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Bistro Bohem, Eastern European on and Florida Ave and 6th St in LeDroit Park - Closed

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Eastern European cooking seemed a natural follow-up to a film by Czech avant-garde animator Jan Svankmajer at the National Gallery last month, so we boarded a 70 bus to the fairly new Bistro Bohem. The small and inviting restaurant is located a block away from the gloriously revived Howard Theater and is an encouraging addition to Le Droit Park, which is looking particularly good these days, not counting the incongruously monolithic Howard University Hospital looming over its shoulders. (In pre-gentrification days, when these streets could turn unexpectedly mean, the proximity of the hospital was a good thing for stalwart neighborhood residents who had just been bludgeoned.)

We had read enthusiastic things about Bistro Bohem in the newspaper and had heard similar praise from friends, so what unfolded was a bit of a disappointment. I won't blame it on Svankmajer. Although food plays more than a bit part in his movies, it is a source of mayhem, as it was in what we had just seen -- "Little Otik" -- where babies being fished out of briny water are delectably pink and you can see why customers are lined up for them. Savory soups and stews are brought to the table throughout the dark proceedings, and they appear fortifying, though unfortunately not enough to sate the enormous appetite of a rapidly flourishing tree-stump baby who has been brought to life by a hopelessly barren couple. Finally confined to the basement of the disconcerted parents' apartment house after devouring the mailman and a social worker, the temptation of a courtyard patch of cabbages is Otik's downfall, an ending out of the folktale on which this is based, a chronicle of an insatiable appetite running roughshod over the countryside.

If I lived in its neck of the woods, I would visit Bistro Bohem often for its drinks and beers, but I would tend to stay away from the food unless I was famished. Sharing appetizers and small and large plates, we felt a bit like Otik, devouring our food but never finding anything that was truly satisfying.

Garlic soup was mostly all salt, though the interplay of garlic and toasted bread revealed an intriguing affinity in flavor. Flecky in texture, melted Gruyere provided a reminder that this was a poor man's version of French onion soup. Pierogi with a potato and cheese filling were light and supple, steering things in a happier direction, except that there was some undercooked flour in the bechamel-based sauce on which they rested.

Home-made potato chips were ridiculously bad, dripping in oil, some half crisp, others totally soggy, a few with raw centers. And a potato pancake was gummy, covered in a dark gloppy sauce, along with small orange knots of hard chicken.

The menu advises that the kitchen is small. Clearly it was wrestling with the food the night we visited. Maybe it was just our dumb luck that the wrong person was cooking. Why go to Prague for food, when you can go to Paris? Bistro Bohem raised but did not answer that question for us.

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Fantastic post and I couldn't agree more with you (about the food, not the play, which I have not seen). BB's menu doesn't sound particularly appealing, which is not always a bad thing as a talented chef can sometimes turn something ordinary into something extraordinary. Unfortunately, that is not happening here in my experience, although the place does have a nice vibe and will be important as this stretch of Florida continues to gentrify.

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The menu advises that the kitchen is small.

They are working to expand into the storefront next door. If the small kitchen is holding them back (doesn't sound likely), that may bring some relief. Sad to hear your report, we had heard very good things from friends when it first opened.

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The expansion is complete. There is now a second room connected to the original dining area. By day it operates as "Kafe Bohem" doing the cafe/coffee shop thing. At night it turns into an additional dining room. I had not eaten at BB since early into their opening. If last night is any indication they are slowly but surely moving in the right direction. My chicken schnitzel was hot, crispy, and properly seasoned. I'm not sure why they felt the need to garnish it (and the potato salad it came with) with a creamy mayo sauce but whatever. A similarly rich cream sauce was a moat for an appetizer of three pierogies that are doughier than my preference but as I understand it's proper for the style of food they're aiming for here.

The food might be a work in progress here but the drink list is really well done - there are a lot of twists of traditional cocktails using fairly unconventional (but proper for the restaurant) ingredients. The Becherovka Old Fashioned and the Absinthe Gin Fizz are both great 'training wheels' cocktails for people curious in either liquor.

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