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L'Oustalet, Rockville - Closed.

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I lived in King Farm a couple of years ago, everything was always pretty good but not great. Typical upscale neighborhood place that tends to slip under the radar. I remember a duck confit that may have registered as too sweet for many palates but was great to my tastes, and a nicely cooked hanger steak... Place was never really busy when I used to go there (weekdays mostly). If I recall correctly, the place also did not have a visible bar, I think they just had everything in the back...

I'm curious to hear recent reports as well because the current menu looks quite good...

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Deja vu all over again. We moved to a new area of town, saw a promising looking restaurant a short walk away, and had visions of a future where we’d be personally greeted on each visit by the chef in what would, by then, become our home away from home. Okay, that might be asking too much, but couldn’t we just have “our place” just down the street? A spot where we could head over on a whim when we were too tired to cook? We don’t need anything spectacular—just good solid cooking.

My first impression upon walking in was of an attractive space. It had a homey yet elegant feel. When I say first impression, I mean the first 2.23 seconds I set eyes on the place. Upon closer inspection, things got ugly. There were bone china plates at each place setting, but water glasses with chipped away paint around the rim. The carpet and walls had extravagantly ornate patterns, but the ceiling was generic white suspended ceiling. Imagine you have a long lost great aunt in Provence and you went to visit her in her quaint little home. Now imagine her quaint little home is in a strip mall next to a Baja Fresh. That’s what it looks like.

The food followed the same unsettling pattern of positive initial reaction followed quickly by spiraling disappointment. My appetizer of squid stuffed with cod brandade looked beautiful-- four fat little white orbs surrounded by coarsely chopped fresh greens with stripes of reduced balsamic making what almost looked like grill marks on the fish. But the squid was very difficult to cut through with my knife and there was no balance to the flavors, just the overpowering bite of the vinegar. My wife’s French onion soup was picture-perfect with its golden brown crust of cheese, and to their credit the beefy broth was quite good, but the cheese was bland and there was hardly any detectable onion flavor. I ordered the rack of lamb rubbed with olive and rosemary paste. Again, an attractive dish with what looked like big meaty ribs. But once I cut into them, I found that well over half of the meat was actually fat and gristle. A meager medallion of meat was all that each rib offered. And to make things worse, this was a ½ rack (discussion on getting ripped off here) which was worth nowhere near the $28 price tag. What meat there was tasted quite good, so I might have been happy with it had it been a full rack. My wife thought her filet mignon with Bordelaise sauce was okay. Both of our dishes had an arrangement of sautéed vegetables cooked to varying degrees of doneness. One piece of cauliflower would have some texture to it, while the other one hidden under your meat would be mush.

I didn’t complain. Not a peep. I knew it would fall on deaf ears. We could tell by listening in on the idiotic questions the other customers were asking the waiter, that this restaurant is sticking to its business model of providing the perception of a fine French meal to the undiscerning folks in the neighborhood. Just as with our experience with the Park Café on Capitol Hill, they know they’re the only game in town (or the neighborhood, anyway), so they’ll sell plenty of bone china plates full of beautifully presented shit to a public looking for their own private “our place” just down the street.

I considered stealing one of the plastic miniature roses out of the cheap vase on our table. I joked with my wife that she could press it in a book to commemorate the occasion of our second anniversary. It should be in a paperback with a beautiful cover and a formulaic romance novel inside.

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