washingtonian's annual survey, a hell of a lot of people do. Does it make those people wrong?

Personally, I wish that some of those people would try something else, go somewhere new, but if they are content on heading to Chez Francois for their special occassions, so be it. Listen, I used to spend a lot of my time telling people "you HAVE to check out this place" or "what the hell are you doing drinking wine out of a BOX", but it was an elitist attitude that didn't make me feel good in the end. I may now encourage people to try new places or ask them if they want a sip of wine from my bottle, but I don't take it personally if they don't take me up on my suggestion and I certainly don't get upset if they love a place that I can't stand, or vice versa.

Yes, I know this is a corny tirade on my part, but a majority of people are going to do what they feel comfortable doing, no matter how mindboggling it may be to the rest of us. So let them all go to Chez Francois and have the meal of their year, at least it is Chez Francois, they could be sitting outside of Chain X waiting two hours for a table instead (and, just so you know, I have come to peace with those people as well).

By the way, just to be clear, my comments are not a reply to anyone else on this board, this is just something that I have been thinking about on my part for a while because I have been discussing this topic, and various related topics, with my friends for months now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
. No restaurant is ever objectively great; it will invariably fail to please someone. I've had bad meals at several board favorites, and I am sure that others have been displeased by places that I rave about. Recommended viewing/reading: Rashomon, and the Palena thread. :(

See, I disagree. A restaurant can be objectively great. Just because it's difficult to define and agree on objective principles, and the measurment tool (ourselves) is imprecise, doesn't mean that objective brilliance doesn't exist. That being said, objective brilliance is not the end of the discussion when it comes to cooking or any other craft. Matter of fact, I'd argue that it's almost beside the point (I have to, the amount of time I spend at Bistro du Coin). There's a subjective enjoyment of the dining experience that trumps objective measurements in this case, and that's what counts -- and why L'Auberge continues to draw its loyal clientel.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You have all made me so depressed!

Husband has made reservations at Chez Francois this weekend for my birthday! Having never been, having read the Washingtonian's readers annual recommendations, and being a devout fan of the fare at Bistro du Coin....I was so looking forward to the meal!

I must say, that even a great restaurant will not show it's best colors on a holdiay. In my experience, Thanksgiving is usually the worst restaurant meal of the year. (Unless you go to to a big city Chinatown...really, Chinatown is a great place to get a good meal on Thanksgiving) :mellow:

I will remain optimistic that the atmosphere, service, and companionship will serve to make this meal a happy memory....but I don't think I'm going to be ordering the soufle. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You have all made me so depressed!

Husband has made reservations at Chez Francois this weekend for my birthday! Having never been, having read the Washingtonian's readers annual recommendations, and being a devout fan of the fare at Bistro du Coin....I was so looking forward to the meal!

I must say, that even a great restaurant will not show it's best colors on a holdiay. In my experience, Thanksgiving is usually the worst restaurant meal of the year. (Unless you go to to a big city Chinatown...really, Chinatown is a great place to get a good meal on Thanksgiving) :mellow:

I will remain optimistic that the atmosphere, service, and companionship will serve to make this meal a happy memory....but I don't think I'm going to be ordering the soufle. :)

This is one of the best restaurants in the Washington area. While our Thanksgiving experience was less (perhaps much less) than what we had expected, over the years we've been there many times. In the evening (remember Thanksgiving was in the DAYTIME) it is a romantic, countryside experience that really does feel like an ocean away from D. C. Some of the food is very good although I don't believe any is better than this. Over the years their souffles (which was a disappointment on T'giving) have been fine along with pastry encrusted salmon or beef and most Alsatian specialties. I think what is most important about L'Auberge is the overall experience rather than the food. Citronelle, CityZen, Komi, Eve etc. are all better for what you will taste. But L'Auberge, for many, just feels like a special place, perhaps in a special time with very good food. Usually, they are very good at making everyone in their dining rooms feel special.

I'll just never go back there on a Holiday...or the Prime Rib ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/169652 ) or . . . .

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You have all made me so depressed!

Husband has made reservations at Chez Francois this weekend for my birthday!

Nonsense. Don't be depressed! A restaurant meal is partly what you make of it. Your husband was sweet to do this for you; go, enjoy the time with him, and forget everything you've read in this thread, because what do we know, anyway? :mellow:

[full disclosure: went once, didn't hate it, didn't like it well enough to go back]

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You have all made me so depressed!
Don't be. The restaurant is lovely and the food can be very nice. I dined there last June, and it says something about the experience, I suppose, that I have absolutely no recollection of what I ate, but I remember thinking "this food is very nice". Go and enjoy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

We just went there for our aniversary in early Feb. The place is great if you know what you want. I read these stupid comments as well before I went, and also was a bit nervous. I shouldn't have been, it was great.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We just went there for our aniversary in early Feb. The place is great if you know what you want. I read these stupid comments as well before I went, and also was a bit nervous. I shouldn't have been, it was great.
OK, now if you are going to call the other posts stupid maybe you can provide a few details about why this place is great, writing twice just doesn't make it so.

I have not been in years, but when I did go I always found that the Alsatian sausage platter was as good as any I had in Colmar, and the added benefit of having a nice piece of seared foie gras thrown in.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Here's my birthday dinner report...

Of course, Porcupine is correct that Hubby was very sweet to plan this for me. We had a wonderful time! Great setting, great company and great service!

We went with Hubby's Sister and Brother-in-law, a reformed chef (wanted a life, can you believe it? :mellow: ). I can honestly say there was only one dish I was disappointed with but Brother-in-law actually liked it, so maybe that was just me.

We had a lovely table in the back near the fire and away from the larger, more crowded tables. We each ordered something different, and since everyone was willing to share, I was able to sample a lot of different things. Here is how the four of us ranked the dishes sampled by course, most favored to least favored...

Appetizers:

foie gras - scrumptious and generous, but an upcharge of $18

braised veal cheeks - really tasty, Hubby's favorite dish

skate - the fish was well prepared, but I don't find skate to have that much taste

puffed pastry with warm roquefort cheese and candied anjou pears - a little too sweet, could have done duty on the dessert menu

Dinner:

pork medallions - I know, pork tenderloin? But really, it was the most fabulous dish on the table!

choucroute - sausage and sauerkraut, but as only the Alsatians can

cod (and other seafood) in a puff pastry shell - creamy sauce, wonderful flakey pastry

scallops and shrimp St Jaques - this is the dish I least liked. The shrimp were well seasoned and tasty, the scallops were tough and didn't taste particularly fresh

Dessert: (No souffle)

cheesecake - very creamy and soft, won two of four votes for first place

hazelnut cake - great flavor

chocolate cake (house cake that night) - too rich, chocolate cake with chocolate ganache

cheese plate with a glass of port - three of four cheeses were creamy and flavorful, the basque cheese was just so-so.

All this and a nice bottle of Alsatian white came to $480 including a very generous tip. This works out to slightly less per person than a recent trip to 2941. The food is probably better at 2941, but nice as that dining room is, the atmosphere and service at Chez Francois are far superior.

Thanks Rocks for the encouragement!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

R.I.P. Fran├žois Haeringer

Even if you quibble with the offerings at L'Auberge Chez Francois the man certainly created an institution. A place with a singularly unique atmosphere in the DC area.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

R.I.P. Fran├žois Haeringer

Even if you quibble with the offerings at L'Auberge Chez Francois the man certainly created an institution. A place with a singularly unique atmosphere in the DC area.

No!!

Mr Haeringer introduced me to food as an experience, not just something to fill the belly. This included part quality of the dish and part quality of the surrounds - people, service, location, etc.

For about 7 years running I was the DJ at Chez Francois. Yes, they had entertainment - new years eve only. I was a young guy who hadn't ever been in such a place; I grew up on Friendly's and McDonalds. Although I was just the 'hired help', "Monsieur" Haeringer ensured I was made to feel at home, fed a proper meal (including all courses) and always left with a bottle of champagne who's pedigree far exceeded my ability to appreciate it.

I'd start the evening with some classical violin music for Monsieur. I'd later play Louie Louie for Jacques, and requests for Mark, Fred, James and the rest of the friendly and familiar staff. By the end of the night, we'd have people dancing to motown hits around the fireplace and into each of the rooms. A few years included a conga line around all of the tables, with guests and staff alike joining the revelry. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the scene really seemed to transcend time and space. It could have been in Alsace as much as Great Falls and was a great chance for the regular patrons to dress up a little more while at the same time letting their hair down a little further.

But alas, it didn't really transcend time. This day was bound to come and we can only be thankful for the long, engaged life of Monsieur, where his family was yours for the evening and his home took reservations.

Thank you Monsieur for showing me how dining should be, a celebration. Thank you.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×