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


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We had an excellent meal on Saturday night. Our waiter was funny, even if it was a well-rehearsed routine, and patient, given it was our first time eating there. He carefully explained how the menu works (you choose the entree first, then consider an appetizer, and the meal comes with a bunch of other items as well), and went through the specials of the day. We ordered our food, and then they brought out a bread basket and butter, a plate of garlic bread, and a cup of cottage cheese (primarily mixed with garlic and some unidentified herbs). I've been avoiding cottage cheese my whole life, but what they brought over was amazing. I could have eaten a gallon of it with just a spoon. I realize we're just talking about cottage cheese here, but still, they paid great attention to a seemingly unimportant item, which i will now have to learn how to make for myself. The garlic bread was also excellent, and it appears it may have spent some time on a grill. The amuse bouche was a small cup of split pea soup that had a pleasant creamy texture, and was very good. We stuck with the mixed green salad, which was sourced from the garden. It was dressed with one of the better vinaigrettes I've ever tasted. For apps, I got the caramelized onion and bacon tart, which had a nice smokey taste. And bacon. My wife got a special app, which was a piece of filet mignon (around 7 bites) served with a tomato salsa (of sorts) and potato. This was very good, and I was (pleasantly) surprised there was no upcharge for this item. A sorbet of lemon, orange and rosemary followed as a palette cleanser, and I seriously considered asking for a bowl of it as my dessert. For mains, my wife got the poached lobster and crabmeat in a butter sauce, and the bite I had was very good. I got a plate of seafood served in a lobster sauce. It was amazing. The lobster sauce was to die for....creamy, rich, and tasty. I need this recipe! (Alas, not listed on the website.) For desserts, we ordered a chocolate soufflé and baked alaska. Both were very good, but not worth bragging about. We were also very full, so that may have tampered our enthusiasm. The bill came with two chocolate truffles and two almond cookies as well, which was a nice touch (and good!).

2 minor quibbles: [1] I went to adjust my plate when they set my entree down, and the plate was so hot that I damn near burned my fingers; [2] I wanted a scotch and asked the waiter what they had, the waiter said they had everything, and then they didn't have what I wanted. A list would have been useful, so I didn't have to play the guessing game. 

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and then they brought out a bread basket and butter, a plate of garlic bread, and a cup of cottage cheese (primarily mixed with garlic and some unidentified herbs). I've been avoiding cottage cheese my whole life, but what they brought over was amazing. I could have eaten a gallon of it with just a spoon. I realize we're just talking about cottage cheese here, but still, they paid great attention to a seemingly unimportant item, which i will now have to learn how to make for myself. The garlic bread was also excellent, and it appears it may have spent some time on a grill.

This was a great post! But do you think they're making their own cottage cheese? I've dined here numerous times, and am pretty sure I've had their cottage cheese more than once, and I don't remember it being anything special (but I'm also remembering a dried-out, hollowed-out, black olive, and a tomato slice that was so unripe that its color was something of a pale-whitish pink). I trust your palate, so maybe I've just forgotten it, or they've started making it in-house? Do you think they might just purchase it, and have a prep cook mix it with seasoning? If so, I suspect the chef would be happy to give you the recipe if you were to write him a polite note.

Also, don't get me wrong: I like this restaurant, and think that it went from being the most overrated restaurant in the area (which it absolutely was, for many years) to one of the more underrated restaurants in the area (despite Chef Haeringer's valiant attempts at social media, how often do you read about L'Auberge these days? It's a classic example of a restaurant that doesn't have buzz, so never gets any attention from the know-nothing media (and this post is a classic example of why I'm hated by same (and couldn't care less))).

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But do you think they're making their own cottage cheese?

I honestly have no idea. It's probably the first time I've eaten cottage cheese in 30+ years, so I have nothing to compare it to. All I know is that I ate more than my fair share, much to the chagrin of my wife.

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I find it kinda funny...I just came to this thread after looking at the Rose's Luxury thread, where people are already souring on it. A page ago it was the best place ever, now it's slipping down in to the "good but not memorable".

Contrast that with this place. I've been going to Chez Francois for around 35 years, and I've never had a meal that was anything less than excellent. Yes, the food is pretty uninteresting for those looking for cutting edge, but I haven't seen a change in quality from Don's overrated to underrated eras. It is as it always has been, for better or worse.

And for a place that doesn't have buzz, it still winds up regularly in "best of" lists and gets mentioned in chats pretty often...all without overzealous publicists or active social media.

And yes, I love the cottage cheese spread on the bread. :)

Oh, and I just saw this way up-thread..".I've enjoyed the few dishes I've prepared from their cookbook, especially the chocroute and the herbed cottage cheese."

So if you want more info on the cottage cheese, I guess you know where to look.

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Yes, the food is pretty uninteresting for those looking for cutting edge, but I haven't seen a change in quality from Don's overrated to underrated eras. It is as it always has been, for better or worse.

Correct: It hasn't changed that much, but the media coverage of it has (it was ranked #1 in the Washingtonian reader's poll for some insane amount of time, like 15-20 consecutive years). I went here on my 30th birthday - I remember liking it, and being charmed by it, but not loving it, and that's pretty much the way it has always been with me; the very first time I went to Inn at Little Washington (probably also around that time), I remember thinking I could die then and be perfectly content - I had yet to go to my first Michelin 3-Star (a problem that was remedied the very next year at Lucas Carton - I remember their foie gras wrapped in cabbage to this day (and I remember the sommelier trying to fool me in a blind tasting with the cheese course - I guessed Hermitage; it was St.-Joseph ;)).

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L'Auberge Chez Francois....totally overrated...one of the worst "fine" dining experiences that my wife & I have ever had.  Not worth the time, money & effort to get to this place.  Its very stuffy & has a feeling of being frozen in 1985 - plus the food was just average - not worth the $200.00 we spent.  I have heard from friends that there is a smaller bistro that serves some good food - but have not tried it myself.  I cannot understand why this place gets rave reviews - definitely would never visit this place again. 

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L'Auberge Chez Francois....totally overrated...one of the worst "fine" dining experiences that my wife & I have ever had.  Not worth the time, money & effort to get to this place.  Its very stuffy & has a feeling of being frozen in 1985 - plus the food was just average - not worth the $200.00 we spent.  I have heard from friends that there is a smaller bistro that serves some good food - but have not tried it myself.  I cannot understand why this place gets rave reviews - definitely would never visit this place again. 

We went there one time in the late 80s for my MIL's birthday. I thought the food was terrible. Lobster bisque was too salty to eat and their much ballyhooed plum tart was simply inedible. Glad to know I haven't missed anything in the intervening years. The 90-minute drive in rush hour to get there didn't help matters, either.

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I'll be headed back again this weekend to celebrate the wife's birthday. Here's the recipe for the cottage cheese (thanks, mtureck!) which I'll be attempting tonight. (Talk about delayed reactions!)

Also, anyone care to weigh in on using green onions vs. chives?

L'Auberge Chez François Herbed Cottage Cheese Spread

Adapted from The Chez Francois Cookbook by Jacques E. Haeringer

Servings: 2-2/3 cups

Total Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound 4% small-curd, cream-style cottage cheese (I use Breakstone's)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream (I use Breakstone's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced green onions or chives
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced parsley, plus more for garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine the cottage cheese and sour cream in a medium bowl and blend well. Add the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly and adjust seasonings. Cover and chill well before serving. Serve with toasted garlic bread or crackers and garnish with fresh parsley if desired.
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After our recent trip, I thought the meal was very good, but never great (like it was 2 years ago), which was slightly disappointing for a $300 meal. We had many of the same things as last time, but they didn't hit with the same intensity, particularly the main dish that has the lobster sauce. In fact, both my wife and i got that seafood sampler in lobster sauce, mostly because it was so great last time, and we both wanted more than just a bite or 2 of the other's portion. Again, it was very good, but it wasn't great. The roquefort salad was a nice mixture of greens, came with ample clumps of cheese, and was very good, which justified the up-charge ($7) imho. I had onion soup, while the wife went for the bacon tart again. The onion soup was a very good version of the dish, but I forgot about the asparagus (iirc) soup amuse bouche, so I went soup-soup, and could have though that out better given the many had many options. Fine, the cottage cheese was great, but I don't think that's enough to skew the narrative. So, a very good meal, from which we left satisfied and stuffed, but which never got us all the way there. worse things have happened.

Strangely, the only real negative was our service. Many times we felt rushed: The moment we were done with our apps, they brought over the sorbet palate cleanser, and the moment we were done with that, they delivered our mains. It would have been nice to have been able to take a breath between courses. On the other hand, it took a half hour to get the check. Go figure. Also, the waiter took away the cottage cheese before we were finished with it! By the time I realized what was happening (he began by moving my wine glass, which i thought he was taking since i wasn't having wine), it was too late to stop him. If you've read any of my other posts on this thread, you know how tragic that was for me.

Finally, I did make the cottage cheese recipe listed above. Note that the restaurant definitely uses chive and not green onion. I also made garlic bread to go with it (as they do at the restaurant). I made the recipe to the letter, but it came out fairly bland. The garlic bread i made was also so garlicky, that it overwhelmed the cottage cheese mixture anyway. I'd probably add more garlic to the cottage cheese and less to the bread, as a solution (or, at least, next attempt).

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Having dined there in their Brasserie last week, it was very nice as far as atmosphere.  The outdoor patio overlooks their garden areas and is somewhat shaded so that is nice.

Service....after being greeted promptly and being seated slightly before our reservation, we got water and drinks quickly.  Bread and butter = fine.  

Food....we ordered within the first 10 minutes of being seated, but waited for almost an hour for our appetizers, which were not overly complicated - braised Wagyu beef cheeks and a salad.  We ate efficiently as we had allocated about 2 hours for a lunch and planned to have dessert.  Our main courses came about 30 minutes after our apps (my wife actually asked if they would check on them since we were a little surprised the main course did not come out quicker after the delayed apps) which left us a little rushed to make an appt at 2 PM.  We ate, requested the bill and skipped dessert due to the extended prep times, which left us short on time.  Maybe an off day, not sure as we don't go there enough to know - however with such a nice atmosphere and talented kitchen, the service needs to step up a little.  Funny thing was we picked the Brasserie since we figured the service would be faster in a smaller venue.  The restaurant was empty when we arrived and when we left, but do not know if it was because they had better service and turned the tables quicker or it was not busy for lunch.

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31 minutes ago, Ferris Bueller said:

Having dined there in their Brasserie last week, it was very nice as far as atmosphere.  The outdoor patio overlooks their garden areas and is somewhat shaded so that is nice.

Service....after being greeted promptly and being seated slightly before our reservation, we got water and drinks quickly.  Bread and butter = fine.  

Food....we ordered within the first 10 minutes of being seated, but waited for almost an hour for our appetizers, which were not overly complicated - braised Wagyu beef cheeks and a salad.  We ate efficiently as we had allocated about 2 hours for a lunch and planned to have dessert.  Our main courses came about 30 minutes after our apps (my wife actually asked if they would check on them since we were a little surprised the main course did not come out quicker after the delayed apps) which left us a little rushed to make an appt at 2 PM.  We ate, requested the bill and skipped dessert due to the extended prep times, which left us short on time.  Maybe an off day, not sure as we don't go there enough to know - however with such a nice atmosphere and talented kitchen, the service needs to step up a little.  Funny thing was we picked the Brasserie since we figured the service would be faster in a smaller venue.  The restaurant was empty when we arrived and when we left, but do not know if it was because they had better service and turned the tables quicker or it was not busy for lunch.

That's funny...I had lunch in the main dining room a few weeks ago, and I felt that we were being rushed through.

Maybe because we came from hiking in Great Falls, and were looking a little ratty. :)

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32 minutes ago, Ferris Bueller said:

Food....we ordered within the first 10 minutes of being seated, but waited for almost an hour for our appetizers, which were not overly complicated - braised Wagyu beef cheeks and a salad.  We ate efficiently as we had allocated about 2 hours for a lunch and planned to have dessert.  Our main courses came about 30 minutes after our apps (my wife actually asked if they would check on them since we were a little surprised the main course did not come out quicker after the delayed apps) which left us a little rushed to make an appt at 2 PM.  We ate, requested the bill and skipped dessert due to the extended prep times, which left us short on time

If you're out on that little patio, it seems like it's very easy to be forgotten down there.

22 minutes ago, mtureck said:

Maybe because we came from hiking in Great Falls, and were looking a little ratty. :)

Billy Goat Trail? That can be a surprisingly tough hike.

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14 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

Billy Goat Trail? That can be a surprisingly tough hike.

Yeah, but we only did B and C, so we weren't that disgusting. :)

With that said, we were in hiking shorts and t-shirts, and if they had refused service, I wouldn't have held it against them.

It was pretty empty though.

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4 hours ago, DonRocks said:

If you're out on that little patio, it seems like it's very easy to be forgotten down there.

Understood, however it was not busy when we arrived in the main restaurant nor in the Brasserie.  Two other parties arrived about 15 minutes after we got seated (2-top and 3-top), and their food came out before our's despite the orders being placed after ours.  It was unfortunate, but I will give them another shot - we have been there before, but it was average at best and figured after a year perhaps things had improved.

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Mrs. W and I celebrated out 21st anniversary at LCF Saturday night. I have no problem reporting that the food was better than I remembered from our previous visit a few years ago. I also have to say that the full dinner is simply too much food for us now (and they added to the fun by giving us an extra side and dessert for our anniversary). I barely ate all day and I still estimated that I took in well more than the 2000 calories that I had allotted for the meal. Next time we will try Jacques' Brasserie.

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My wife and I have been enjoying meals at Chez Francois several times a year for the last 10 or 15 years.  I have never understood the horrible reviews it sometimes gets.  There are occasional dishes that are not up to their usual standards,  but as a whole I have always enjoyed my meals there.  I think one reason I like it is the same reason some people hate it:  It’s the same old thing.  No new dishes, no brand new menus, just the same old wonderfully prepared classic French dishes.

We had lunch there yesterday. I had onion soup, a simple salad, Rainbow Trout Filet (with toasted almonds, and lemon brown butter) and hazelnut cake for desert. Their onion soup is still first rate, prepared as it should be prepared.  The trout dish was delicious.  Here is a photo of the trout dish (sorry for the photo’s poor quality):

trout.jpg

For those of you who have never been to Chez Francois, I urge you to forget the reviews you see in places like the Post and try it for yourself.

Edited by John William G
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2 hours ago, Mark Slater said:

It reminds me of a Disney Land version of Alsace. 

I've been here probably 5-10 times in my life (including on my 30th birthday) - it has ranged from "very good and extremely pleasant" to "disturbingly mediocre and extremely pleasant" - in particular, I remember one time when a dish with beets (not uncommon in Alsace) came with canned beets that tasted like they were Aunt Millie's: They were perfectly circular, had that sweet marinade, and were so mushy that there was no resistance when cutting them with a fork.

Still, I've had some really nice fish dishes here, and their soufflés have been good (if I recall) without exception - it's worth ordering them. I've been meaning to get back there this year - thanks for the reminder.

That said, wasn't this ranked #1 by the readers of Washingtonian for something like 20-consecutive years? The internet is destructive just as often as it is useful, but this is one situation where it has been useful.

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20 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I've been here probably 5-10 times in my life (including on my 30th birthday) - it has ranged from "very good and extremely pleasant" to "disturbingly mediocre and extremely pleasant" - in particular, I remember one time when a dish with beets (not uncommon in Alsace) came with canned beets that tasted like they were Aunt Millie's: They were perfectly circular, had that sweet marinade, and were so mushy that there was no resistance when cutting them with a fork.

Still, I've had some really nice fish dishes here, and their soufflés have been good (if I recall) without exception - it's worth ordering them. I've been meaning to get back there this year - thanks for the reminder.

That said, wasn't this ranked #1 by the readers of Washingtonian for something like 20-consecutive years? The internet is destructive just as often as it is useful, but this is one situation where it has been useful.

We've been going every couple of years since I proposed to my wife at L'Auberge in 1995. (I used the old "Hey, why don't you go look at the desserts and I'll just have this ring waiting for you when you get back" ploy.) I'm pleased to report that our last visit was as good as any. Including the souffle!

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On 10/16/2019 at 9:43 AM, John William G said:

For those of you who have never been to Chez Francois, I urge you to forget the reviews you see in places like the Post and try it for yourself.

On 10/17/2019 at 9:51 AM, Bob Wells said:

We've been going every couple of years since I proposed to my wife at L'Auberge in 1995. (I used the old "Hey, why don't you go look at the desserts and I'll just have this ring waiting for you when you get back" ploy.) I'm pleased to report that our last visit was as good as any. Including the souffle!

Possibly its an age thing, but I also still enjoy L'auberge Chez Francais.  These years I go once every couple of years.  I used to go 1-3 times a year (80's -90's).  I still enjoy it for the same reasons as described by @John William G above.  Same menu, same environment, always at least very good.  Its an exquisite environment.  Always a celebratory evening.  Its overall rankings are great.  If it falters it seems to me to be an "age thing".  It is not contemporary or reflective of today's favorites.

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Excellent lunch today, the Brasserie was booked for over three (3) weeks so we ate at the patio off the main dining room. Large tented area, many VERY socially-spaced tables. Servers masked, gloved, attentive, not overbearing, careful and welcoming. The indoor tables also nicely spaced, and although I would prefer not to eat indoors, they have it set up really well.

Meal was excellent from house-smoked Norwegian Salmon 3-ways to Caesar salad with Papas bouillabaisse and souffle - everything was excellent, just what I needed on a nice Fall day in NoVa.

Place was busy, definitely staffed to accommodate the clientele but felt as it does, quiet, subdued and enjoyable.

 

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We drove by this weekend during our trip to Great Falls. It was quite packed. From the road, we noticed the outdoor seating and large tented areas. Our son was asking what was that place and my wife replied we would go there for birthdays and anniversaries celebrations occasionally. Of course he had never been there and was wondering when we would go! 

 

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